Why Exclusive Sports Licenses Hurt Their Respective Games
Some say that Madden is the best football series there is and the MLB 2k series is the worst Baseball series there is. Unfortunately, they’re the only games for their respective sports.
I remember a time when there were other football games, like NFL 2k, ESPN NFL Football, and more. There was more than one baseball game franchise, like All Star Baseball, High Heat Baseball, and MVP Baseball. Unfortunately, a dark day in 2004 changed the future of baseball/football video games. EA paid a large sum of money to the NFL for the right to be the exclusive developer of any football game using current players and teams, thus preventing the continuation of every other NFL game franchises. Take Two responded to this deal by securing similar exclusivity rights with MLB. This effectively killed the MVP Baseball franchise just as EA had done to the NFL 2k franchise.
These deals resulted in the termination of long-running series like All Star Baseball and NFL 2k, and meant the only way to play a football game featuring current NFL members was by buying Madden. Fortunately, baseball fans were still granted some options, as Sony was allowed to continue its MLB series, as it was developed internally by a first party publisher. By 2007 the only non-EA Football game was All Pro Football 2k8. There was only one downside though; It only featured former players. It also had fictional teams, but not the current ones featured in Madden 08.
The point I’m trying to drive across is that competition brings out the best in everyone. Without it things get old and stale pretty quickly. If you don’t believe that, look at the MLB: The Show series for proof. Every year, Sony launches practically the same game over and over again. Despite the addition of a negligible feature or two each year, the series is clearly stagnating. The MLB 2k series, now that’s a completely different bag of bones. It’s been a troubled series of games for the past three or four years. But what can you do? Nothing but buy a Playstation 3 and get The Show, or play outdated games.
This hasn’t been a problem for Madden, as it tops the sales charts every year it comes out. Games like Blitz: The League had hoped to bring back the fans of arcade-style football games, but sales figures would suggest that people prefer either NCAA or Madden. The failure of Blitz: The League showed that people were more interested in hyper-realistic football games than what was on offer in games like Blitz. Even EA has attempted to bring different styles of Football games back in the fold, a prime example being NFL Tour. This 2008 release saw a return of sorts to the NFL Street franchise on the current gen consoles. Hell, it was even produced by EA Big, the same folks that brought us the NFL Street franchise in the first place.
Of course, a well can only be visited so many times. This time the well was dry, and another series bit the dust. For me it got to the point where I wanted to just go back to playing those old games of yesteryear. It was okay for a while, but thoughts like, “if only this game was on the 360″ or “this would be fantastic on PS3!” soon crept into my mind, spoiling the experience. I knew that the likelihood of a new NFL 2k13 or MVP Baseball 2013 was slim to none. But a speck of light shines at the end of the tunnel of licensing hell. Both Electronic Arts and Take Two’s respective deals are nearing expiration. With the MLB 2k series’ lackluster reputation with fans, it seems likely that 2k will not renew their licensing agreement with Major League Baseball. This could be the opening of Pandora’s Box, except instead of evil escaping it would be a bevy of Baseball game franchises. It could be Triple Play, MVP, High Heat… The possibilities are endless. The fact is, there is money to be made in the Baseball video game market. A lot of money. Madden money.
After the 2013 season, EA’s contract with the NFL ends. It’s my personal view of things that EA no longer needs the exclusivity license. They’ve won numerous awards, made boatloads of money (hence the term “Madden Money”), and EA Tiburon has refined the craft near perfection. Since 2004, Madden has grown into a juggernaut franchise and has been the backbone of EA for nearly a decade. It’s hard to envision another franchise dethroning it, exclusivity rights or no.
In short, Madden doesn’t need the exclusivity license because “Madden” is already eponymous with “NFL.” Likewise, the MLB 2k series doesn’t need the exclusive license because it’s just making MLB: The Show look far superior and regardless of its numerous changes and features over the years, is still an underwhelming sports game series.