The 112th World Series begins today. The Fall Classic features two teams that between the two of them haven’t won a World Series in a combined 176 years! The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and the Cleveland Indians haven’t won since 1948. We know one thing: At the end of the series one of these teams will break that losing streak and come away the winner. Yet no matter who wins, there is still one group that will get the short end of the stick — baseball video game fans. This is the third year in a row that there will be only one AAA baseball video game released.
Sadly, if baseball fans want to create the World Series at home, or play their own fantasy version with their favorite team, they only have one game to choose from, MLB The Show 16. If you don’t own a PlayStation 4, you’re completely out of luck. But how did it come to this? How did baseball — once a prominent game genre with multiple competitors — sink faster than your favorite pitcher’s splitter?
The (Lack of) Competition
It’s a pretty staggering thought, if you take a step back and look at other sports titles released recently. The Madden and NBA 2K games are available on a variety of platforms, including mobile. Even NHL fans have multiple platforms to choose from and their sport of choice ranks sixth among popular sports in the USA according to one Harris Poll.
At least baseball isn’t alone in being left out in the cold. The reality is that almost all sports games have become relegated to one franchise. Football has Madden, basketball has the NBA 2K series (The NBA Live series from EA is on hiatus this year), and there is only one NHL game in town. It could be worse. There could be NO baseball games. According to the same Harris Poll, College Football is actually the third most popular sport in America, but EA discontinued the series due to lawsuits from student-athletes and the NCAA.
There was a time when fans had the opportunity to choose between multiple games about their sport of choice each year. The NFL Quarterback Club and NFL 2K were popular alternatives to the Madden franchise and more recently MLB 2K, was a welcome alternative to MLB: The Show. Unfortunately, with the growing marketplace and increased cost of making games, exclusivity started to become more prominent in the sports video game world.
I was — and still am — a sports junkie. Even if I wasn’t that interested in a particular sport, I’d still rent a game from my local video store (an obsolete establishment that specialized in leasing video cassette tapes and discs for a specific tariff) and play the crap out of it. Something about playing these games made me understand and appreciate the sport and its athletes much more and drive me further into a sports frenzy. The game that pushed me over the edge was EA Sports MVP Baseball 2005.
Many still consider MVP Baseball 2005 the best baseball game of all time. Its simple, yet comprehensive controls were intuitive and the gameplay was a perfect balance of arcade and simulation. The game wasn’t flashy, but it nailed the most important element of any video game: It was fun.
Even though EA Sports lost its license in 2005 to Take-Two Interactive, fans of the franchise refuse to let it go. To this day, the modding community for MVP Baseball 2005 curates rosters, teams, uniforms, and stadiums for new seasons.
The Effect of Exclusivity on Sports Games
MVP Baseball 2005’s legacy is an unfortunate result of big companies trying to monopolize the market. After Take-Two Interactive released the critically acclaimed NFL 2K5 in 2004, and priced it well below that year’s Madden, EA Sports felt threatened and found it necessary to make a multi-million dollar exclusivity deal with the NFL. To return the favor, Take-Two thought it was prudent to do the same with the MLB.
That chain reaction now brings us to today; After Take-Two interactive’s deal with MLB ran out, the company decided to not pursue renewing the contract. Sony is currently the only developer with the rights to the teams and player likenesses, and though their product is by no means a poor effort, it may not be for everyone. Their emphasis on snazzy features somewhat disjoints the gameplay and sometimes feels like playing three different games in one. The game does deserve praise for its attention to detail and its commitment to innovation is admirable, but without any current competition, it faces the risk of becoming stagnant and complacent.
Business deals like the ones for the MLB and NFL games leave a trail of destruction for many fans of franchises. These game communities are often left abandoned. It’s situations like these that make being a fan of sports video games — especially baseball — at times disappointing.
Oh, and if you want to play MVP Baseball 2005 with updated rosters for this season, you can pick up a copy for PC on Amazon starting at the low, low price of $199.99.
A version of this article originally ran April 6, 2016.