Examining the State of MLB Gaming

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.