With the glow of the Phillies World Series victory now subsiding, MLB fans are now settling into the Hot Stove season. It is a cherished, time-honored period when baseball aficionados attempt to cast aside the chill of winter to lament the faults of the season that has passed and the promise of the season to come.
It is a time when fans attempt to play GM, via conjuring up possible trades, while also targeting and analyzing possible free-agent acquisitions. But if you are not satisfied with mere discussion, there will soon be a way to turn those theoretical trades and signings into more of a reality. Enter MLB Front Office Manager, a baseball simulation game where you, the user, takes up the mantle of GM with the goal of winning the World Series.
So, let us examine what we know and what I expect from MLB Front Office Manager, a game where fans can potentially experience their own GM meetings from the comfort of home.
MLB Front Office Manager hopes to improve the console sports simulation genre.
What We Know
On Oct. 9, 2K Sports announced that Blue Castle Games was developing MLB Front Office Manager.
Over the last few months, 2K Sports and the BCG development team have discussed aspects of FoM all around the web. By utilizing various sources, such as a hands-on preview, screenshots, a developer diary video and interviews with the FoM producer Edwin Loo and MLB General Manager Brian Cashman, I was able to ascertain a surprising number of details on FOM.
Essentially targeted at a niche audience of die-hard MLB fans, fantasy baseball acolytes and all-around sports-sim fans, FoM is attempting to follow the trail blazed by EA and its own sports-sim-oriented release, NFL Head Coach. Accordingly, FoM will feature a similar single-player mode to NFL Head Coach while also offering some expanded online features.
The main crux of FoM is the Career mode. Lasting a maximum of 30 years, Career mode will allow you to first, create a GM and second, use that GM to take over an MLB team of your choice. Since this is really the meat of the game, I will expand upon the myriad details in this article.
The other mode of note is dubbed the Online Fantasy mode. This mode enables the user to enter into a league of 30 people, where each person represents a team in the MLB. Gamers can choose to use use modified rules, enter into a fantasy draft, and utilize fantasy baseball scoring systems like rotisserie, head-to-head or traditional scoring. If users want, they can also simply play out a season in a normal fashion.
Not much else is known about the actual mechanics of this mode and what particular options are available to online GMs, except that this mode will also be available offline.
Creating Your GM
As explained earlier, the goal of FoM is to create a GM, take over the team of your choice, and use your GM skills to build a roster that has the ability to win a World Series championship. Fortunately, you will not have to go it alone. Aiding you along the way will be Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane. Throughout FoM, Beane will act as a friend and mentor, helping to guide you to managerial success.
Since 2K is aiming for a truly realistic GM experience, BCG went to Beane and New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman to find out what a MLB GM faces on a day-to-day basis. Before getting to that though, you must build a GM.
When building your GM, you will have a number of options at your disposal. Besides the ability to customize your name, nationality, body type, head and outfits -- which range from suits to leisure options such as a polo shirt and khaki pants combo -- you will also have the ability to allocate your managerial skill points and select your GM’s past job experience.
In something more akin to a RPG, your GM will have eight attributes to work with and improve upon. They include the areas of North American scouting, international scouting, pro-league scouting, player development, trades, contract negotiation, owner confidence and leadership.
Furthermore, as you progress in your career and as you make good signings and trades -- although I am not exactly sure how the game decides what is good or not -- you will gain skill points that you can use to pump up your abilities. On the other end of things, if you make bad signings or trades -- again, I am not sure how that will work -- you will lose skill points.
In addition, before you start your career, you will have to select a previous job for yourself. These job options include being a lawyer, businessman, ex-manager or an ex-coach. These jobs function as a means of customizing your starting strengths as a GM. For example, a lawyer will have a higher-than-normal starting skill when dealing with contract negotiations, while an ex-scout will have higher-than-normal scouting abilities to start with.
When you have your GM all ready to go, you are ready to move on to the next step: selecting and managing a team.
Creating your digital alter-ego should be fun.
Running the Club
When you begin your career, every MLB club will be open to working with you; but be warned, every team will have wildly different expectations. Top clubs like the Yankees and Red Sox will expect nothing less than a World Series victory, while other teams, such as my hapless Blue Jays, just hope for a playoff appearance. There are a variety of other goals to be accomplished, and some of them are as simple as calling up a specific number of minor league players to the MLB.
After you have selected your team, you will immediately have a wide-range of roster-shaping tools at your disposal. Now, FoM boasts some common franchise things such as trades, free-agent signings and drafting, but FoM hopes to differ from other franchise modes by including things like five levels of minor league baseball, the re-creation of the Japanese posting system, more in-depth scouting, multiple levels of arbitration and an in-game schedule that closely matches what occurs in reality. For example, the in-game draft occurs in June.
Speaking of the draft, not much is known about the actual draft process, but afterward you will have the opportunity to decide where to place your prospects on the minor league pyramid. So you can fast-track players if you choose to or you can take your time developing them.
Each MLB team will have five levels of real, affiliated minor league teams; unfortunately, the player names on those teams will be fictional. However, the fictional minor league players will still based on players from the real rosters.
