The newest NBA 2K20 trailer isn't even trying to hide the game's reliance on loot boxes and gambling anymore, as bits of gameplay are interrupted by depictions of both slot machines and wheel-spinning games that actors within the video treat like the most exciting video game development since 3D graphics. NBA 2K20 is the latest in the 2K Games franchise centered around basketball, and it's long been a contender for best video game about the sport with each yearly release.
Gambling and loot boxes are always a focal point of discussion in the games industry, but recently more consumers are beginning to receive protection from the practice thanks to government policies. Countries like Belgium have outright banned the practice, while others, like England and the United States, have seen preliminary discussions about restricting or outlawing loot boxes and gambling as well. Much of the controversy stems from the fact that there are studies that have begun to correlate problematic gambling dependencies in people who are exposed to loot box systems in gaming; that, coupled with the fact that many of these games are played by children, has made the discussion surrounding loot boxes and in-game gambling much more intense over the past few months.
That's why the new NBA 2K20 trailer feels especially slimy - while concerned parties are attempting to unravel the complicated web around microtransaction exploitation and how it affects vulnerable parties, 2K is glorifying the practice to the extreme. With NBA 2K20 finally including WNBA players, there's a lot to celebrate about the game, which makes this video even more disappointing. There's no real set-up for the trailer, no exciting new gameplay footage or mechanical reveals - it's a video entirely devoted to selling would-be players on the game's extensive use of gambling mechanics to assemble their ideal team. If that sounds like an exaggeration, it really isn't:
It's hard to imagine how a video like this got the green light in today's gaming climate, which has seen developers reticent to even hint at the presence of loot boxes within their titles - with Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford famously making headlines for his attempt to downplay microtransactions in Borderlands 3 by redefining what the concept meant. Critics are certainly noticing, too:
While the inclusion of loot boxes shouldn't be surprising at this point - EA has infamously attempted to rebrand the mechanics and has continued to defend their implementation in its games - the extent to which this video advertises them is troubling. Despite all the information consumers have about gambling in video games, it seems publishers aren't concerned, and have even begun doubling down on efforts to get people hooked on them before they even play. While NBA 2K20 will likely be an excellent video game - the franchise is known for it, and they're historically quite enjoyable from a gameplay perspective - it's being marketed as a casino game here. That's a huge problem and a big red flag for consumers heading into the game's launch.