Major sports leagues are forever trying to make their games more exciting and attract more fans: The NBA wants teams to play their marquee players more, the NHL keeps adjusting their overtime rules, NASCAR overhauls their entire point system every few years, and so on. In particular, younger demographics are highly coveted by these leagues, as converting them early means a lifetime of fandom (which leads to a lifetime of buying tickets, memorabilia, and other league items).
As video games are still mostly (but not quite correctly) considered the domain of the young, they represent a key part of any league’s growth strategy. Normally, that means you want your games to be a) quality products, and b) as accessible to gamers as possible. Most leagues already understand this: Madden 17 and NHL 17 are already available on both the PS4 and Xbox One, and FIFA 18 and NBA 2K18 have already announced plans to jump over to the Nintendo Switch as well.
Baseball, on the other hand, seems to want to make their products less accessible and enjoyable as time goes on. Sure, MLB The Show 17 looks like an excellent game, but it’s developed and published by Sony subsidiaries and is thus a PS4 exclusive. If you don’t have a PS4, you’re pretty much out of luck:
- R.B.I. Baseball is available for XBox owners and PC gamers, but it’s a cheap simulation game that gets torn to shreds by critics every year. If you’re looking for an immersive, Show-like experience, R.B.I. Baseball won’t give it to you.
- Nintendo gamers like yours truly are in even worse shape, as the last baseball game they got was Major League Baseball 2K12 for the Wii! (I’m not including Tamagotchi Baseball here because frankly, I can’t find any evidence that it’s even a real game.) While baseball was tossed in as an option in the recent Mario Sports Superstars 3DS game, it was cited as the most boring and limited of the five sports offered.
As a longtime baseball fan, I’m baffled as to why MLB would let all this stand, especially given the status and prestige of its competitors (seriously, the Madden release date is practically a national holiday every year). They’re not only squandering a perfect opportunity to attract more fans, but they’re losing those fans to Madden or FIFA or NBA2K without putting up any fight at all.
The only explanation I can come up with is that MLB is content with the money it’s already making from the game. For example, R.B.I. Baseball is developed directly by the league, and thus MLB does not have to share its revenue with anyone else. (They also have an annoying history of forcing people to watch regional sports networks, which clubs occasionally have ownership stakes in, by blocking national telecasts involving local teams.) While perhaps lucrative in the short term, these policies will bite baseball in the long run by pushing potential customers towards other, more available sports and sport games.
If I were MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, I’d either order my digital arm to put a lot more work into R.B.I. Baseball to make it a more satisfying experience, or I’d start leaning on Sony to make MLB The Show a multi-platform game. Until then, however, baseball is stuck relying on Super Mario and its mediocre R.B.I. franchise to introduce young gamers to its game. Good luck with that one, Rob.