Baseball is paradoxically both one of the best sports for video games to be made on, yet also one of the worst. It is one of the best due to the general obsessiveness of baseball fans, the vast number of statistics, players and strategic decisions and varied playing fields. It is one of the worst because it is hard to make a good baseball video game these days, and expensive. It takes a lot of time and money to make all of the stadiums, uniforms (not just MLB but also MiLB and throwback unis), players (having basically everyone have the same face isn’t good enough), motion captures, play-by-play recordings and all of the other stuff. And, even then, there is a lot of intangible stuff that they can mess up. When done right, it is awesome, when done wrong, it makes you want to pull your hair out.
We are now entering what appears to be a dark age of baseball video games: The MLB 2K series, the crappy replacement that was forced upon everyone without a PlayStation when Take-Two Entertainment signed a third-party exclusivity deal with MLB in the mid-2000s, is near death. This would, usually, be a good thing. However, it also means that it is now likely that there will be no traditional baseball games outside of the PlayStation produced and exclusive The Show next year, and possibly the year after that. This is because, as I mentioned above, making a good MLB game is a time-consuming and expensive process, and now isn’t the time for a company to start from scratch.
You see, video games go in generations. We are currently (with one or two exceptions) in the seventh generation. It’s been a generation that has been one of the most chaotic in history. Motion-Sensing controls allowed Nintendo to outsell the competition, despite the fact that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were far more graphically advanced. Mobile gaming and social network gaming has emerged. Internet speeds have become good enough that in some cases people don’t go to store anymore, they just buy and download games off the internet.
That generation, however, is coming to an end. Already, the handheld market has jumped into the eighth generation with the release of the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Nintendo will be releasing the Wii U (imagine if a Wii and an iPad had a baby: it’s a more graphically advanced Wii with a tablet controller in addition to the current Wiimote) by the end of the year, and new Xbox and PlayStation consoles will be out later next year or in 2014 at the latest.
Making a cross-console video game means having to take into account the differences between the consoles, a studio is not so much making one game so much as three (four, if you count the PC). If a studio were to start a new baseball video game franchise now, they would be going through all of that work for the 2013 season… and would quite possibly have to start all over again after that.
That said, if there is anyone who can do it, it’s EA Sports, which should revive the MVP Baseball franchise. The greatest series of baseball games ever created. Killed by 2K Sports after 2005 out of a act of spite and vengeance over the fact EA Sports had bought the exclusive right to make NFL games. It had everything: all of the players, all of the stadiums (and lots of classic stadiums too!), classic players, a deep franchise mode, minor leagues and, best of all, the PC version was heavily moddable. Players were able to upgrade the rosters, enhance the graphics, make the stadiums look more like they did in real life, replace the fake minor league players with their real counterparts… even put in whole new teams, legends and stadiums! All killed by the fiendish 2K menace.
Whether MVP, or whatever name it takes, comes back, is a open question, and even more questionable is whether it will be able to immediately grab the success of the past. The development team behind it has no doubt scattered to the wind over the past half-decade, and who knows if MVP will be able to balance so many different systems, while (hopefully) returning to the PC as well (Madden hasn’t been on PC for several years, although, I don’t think it ever sold as well as the MVP series did on PC)? I don’t know, but I sure hope they try.