NBA 2K20’s ‘loot box’ trailer is gross, and ratings systems are completely useless

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One of NBA 2K20’s latest trailers has caused quite a stir with its MyTeam mode and has rightfully raised questions about regulation in the industry.

To say the attention towards the NBA 2K franchise has gotten away from the game’s on-court brilliance would be the understatement of the century.

With 2K20 coming out in merely a few days, you would think the hype would be through the roof for a new installment in the series is touted around as the best, most fully-featured sports experience year after year.

That’s not exactly the case right now, though.

Not for anything involving gameplay changes, anything to do with the booming 2KLeague or even the cringe-inducing, borderline-awful story passages of MyCareer or MyGM. Instead, we come to a point where the actions of one developer and publisher and the negligence of governing bodies could affect the outcome of an entire industry.

2K decided to brilliantly showcase a trailer for this year’s MyTeam mode that made the experience come off like being at a virtual casino. The short video is filled to brim with bright lights, spinning wheels, slot and pachinko machines along with, you guessed it, packs (aka loot boxes) as far as the eye can see. All for a $60-100 asking price upfront and for digital cards that are only good for around 9 months, give or take.

Naturally, the video got quite a bit of backlash. The reaction was so bad that 2K pulled the video from YouTube, yet it’s still on Twitter as a pinned Tweet on the verified MyTeam account in all of its sadistic glory.

There’s also some pretty blatant shilling going on here by whoever these people are. The fake, unbearable reactions to “random odds” of getting players and bonuses might seem laughable at first. But then a more sinister feeling sets in. One of fear and anger that comes when you realize who the demographic for this sort of thing is.

Kids. This messaging and advertising is geared towards children, and it feels like no one within the industry wants to stand up and say anything about it.

Don’t believe me? A new study from the Safer Online Gambling Group, a group co-founded by a former gambling addict, shows the money spent by kids on in-app purchases is estimated towards $330 million per year. 

It also goes on to mention that one-in-two kids from ages 11-18 said they bought a loot box recently. The study also goes into the rise of microtransaction advertisements specifically targeted towards kids on social media, and average spending on in-game content being upwards to $730 per year.

That’s not to mention the countless examples of kids draining their parents’ accounts to get that one player or upgrade in a game. Yes, not all of these specifically tie back to loot boxes, but it’s a problem worth pointing out all the same.

So watch the trailer again knowing those numbers. Clearly not marketed towards younger players or people with gambling issues, right?

It’s a shame coming from 2K, too. Once a pioneer in the sports genre has now become a complete laughing stock and the ire of public opinion. This isn’t the first time their NBA franchise has come under fire either. 2K18 got backlash over its horrendous VC policy that restricted everything down to the haircuts a player could get.

Soak that in. You either had to grind like hell to get a haircut or pay actual money for one… for a character that isn’t even real. Let’s also not forget last year’s game, which had unskippable ads put in for almost no reason whatsoever. Again, in a game that charges full price on an annual basis.

Of course, being owned by a company like Take-Two doesn’t help either. Between a CEO who doesn’t get why game developers would want to unionize despite reports of toxic conditions at one of his studios or bringing timed exclusives with the Epic Games Store to extract every cent they can with AAA-caliber games that should sell well regardless of where you put them (*ahem…Borderlands 3*).

Let’s not forget that this company is making money hand over fist off Grand Theft Auto V well over six years after its initial launch.

Chalk NBA 2K up to that list too. Year after year, it lands in the top three or five of the NPD best-sellers list. It’s always a blockbuster title. So why even have stuff like this? Why go after people too young to understand or, in some cases, to helpless to want to fix themselves?

Surely the NBA license isn’t expensive to the point where you have to keep enacting dumb policies like this just to stay afloat. Then again, I guess those soundtracks or corny 2K TV segments that are thrown in your face before even playing a game don’t pay for themselves. All for a game that, again, costs the normal retail price year in and year out.

But what can be done? It’s not like there are groups that are supposed to regulate this sort of thing and protect consumers.

Except there are, and none of them are doing their jobs.

As of this writing, the ESRB has done nothing to address this despite a pretty nasty online backlash. NBA 2K typically gets an E for everyone rating, which is pretty self-explanatory. Practically anyone can buy it.

Believe it or not, you have to get to the Adults Only rating, a step higher than Mature, where you see a policy for gambling with real money. You know, the typical practice of buying and opening 50 packs for a YouTube video with a goofy thumbnail that’s easy for kids to click on.

The Teen rating does have a guideline for simulated gambling (i.e. paying for packs with VC earned by playing the game), but that’s obviously not the only thing going on here.

The European PEGI system is even worse, as games like NBA 2K are typically rated PEGI 3, meaning that they’re suitable for ages 3 and up. That’s right. Apparently, loot boxes are for children who, in most cases, aren’t even attending school yet.

PEGI did actually respond to someone on Reddit, only saying that they can’t enforce something that’s shown in a trailer because it may or may not be in the final product. Given that the game releases in a week, it’s highly likely that what you saw is what you’re going to get.

And yet these groups sit around and do nothing while these issues continue to pile up. It’s to the point where governments are stepping in and you even have gamers agreeing with an American conservative about how to handle the issue.

Cute little stickers on physical packages are not enough to stop this anymore. Period. There has to be a change to the rating systems in order to see some real change. Any game with loot boxes, whether it be pay-to-win or cosmetic, that you can pay real money for should get that rare AO rating.

Even if it’s just one game like NBA 2K to set an example, then so be it. Unfortunately, this likely won’t happen and we’ll get trapped in the vicious cycle again unless legislation passes somewhere.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just a problem with 2K. Sports games nowadays are full of this stuff. It’s everywhere, and in some cases, permeates throughout the entire experience of just wanting to sit down for a normal game of Madden or MLB The Show let alone just booting up the game before seeing a splash page ad for Ultimate Team or Diamond Dynasty.

Mobile games are littered with this stuff too, but at least the vast majority of them are free to play. It doesn’t make what they do right, but it’s slightly (and I mean very slightly) more forgivable than charging full price on top of loot boxes.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, as someone on this site who reviews sports games somewhat regularly, and even I’ve been pretty lax towards these modes in previous reviews. I usually don’t take them too heavily into account mainly because I know to stay away from them, but I’ve failed in thinking about ones who can’t or ones who do but shouldn’t.

For that, I might come off as a hypocrite, and I apologize in failing to do my duty in informing you fairly and objectively.

However, it’s not something I plan on doing again from this point out. I can promise you that.