Erick Boenisch has an ax to grind. He sees the constant deluge of negative feedback about NBA 2K and its perceived overreliance on microtransactions in game design. As the resident producer of the multiple franchise modes present in each edition of NBA 2K, this persistent narrative doesn’t sit well with him.
“Every year when the game comes out, I read these reviews and whatnot, and it always makes me really frustrated when I read a review and it says, ‘2K only cares about microtransactions. All they do is focus all their attention on modes that make money,’” Boenisch says. “And I'm sitting here saying, ‘Man, I've got a 14-page blog SINGLE SPACED that 2K develops with!’ They give me people. They aren't cheap. I'm not cheap! It takes a lot of people to develop these modes… we don't make money on this. But it enhances the NBA 2K experience so much. I look at other games and they just don't do it, so I feel like we don't get a fair shake. We add all these modes like MyGM – two MyGMs now – and MyLeague to really enhance the value of the product and I wish more people would notice that.”
Some backlash over the microtransaction-heavy MyCareer mode may be justified, but Boenisch also has a point. In an era where the majority of sports games are focused on card collection and online modes largely to the neglect of the core franchise experience, NBA 2K is the series that keeps on giving. In the past few years alone, the studio has integrated team expansion/relocation, doubled down on online franchise when games like MLB: The Show and NHL ditched theirs, and trailblazed with the first narrative-driven franchise mode. And unlike MyCareer, none of this content uses microtransactions as the underpinning of the experience.
NBA 2K19 continues that forward trajectory with a large suite of changes. Here are the most notable franchise mode features coming to this year’s game.
MyGM Narrative Returns
Last year’s MyGM: The Next Chapter story was goofy, and the forced trade pissed off a lot of users, but it also was unlike anything else ever offered by a franchise mode. Operating as the general manager of whatever team you chose, you had to navigate treacherous behind-the-scenes situations to keep the team competitive, position the franchise for a draft promising generational talent, fight off the unsound ideas of a meddlesome owner’s son, and deal with the prospect of relocation. It wasn’t perfect, but I loved the concept and wanted to see them give it another go.
NBA 2K19’s MyGM: The Saga continues picks up shortly after the events of last year’s story. “Last year you had a choice between paths – you could choose to side with Bob Sanderson and the team relocates to Seattle, or you could spurn Bob and go back to your original owner and your team stays in whatever city you had chosen,” Boensich says. “This year, you're back working for the team you were working for originally last year, and you're in this place where the NBA is adding an expansion team. The new owner coming in, Tex Towers, he wants you to be his basketball operations director, not just a GM.”
From here, you build the franchise from scratch, which involves choosing the city, designing the jerseys/arena, hiring staff, drafting NBA players through the expansion draft, and picking your first prospects in the NBA draft. Along the way, you will interact with many people from last year’s story, including everyone’s favorite punching bag, Andrew Sanderson.
“Everyone hates him – there was nothing to like about him – but he's back this year,” Boensich says. “He's matured a lot and seen a lot of the errors of his ways, but at the end of the day he's still Andrew Sanderson.”
Before you start putting your stamp on the new story, you must answer a series of six questions that let you input what choices you made in the last game. From here, the story is frontloaded – most of your decisions must be made before the start of the 2018-19 season.
“It's a different feel this year,” Boenisch says. “I don't think it's truncated in any way. It's a lot more front-loaded. You're going to experience a lot more sequential scenes end-on-end. You're going to be reading for 10 minutes straight a couple times while the main storylines go through. There is gameplay as well, but when you're building a team and you don't even have players yet, you're kind of limited in what you can do.”
Good news for those who would rather skip the story altogether: You can. Instead of playing through The Saga Continues, you can fire up a traditional MyGM experience if you desire.
This is one of the new additions I’m most excited about. When you bring young players into your organization this year, you can assign them a player mentor to help customize how they develop via the badge system. For instance, LeBron James could take Brandon Ingram under his wing this year for the Lakers. As the GM, you can pick three of LeBron’s badges you want to impart to his mentee.
“Generally speaking you can only go up a level in badges for each year, so if you're nothing you can go to bronze, and if you're bronze you can go to silver,” Boenisch says. “If you're silver, it may take a bit longer to go to gold.”
This new feature already has me thinking differently about those last three roster spots on my team. I’ll probably be signing savvy veterans to these bench roles just to have them around to help improve my most promising rookies. Boenisch also says players who serve mentor roles are more likely to transition into coaching when they retire as well.
