NBA 2K19's Microtransactions Are Incredibly Popular, Despite Controversy

Microtransactions are big business.


Upon release in September 2018, NBA 2K19 was heralded by critics and fans alike as an excellent professional basketball sim with a microtransaction problem. Despite the controversy surrounding the game's microtransactions, NBA 2K19 is the biggest sports game success in 2K's history.

During an earnings call today, 2K owner Take-Two said NBA 2K19 has now shipped 12 million copies; that makes it 2K's most successful sports game in the company's history.

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Not only did the game ship a record-breaking number of copies, but NBA 2K19's microtransactions are proving to be incredibly popular. Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick said NBA 2K19's "recurrent consumer spending" revenue, which includes microtransactions, was up 140 percent during the quarter ended June 30.

Zelnick said NBA 2K19 is seeing "extraordinary growth in average games played and daily active users."

NBA 2K19's microtransactions come in the form of Virtual Currency (VC) that 2K sells in various allotments and corresponding price points from $2 USD to $100 USD. Players can spend the VC to upgrade their custom-created character and buy card packs to fill out their fantasy team.

GameSpot's review stated that "microtransactions loom over everything" in NBA 2K19. Numerous other reviews from critics and fans alike expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the way in which NBA 2K19 employs its microtransaction system.

Beyond microtransactions, 2K added seemingly unskippable pre-game ads to NBA 2K19 in another move that rubbed some fans the wrong way.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding NBA 2K19, the franchise is praised every year for its impressively faithful representation of the NBA experience with excellent controls and presentation and numerous modes to play.

In the earnings call, Take-Two boss Karl Slatoff said people enjoy the NBA 2K series because it is an "industry-leading" simulation game; players also enjoy the "lifestyle" elements of creating a character and progressing through the career mode, he said.

Zelnick, meanwhile, spoke about the evolution of how players connect with and experience 2K's NBA games over the years. People are spending more time with NBA 2K games these days, and that in turn creates an opportunity for 2K to encourage players to spend more over time.

"I think six or seven years ago, basketball was a three-month experience. And now it's a nine- or 10-month experience and we think it's going to grow to be a full, one-year experience," he said.

Slatoff added that the 2K League, which is an eSports organization dedicated to the NBA 2K series, has helped promote the NBA 2K video games and draw in new players. Additionally, the game's mixture of modes and features has gone a long way to attracting and retaining players, he said.

"If they're more engaged with the game, they're going to spend more money ultimately," Slatoff said. "There's a lot of dry powder there. We're still in the early beginnings of learning how to do this the best way."

NBA 2K19's recurrent consumer spending growth rate of 140% is far ahead of Take-Two's overall growth rate for recurrent consumer spending. Total recurrent consumer spending revenue--comprising virtual currency, add-on content, and in-game purchases--jumped 31% during the latest quarter and made up 58% ($313.5 million) of Take-Two's total GAAP net revenue for the period ($540.5 million).

NBA 2K19 was the single-largest contributor to Take-Two's GAAP net revenue during the quarter; it performed even better than GTA Online and Red Dead Online, according to the company.

Take-Two also measures what it calls "net bookings," which is the "net amount of products and services sold digitally or sold-in physically during the period, and includes licensing fees, merchandise, in-game advertising, strategy guides and publisher incentives."

Net bookings from recurrent consumer spending for the three-month period ended June 30 jumped by 55% and made up 67% ($282.9 million) of Take-Two's overall net bookings ($422.2 million. GTA Online was the biggest contributor to net bookings for the quarter, followed by the GTA V base game, and then NBA 2K19. In terms of digitally delivered net bookings, however, NBA 2K19 was No. 1

NBA 2K19 series producer Rob Jones told TrustedReviews that microtransactions are an "unfortunate reality of modern gaming."

“Every game, at some point, in some way has currency and they’re trying to get additional revenue from each player that plays the game. You know, the question has to be when does it feel like it’s a straight money grab versus when does it feel like it’s value added, right?"

NBA 2K20 launches on September 20, and given how immensely popular microtransactions have been in NBA 2K19, you can expect them to return in some capacity in the new game. Overall, Take-Two has said it wants to put microtransaction opportunities in every game it makes.

It's not just the NBA 2K series that is criticized for its use of microtransactions. EA's stable of sports games, including Madden NFL, FIFA, and NHL, all feature controversial "Ultimate Team" modes that allow players to spend real money to build out fantasy teams. As with the NBA 2K series, Ultimate Team is big business for EA, which makes hundreds of millions annually from it.

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