Examining the State of MLB Gaming

by
Posted May 23rd, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Few are bemoaning the apparent loss of the MLB 2K franchise but the prospects of where that leaves MLB gaming are only slightly more optimistic than they had been under the third party license that is now expiring. With the end of the console generation near, and companies more risk averse than ever, there are a number of variables to consider when thinking of what company – if any – will choose to make a licensed baseball game in the next year or two. 

Sony’s own SCEA currently makes MLB: The Show which, despite some hoping otherwise, will never see the light of day on a Microsoft console. Not only would Sony not want to prop up a competitor with their software and in doing so degrade the value of their own system but Microsoft would avoid the game anyway since it would be promoting the PlayStation brand by building on an already strong fan base going into the next generation.

With the next Xbox and PS4 just around the bend – many expect at least one out before 2013 comes to a close – it may make the most sense for a company like EA Sports to build a product which would launch on the new hardware rather than rush out something sub-par. Timing wise even if EA already had the license at this point the turaround would be too short to release a full fledged MLB game next March.

The worst thing they or any company could do would be to follow in the footsteps of 2K Sports’ handling of the MLB 2K series. Once consumers turn on a product it becomes very difficult to sway momentum back in their favor. When facing an established brand like The Show mistakes can’t be made even in a year where the assumption lies that consumers would be more forgiving. They’re not – people don’t risk their money anymore on questionable video games. EA Sports will be facing this battle with NBA Live reemerging and they’ve taken care to put a ton of time and effort into the first release because they recognize there is no room for error. If they slip up out of the gate then they’ll never gain ground on the competition.

Before even getting that far though someone – whether a single company with third party exclusivity or negotiating through an open license – will have to incur those costs and everything that will go into building a whole new franchise. There are few companies in position to do that or that would even consider it. EA Sports of course is the likely candidate with the extremely well regarded MVP name in their back pocket but other possibilities – Konami, Activision, or Ubisoft – could emerge despite their seeming hesitation to do so with sports in the past.

However any company that gets involved will expect much more favorable terms than 2K Sports negotiated in 2005. If the league expects anything that lucrative they’ll end up like college basketball where both EA Sports and 2K Sports decided it wasn’t a profitable venture and bowed out voluntarily. The Show would still be around but come time to re-up the league could potentially price them out too.

The continual struggles with rising development costs, expensive licenses, and even dealing with related lawsuits have led many copmanies to shy away from sports while those who had been established have dropped a good number of their properties. As written about before fans of the NBA 2K series absolutely should be concerned about its future even as it seems untouchable now. Any stumbles and Take Two could look to get out of sports completely. If that series holds its ground then it’ll be NBA Live that fades out for good in a couple years.

With baseball there is a great deal of uncertainty right now which may not be cleared up in the immediate future. The likelihood of the Xbox 360 having a licensed MLB simulation game in 2013 looks slim at this point. There should be movement though for spring 2014 with the new consoles and the possibility remains before then of something along the lines of an arcade-style downloadable title that would have quicker turnaround and more reasonable costs associated with development. Short term it will be disappointing to lose baseball on the 360 but long term it could be healthy to get a real competitor in the market involved. More on where the MLB stands and the effect of licensing on the industry later this week.

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  • Neetocheeto

    Makes No Sense you want the youth to be in to baseball which they say has declining sales youth like video games (some adults/kidz to :P )

  • Nas003

    I miss MVP 2005.  I logged over 250 games online.  I even had mastered how to use the Devil Rays who were ranked dead last in the game.  The whole team was insanely fast and Scott Kazmir gave opponents fits.  I could small ball my opponents into oblivion.  I miss those days.

    • Sdwinder

      There definitely is space in the baseball game market for a great online game.  The Show has really dropped the ball there.

      We used to have a great online game with High Heat for the PC.

  • Ewsgtyh

    The state of American sports video games:

    Baseball? Life support.

    Basketball? Life support.

    Hockey? Life support.

    Football? Dead.

