OK, I’ll admit it: I love videogames. I also love sports. But it takes a darned good sports videogame to pass muster with me.
The newest sports videogame obsession of mine is a little title called MVP Baseball 2005, and despite it being the best baseball sim on the market this season, we’re already holding a wake for it…
Why, you ask? Not because the company that made it is about to go under or anything. Nope. EA Sports is doing just fine, thanks.
It’s also not because we’re about to go through a change in videogame hardware, what with the next-gen launches of the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Dolphin (working title), and Microsoft YBox (also a working title). That’s not it, either.
No, the main reason we’re holding a wake for the best baseball title on the market this year is because, thanks to Take-Two Interactive, starting next season, they will be the only company that can make officially-licensed, MLB and MLBPA-approved major league baseball videogames. Take-Two, which also publishes Grand Theft Auto, is expanding into the lucrative sports market in a big way, buying out developer Visual Concepts from Sega of America and taking over the 2K line of sports videogames, just as the ESPN license and the NFL/NFLPA license has slipped over to EA Sports, exclusively.
For the past several years, videogame fans have had plenty of variety to choose from. Want an arcade-style baseball videogame? Go to Midway’s product. Want a deep sim? EA Sports is for you. Want a blend of arcade action and sim-style depth? It’s the 2K line that’s your best fit.
No longer. While EA Sports may use a first-party loophole to continue their MVP Baseball series, by developing it but having Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft publish it under their banner for their platforms, EA Sports can no longer, as a third-party publisher, continue the MVP Baseball series as an officially-licensed game, sporting real teams and real players.
Of course, in the grand tradition of Tecmo Bowl Football, EA could choose to continue MVP Baseball with fictional teams and players, but really – what’s the point of that? Their motto is, if it’s in the game, it’s in the game… and for the next seven years, there’s no game that EA can get into.
The sad part is, Take-Two isn’t being evil so much as merely getting revenge. A few months ago, EA Sports struck a similar deal with the NFL and the NFLPA, barring anyone other than EA from making officially-licensed NFL videogames. That left Take-Two out in the cold on the most profitable sports videogame genre, football. Making baseball their own exclusive sport is merely payback. And to be honest, EA Sports was more thorough than Take-Two, leaving no first-party loophole that might let Take-Two, Sony, Microsoft or any other publisher wishing to do a real NFL game back in the market – the NFL is now EA’s exclusively.
The trouble with all this is, while it may be “good business” from a financial standpoint for EA, Take-Two, the NFL and major league baseball, it’s a total train wreck for videogame players. Although EA’s Madden games are king of the hill and have been for 15 years, there are many who preferred the Sega/Take Two/Visual Concepts’ 2K line of NFL games. While many fans like Take-Two’s take on major league baseball, at least as many were growing fans of EA’s MVP series.
But, starting next year, everyone’s out of luck. There will be no more choices. There will be Madden NFL on ESPN… and nothing else. There will be Take-Two’s Major League Baseball series… but no MVP, nothing else. While the surviving series are sure to see higher sales due to lack of competition, that could be the very thing that leads to higher prices and diminishing quality in the delivered product. In the past, if Madden grew stale, folks could leap over to the 2K football title for a season and send EA Sports a message that they needed to step up. If the 2K baseball like wasn’t providing enough sim-style depth, folks could opt for MVP to see how they liked that… and send Take-Two a message that they weren’t getting the job done.
No longer. Now, it’s one major-league sport = one videogame = no choices. It’s a losing formula for videogame fans, but one that’s unlikely to bite these selfish companies on the butt, because if you love sports videogames… where’s your option? You have none.
It’s a shame, too. MVP Baseball 2005 is shockingly good. It’s the first videogame to feature a full-roster minors system (A, AA, and AAA) for each club, in a way that demands that each minor league team have a workable roster, just like in real major-league ball. It’s the only videogame to feature a baseball draft during the time it actually occurs in the calendar, rather than as a post-season mini-game. It’s a masterpiece.
It’s also the last of it’s kind, at least for the next seven years.
The only “major” sports that still have competition – more than one officially-licensed company making games bearing their teams and players – are the NBA and the NHL. Want to guess how long it’ll stay that way? I shudder to think.
At least the NCAA is unlikely to go the exclusive route… so far. “May you live in interesting times,” the old Chinese curse goes.
Boy, do I feel cursed…