MyLeague Online Gets Live Draft/Free Agency Events
Last year’s fantasy sports-inspired “keeper” format for offseason moves in MyLeague didn’t sit well with many, so Visual Concepts has ditched the concept altogether in favor of live events for each major beat of the NBA offseason.
The shorthand way to think of this approach is if you could do it offline, you can do it online this year outside of one concept – player training. This expanded approach to online leagues includes team relocation, league expansion, financials/contracts, a real-time free agency period, real-time staff signing, real-time NBA draft, and even real-time league meetings to vote on new rule proposals.
Admins can control the pacing of each of these events by adjusting the timer for each sequence. Users can keep track of all their notifications and deadlines with a handy new League Members panel.
All of the league transactions during these periods are archived, so you can go back and look at past drafts or free agency periods to see how aggressive rival GMs may have been and use this information in your planning.
The Deepest Tuning Slider Set Ever Seen In Sports Games
Boenisch says it’s hard to please everyone when it comes to CPU logic for team building. While some might feel the trade mechanic is too forgiving, others feel it’s too stubborn. Given the impossibility of making everyone happy, Visual Concepts decided to give everyone the keys to the logic system with a new suite of tuning sliders.
“The reason we did it is obvious,” Boenisch says. “Our fans are super rapid about the NBA and they all want it to work a different way. There's no question on why it was done.”
This in-depth toolset lets you tweak everything from how teams value players or draft picks to player contract demands and player progression. If you don’t have time to adjust these settings but want a different type of experience, you’re in luck. Hardcore tweakers can upload their settings for sharing, and Visual Concepts has also created easy, medium, and hard settings for MyGM mode using these tuners.
You can dig even further into the options available here in the NBA 2K19 franchise mode blog.
Historical Draft Classes
The Import Draft Class feature has some interesting new additions this year thanks to historical draft classes. For NBA 2K19, Visual Concepts has recreated every draft class from 1976-2017, plus some of the most notable classes from the ‘60s and early ‘70s.
“We have rights to a pretty vast majority of players,” Boenisch says. “As you come toward the present, we have rights to more players. But there are some years we omitted where we didn't have the rights to the good players, or there just weren't any good players in it to justify the effort.”
You can import these classes at the start of any NBA season. Boenisch says he’s had fun using these to inject his league with standouts like Oscar Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Gervin, Michael Jordan, and other NBA legends.
Improved Player Creation
Last year, Visual Concepts got nailed for its weak player creation tools in NBA 2K18. They are fixing that this year with a new toolset that includes facial sculpting, 50 facial hair options, and fully customizable hairstyles that let you adjust the length, shave patterns, and fades.
This should give creators far greater control to make their own custom draft classes, create missing players from historical draft classes, and bring longtime absentees like Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller into the fold for all-time teams.
A new player DNA feature also lets you import player likenesses or attributes, which could be handy if you want to make a LeBron James Jr. for a future draft class. These templates can be shared with other people as well.
The List Goes On And On
The features highlighted above are just the tip of the iceberg for new franchise mode toys. The full list includes a lot more interesting concepts including:
- New NBA Draft presentation that offers more expert analysis on each pick.
- The new All-Star Game format lets you name the team captains and pick the teams in MyLeague.
- The All-Star Weekend now includes a Rising Stars young talent showcase game that pits Team USA against Team World.
- The new Summer League format adopted by the NBA this year.
- An Injury History menu displays the injury history for every player in the league. This will be useful for spotting injury prone risks in free agency and trades.
- Traded player exceptions are in the game this year, so when you move more salary than you get in return in a trade, you can spend that difference at any point in the next 12 months.
- A Draft Pick Tracking menu lets you see all your picks for the next five years in one place, outlining how the picks were acquired and listing any exceptions they may have.
- New rule change proposals including a Draft Lottery tournament that makes each team that didn’t make the playoffs compete for the rights to the #1 overall pick and another that eliminates conference delineation from the playoff equation and simply seeds teams with the best records from 1 to 16.
- Updated Draft Lottery odds to align with the NBA’s new approach starting in 2019 that gives the three teams with the worst records the same odds to draw the number one pick.
- User controllable season awards that allow you to decide which players earned these accolades.
To read more about these features, head to the NBA 2K19 franchise mode blog.