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Singer Andy Williams said — among other things — that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. That’s not true for baseball fans. It’s a cold desert completely lacking in their favorite pastime.
Above: Gamers can work their way up until their ballplayer is starting in the bigs.
Major League Baseball knows that its fans are miserable, and so it has MLB Advanced Media — its internal development company — working on games and apps all year around. This year, the studio just released MLB.com Franchise MVP for iOS and Android. The free-to-play game has fans guiding a player through his career to make him an all-star and — as the title indicates — the most valuable player.
“Franchise MVP is a mix of strategy and action elements,” MLB Advanced Media vice president of gaming Jamie Leece told GamesBeat. “The concept is to enable our fans to go from the minor leagues all the way up to the major leagues all within their own team system.”
If you’re a Yankees fan, this means you can start with the Charleston RiverDogs and work your way up until you’re in the lineup for the Bronx bombers.
“You work your way up over seasons and seasons to get up to the Major League level,” said Leece. “Ultimately, you want to become the most valuable player for your franchise.”
To get to that point, you must take your digital player through a series of minigames. For hitters, the mobile game features hitting and fielding minigames, while pitchers focus on throwing. Franchise MVP also has a progressions system where you improve your ballplayer through training.
“The reason we went with this product is that we were really looking for something that would appeal to a mobile user,” said Leece. “We know mobile users have short bursts of time to interact with their apps — a minute here and a minute there — where most sports games require a solid session of five to 15 minutes for you to feel like you’re getting anything accomplished.”
With that in mind, MLBAM developed Franchise MVP from the start to ensure players could feel like they are making progress toward their goal with just a minute of gameplay at a time.
Why release a game during the offseason?
The World Series ended more than a month ago. We’re well into the football, basketball, and hockey seasons, so why would MLBAM release a game now? Well, exactly because fans have no baseball to watch.
“We release games like this in the offseason for a variety of reasons,” said Leece. “First of all, there is a huge void for our fans in terms of engagement when the season ends. We build up this great crescendo through the World Series, and our fans are hyper-engaged with what’s [happening] on the field. Even while there’s stuff that goes on during the offseason — pitchers and catchers and the winter meetings — as far as what’s [happening] on the field, there’s a void there.”
Franchise MVP is designed to fill that void for the most-engaged fans. MLBAM also notes that, like its other titles, Franchise MVP should have plenty of momentum leading into the season, and it will attract more gamers when the season gets underway.
The final product of MLBAM’s ‘rookie season’
MLBAM is the digital division of the MLB. It produces the popular MLB At Bat app that fans use to keep up with their favorite teams during the season. The developer also has previously released MLB.com Home Run Derby and MLB Ballpark Empire.
The studio considers Franchise MVP the culmination of everything it’s learned.
“This is the final product of our ‘rookie season’ making game products here at Major League Baseball,” said Leece. “The first product we did was Ballpark Empire. That’s a typical city-builder. We followed that up with Home Run Derby, and that’s obviously a twitch action game. Franchise MVP is a different genre. It’s strategy with a bit of arcade action, and we’re intending to appeal to all baseball fans.”
Leece points out that Ballpark Empire and Home Run Derby revealed that baseball fans have an even bigger appetite for baseball games than even MLB anticipated.
“Our products have exceeded expectations,” he said. “By the end of this year, including the success we’ve had with Franchise MVP, we’re going to be close to 4 million downloads for our gaming products. That’s the most for any sports league that’s made apps.”
MLBAM also found that baseball fans expect a top-level quality.
“Fortunately, for us, we took the time to deliver a high level of quality and authenticity,” said Leece.