Finding the players to fill out these minor league teams will be very time consuming, as scouting in FoM is an interesting process that begins with the allocation of your overall scouting-budget funds into specific countries/regions where your MLB players will be culled from.
These places are separated into two overall areas: North America and international. The North American region consists of the U.S. West, U.S. Southwest, U.S. Midwest, U.S Southeast, U.S. Northeast, Canada and Puerto Rico. The international region is comprised of Australia, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela and Japan.
During this scouting process you will have to manage a couple of things. First, you have to find out where the talent is, and second, decipher where you can afford to place your scouts.
There are other miscellaneous notes concerning your GM duties. First, you may not be able to simply trade or sign away your players without it having a potential impact on the team. The moves may negatively impact the team’s synergy and even player morale. Also, CPU GMs will have with their own mindsets and individual goals to work towards, so that could be an extra thing to consider during trade negotiations.
For those who like their stats, that is also an area where BCG promises to rise above the basics. Sure, you will have your various splits, but if that is not enough, BCG has also brought aboard Baseball Info Solutions in order to give you your SABR needs.
Despite all that work off the field, things also matter on it.
On The Field
Boasting 3-D player models and accurately modeled stadiums, Blue Castle Games developers were quick to note that they have created a brand new engine for FoM that has not been used before in other 2K games. One notable element of the engine is that it will not exclusively factor in player attributes during the simulation process. Instead, FoM will also measure in past career player statistics. In other words, the engine will factor in things like the past history between a pitcher and hitter when determining the outcome of a situation.
Also, for those hands-on GMs, they will have the opportunity to make decisions that will have an impact on the field. No, GMs will not be able to directly control the action, but they will be able to intentionally walk batters, make bullpen changes, call for steals/bunts and alter defensive personnel/alignments.
And if you are a busy person, the actual games in FoM will play out at a more rapid pace than regular baseball games because the developers have said that a single game will only last 10-15 minutes.
So that is almost everything we know about FoM right now. Sure, it all sounds pretty good, but FoM is not pitching a gem just yet.
The on the field action won't be too terribly in-depth it looks, but that's not part of being a GM.
What We Do Not Know
There is no doubt that FoM appears to be a promising new baseball title. However, there is still a lot that we do not know about MLB Front Office Manager and before we do, there is always some room for concern.
Accordingly, here are five areas to focus on:
Intelligent CPU GM logic: No doubt, this is the most important thing to get right in a game like this. Particularly, I wonder how well CPU GMs manage their rosters, sign free agents, trade talent, draft prospects, deal with their budgets, and interact with other CPU GMs. Simply put, if you can get these things right, you will definitely have a great game on your hands.
But there are also other things to keep in mind, such as how do the finances function? If you manage a small-market team, are you destined for a restrictive budget forever, or can you cultivate a fan base and grow your team into a Yankees-like empire? How solid is the long-term viability of the game? Are there an adequate number of generated stars? Are CPU-managed teams smart enough to build an empire or dynasty?
I am not expecting perfection but these are definitely things that matter to a baseball-simulation fan.
Statistical Realism and Accuracy: Accuracy of player ratings is probably the second-most important thing to simulation fanatics. I know it is a tough job to satisfy everyone, but in a game such as this, ratings mean everything. When people cannot rely on their joystick dexterity to overcome the opposition, they will have to rely on accurate player ratings to succeed. So, if they are not accurate, well that ruins things.
Also, if you are going to offer all these great statistical trappings, you would do well to ensure that you can at least meet that realism threshold. There is nothing wrong with some statistical outliers because that is what separates baseball from the rest -- but let us not go nuts here.
Solid Aesthetics: This covers everything from the ease of menu navigation to the simplicity of hunting down stats. For a menu-intensive game, a usable user interface will ensure a greater game experience. On the field, I do not really care about the graphical quality, but I hope that FoM is fun to watch.
A nice on-screen interface, mixed with a dynamic on-field engine that includes a myriad game possibilities and variance of animations would be ideal. If this goal is met, more people would actually play through entire seasons without the process feeling like a chore. Also, a usable and full-featured replay system would not hurt.
Sense of History: If you are going to offer a game that enables someone to play for up to 30 years, there should be a way to reminisce about the history you have created. Simply put, there should be as much record-keeping as possible -- perhaps an almanac-type feature that tracks past champions/award winners, notable accomplishments, record-breaking achievements, Hall-of-Fame careers and legendary players. These are all things that add to an individual’s unique career/universe and these things can contribute to the long-term replay value of FoM.
All the Small Things and Bugs: This goes for any game, but it needs to be said: please limit the bugs, and please also include all the small, fun details that die-hard fans like to find and gush about. They will look for them, and they will appreciate them, which will increase their enjoyment with the game.
MLB Front Office Manager certainly has a lot of promise. The marriage of two separate entities, the sports text-sim and the 3-D console sports game, could be a match made in heaven. But as MLB fans know all too well, no prospect is a sure thing. With a month to go until FoM is released, there is still more news to come and additional details to uncover.
But in the end, I certainly hope that a unique game such as this succeeds. But if it does not, at least the Hot Stove will keep us warm until the real baseball season begins.