Alex Birlo on June 29, 2019
Several days ago a user on the NBA 2K subreddit had posted a screenshot that has since sent waves across the internet, sparked conversations and rants regarding the advertisements that show up in the new NBA 2K19. Apparently, there is no way skip them and the matches do not begin until the ad finishes.
There is no need in saying that NBA 2K is the biggest and most famous basketball video game and it is riddled with microtransactions and difficulty scaling that pushes players to spend additional money on in-game purchases to progress at a more reasonable pace.
But besides the immortal topic of microtransactions and loot boxes, now gamers got another reason to be worried – 60 dollar games with advertisements that cannot be skipped.
The game has features that make it fill more like you are watching an actual TV basketball game. It has a pre-show and announcers that react to developments during the game and converse before the beginning of the game starts. Now NBA 2k has also a screen that shows up while the game loads and plays advertisements for a real-life TV show and such. “Just like during the real TV matches of NBA” – the only thing is that you cannot skip it even if the game had already loaded.
This is a full price retail game, you pay 60 dollars for a full release game which brings up issues from various legal and moral perspectives – can they even do that? In essence, they are purposefully adding a component into the game that stagnates your game flow and your experience. The player cannot even skip the advertisement, which technically means that you paid a full price to be forced to see an advertisement, that brings additional ad revenue to the publisher of the game.
There are differences between when and where advertisements are shown and whether or not the viewers are accepting of the ad placement. There are ethical reasons why it is fine to show TV advertisements during a TV transmission of an actual NBA game, which you did not pay a ticket to go to, but instead, are watching on your television for free. That is how television existed for decades and we are accepting of that because the ad revenue makes up a big bulk of the total earnings of TV channels.
But it is a completely different thing when they sell you a full-value complete product, that you will be continuously using for an indefinite period of time. You will be plugging in the disc and playing this game in two, three, maybe four years from now – taking into account how sports simulators barely change from year to year in the grander sense – but have the developers fitted it with an unskippable advertisement.
The advertisement is not related to any in-game content they might want to notify you about, like “Fortnite” showing a new mode or a set of cosmetics on the loading screen. It is there not for the purpose of fun and realism – to convey the “experience” of watching an actual NBA match – because you cannot adjust it, turn it off or skip to your desire. It is just another blunt attempt to add an additional, real-world revenue source for the publisher, in an already packed with microtransactions game.
Legally, we can currently make only assumptions that they will have to warn people of things like that being in the game, to not hinder the consumers’ ability to make an informed purchase. Since there was never such a precedent in gaming before, it will be hard to “legally” argue this practice of updatable in-game advertisements similar to product ads on TV. In the short term, we can expect them making the ads skippable, because I doubt they will remove them altogether, at least not in this installment of NBA 2K. This is because they most probably already made a bunch of “promises” to ad-providers and have to uphold them in some shape or form.
If players will not voice their concerns with these form of in-game advertisements now while it is present only in one video game, we will soon end up with triple-A games having advertisements like mobile games and this might not be reversible.