NBA 2K20's release date - September 7 - is almost here!
Ahead of the highly anticipated release of the best-selling NBA video game, I had the opportunity to sit down with 2K's Gameplay Director Mike Wang to chat about what goes into NBA player's 2K ratings, who the toughest players are to rate and much more at the NBA 2K20 Community Day in Los Angeles, California.
2K ratings are something that generates a buzz every year around the time the game comes out. NBA fans, media personalities and 2K gamers embrace the debate of if a player was properly rated or not. There's always the talk of "how is Player A rated this if Player B's rating is this?" or "he's rated too high" or "he's rated too low".
Players themselves even typically chime in to let the Twitter World know how they feel about their rating - especially if they're displeased.
What Wang let NBA.com in on is that the ratings have become much more reflective of a player's analytical data than the basic stats or their rating team's personal opinion on a player.
"It's a really challenging process and we have a full team that does it now - thank God because players tend to get upset when their rating doesn't turn out right," Wang joked as he began to discuss how a player is rated.
"(The team) drives a lot of the ratings directly off of stats. That removes a lot of the subjectivity and it's really about how the players are performing on the court ... It's great that the NBA's stats site is so deep now because there's so much of it that we can just use there. Everything from the field goal efficiency at different spots versus different defensive coverages and all of those things factor into a lot of our ratings and we've been able to pipe a lot of it directly into (our ratings).
"But we're also careful to make sure that we're evaluating the analytics and interpret them to some degree and how to translate them into actual ratings. There's still a human factor of translating those numbers."
It's not just based off of the analytical data because as you know, the numbers don't always tell the full story. That's where the improved badge system comes in. NBA 2K20 now has 50 new badges - over 100 badges total - that allow the user to replicate the playstyle of NBA players even more than before.
The NBA 2K20 Demo is now live 🔥 Download for free to start building your MyPLAYER with more than 100 archetypes & 50 new badges to choose from 😤- NBA 2K20 (@NBA2K) August 21, 2019
Play the full story this #2KDay on 9/6 pic.twitter.com/j67iTXpfmL
"We changed the badge game so much this year - some of those badges, they're not really directly related to ratings. That's more to get a feel for how a player really plays so it's really just a matter of going back and forth with the gameplay team and the ratings guys and making sure everything is syncing up exactly how we want it to be," Wang told NBA.com
To build off of how players are rated, I was intrigued if it was harder to rate the NBA's superstars or role players. Wang's insight gave us NBA fans a clear-cut answer.
"It's easier for a Steph (Curry) or a (James) Harden because their efficiency is out there and they play so many minutes so there is so much data and that makes it easier because we have more concrete data for how they actually perform over time with so many field goal attempts.
"With the role players, it's tougher because you have to watch more games and do more scouting. Maybe there's a reason he only shot 30% or 20% on a lower volume of shots. My hat goes off to the ratings team because it's 24/7 scouting. It's looking at the data and watching all these different games and paying attention to matchups as well because that makes a difference too. It's a full-time job."
And as a 2K fan, you know that just because a star player is great in real life doesn't mean they're great to play with in the video game and vice versa. Take All-Star centre Nikola Jokic for example - Jokic is one of the best players in the NBA today but his game translates horribly to a video game. Then you have players like free agents J.R. Smith (who Wang uses as an example) and Nick Young, who you can sub in and instantly fill up the box score because their style of play is better suited to a video game.
Wang laughed at the question of "how difficult is it to rate a player like Nikola Jokic?" because it seems like something that is still being figured out by the development team, ratings team and gameplay team.
"I think the main thing with a player like Jokic is that we're trying to away from a "video game player" - J.R. Smith is a classic example here. J.R. Smith is an amazing player to use in 2K because he's so easy to play with. But with Jokic, who can do so much and does so many intangible things, that's where the ratings team really has to go in and figure out 'okay where can we bump him up in certain areas that aren't as visible or obvious to the user that can make him who he is?'"
Wang reverted back to growing the badge system each year to give the gamer a more life-like experience with their favourite players, even if they are harder to use in a game.
"It's a lot about expanding our systems and, going back to the new badge system this year, how we expanded the number of badges to cover more situations and cover more facets of basketball so we can express a player like Nikola Jokic the way he should be in NBA 2K."
Lastly, you always hear players talk about upping their 2K rating over the course of the season. It started with Hassan Whiteside's post-game interview a few seasons back stating "I'm just trying to get my 2K rating up" and has continued to this day, with Jayson Tatum being the latest to say he'll by a 90 by the end of the season this year.
I wanted to know how much of an impact a player's individual performance in a one-game or one-week span makes on their overall rating.
Wang stated, "It's changed a lot in terms of how we go about things. In the olden days, you had to get the roster right once and that was it. Now that it's a living roster, we look at those things and analyze the trends. We try not to overreact when someone goes off for a ridiculous night that's out of character. That's also what MyTeam is for where you can get those 'Moments' cards where a guy goes crazy for a night so we boost that card.
"But in general, for the updated ratings what they try and look for is 'how is this guy trending?' If he's going off for 40 a couple times in a week then that's when a player's ratings will see a little bit of an increase. But that's also where the subjectivity comes in because we don't want to go strictly off of stats and have the game break every now and then when a player has one big game. It's more about who are they really and who are they at their core and then try and adjust for how they're performing in real life."
Now knowing everything that goes into rating these players, it's hard to justify anyone arguing with a player's overall.
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