Getting an Internet signal inside LA’s Orpheum theatre is always a crapshoot. For years, it’s been both a daydream and a nightmare that I’d be liveblogging Electronic Arts’ E3 keynote as Andrew Wilson or Peter Moore finished EA Sports’ segment and then, pretending to forget something, turned and said, “Oh, by the way.” Then the screen behind him would go black and some canned crowd noise would rise over the speakers as the chant of “M-V-P!” filled my ears, my fingers futilely pounding the keyboard in the darkness.
The good news — for me anyway — is I’m not going to Los Angeles this year, so at least the nightmare scenario is off the table. The bad news is there’s no real hope for the daydream, either. There still is no sign that the long lamented MVP Baseball, exiled since 2005, is in the works for 2014. There’s no sign that any Major League Baseball title is in the works by any publisher for Xbox 360, much less the Xbox One.
That’s not to say it cannot or will not happen. Stranger things have.
Of all the casualties of console sports gaming’s exclusive era, a combination of quality, nostalgia, publisher strength and competitor incompetence has made rumours of MVP Baseball‘s return an almost annual tradition. People will always moan and groan about the deal between the NFL and EA Sports that killed Sega’s NFL 2K series. But MVP Baseball may be mourned even more meaningfully. There’s a fraternity of Mexican and Caribbean modders keeping it relevant every year, after all. And whatever you think of it, Madden has objectively made a better game under its exclusive licence than Major League Baseball 2K has under its. MLB 2K couldn’t even get out of the third inning in its Xbox 360 debut.
If it hasn’t been considered unable to handle the licence, 2K Sports has at least been seen as unwilling to give it what it needs. At this time last year, remember, everyone rightfully believed 2K Sports’ MLB 2K series to be dead. Major League Baseball’s exclusive partnership with 2K, dating back to the 2005 creation of 2K Games itself, was set to expire at the end of 2012. 2K’s parent company, under a new regime that took control in 2007, had no interest in renewing the deal. The big leagues simply had no time to send the project somewhere else to be done by Opening Day.
Yet in January a surprise announcement made 2K at least the one-year custodian of baseball on the Xbox 360. 2K Sports, cramming at the end of the semester, rewrote last year’s term paper and handed it in for a D-plus. There’s no way it or MLB Advanced Media, which grants the league’s video game licenses, can go through that again — not with two new consoles on shelves for four months by the time pitchers and catchers report. Not if either side want to make money.
Right now, though, we’re less than a year from the first Tuesday in March, and the two publishers most capable (if not the only ones currently capable) of producing a Major League Baseball game have given their investors no sign of any plans for doing so.
Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Sports, listed two sports titles for the coming 12 months in its most recent earnings call: the newly acquired WWE 2K14, bought at a firesale from THQ, and the world-beating NBA 2K14. Electronic Arts’ list of releases through March 2014 did not include either its new UFC game or its rehabilitated NBA Live franchise — even though both titles would later appear on stage at Microsoft’s Xbox One gala, indicating they may be next-generation only releases.
This isn’t like last year, when you can just slap a new coat of paint on an old version and hope she holds together. This involves a series for entirely new hardware. Unless someone’s been building it in secret — unless EA Sports has been putting this together for Microsoft all along (2K Sports’ exclusive covered all but console makers) then we are again looking very seriously at a big three sport — ahead of soccer and hockey on this continent — having no presence on the home team’s console 16 months after it hits shelves.
Major League Baseball couldn’t accept sitting out a year on the Xbox 360 — it’s why we got MLB 2K13. And the Xbox One’s debutante ball made sports as important to the platform, if not moreso, than video games themselves.
Blake Jorgensen, Electronic Arts’ chief financial officer, said back in March the company might be adding “a couple of new franchises.” The label’s top spokesman quickly shot down the idea that involved baseball. Last month Jorgensen also told investors that Electronic Arts would make this console generation transition without adding development costs. It’s hard to reconcile that guarantee with all the work, much less the licensing, needed to bring a game worthy of the MVP Baseball name to a next generation console.
Last year at this time, Andrew Wilson (pictured at top), made his first E3 stage appearance as the EA Sports boss and unloaded what had to be a personally satisfying oh-by-the-way: The surprise revelation that EA Sports had just bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship licence off a walking-dead THQ. Wilson has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Gracies and was the head of development during the short-lived release of EA Sports MMA. Nothing about that deal was on anyone’s radar before the gathering at the Orpheum. But as soon as it was in hand, EA Sports told the world.
So if we go past June 10 at the Orpheum theatre in Los Angeles without an oh-by-the-way from EA Sports, then one must seriously wonder what better date it, or any other publisher, would have in mind. I can’t think of one. And I can’t think any deal inked after that could possibly have a baseball game ready for pitchers and catchers to report in 2014.