    • Tinman1078

      What is your definition of dead?  NHL 12, NBA 2k12 and MLB the Show all scored high (8-10′s…and mostly 9′s) by pretty much every major magazine or website.  Ill give you Madden is dead but NCAA is a solid franchise.  If you want to blame and make your arguement based on any of these titles for being released broken, then you should blame the entire industry and not solely sports games.  In no individual sport is there serious competition but that doesnt make the state of the game dead.

      • Ewsgtyh

        Tinman,

        I said “Life support” for Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey, not “dead”. Look at that problems:

        -There is probably only going to be ONE console baseball game now… and it will only be available for a Sony console! Why did this happen? Because 2K made such a poor product it couldn’t stand in the market anymore. Compare this to the not-that-distant era of sports gaming when there were multiple baseball games, and saying “life support” is the most generous thing that can be said about today’s state.

        -Basketball… same situation. At the moment, there is only ONE Basketball game. The only other ones died due to poor sales, and the only other one that competed with NBA 2K died due to sales and poor production values (NBA Elite). How is the state of Basketball games NOT on life support in this situation?

        -Hockey, same situation as the other two.

        -Football… well, I’m talking about NFL football. And honestly, NCAA Football is not exactly a completely different game from Madden; it actually has many of the exact same problems due to shared production values. The only difference is that people don’t hold NCAA to as high of a standard as they do Madden so this often gets overlooked. So it may be “solid” but I don’t see it anymore solid than Madden on the field (X’s and O’s, AI, animations) since it shares the same problems, NCAA’s modes are better, but that’s it.

        Football is dead. One company makes it, and they do a mediocre-at-best job with both games. The market has shrunk by millions (see the sales totals). Small incremental changes that were already in football games one, two, and three generations ago are being marketed as “innovation”. Compare this to a year like 2004… you can’t compare it, because football was alive, well, and healthy and that was the last season it was. Dead ever since.

        • Tinman1078

          I totally get what your saying about life support but I still disagree with you.  Sounds like our definition of life support is just different, cause I cant see how 3 of the major sports mentioned, each scoring high, can be considered near death, aka life support.  Granted they arent spry doing back flips and hand stands either.I dont think that just because they lack serious or any competition that they are phoning it in and thus on life support. 

          EA claims to be revolutionizing hockey for next season.  I get its EA but its not the Madden team, so we have no reason to believe theyre going to phone it in next year…and didnt this year.Same goes for MLB the Show and NBA 2k12.  I think EA is chomping on the bit to get in on that MLB license and Sony knows it.  Sony knows EA had a solid product in 04 (?) and is worried, so they wont be phoning it in either.  2K I dont think is terribly worried about the Live series, as EA has given no indication that they should be.My point is, just cause there arent 3-4 options for every sport,  and lets be honest when there were 3-4 options most of them were garbage, doesnt mean were better off.  Its like saying…would you rather have 3 ugly chics and 1 meh chic, or just 1 drop dead gorgeous chic. 

          • Ewsgtyh

            But you’re confusing an objective analysis with a subjective concept. I’m looking at this objectively. This isn’t about what’s good or bad (opinion) or the having at least 1 great game in each genre (opinion, but one I agree with), or even making a case for what the lack of competition has done (which it certainly has done damage, but that’s a slightly different discussion)… this is about a market’s growth or contraction (factual occurrence). If you have 5 of something and 4 die off, you have 1, and that’s a direct objective indication of the health of a market or an industry. Say the NFL suddenly contracted (folded) 31 teams, would you say the market for the NFL is healthy because the one team you love is still around? Of course not, it would directly indicate a major problem. Healthy industries always have more than one player.
             
            Consumers are always better off with more options. Imagine being able to only buy one type of TV, one type of food, one type of clothing, one type of car… all because the choices you use to have disappeared? That’s only good if you actually like the one type, but what if you don’t? Therein lies the fatal flaw in that thinking.

            See, you may be satisfied with the market as it is, but millions of fans of other franchises are left in the cold because their options are gone. For many of them, it’s the end of the road because not all of them are going to suddenly move over to the other option (Madden’s sales decline compared to last generation proves this). In Baseball, it’s even worse because if you don’t have a PS3 (and many people don’t) you have no options, so the dying market that’s there is now cut in half. If you don’t have a PS3, your baseball video game playing days are over for now.

