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The joy of exclusivity

Saturday afternoon, a friend and I sat down to play some video games, and once we realized we were bored of Halo, we decided to grab the demo of MLB 2K9:

First impressions were good. The graphics were excellent (which is a necessity these days), the sound appeared okay, and the gameplay was improved. I was less than impressed with MLB 2K7 and MLB 2K8 when I tried them the last two years, but I was hoping that MLB 2K9 had turned the corner.

Boy was I wrong. The controls, which rely heavily on the right analog stick to make the swings and pitches more fluid, are executed poorly to say the least. During the course of the three inning demo Sam and I probably threw 10 curveballs that were supposed to be sliders, and that’s to say nothing of how hard it is to control those pitches.

Hitting falls on the other side of the spectrum, where basically everything is too easy. After the quick learning curve, I had the timing down and was able to hit basically whatever I wanted. You can pull pitches that are outside over the wall for home runs, and take pitches on your hands the opposite way for solid doubles or home runs. Height of the pitch doesn’t seem to make a difference: if you’re “aiming” your swing up, your hit will go in the air regardless of whether its over your head or at your ankles.

The audio is decent, although as usual, the play-by-play department leaves much to be desired. At least the last two years it was Jon Miller and Joe Morgan – this year, it’s someone I’ve never heard of and…wait for it…Steve Phillips. Here’s a guy that knows what the obvious is, and says it. Every time. (This just in: apparently Ryan Howard is a pull hitter.) I’m taking AI, and I know how hard it is to design an accurate play-by-play system, but honestly, a foul ball straight back is not “a grounder towards the hole…that’ll drift foul”.

The shocking inadequacy of this game (a statement I think Gamespot agrees with me on) reminds me of a post I wrote years ago on McJournal, when I was talking about the exclusive rights that Take 2 just won to create MLB games. Well, it’s three years later, and I’m still playing EA Sports’ fantastic MVP Baseball 2005, because no other baseball game (available on an XBox or XBox 360) has come close. (I qualify here that I’m talking about XBox and 360 games only – apparently MLB 09: The Show is fantastic, but it’s only available on the PS3.)

In many ways I still can’t even fathom why Major League Baseball would do such a thing as sign a six-year exclusivity contract (that’s right, we’ve got three more years of this crap). Was it for the money? Major League Baseball had just seen the most-watched ALCS and most exciting ALCS in history, and along with the sweep in the World Series, had brought Red Sox Nation their first pennant in 86 years, bringing Sox fans out of the closet all across our fruited plain. Major League Baseball has only grown in attendance since the turn of the century – the sport is thriving.

So instead of encouraging competition so that gamers could buy the game they liked that featured the MLBPA license, Major League Baseball essentially ended the competition, saying that there was only one baseball game you can get each year, no matter how bad it is. So far, it’s been BAD.

Competition is healthy. It’s what keeps companies honest and forces them to make the best possible product. (Case in point: Microsoft started really caring about security, ease-of-use and intuition once OS X caught on; McDonalds started putting out a healthy menu once Subway started selling some subs. Contradiction: Apple’s iPod/iTunes basically lets them do whatever they want with the music industry, DRM and irresponsible software.) Whoever advised Major League Baseball that removing all competition is either a complete idiot or has socialist ties.

I only hope that this contract won’t be renewed in 2012, but since the NFL has licensed NFL exclusivity to Madden, Take 2 will probably feel the need to pay whatever it can to get MLB rights again. Until then, I’ll probably play MVP Baseball 2005 until they pry it from my cold lifeless XBox (oh by the way, that wonderful exclusivity act means EA Sports can’t patch MVP Baseball 2005 to work on the 360).