Last night, Sony and its professional baseball licensing partners made a very surprising announcement: The licensing rights extension for Sony’s long-running baseball franchise would be multi-year and multi-platform. After more than a decade of being the only place to play a great (non-management) baseball sim, PlayStation appears to be giving up its platform exclusivity for its crown jewel sports franchise.
It’s an interesting announcement in light of the fact that we are on the cusp of a new console generation. At a time when it would seem like platform exclusives are at a premium, especially ones tied to loyal and recurring audiences like sports sim players, Sony San Diego looks like it’s going to be making games for both the Switch and Microsoft platforms (the Xbox account tweeted out the announcement, but it wasn’t absolutely clear whether that implies a PC version or an Xbox version). On the other hand, Sony and its partners’ announcement indicated that the arrival of the first non-PlayStation editions of The Show will occur “as early as 2021”. That could allow Sony to hang onto its exclusivity through a console launch window before opening the floodgates.
But I do wonder how much The Show’s exclusivity moved the needle for the PlayStation platform at this point. I was slightly surprised to see The Show 19 hit PlayStation Plus this past October, and there’s no doubt that the league and the players association would be eager to reach wider audiences vias something other than the little-loved R.B.I. series.
It’s obviously good news for players, who will finally have a meaningful choice about where they play video game baseball. But I’m curious what it means, both for the intensity of the platform competition for this upcoming console generation, and for the logic governing sports licensing deals. Mutli-platform MLB The Show is a clear sign of changing times, but what’s less clear is what is driving that change.