            There is also a larger economic impact of development houses disappearing (i.e., loss of jobs, loss of income, lost spending to feed the markets).

            I’ll also point out another important thing; when EA grabbed the NFL license, they erroneously thought that they would not only maintain their then-current market, but also obtain the shared markets from other football franchises. They were wrong. Dead wrong. Madden’s console sales have gone backwards. They used to do as much as 4.5 Million on PS2 alone. Now they’re lucky to get that between all 3 major consoles. Why did that happen? Because the players who were playing NFL 2K, Gameday, Fever, Blitz, etc didn’t just pack up and move over to Madden like EA expected. When their favorite franchise died, they started playing other games in other genres, because they as a whole still don’t want Madden. And who can blame them? The game is a mess… and that’s another problem: the game being a mess actually turned many of their most loyal followers away.

            So to sum up, it’s not a matter of opinion. It doesn’t matter if we have one great game in every sports genre, that irrelevant to the big picture because it doesn’t change the fact that the market has severely contracted.

          • Tinman1078

            I agree with you, lack of competition is bad for consumers but I don’t think the majority of sales decline is based on lack of sports competition.  In 2005 consumers bought 49 million games, in 2011 consumers bought 609 million.  Consumers have more options in general and casual sports fans are reaching towards other genres.  I don’t think adding 4 more sports games is going to sway more consumers back to sports games and definitely not enough to make up for the initial financial investment required to meet quality that people are demanding.  Since most of these games are limited to a specific regions of the world market its impossible to believe that a developer can guarantee the sort of ROI needed to really compete with the quality in titles like Skyrim or Diablo 3, or the pre-existing series like madden or NHL.  I feel, based on the video game market as a whole, sports titles are doing considerably well considering the consumer base that is available as compared to other genres. For example look at FIFA 12, it sold 11 million copies, Skyrim sold 11.8.  You can argue that other soccer games create competition and drive sales, but Ive played all the major sports titles and FIFA looks and feels the same as pretty much every other EA sports title.  Soccer, futbol is more a global sport and has a bigger consumer base.  I don’t think its the quality or competition in sports games, I think American based sports games sales are hurt by the entire industry and not just one niche. 

          • Tinman1078

            I agree with you, lack of competition is bad for consumers but I don’t think the majority of sales decline is based on lack of sports competition.  In 2005 consumers bought 49 million games, in 2011 consumers bought 609 million.  Consumers have more options in general and casual sports fans are reaching towards other genres.  I don’t think adding 4 more sports games is going to sway more consumers back to sports games and definitely not enough to make up for the initial financial investment required to meet quality that people are demanding.  Since most of these games are limited to a specific regions of the world market its impossible to believe that a developer can guarantee the sort of ROI needed to really compete with the quality in titles like Skyrim or Diablo 3, or the pre-existing series like madden or NHL.  I feel, based on the video game market as a whole, sports titles are doing considerably well considering the consumer base that is available as compared to other genres. For example look at FIFA 12, it sold 11 million copies, Skyrim sold 11.8.  You can argue that other soccer games create competition and drive sales, but Ive played all the major sports titles and FIFA looks and feels the same as pretty much every other EA sports title.  Soccer, futbol is more a global sport and has a bigger consumer base.  I don’t think its the quality or competition in sports games, I think American based sports games sales are hurt by the entire industry and not just one niche. 

    • Keith.

      Also gotta disagree with you somewhat.  
      I’ve been playing sports games since the Odyssey 2, Atari and Intellivision games and, as a PS3 owner, I personally couldn’t be happier with where baseball and basketball games are today.  I love baseball but still only used to play the annual baseball games for a month or so, before I got bored (some games over the years like Baseball Stars and RBI Baseball were fun but nowhere near what we’ve got today).

      With the Show this year, I can see myself playing all the way through October, particularly if the Cardinals stay in the race.  I’m already looking forward to the next roster update when Matt Adams is added to my squad to replace Berkman at 1B.  

      I’ve never been a huge basketball fan but buy and enjoy NBA2k every year because there’s no denying that’s a great, great game.  Between that and the Show, and I guess you can also throw in Fifa (never been a huge soccer guy either), I love the way they are blurring the lines between a real TV broadcast with hyper realistic gameplay.

      Football may still be dead, but I’ve at least got some hope for the future.  And one of these years EA is bound to do a good job with presentation on their NHL series, so I’ve got hope there as well.

      • Ewsgtyh

        I hear that, and I understand yor point, but that’s beside the point I’m making. I’m not saying there aren’t great sports games (The Show, NBA 2K, FIFA all exist), but I’m pointing out the fact that we’re continuing to lose choices within each sports genre because development teams are dying off, which means far fewer sports games, and no competitive balance within each sports genre. The health of the market is dismal right now because competitive balance has basically disappeared. There is one football developer, one basketball developer, one hockey developer, and there appears to be just one baseball developer now (and they only develop for one console). This is a disaster.

        We used to have multiple football developers, multiple basketball developers, multiple hockey developers, and multiple baseball developers, and this wasn’t even long ago. So what do we have right now?

        -No competition in football
        -No competition in basketball right now
        -No competition in baseball now (it appears)
        -No competition in hockey

        I don’t count soccer as a major American sport because, well, Americans consider it on the fringe.

        … no competition is a bad, baaaaaad thing for innovation. Just look at the many (read “many” as “zero”, lol) innovations Madden has had since the disappearance of direct competition.

        ***As a sidenote… Just to give a little background, I’m from the same era you mentioned, so I’ve been through all these generations as well.***

        • Tinman1078

          I will agree with the innovation idea but its a double edged sword.  More developers can force better products but, for every skill stick idea there is an idea like QB vision. 

          • Ewsgtyh

            Amd I thought QB vision (flashlight) looked like crap, but the concept was solid… it just looked like crap, lol.

      • Amen_Ra

        Kieth you don’t play with Knight’s  ior should I say RidinDownKingsley rosters? SCEA rosters are a joke man.

  • Ewsgtyh

    The state of American sports video games:

    Baseball? Life support.

    Basketball? Life support.

    Hockey? Life support.

    Football? Dead.

  • Mjtags11

    I’ll miss mlb2k series.  Such great games

    RIP MLB2k

  • Mjtags11

    I’ll miss mlb2k series.  Such great games

    RIP MLB2k

  • gunner

    I think it is a case that a lot of people of “the younger generation” 10-35 yrs old just aren’t into baseball. Unless your a fan of a big spending team, Sox, Yanks, Angels, you have no dog in the fight.  I’ve been a Pitts. Pirate fan and the way the game is ran has turned myself and many others against it.  Pirates according to documents from 08 knew they would make more money losing by attaining revenue sharing for finishing in bottom 5 of all mlb teams vs trying to win, so they trade best players away for prospects yearly.  Sorry about the rant, however I want to paint a clear picture as to the state of the “sport”.

    Now try to translate the above to equate fun in a video game isn’t an easy transition, which is why baseball is waning in popularity compared to the others in the big 4 of major league sports.  I don’t think any studio in this economy is going to want to risk money on a license.  For april NPD has the show at #10, while Tiger is 4 and NBA 2k is 5.  Hell Just Dance 3 finished higher than The Show.

    • Marginwalker12

      Come on gunner! You don’t really believe that do you? I’m 27, and I saw some of the greatest post- season baseball ever. D’Backs and Yanks. Jeter’s flip. The 7 game series between Angels and Giants. The Marlin and Cubs series. Hallladay no-hitting Cincy. The Red Sox historic come back against the Yanks on route to their first World Series since 1918 (I believe). Baseball is as healthy as its ever been. And it’s only going to get better as more high school athletes are flooding to the game. I respect your decision. But look at the bright side. This game has just as many up and coming marketable start since it’s last hey day before the ’94 strike. Love the game right now. Unlike my love for the NFL which is at an all-time low. Thanks commish.

      • gunner

        Look I think you make valid points, the final regular season day last year is hailed as one of the best days the sport has enjoyed.  It is hard for me to be a fan when my team knows how to milk the system like someone on welfare for 20+ years like the Pirates in the midst of year 20 of straight losing seasons, many were set up to lose on purpose to take the revenue pie from the luxury tax the Yanks and Sox give out.  I think you can understand why i’m jaded on the MLB as a whole because it is their system that allows the Pirates to commit fraud yearly.  

