In an industry where the word ‘exclusive’ means everything it came as no surprise when Take-Two interactive followed in EA’s footsteps of monopolizing multiplatform rights to a professional sport on consoles. In 2006, Major League Baseball (MLB) as well as the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) struck a deal that would make the MLB2K series the only baseball option that would be available on all the different platforms; an agreement that would run though the spring of 2012.
That expiration date is right around the corner and now the pressure rests on the shoulders of those at Take Two, especially when you consider that while their franchise managed to score such lucrative deal, the games — rarely if ever — met those high expectations. It would be one thing if the MLB2K series was on par with its amazing NBA counterpart in terms of quality and presentation, unfortunately it’s simply not the case. Year in and year out the developers at MLB2K have added features, functionality and mechanics, but they always wind up as the “good enough” baseball game on the market, and that’s especially the case for gamers on the PlayStation 3 who have another option.
It doesn’t matter what side of the fanboy fence your allegiance lies, if you’re a real fan of Major League Baseball, there’s no denying that Sony San Diego Studio’s MLB the Show series has completely trumped the efforts made by MLB2K. And that’s been the case every single year since the 3rd party exclusivity deal has been in place. If you need any further proof, you can look at the average Metacritic scores of both titles for the last 5 years, MLB2K 71.6 and MLB the Show 86.6. A 15 point difference, need I really say more?
Outside of sports, Take Two as a company has a lot going on this year. The Darkness II, Max Payne and BioShock Infinite are all set to hit store shelves in the first half alone. Then there’s also the XCom strategy title set for sometime in the 2012 calendar year (the shooter was pushed to 2013), and we certainly cannot forget about the 500lb gorilla in the room known as Grand Theft Auto V (though we don’t have a date yet). While all these titles will surely help Take Two’s bottom line, they’re also going have to open the war chest to market them all.
Will there be enough left over for Take Two to pursue another agreement with the MLB? Is owning the rights to “the second best” baseball game even worth it? These are the kind of questions that I’m sure that they’re asking themselves right now.
I have my doubts that the MLB will want an extension to the deal. Sure it’s just another revenue stream for the league but as such a large organization, would they continue to want a mediocre product representing the product that they put on the field? If they are shopping around for a similar agreement from someplace else, this is where Sony can come in and hit a home run.
I don’t think its an exclusive that’s ever been done before and I’m not sure about the logistics (maybe even legal hurdles) behind it; I mean we’re talking about the exclusivity of an entire sport here, but when you look at how strong of a product MLB the Show is and how well it represents the league, the players, and the experience, I’m sure that it isn’t too far outside of the realm of possibility.
In 2010, Sony added MLB TV as part of it’s connected services offering on the PS3 and it was well received by many. Now, with 2K’s exclusivity deal expiring, they’ll have the chance to make PlayStation the official platform for everything MLB. In other words, if you want to experience the MLB, the only way will be on PlayStation. The only question remains is whether or not Sony will be able pull the trigger on something like that.
It won’t be a walk in the park for Sony (or even Take Two again) as another variable comes into play here as well. EA Sports hasn’t produced a Major League Baseball simulation game in over half a decade, and something that I’m sure that they want to change. Their last effort, MVP Baseball 2005 was the king of the mountain when it released, scoring a 9.2 from IGN. But that series was snuffed out of existence when the 2K deal was made which leads one to believe that they’ll their piece of the pie back as well.
No matter how it plays out, it’s sure to be an interesting year for baseball games moving forward. Take Two has an important decision to make. Sony will have the opportunity to put an exclusive chokehold on the sport. And EA Sports can come out of left field (pun completely intended) and play spoiler to both of them. Yet the final decision lies with MLB and the direction they wish to go.