A lot of people really hate lootboxes. This mechanic has players spending money to get a random assortment of digital items similar to packs of baseball cards. But this business model has drawn the ire of players who hate the idea of spending money without knowing what they’re going to get. And yet, someone must like these things because why else would publisher 2K Games make a trailer for its upcoming NBA 2K20 basketball sim that highlights just how much fun it is to get random items from lootboxes in a video game?
Earlier this week, 2K published a video that shows off many of the new features in NBA 2K20’s MyTeam. In this mode, players build dream teams by collecting cards. And you collect cards by opening up randomized card packs. This mode type first came to prominence in FIFA Ultimate Team from EA Sports. But this deck-building mode has proliferated throughout the entire sports genre. Today, it’s even in management-style sports sims like Out of the Park Baseball.
But while modes like MyTeam are all about getting those rare cards featuring legendary players, publishers like EA have focused on how this mode enables fans to “build their own teams.” 2K Games, however, is focused on something else: How much fun slot machines are!
As Twitter user BrianPickett pointed out in a tweet, the new trailer for NBA 2K20 almost seems like someone satirizing the idea of microtransactions. And yet, the publisher is absolutely serious.
NBA 2K20: Who got their basketball in my lootbox game?
This NBA 2K My Team trailer is a grim nightmare of loot box stuff and almost seems like a parody at some points https://t.co/WJ4tsCAXXK
— Brian Pickett (@BrianPickett) August 28, 2019
The MyTeam trailer has very little actual gameplay in which someone is playing basketball. Instead, the video jumps from one way to earn digital items to another and another. Here’s each “surprise mechanic” that gets some attention in the video:
- Opening randomized card packs
- Jackpot prizes you can earn by spinning a wheel after winning matches in the three-on-three Triple Threat mode.
- Pachinko machines … really
- Slot machines … no, really!
- A Wheel of Fortune-style wheel.
- Something called “Huge reward cards!”
And it’s not just that the game includes all of these ways to get new cards or even that 2K is highlighting them in a trailer. It’s the brazen way that the publisher is presenting the lootbox mechanics as core to the appeal of the franchise that is so surprising.
I usually try to resist jumping all over games that have lootboxes. If you don’t like them, don’t play them. But to me, 2K almost seems like it wants to get caught. Like it wants a regulator to step in and stop it from behaving this way.
Regulation could be coming. Congress has put lootboxes on its agenda, and the FTC held a workshop about the business model earlier this month.
And maybe it’s overdue. Because when the MyTeam trailer ends with one of the actors screaming in ecstasy as he unlocks a top-tier Lebron James card, I found myself looking for the legal disclaimer. If 2K is going to market the experience of unlocking a Lebron James card, shouldn’t it have to say that this result isn’t typical. Or at least tell us the odds or the average amount of money a person would have to spend to get that experience?
It doesn’t, though. The advertisement doesn’t have anything like that. And in 2019, that seems weird.