        Read this article if you don’t believe me http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=5484947

        • Marginwalker12

          I think you’re over-looking the impact of the draft salary cap. In previous years, the Bucs were forced to take less than stellar players because agents were free to negotiate for their clients without any market restraints. Now that’s out the window. Verlanders don’t slip to the Tigers. And the Rays have proven a more efficient way to compete than moneyball ever did. And with the Angels, Philllies, Red Sox, Tigers, and Yankees having seasons that don’t support their payroll and the Cubs and Mets in nowhere land… this has been the best season for small market in a looooong time. The steroid era was defined by players that played great well into their late 30s. Now players are falling off at 32. So the average player doesn’t hit free agency until he’s 30. Which means the big market teams will continue to have to shell out large contracts like those for Howard, Crawford, and Pujols, and it’s proven that’s no longer the most efficient way to build a team. Pirates will come around.

        • James Kraft

          I think you’re forgetting, or at least not realizing one thing, Gunner. As much as we the fans hate it, baseball is a business first and foremost. I know, “You’re a Yankees fan, what would you know?” but if you could get free money by not investing in your players or team, would you not take it, from a business standpoint? The problem I have is that fans outside of the Angels, Yankees, and Red Sox vilify said teams because they invest heavily in their clubs. Their owners know that a winning ball club has more chance to earn loads of money. Sure, they are in bigger markets. However, Pittsburgh is the type of city, in my experience, that if their team is winning, the fans will back them 2000%. 

          Overall the situation is awful all around and didn’t benefit anybody other than the owner(s). Ethically, it’s not right. However, business-wise it made all the sense in the world. Who wouldn’t love a “put less in, get more out” business model? I think since those documents came out, the Pirates organization is at least appearing like they are fielding a competitive team.

          • Gunner

            I don’t disagree with anything either of you guys said.  I’m just stating a case as to why Baseball Video games have and will struggle.  I don’t want to deny anyone who loves the sport and their teams.  The bottom line is based off of my fandom from a a viewpoint of my team has intentionally lost to gain revenue.  That is no sport it is business as you said James.  And as a result over the years it has been thrown in my face that is what it is.  I’m not mad at the Pirates for making a dollar, but when the sport is set up to reward teams for losing on purpose, the system is broken.  Fans like myself get turned off by that, and in turn I don’t watch those marquee match ups you guys are discussing.  

            If i’m not watching the premier games then I in turn won’t be buying a video game based off of said sport.  Baseball can be a great and fun sport, I used to love it years ago, however based off of multiple MLB issues they have turned many fans against the sport.  I’m not making this up, look at this article http://www.cinemablend.com/television/MLB-World-Series-Loses-18-49-Demographic-ABC-Modern-Family-36243.html 
             
            Young people dont watch baseball even during their most important games and as a result it doesn’t make sense for a game company which caters to the same demographic listed in the article to invest in at this point.  

    • Sdwinder

      Keep I’m mind, The Show 12 has not had any real sales discounts either since it released.

  • Wallacetravis18

    Bring back Ken Griffy Jr Presents Major League Baseball with updated rosters and stat tracking.  Best Baseball game ever.

  • James Kraft

    I think this sums up your story quite well:

    “Short term it will be disappointing to lose baseball on the 360 but long term it could be healthy to get a real competitor in the market involved.” 

    I’m very happy switching to a PS3 back in 2009, because I bought the system just to play The Show. The other games I liked were cross-platform, so it only made sense. Not to pile on Xbox owners, but this really hurts if you’re a baseball fan, not to have a game next year will stink. However, I think it also saves you $60 and multiple headaches.

    It’ll be a little while before we see another MLB game on Xbox and I have a feeling it won’t happen until the next-gen consoles come out. In my opinion, what’s the sense of putting money into a product that has a short shelf-life? If it were my money, and the dawn of the next gen was a year or two away, I would wait a year, then start development on a new baseball franchise for the new console. We’ve all seen what happens when you hurry a product (Madden ’06 Xbox) just for the sake of having a product. Not sure Madden has recovered customer loyalty- and forgiveness-wise.

