Professional sports are a big business in video games, but it’s mostly thanks to licensing deals. Major League Baseball is set to change that in 2018.
Since 2014, the corporate side of the league has been relying on for-hire studios to drive its R.B.I. Baseball series. But this March, R.B.I. Baseball 18 will arrive as the product of a completely internal development team inside the MLB Advanced Media division of the company.
In a sprawling feature penned by Polygon‘s Samit Sarkar — one of the most authoritative voices out there when it comes to sports video games — we learn the new R.B.I. is built on many of the same ideas that went into past game.
Where Sony’s PlayStation-exclusive MLB The Show attempts to approximate the experience of both playing on a professional baseball team and managing the business of said team, R.B.I. goes in the other direction. The Show is sim-heavy and platform-exclusive, RBI is accessible and platform-agnostic. The latest game works on the major gaming hardware of the moment — PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Android/iOS devices — and the play is meant to be accessible for anyone.
It’s priced accordingly, too. Past R.B.I. games landed at a budget price of $19.99. The new one costs a bit more — $29.99 — but that’s largely because the team at MLB added a bunch of new elements to the game.
There’s a new Home Run Derby mode, complete with online leaderboards. There’s also a new 10-year franchise mode. It’s not built to track statistics from year-to-year, but it does allow players to update rosters on the fly based on the changing IRL game.
That’s unusual for a sports sim, which usually locks the rosters in franchise mode to create your own sort of alternate reality pro league. Instead, R.B.I. gives players the choice of downloading MLB-issued roster updates and either overwriting existing franchise rosters or simply adding in any new players.
The game’s franchise mode also fills the free agent pool with legends of the sport. There are more than 100 of them in all, split into two groups: Those that retired after 1990 and those that retired before.
The dev team also put a lot of time in on things like player animations, sound effects, and other aspects of the presentation, though you’ll have to wait for closer looks at the game to see the results. In the past, MLB’s outsourced R.B.I. games have drawn frequent criticism for their budget look and feel; as much as that’s reflected in the pricing of those past games, it’s an area MLB set out to improve, by its own admission.
The history of the R.B.I. series and baseball video games is quite a convoluted tale. You should definitely give Polygon‘s feature a thorough read if you want a better sense of the context that makes this big development for pro sports-inspired video games so important.