Out of the Park Developments makes some of the most beloved and hardcore sports-management sims. Its fans come back year-after-year for its signature spreadsheet action. But a couple of years ago, the studio spotted an opportunity to grow its audience and its revenues in the live-service space. In the fall, it launched its Perfect Team mode, and now the developer is already talking about how this is freeing it up to do even more in the future.

As you might expect from the name, Perfect Team takes a lot of cues from the Ultimate Team mode in EA Sports’s Madden and FIFA. It has players build a team by collecting baseball stars from card packs. Some cards are better than others, and they are also likely more rare. Once you have your team, you take them online to compete against other squads. And competing is a lot like the rest of Out of the Park Baseball. It has you building a team, setting lineups for righties and lefties, creating a pitching rotation, and setting up a bullpen. It’s a clever mode that can keep fans coming back for months, and it also enables people to spend more money than just the upfront cost of the game.

It’s also a departure for the Out of the Park Baseball series, which is now two decades old. And OOTP Developments knew it would have to win over some skeptical fans.

“There was definitely skepticism,” OOTP chief marketing officer Rich Grisham told GamesBeat. “Skepticism like, is this going to be pay to win? Number one. And number two, is this is going to suck resources away from making the core game better? Are you guys going to abandon us? That was the key concern.”

It’s easy for long-time fans of a game series to view live-service money as a siren song that could potentially lure their favorite studio away. Resources are finite. If a studio starts seeing significantly greater return on its investment by selling microtransactions, why would it keep doing things the old way? Grisham notes that some fans still have those concerns.

“It’s not like this has been been out for five years,” he said. “It’s been out for three or four months. Our goal is just to demonstrate with the next version of the game how that skepticism is unfounded.”

Perfect Team’s success is benefiting the traditional game

Perfect Team is already doing well for OOTP Developments. And the studio is reinvesting in its team to help with updates as well as new games.

“Perfect Team has allowed us to hire multiple new people for the studio and invest in all sorts of stuff for the core game that we wouldn’t have been able to do,” said Grisham. “For example, we haven’t officially announced Out of the Park Baseball 20 yet, but we’re chatting with our fans about it, because everyone knows we’re going to make it.”

Some of those improvements include new motion-capture sessions to improve the visuals. And the team also plans to bring in some of the live-service technology into the core experience to ensure players have up-to-the-minute statistics.

Perfect Team is also onboarding new fans that could expand Out of the Park Baseball’s player base in the future.

“[Other] feedback has been, this is the best tutorial for Out of the Park Baseball you guys could have possibly made,” said Grisham. “That was a complete surprise. That was not expected. But it makes sense in hindsight because Perfect Team takes a lot of the core stuff from Out of the Park Baseball without having to do some of the more detailed franchise management.”

Week-long seasons

One of the other keys to establishing Perfect Team as a complementary mode to the core game is its seasonal structure. While traditional Out of the Park Baseball has you competing against the A.I. at your own pace, Perfect Team is much quicker and more condensed.

Each season in Perfect Team is a week long. During that season, your squad will play 162 games against a bunch of other people in your league. And the developer separates those leagues like tiers in Overwatch or League of Legends.

“Monday morning at 10 a.m. the new season starts,” said Grisham. “Games run every 30 minutes. You can have this thing on in the background and see if you won or lost every 30 minutes. Then, you can go to the auction house and buy a card. You earn currency when you’re playing a game so you can get a new set of card packs. If you make it to Saturday you have the pennant chase, and then Sunday is all about the playoffs. Monday morning, it’s brand new again.”

Each week leads into the next in terms of your ranking. You may move up, stay the same, or get relegated down a tier. This ensures that each week puts plenty at stake, but if things go bad, you can start to turn them around next Monday.

“You can have a great week and it’s awesome,” said Grisham. “Or you can go on vacation for a week and your team will be in the background earning points for you. You come back and, oh look, I didn’t even have to pay attention last week and I earned 2000 points. Now I’m going to play again this week with more focus. That’s been fantastic.”

The future

OOTP Developments wants to build on this foundation. It also wants improvements in one mode to feed into the other.

To that end, it has brought on two people to work on a mobile app called OOTP Go. The app will enable players to control many aspects of their game while away from their PC. The studio also has the opportunity to expand Perfect Team to Franchise Hockey Manager or to even release Perfect Team as a standalone product.

For now, however, it’s primarily interested in serving its dedicated fans and bringing in new ones.

You can read my full interview with Grisham on the next page: