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Five Things NBA 2K16 Does Right That Every Sports Game Should Emulate

by Matt Bertz on Oct 02, 2015 at 12:45 PM

This week 2K Sports gave gamers the first great sports title of the console generation, NBA 2K16 (read our review here). As with any high-water mark in a game genre, other developers have a tendency to emulate the success story. Over the last few generations we’ve seen great ideas such as online franchise, Road to the Show, and Ultimate Team mode spread across the myriad sports titles. Here are five elements of NBA 2K16 we feel are natural candidates for adoption in sports games moving forward.

Make The Time Between Games Matter

Many of the Road to the Show games follow the general pattern of having players build an athlete and slowly upgrade his or her skills over time as they play through games. Though other series have tried, thus far only NBA 2K has expanded the boundaries to include off-the-field activities that matter as well. The last few games of the series have continued to build on this concept to great effect, and now players have several ways to enjoy the life of a pro athlete. In NBA 2K16, you balance endorsement deals with working on your craft and hanging out with other NBA stars, each of which imparts unique bonuses. Bringing back an element of the Crib concept that 2K introduced in ESPN NFL 2K4, in 2K16 players can customize a home basketball court that friends can visit. This court also allows users to showcase their accolades and watch episodes of 2KTV. We would love to see this sort of management and customization work its way into the other sports franchises. 

Offer Franchise Relocation

Nothing is worse for sports fans than watching their team pull up its roots and move to another city. As a North Stars fan who watched his favorite team win a Stanley Cup for the hockey wasteland of Dallas, Texas, I can attest to this personally. Outside of extreme edge cases, fans rarely get a chance to rewrite history and reclaim their team, but video games can offer them that power. Why not let all the forlorn Sonics, Expos, Oilers, and Whalers fans bring back their favorite team? It’s a great way to engage fans who may no longer have a team to root for but still love the sport, and it gives a great sense of agency to players in franchise modes. EA introduced the ability to relocate teams when it brought back owner mode for Madden NFL 25, but NBA 2K16 takes this a step further by making you convince the other owners this is a good move for the league, adding an element of challenge to the experience.  

Tailor A.I. For Each Individual Team

For decades, each sports game has been guilty of essentially offering one A.I. opponent to compete against players. Thanks to an aggressive implementation of individual team tactics, NBA 2K16 truly makes it feel like each opponent is a different Rubik’s Cube to solve. Teams know what their strengths are and play to them, and they dynamically identify the tactics you are using during a game and try to counter. Minor steps are being made in some sports games like Madden, where in this year’s game quarterbacks truly seem distinct, but this is the exception to the rule. All NHL, MLB, and FIFA teams play too similarly at this point, so we hope developers look to 2K as inspiration for revamping A.I. behavior on a case-by-case basis. I want to feel the pressure of an elite NFL defense trying to make my offense one dimensional. I want to fear the skillful combo of Messi and Neymar linking up in open play, or steel myself for the check-heavy onslaught of a physical Los Angeles Kings team.

Turn Commentators Into Storytellers

The 2K Sports games have been at the vanguard of broadcast presentation since the days of Chris Berman's weekly wrap-up shows in NFL 2K5, and the NBA series has continued to push the boundaries each year. In 2K16, not only do the commentators freely transition between conversation topics and pull up contextually accurate stats, the pre- and post-game reports with Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson offer insights that make it sound like they actually watched the game unfold. This level of execution gives the games more meaning than simply looking at a box score after the game, and can add extra weight to your accomplishments. The many EA games have gradually gotten better at introducing contextual commentary, but there is much room for improvement across the board. 

Give Online Teams Customization Options 

This year NBA 2K16 introduced team customization across a bevy of modes, allowing users to change the team name, build a new arena, upload logos, and even design their team jerseys in MyGM, 2K Pro-Am, and MyTeam. Other games like the NHL franchise and the now defunct NCAA Football series have offered similar features in the past, but they always seem to fall by the wayside. With the growing collection of competitive modes like Pro-Am and EASHL, we’d love to see more developers embrace customization so teams can express themselves beyond just their team names.