Visual story based on persona: “2K Paves the Way”

I wanted to step outside my comfort zone this week in my Visual Storytelling class at MICA, so instead of creating a visual story aimed at, say, a parent reluctant to let their child pursue a liberal arts major in college, I elected to stick with the brief.

We were asked to interview a random member of our cohort, talk to them about their work, and generate a client “persona” that could be used to imagine an audience for a particular visual story. I got Louis, a data analyst for 2K Games! I know nothing about the games that Louis works on, but he’s currently trying to figure out how to generate more player engagement in NBA2K, an eSports video game based–you guessed it–on the players of the NBA.

I watched some game play on YouTube, looked at various news stories about the game, and did some research about NBA vs WNBA stats during the regular season. NBA2K added the WNBA roster in 2K20, with important updates in 2K21, and now, for 2K22, it has just launched the first ever cover featuring a WNBA player, Candace Parker–the backlash for this inclusion has been vivid and swift. I wouldn’t really call myself a basketball fan, but I learned some things about the WNBA that made me women’s-basketball-curious!

Persona for “2K Paves the Way

  • Louis Y.       
  • American, working in Singapore
  • Data Analyst for 2K Games, focusing on NBA2K
  • 35-45yo
  • Father
  • Marvel fan

Louis is a father—a self-styled “Super Dad”—who works in Singapore as a data analyst for 2K games. He works on NBA2K, which is their top-selling game; it offers a single-player narrative focus with a custom avatar, brought up through high school and into the NBA, through to playoffs, as well as a competitive team mode, with the ability to gain new and better players in a kind of lottery. Louis is a huge Marvel fan, having grown up with the stories, and he says that a lot of the characters resonate with him; he likes how the heroes are “modeled after people you see every day, but ramped up.” As an analyst for 2K, and a player of video games himself, Louis is trying to figure out how to “entice” users to spend more or play more in NBA, which has just released 2K22 and more WNBA player options. The video game industry is a lot “like gambling”; in addition to the player lottery, users may either play more to gain skills and level up or pay to gain skills and level up.  As a father, Louis commented that the Marvel universe taught him how to “always have a plan B, and plan C, and plan D,” which is another way to be heroic. He is also very generous with his time, helping others in the cohort and on his team.

One challenge Louis faces in his work is coming up with new items, skills, and methods that convince people to play more—and spend more—in the 2K environment. User reviews on NBA2K suggests that users want more opportunities to earn coin to spend in the environment. NBA2K is doubling down on the committment to gender inclusivity, and one of the three covers for its 2K22 edition features WNBA player, Candace Parker. Is there a way to connect the client’s goal to a social good, which is also potentially marketable? I found it interesting that Louis connected his identity as a father to his interests in heroes—what are professional basketball players to many if not real-life heroes? Can we capitalize on this idea to generate revenue as well as a future that is more receptive to female players in eSports—which has the lowest percentage of female representation of all game genres?

Visual Story

Live Tableau Dashboard: https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/tonya.howe/viz/2KPavestheWay/2KPavestheWay

I wanted to create a visual story with a small degree of interactivity to engage the viewer in learning about general characteristics of WNBA play. The headline and setup—the header “2K Paves the Way” and the blue paragraphs on the left—set the stage for the twofold goals of this narrative: social justice and player engagement. The first set of bar charts show WNBA and NBA stats during the regular season 2018-19, first game play (assists, passes, blocks, steals) and then scoring habits (3pt accuracy, goal accuracy, free throw accuracy). Each bar is clickable, and popups containing relevant information give more data. I chose not to include the headers because I wanted readers to see that across many of these areas, the red league out performs the blue league. But which is the WNBA and which the NBA? The second bar graph shows women’s participation in different genres of videogames. It is significant that while almost half of all gamers are women, only 2% of the players of eSports are women. This suggests a very large market that can be capitalized on. However, to avoid losing out on existing male players, it will be important to educate about WNBA play in a non-confrontational way. User reviews routinely asked for more ways to earn coin; I thought that 2K could capitalize on their early adoption of the WNBA and add opportunities to earn coin that are specific to WNBA stats, like high numbers of passes and assists per game, high goal success rates, and high free throw success rates. Notably, in all of these areas, the WNBA outperforms the NBA. I used a color scheme that is gender-neutral, and a style, modeled on the 2K22 cover image of Candace Parker, that suggests the “superhero”—the young gamer on the left looks up at Parker, on the right, suggesting both that she is controlling Parker and admiring her.

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