Sports game developers don’t always refer to their big-budget titles as games; sometimes, they call them “simulations.” The goal isn’t to make a game that’s necessarily easy to pick up and play, but rather to craft software that replicates the sport in question as accurately as possible. It’s a delicate balance: making too many concessions for usability means the game won’t “feel” right, while sacrificing fun for authenticity results in a technically sound game that nobody will want to play.
That’s hard, but some games get it right. For years, MLB The Show has provided sports fans with a baseball simulation that’s both remarkably detailed and fiendishly addictive. Madden NFL isn’t quite as well-rounded (even after all these years, the defensive game is still a work in progress), but it’s a permanent fixture at the top of the sales charts. Clearly, Electronic Arts is doing something right.
However, no sports title balances gameplay and realism quite as well as the NBA 2K series. 2K’s annual b-ball game regularly scoops up Sports Game of the Year awards, and its digital version of basketball is so compelling that players don’t need to know anything about hoops to enjoy it – it’s that fun. At the same time, NBA 2K offers an unparalleled degree of authenticity, with a broadcast-quality presentation and all the nuance and complexity of the real life game.
So, when NBA 2K says that the Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA playoffs, it’s worth paying attention. In 2K Sports‘ simulation of the NBA’s real-life postseason, the Warriors dominated the Western division and made their way to the finals, where they clobbered the Cleveland Cavaliers and won the series 4-2.
Using a video game to predict real-life sports outcomes might sound silly, but as the games get more and more detailed, these simulations are growing increasingly accurate. Last February, Madden NFL 15 didn’t just correctly predict the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory. As in real life, the virtual Seahawks were leading 24-14 in the third quarter. Also like real life, Madden’s Patriots rallied from behind, winning the game 28-24. In both versions of the game, quarterback Tom Brady threw four touchdowns.
That’s uncanny, and it’s highly unlikely that NBA 2K’s predictions will be quite that on-point. Still, the Warriors and the Cavaliers are the two favorites in the real-life tournament, too, and the simulation should give Warriors fans some much needed encouragement: the team hasn’t won a championship since 1975.