Assessing the Fallout from MLB 2K13

Posted March 14th, 2013 at 4:15 pm


MLB 2K13’s release last week turned out to be an embarrassing attempt at swindling consumers into paying $60 for a year old product. No yearly licensed sports title has ever unabashedly embodied being “just a roster update” and in doing so justified the cliched criticism often directed by the uninformed at the genre. The game is actually worse than that though as it contains even less content than last year with the sneaking out of online leagues and it isn’t be expected to receive much if any post-release support.

Having already discussed how the MLB situation portends the problem the NFL now faces, what does it all mean for the future of baseball gaming? 

MLB clearly demonstrated this year that they have no concern over product quality – only that they require a game in their name available on the largest selling console. Expectation then should be that the league will again make sure there is a licensed game out next spring on the 360 as well as the next-generation Xbox. The question then becomes what company will produce the series and will it even be worth considering given the inherent complications that will be faced no matter who takes the project on.

2K Sports has now released three devastatingly poor simulation products since taking on the exclusive third party MLB license. That doesn’t even count the offshoots they attempted that failed miserably like MLB Front Office Manager. The BIGS was the shining effort from the company but that, and its sequel, failed to gain traction in the marketplace as support for full priced arcade titles dwindled over the years. Taking those out of the picture though the league really only cared about how it was being represented with the flagship offering.

Following MLB 2K6 which launched on the Xbox 360 with a crippling freeze bug that prevented games from progressing past the third inning, MLB threatened to strip the license from 2K. They relented because of the money they would be losing if they pulled out of the deal which was exorbitant compared to its actual worth. Following the disastrous MLB 2K9 the league again threatened to withdraw from the agreement. They relented for the same reason they had earlier.

MLB 2K6 had a score of 66 on Metacritic while 2K9 came in with 64. So now how will the league feel with 2K13 which currently sits at 48? The contract with 2K was made only for this single year so they are free to go elsewhere. One has to figure that MLB wasn’t so shortsighted to not have a plan going forward or already someone in place to take over as the transition to the next generation of consoles arrives. After what was seen with the events surrounding 2K13 though maybe it would be a mistake to make such an assumption.

EA Sports recently referred to new franchises being in the works and though they later attempted to distance themselves from the implications of admitting to that the return of MVP would make a lot of sense given the timing. They could have secured a license last summer or thereabouts to produce MLB games beginning in 2014 and beyond with the belief they’d have enough time to develop them – though realistically that probably couldn’t happen. MLB still would have needed 2K to fill the gap this year regardless.

What if 2K Sports is the only company that would be prepared to release an MLB game on Microsoft consoles next spring? Would the league do what they did in this instance and disregard how poorly they are being represented simply to have something out on store shelves? Or would they recognize the damage that they are doing to future sales as their brand degrades?

There is no doubt that MLB deserves blame alongside 2K Sports for how MLB 2K13 turned out. It matters not who is at fault from a consumer perspective however. The bottom line is both sides have damaged their brands through the venture. If one side doesn’t want out for good the other still may.