Given the strong focus on sports game modes that generate additional revenues for publishers, like Ultimate Team and Diamond Dynasty, franchise mode fans often feel like a forgotten group this console generation. EA’s NHL and FIFA series still use player acquisition and scouting systems from a generation ago, MLB The Show hasn’t made a meaningful change in the basic way the mode operates for years now, and even sports games with decent franchise modes like Madden frequently take a year or more off from introducing significant changes to the minute-to-minute experience.

One series continues to buck this trend of neglect – NBA 2K. Year in and year out, senior producer Erick Boenisch’s franchise-focused team continues to deliver innovations like player expectations/morale, trade finders, team expansion, and a conversation system that drives your interaction with your owner, staff, coaches, and players. For NBA 2K18, the team has a slew of new ideas to push the benchmark even further ahead of its competitors.


MyGM: The Next Chapter

The conversation system introduced years back gave the MyGM mode a narrative feel, but it didn’t have the storytelling touches of MyCareer. That changes with MyGM: The Next Chapter. This year’s game has you assume the role of a former star player moving into management. This new narrative layer on the experience still gives you full control of personnel decisions – don’t expect to be cornered into controlling a specific team or re-signing a particular player. Your total control is intact, right down to starting your franchise mode with a fantasy draft if you choose.

Instead of forcing the narrative, Visual Concepts worked to identify story beats that could naturally unfold during your day-to-day operations, exploring the behind-the-scenes drama that occurs in the modern NBA. These interactions are less about how you interact with rival GMs and more focused on how you work alongside with the rest of your organization and the media. Expect to see more encounters with your owner, assistant GM, scout, and players. Unlike MyCareer, which uses voiced cutscenes to generate the drama, most of these discussions happen with text bubbles. This gives the mode much more flexibility instead of being limited to interacting with the few roles the developers could afford to cast if it went that route.

Boenisch says your path will be determined by the choices you make, and the narrative plays out over the course of the first season and offseason. After that, it’s business as usual for the MyGM mode. Those unhappy with how integral VC is in the MyCareer mode may worry this new approach to MyGM could put a new emphasis on the currency, but Boenisch says the VC integration hasn't changed from last year. VC is still earned from playing games, and if you purchase your team you can still take a percentage of the profit. 

Revamped Free Agency

The NBA free agency moratorium is a five-day period before the official start of free agency where players and agents can meet with teams and hear their pitches. This process has never been represented in an NBA game before, but this year you can participate in a frantic three-day scramble to secure a binding agreement from a coveted player. Boenisch says this “fast-paced, dynamic time period will quickly weed out teams who, as Isaiah Thomas would say, ‘Aren’t willing to back up the Brinks truck.’”

If a player has high loyalty and is interested in re-signing, they will typically take their pre-existing team's offer, but players with high ambition that makes them either look for the biggest payday or the best team, the bids can get interesting.

Analytics

Ever since baseball’s Oakland Athletics starting using advanced statistics to build a pennant contender in the early 2000s, analytics have expanded their presence in every major professional sport. NBA 2K18 isn’t the first sports game to introduce analytics – NBA Live 15 incorporated Synergy Sports data on tendencies and behaviors that were updated in real time, and NCAA Football introduced Nike’s SPARQ rating to indicate a player’s overall athleticism. But this year’s suite of advanced statistics makes it easier than ever to identify free agents or trade targets that can fill very specific roles on your team. If your team needs a great rebounder off the bench, you can sort candidates by how many rebounds they get per minute. This gives you much more granular information than simply going by a players’ rebounds per game.

“You can plot players based on raw stats, per game stats, per 36 minutes, or per 100 possessions,” Boenisch says. “From there, you can reduce the data set to last 10 games, last 20 games, home games, away games, this season’s stats, last season’s stats, or total career stats. Additionally, you can create charts by setting items such as salary, age, height, wingspan, and more.”

Integrating The CBA Changes

Last year the league and players association ratified the collective bargaining agreement, which came with a host of new rules. Given Visual Concepts’ dedication to authenticity, the studio integrated as much of the new rules as possible in NBA 2K18. This includes the new super max contracts players like Steph Curry are signing, a higher mid-level exception/rookie scale contract salaries, roster minimums, two-way contracts, etc.

Stashing International Prospects

In recent years, some cash-strapped NBA franchises have made a habit of drafting eligible international players in the second round with no intention of signing them until a few years down the road. My GM now features the option to play this “draft futures” game as well. Players in the draft who don’t plan to come to America just yet will be flagged with the number of years they plan to stay overseas before entertaining an NBA contract. As these players continue to grow, they could become a critical piece of your team building or a valuable trading chip should you need ammo to make a blockbuster acquisition.

The changes coming to NBA 2K18’s franchise mode expand well beyond these five. Head to 2K’s official blog to read all about the other improvements, which include the integration of the G-League, improved draft class generation, alternate uniforms for created/relocated teams, arena rebranding, and new relocation cities.