UPDATE (10/20): The NBA 2K21 Twitter account posted an update this afternoon addressing the unskippable ads that play during loading screens. The image reads:
“As many are aware, in recent years ads have been integrated into 2KTV segments. Yesterday’s 2KTV ad placement impacted our players’ experience in a way we didn’t intend, as these ads are not meant to run as part of the pre-game introduction. This will be fixed in future episodes. Thanks for your continued feedback.”
It’s unclear where these ads were supposed to run, since they seem to be running in the same places they have for the past few years. The wording suggests the ads will still be around until the next 2KTV episode. Either way, it’s great to see the NBA 2K team finally recognize this feedback.

 

For most games, loading screens are inevitable. Game states aren’t just always existing, they need to be built, and players can’t just watch that happen. What changes, then, are how loading screens are presented. Most commonly, games use an animation or a static picture while loading, like in Grand Theft Auto. Sometimes you get to play a small minigame, an idea that Bandai Namco had exclusive rights to until five years ago. This past weekend, NBA 2K21 decided on advertisements, which has become their go-to choice for the past few years. Also, the NBA 2K ads are unskippable.

NBA 2K21’s Unskippable Ads

Players began noticing the ads in loading screens on Sunday. Stevivor was the first to confirm reports, uploading a video of an ad for the Oculus Quest 2 during a loading screen for MyTEAM. Our own Chris Walker captured footage of an ad for Uninterrupted. Fans on the NBA 2K subreddit have been talking about it in a thread this morning. What’s worse, even if the game mode loads before the ad is over, players have to wait for the ad to finish before they can play ball. The practice of running ads on a game players have spent upwards of $100 on just to buy-in doesn’t sit right with players.

As I referenced before, this isn’t the first time the NBA 2K series has quietly run ads during loading screens. Players first reported the ads late in NBA 2K19’s lifespan. They returned around this same time last year for NBA 2K20to the same lack of enthusiasm. Fans of the series are understandably confused put off. NBA 2K21’s support of cross-gen this year has been lacking, and next-gen versions of the game will cost $69.99, ten dollars more than the industry average. So, why would NBA 2K21 burn through even more good will by continuing the use of unpopular, unskippable in-game ads?

Personally, I don’t mind loading screen ads conceptually. I’ve got nothing else to do during that time, so why not? If NBA 2K’s ads stopped when the game loaded, I’d be more sympathetic. Having to sit through the rest of an ad on PC, a platform I probably bought NBA 2K21 on so I could have shorter loading times, is a rough thing to defend.

Advertising in Games

On of my favorite examples of placeholder ads, from Tennis World Tour 2

Plenty of companies run advertisements inside their games. The billboards in Sonic Adventure 2’s City Escape level advertised other SEGA games, like Phantasy Star Online, as well as Soap Shoes, which Sonic apparently wore in-game to grind down rails. In-game ads are already prevalent in sports games, in the same ways that advertisements have been baked into the foundation of spectator sports now. The big difference is whether ads are in the foreground or the background. Ads in stadiums and on signs are decoration. They may draw your attention but they don’t demand it. During a loading screen, they’re the only thing you see, and in NBA 2K you don’t get the option not to see them.

Other companies have tried versions of NBA 2K’s model.  In 2018, Capcom added sponsored content to Street Fighter Vwhich included loading screen ads. The plus here was that players could turn sponsored content off in the options menu. Despite that, the idea was scrapped a few weeks after it’s addition due to negative feedback. Just a month ago, EA added and removed ads from UFC 4 that occurred during replay moments. “It is abundantly clear from your feedback that integrating ads into the Replay and overlay experience is not welcome,” EA said in a statement to Eurogamer. 

Historically, the NBA 2K series has not backed down from this, even through continued backlash. Changes like NBA 2K21’s Courtside Reports show that the team at 2K are making progress towards better transparency and feedback. Still, there’s no reason to think they’ll pull the ads this year.