Baseball is always on Electronic Arts' mind, but there's a lot that has to change if the company is going to get back into the market of baseball video games, says EA Sports executive vice president Andrew Wilson.
The most recent licensed Major League Baseball game from EA Sports was 2005's MVP Baseball 2005, a tremendous swan song for the franchise and the pre-HD console generation that fans of sports gaming still hold in high esteem.
EA inked a five-year exclusive licensing deal with the National Football League for its Madden NFL series in December 2004, and Take-Two Interactive retaliated in January 2005 by signing a seven-year exclusive contract with Major League Baseball for its Major League Baseball 2K franchise — a deal that prevented EA from bringing its well-regarded MVP Baseball series to the current generation of consoles. The company continued the franchise with college baseball titles, but only released games in 2006 and 2007 before shelving the series due to poor sales.
"there is an inherent passion for baseball inside EA Sports"
Speaking in an interview with Polygon at E3 last week, Wilson said "there is an inherent passion for baseball inside EA Sports," but laid out three significant barriers to entry that prevent EA from developing a new MLB title.
The starting point is the technology base, which does exist but isn't necessarily ready for baseball. Until now, EA hasn't possessed a modern engine that would be suited to a baseball game; Wilson noted that "using MVP [Baseball] PS2 technology probably is inappropriate." The company's next-generation EA Sports Ignite engine, said Wilson, "would give us a walk-up start." But just as important as the technology is the team that would be building the game.
"We have seen what happens when you don't have an A-team on the sports game, both in our brand and with our competitors," Wilson explained, making oblique references to EA's recent troubles with its NBA Live franchise and Take-Two's mediocre MLB 2K series, respectively.
Wilson pointed out that EA has a lot on its plate at the moment, including the revival of NBA Live with NBA Live 14 and the launch of a new franchise with EA Sports UFC. "Until I thought I had an unbelievable A-team available to work on [baseball], I wouldn't take it on," he continued. "Because I'm not doing anyone any favors by putting a B-team on it."
EA wouldn't make a baseball game without "an unbelievable A-team"
Perhaps the thorniest issue is the license required to make an MLB game. Take-Two's exclusive licensing agreement expired in 2012, and the company appeared to have no interest in re-signing with Major League Baseball. That seemed to leave a window for EA or another third-party publisher to step in, but Take-Two surprised everyone by announcing this past January that it was working on Major League Baseball 2K13, which launched in March. The nature of the company's current licensing deal for the MLB 2K series remains unclear.
"There are a number of different relationships that exist in that world right now that we are not privy to," said Wilson. "Should there [come] an opportunity in the future for us to, we may enter into those conversations. We are not in them today; we don't have plans to be in them today."
Major League Baseball might be wary of entering into another contract, let alone an exclusive one, so soon after its unproductive partnership with Take-Two. Yet unlike Take-Two, EA's track record with baseball games is stellar, even if that track record ended a console generation ago. There's no guarantee that a future baseball title from EA would be successful out of the gate, but a lot of fans would like to see a legitimate competitor to Sony's terrific MLB The Show franchise — especially because as it stands, there's no 2014 baseball game coming on a non-Sony console.
"[There are] no conversations, really, today," said Wilson. "But [baseball is] certainly always in our mind as a sport we love and a sport that people would love us to build [a game for]."
Correction: EA and Take-Two signed exclusive licensing deals with the NFL and MLB, respectively, before the February 2005 release of MVP Baseball 2005. We've edited the article to reflect this.