First, Electronic Arts
On Monday, the Major League Baseball Players Association announced that it had signed a seven-year deal granting Take-Two "exclusive" rights to use its players in Take-Two's games for both consoles and handhelds, starting in 2006. However, this exclusivity relates only to the independent publishers, including Electronic Arts, Activision
In reality, this means just EA. The other two contenders in baseball simulation, Acclaim and 3DO, are both bankrupt and no longer exist. Midway has a series called MLB Slugfest, but that's more of a smash-mouth, arcade-style game that Midway won't need an MLB license for, similar to the way it will get by without an NFL license.
Sega's World Series Baseball, the game that Take-Two will distribute in partnership with Sega, has long been the best MLB simulator series, hands-down -- at least until EA made a splash this spring with MVP Baseball 2004. World Series Baseball will continue to be a full-priced game, unlike Take-Two/Sega's NFL football, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey offerings this past summer and fall, which sold at $20 each.
There are some potential snags in the deal. Technically, Take-Two has an exclusivity agreement with only the MLBPA and not with Major League Baseball. That means EA and Midway could, hypothetically, continue to use major-league team names but not player names. In addition, Sony's 989 Sports already makes a baseball series labeled MLB, but Take-Two's exclusivity deal doesn't necessarily preclude EA from, say, teaming up with Microsoft -- a more familiar partner as of late -- to make an Xbox/Xbox 2-exclusive baseball game.
Before last year, I never could have imagined that we'd see brand-new A-plus quality football, basketball, and hockey games sell for $20 or that one company could come to own the exclusive rights to the NFL in video games. The exclusivity isn't good for gamers, but I think the game publishers are better off, since the $20 games were sapping profits from all competitors.
On a related note, Take-Two signified its commitment to the sports video game yesterday, when it announced the purchase of Visual Concepts, Sega's California-based sports game developer, and its wholly owned subsidiary Kush for $24 million.
Although it ultimately depends on how EA deals with the situation, Take-Two does appear to have claimed a small victory. But if EA somehow manages to get an MLB game on the Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo platforms in 2006, this exclusivity deal will have been a waste of money for Take-Two, since there are no other independent competitors to shut out. As for EA, this is only a slight negative at worst, given that baseball is one of the less popular sports games and accounts for a relatively small portion of the company's industry-leading game portfolio, with 26 other platinum hits last year.
For related news, see:
- Midway's Battle
- EA's New MVP
- Sega's Madden Challenge
- Sega vs. EA Sports
- Microsoft, EA Team Up for World Cup
- EA Goes Xbox Live
Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Electronic Arts.