Could a College Baseball Game Succeed Today?
Submitted on: 06/25/2012 by Jayson Young
In the entire history of console gaming, only two college baseball games have ever been released: MVP 06 NCAA Baseball (PlayStation 2/Xbox) and MVP 07 NCAA Baseball (PlayStation 2).
It's possible that neither game would even exist if it weren't for the 2005 licensing deal between Take Two and Major League Baseball, which allowed console manufacturers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to continue making MLB titles for their own systems, but banned third party developers like EA Sports from creating any licensed MLB games.
Looking back, it's easy to see why EA Sports took a chance on college baseball in the years immediately following Take Two's exclusive control of third party MLB games.
EA Sports' baseball game from the previous season, MVP Baseball 2005, sold a whopping 2.8 million copies worldwide, including 1.54 million copies on the PlayStation 2 and 940,000 units on the Xbox.
To put those numbers in perspective, no baseball game this generation -- not even Sony's excellent MLB: The Show franchise -- has managed to sell 750,000 copies on a single system, which if it did, would still only be half of what MVP Baseball 2005 sold on the PlayStation 2.
At the time, the PlayStation 2 was a game publisher's dream system, as by November of 2005 -- just weeks before the January 2006 release of MVP Baseball 2006 -- the PlayStation 2 reached the milestone of 100 million units shipped worldwide, giving Sony's system a massive consumer base.
Today's consoles are only two-thirds as popular now as the PlayStation 2 was in 2006, as Sony's PlayStation 3 currently sits at just under 64 million worldwide units shipped as of March 2012. Microsoft's Xbox 360 is only slightly better, with 67 million units shipped worldwide as of April 2012.
Essentially, the climate for releasing a college baseball game could not have been any better than it was in early 2006 when the MVP NCAA Baseball series debuted.
EA Sports even went so far as to reduce the price of MVP 06 NCAA Baseball to $30 on release -- $10 cheaper than their chief competitor, MLB 2K6, which carried a price tag of $40 on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
How Previous College Baseball Games Fared
Despite favorable conditions leading up to its release, MVP 06 NCAA Baseball received mixed reviews from most game critics, earning a 76 Metascore. While the gameplay was solid and the innovative analog-stick hitting was widely praised, many reviewers found the overall experience dulled by generic players, inauthentic ballparks and boring presentation.
At retail, MVP 06 NCAA Baseball's performance was solid but unspectacular, selling 750,000 copies for the PlayStation 2 and 340,000 units for the Xbox. While those numbers look great by today's standards, at just $30 per sale, EA Sports' overall profits were significantly less than other sports games retailing at full price.
The following year, EA Sports scrapped the Xbox version and launched MVP 07 NCAA Baseball exclusively for PlayStation 2. Releasing in February of 2007, MVP 07 NCAA Baseball was once again met with mediocre reviews, totaling an identical 76 Metascore.
Sales data for MVP 07 NCAA Baseball could not be found, but given that EA Sports chose not to continue the series any further, it's likely that MVP 07 NCAA Baseball was significantly outsold by Take Two's Major League Baseball 2K7, which was beginning its second season on the Xbox 360 and making its first appearance on the PlayStation 3.
How Recent NCAA Games Have Fared
Besides baseball, only two other college sports have ever received an officially licensed NCAA video game: football and men's basketball.
EA Sports' NCAA Football series continues to sell millions of copies each year, as it has regularly since its 1993 debut on the Sega Genesis under the name Bill Walsh College Football.
A number of college basketball games have irregularly appeared through the years, beginning with 1995's Coach K College Basketball on the Sega Genesis and ending in 2009 with NCAA Basketball 10 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Currently, no college basketball games are being developed, as the basketball genre has been NBA-only since 2009.
Besides football, the only current collegiate sport receiving video game adaptions is lacrosse, as independent developer Triple B Games has quietly released a downloadable College Lacrosse game over Xbox Live every year since 2009. The College Lacrosse series is currently unlicensed, but the developer aims to eventually secure the NCAA rights once the franchise is able to transition from being a download-only title to a multiplatform retail release.
Why aren't more college sports games being made? The primary reason is that, outside of football and men's basketball, there's just not enough national interest, let alone worldwide interest in college sports. Football and men's basketball are generally the only profitable sports programs for NCAA schools. Most other sports cost universities more money to maintain than they generate in yearly revenue.
The other difficulty facing collegiate video games is licensing costs and royalty fees. Publishers must give the NCAA an initial payment just to put school and team likenesses in a video game. Then once the game is on store shelves, every copy sold generates royalties for the NCAA. Like all licensed sports games, NCAA video games are simply more expensive to make and more difficult for game companies to draw a profit from.
