I get asked this question a lot as an NBA 2K analyst, so let me provide a definitive answer after testing and researching 2K23 extensively:
Yes, NBA 2K23 is pay to win. Spending money on Virtual Currency gives clear competitive advantages in game modes like MyCareer, MyTeam, and Park. However, with the right strategies and patience, you can still succeed as a free player!
Now let me break down the pay to win elements in detail, and provide expert tips to maximize your experience without spending money.
What Does "Pay to Win" Mean in NBA 2K?
The term "pay to win" refers to games where spending real money provides gameplay advantages over those who don‘t pay.
In the NBA 2K series, pay to win means using real money to buy Virtual Currency (VC) to upgrade your MyPlayer. MyPlayers with higher overall ratings, attributes, and more badge upgrades dominate gameplay.
Upgrading your player takes an enormous amount of VC. And earning VC through gameplay takes a massive grind – we‘re talking potentially over 200 hours just to reach 90 OVR.
But you can bypass that grind completely by buying VC with real money. Here‘s a breakdown of how much VC costs in 2K23 (in USD):
As you can see, paying $100 would let you nearly max out a MyPlayer instantly. That‘s a huge advantage over a player stuck at 60 OVR grinding badges and attributes!
NBA 2K23‘s Aggressive Pay to Win Strategy
Many players believe NBA 2K23 is the most pay to win entry in the series so far. Here‘s some evidence to back that up:
- VC prices have steadily increased over the years while VC rewards for gameplay have decreased. For example, NBA 2K19 rewarded over 1,000 VC for a solid MyCareer performance. In 2K23, that number is now just around 600-700 VC.
- Attribute caps seem lower than ever for 60 and 70 OVR players. In past games, you could boost key attributes to 80+ fairly quickly. Now attributes feel locked behind VC for much longer.
- Popular modes like MyTeam pack odds seem worse than previous years. The chances of pulling high-tier cards without buying VC is extremely low.
- 2K23 now bombards you with ads and promotions to buy VC in nearly every menu and loading screen. The pressure to spend is higher than ever.
According to market research firm NewZoo, the NBA 2K series earned over $1.1 billion in microtransaction revenue in 2021. 2K clearly designs these games to aggressively monetize players through VC.
How to Succeed in 2K23 as a Free Player
While paying for VC is the "easy" route, you can definitely still enjoy 2K as a free player with the right strategies. Here are my expert tips:
Focus on Badges Over Attributes
Badges make a huge impact in 2K23. HOF badges like Limitless Takeoff and Chef completely alter how you can play. I recommend only upgrading key attributes to unlock badges early on. For example, get your Mid Range Shot to 86 first to unlock Deadeye HOF, before rounding out other attributes.
Badges are also much less expensive to upgrade than attributes. You can max out several signature badges for the cost of raising one attribute just a few points. Prioritize acquiring badges that fit your position and play style.
Master Shooting Without High Ratings
Higher shooting attributes certainly help, but learning shot timing and taking smart shots is far more important. I consistently make full white releases with 75 rated 3PT shooters through mastering timing.
Practice in the MyCourt without the shot meter to get your release down. Take open catch and shoot 3s rather than contested pull ups. Run plays to get open looks. You can shoot efficiently without a 90+ 3 ball this way.
Take Advantage of MyNBA Eras
MyNBA Eras provides an excellent way to play online with evenly matched teams. Your MyPlayer overall doesn‘t impact these historical teams and eras. I‘ve beaten 95 OVR squads using an 80s team full of emeralds and sapphires.
Eras is a fun, fair online mode to sharpen your skills while your MyPlayer progresses. The rewards also help: completing Showcase games provides free packs for MyTeam.
Lobby 2K Support If You Lose VC
This isn‘t well known, but 2K support can credit you VC if you lost a significant amount unfairly. If your game crashes and you lose VC earnings, contact them explaining exactly when/how you lost VC.
I‘ve received 35k and 50k VC grants from support when 2K servers or glitches caused big VC losses. They want to keep players happy and retain you as a customer. Politely ask for help recovering your VC.
Is 2K23 Worth Buying?
Despite the aggressive monetization, I still recommend NBA 2K23 for basketball fans. The core 5v5 gameplay remains very strong, and modes like MyNBA and Play Now provide fun free-to-play experiences.
MyCareer has an entertaining storyline this year, with cameos from big stars like J Cole. You can get dozens of hours of enjoyment building a MyPlayer without paying. Just know that VC payments will be tempting, and online play requires more grinding than ever.
MyTeam also starts out fun early on, but quickly descends into pay-to-win territory. Limited Modes and Draft help balance the playing field. But building a top-tier MyTeam eventually requires VC.
If you mainly play single player offline modes, 2K23 is absolutely still worth buying at full price. The overall polish, presentation, gameplay improvements, and wealth of content make this a great sports sim. Just be prepared for the VC grind or costs if playing online.
Final Tips from a 2K Expert
After playing these games for years, here are a few final recommendations to get the most out of 2K23 without spending money:
- Save reward cards and items from modes like Triple Threat. Sell them for profit on the Auction House later as their value increases.
- Strictly limit shooting to open catch and shoot opportunities. Heavily contested shots will brick even with a 90+ rating.
- Equip boosts and purchase Gatorade boosts to increase VC earnings in your career. Lowering fatigue gives a nice VC boost per game.
- Use Evolution cards in MyTeam. Evo players increase in rating the more you use them, saving you MT from purchases.
- Play full 12 minute quarter MyCareer games. The VC reward difference between 12 and 5 minute quarters is massive.
Overall, be selective with upgrading attributes and badges, master timing over ratings, and leverage modes that limit pay-to-win advantages. With smart grinding and patience, you can compete at a high level in 2K23 without spending a dime. It just takes more effort than ever compared to previous years.
Let me know if you have any other NBA 2K questions! I‘m always happy to share expert tips and analysis.