    Lastly, these people who think SCEA would sell their product on a Microsoft platform are crazy. How that even enters their mind, is beyond me. That’s like Google pre-installing Apple’s iTunes on all of their Android devices.

  • Keith.

     I wonder why we don’t get an article speculating about the future of the Tiger Woods series?

    The newest weekly top 100 sales chart is out, and while MLB2k for the 360 comes in at 29th place this week (it’s been holding pretty steady), Tiger Woods 13 is nowhere to be found in the top 100.  I mean, even NBA2k12 for the Wii made the chart (at 97th place).  

    I’ve got to believe there are a LOT of licensing costs involved with TW13.  For it to be bombing in sales like it is this year (last year’s numbers weren’t that great either), I’m wondering how much longer we’re going to be seeing a golf game from EA.  

    • Keith.

      Here’s a link to the Chart.  Great to see the Show still selling very well — it definitely deserves it.  Only Diablo III, Max Payne 3, and Game of Thrones sold more copies than the Show for the week.  Meanwhile, NBA2k12 keeps plugging away with good numbers as well.

       http://www.vgchartz.com/weekly/41049/USA/

      • http://pastapadre.com/ pastapadre

        And again you’re using a website well known for making up numbers. I’m not going to provide analysis unless I have hard data – in the case of sales that comes from NPD or my internal sources.

        • Keith.

          I read on Joystiq today that npd is just now going to be including sales from Walmart — before it only consisted of gamestop and amazon (and still won’t include digital download sales), so I’m not really sure why you insist on putting npd up on some pedastal.

          Vgchartz has a weekly 100 chart for all to see, and it looks about right each week to me. TW13, SSX, Fifa Street, and Grand Slam 2 are all missing in action.

          • Smsixx

            NPD is also used for research numbers for most fortune 500 companies as well.

            Funny that companies that have millions at their disposal would use such “unreliable” resources.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Wade/100000468932368 John Wade

      I wonder why you always turn the discussion to something about EA Sports. And I’m probably not the only one.

      • Keith.

        Really bothers you, doesn’t it.  Particularly when I’m telling the truth, and there’s nothing really that any EA lover can say in response.

        Tough shit.

    • mcmax3000

      What indication has there been that the Tiger Woods series is going anywhere?

      Even if the sales this year aren’t good (I haven’t seen any reliable sales numbers, only that it was #4 in April’s NPDs, which made it the top sports game, but it sounds like April was pretty bad overall, so being high on that list doesn’t really mean much), I’ve seen zero indication from EA, or anyone other than you, that the future of the series is in danger.

      Also, I don’t know on what planet last year’s game didn’t do well considering it had the best first week sales of any game in the series’ history.

  • Jarod

    I’m glad I have a PS3. I’m not getting MLB 12 and will likely wait for the next gen systems to come out before I get another baseball game.

  • Alex

    Hope for Konami because they develop the best baseball game Pro Yakyū Spirits. check out some videos of it amazing graphics great gameplay overall amazing sports game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Bliss/734400529 Tim Bliss

    Really hate these exclusive licenses. Anyone that wants to make a sports game should be able to go to MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL or whatever it may be and get a license to make a sports game. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulhanlinjr Paul Hanlin Jr

    This year, MLB2K PC >>> The Show.  Sorry, but when I can’t even muster 2 runs on the easiest setting of The Show because they made the hitting 1000% more difficult (an endless stream of foul balls when I think I hit it perfectly), it’s 2K Sports by default.  I want to use MVP 2005 on the PC, but I’ve got Windows 7 64 bit and it won’t play on it.  I need someone to help me walk through getting it to run (can’t even do the run as admin bit).

  • Pacoheadley

    Out of the Park Baseball is much better :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jj.tartarini JJ Tartarini

    I’ve been reading a few of these articles about the license agreement for next year and I keep thinking, “what about Konami?”, to me they seem the most logical, let me explain. Konami has a Japanese baseball game called Pro Yakyuu Spirits, which to baseball enthusiast, arguably is a better game than the Show.

    If Konami picked up the license, they already have a game engine many say eats the Show’s lunch from Pro Yakyuu Spirits, now it would be importing the culture and style of American baseball.

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