How Recent Baseball Games Have Fared
As baseball's national popularity continues to decline, so, too, have baseball video game sales. Even undeniably great baseball games like Sony's MLB: The Show have posted less-than-great numbers when compared to other titles in the sports market.
Since moving to the PlayStation 3, Sony's MLB: The Show has consistently ranked as one of the highest-rated sports franchises among media outlets. But despite critical acclaim, The Show has performed average at retail.
- MLB 12: The Show -- 440,000 (PS3) + 70,000 (Vita) = 0.51 million total
- MLB 11: The Show -- 490,000 (PS3) + 110,000 (PSP) + 130,000 (PS2) = 0.73 million total
- MLB 10: The Show -- 680,000 (PS3) + 170,000 (PSP) + 410,000 (PS2) = 1.26 million total
- MLB 09: The Show -- 680,000 (PS3) + 250,000 (PSP) + 330,000 (PS2) = 1.26 million total
- MLB 08: The Show -- 680,000 (PS3) + 330,000 (PSP) + 420,000 (PS2)= 1.43 million total
- MLB 07: The Show -- 300,000 (PS3) + 280,000 (PSP) + 930,000 (PS2) = 1.51 million total
Take Two's MLB 2K series simply has not performed well by any standard this generation. Despite releasing every year on a multitude of systems, the MLB 2K franchise has been routinely disliked by critics and by game-buyers, leading to its recent cancellation.
- Major League Baseball 2K12 -- 250,000 (Xbox 360) + 80,000 (PS3) + 50,000 (Wii) + 20,000 (PSP) + 10,000 (PC) + 10,000 (DS) = 0.45 million total
- Major League Baseball 2K11 -- 390,000 (Xbox 360) + 140,000 (PS3) + 140,000 (Wii) + 60,000 (DS) + 50,000 (PC) + 50,000 (PS2) + 40,000 (PSP) = 0.87 million total
- Major League Baseball 2K10 -- 470,000 (Xbox 360) + 240,000 (Wii) + 230,000 (PS2) + 170,000 (PS3) + 140,000 (DS) + 60,000 (PSP) = 1.31 million total
- Major League Baseball 2K9 -- 590,000 (Xbox 360) + 250,000 (Wii) + 170,000 (PS3) + 170,000 (PS2) + 80,000 (PSP) = 1.26 million total
- Major League Baseball 2K8 -- 590,000 (Xbox 360) + 280,000 (PS3) + 150,000 (PS2) + 130,000 (Wii) + 110,000 (DS) + 30,000 (PSP) = 1.30 million total
- Major League Baseball 2K7 -- 700,000 (Xbox 360) + 600,000 (PS2) + 240,000 (PS3) + 90,000 (PSP) = 1.63 million total
Japanese publisher, Konami, also makes baseball games, albeit with much smaller development budgets. While their Power Pros series comes out every year in Japan, it has seen just two releases in North America this generation:
- MLB Power Pros -- 280,000 (Wii) + 110,000 (PS2) = 0.39 million total
- MLB Power Pros 2008 -- 150,000 (PS2) + 130,000 (Wii) + 50,000 (DS) = 0.33 million total
Konami also produces the Pro Yakyuu Spirits series, which releases yearly in Japan, using the league license for Nippon Professional Baseball.
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 2012 -- 160,000 (PS3) + 140,000 (PSP) + 30,000 (Vita) = 0.33 million total
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 2011 -- 180,000 (PS3) + 240,000 (PSP) + 70,000 (3DS) = 0.49 million total
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 2010 -- 210,000 (PS3) + 240,000 (PSP) + 100,000 (PS2) = 0.55 million total
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 6 -- 150,000 (PS3) + 130,000 (PS2) = 0.28 million total
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 5 -- 110,000 (PS3) + 180,000 (PS2) = 0.29 million total
- Pro Yakyuu Spirits 4 -- 70,000 (PS3) + 190,000 (PS2) = 0.26 million total
Outlook Not So Good
Baseball fans may remember the MVP NCAA Baseball series fondly, but from the perspective of a modern game publisher, it seems like financial suicide to invest millions in a sports title the requires high licensing fees and appeals to only a small potential market.
With Take Two leaving the baseball genre to focus on NBA 2K, and EA Sports expressing no interest in making a new baseball game anytime soon, it would be up to Konami, Sony or maybe even Microsoft to attempt a college baseball title. However, with Major League Baseball no longer under an exclusivity deal, it's much more likely that those companies would pursue a MLB game long before they ever consider a collegiate baseball game.
If gamers see a new college baseball title in the immediate future, it would likely be a small-budget unlicensed game, similar to the yearly college lacrosse titles that Triple B Games have been releasing on the Xbox Indie channel since 2009.