Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Take-Two was in talks with the Major League Baseball's Players Association to ink an exclusivity deal similar to EA's pact with the NFL. Today, the athletic union issued a carefully worded announcement that it had struck just such an agreement with Take-Two--sort of.
"The Major League Baseball Players Association ('MLBPA') today announced that it has reached an agreement in principle to grant sweeping rights to Take-Two Interactive, Inc., to develop and publish a broad portfolio of products that are expected to drive the baseball video game business to unprecedented heights," read the statement. Currently, Take-Two copublishes the ESPN Major League Baseball 2K series with Sega. The game is developed by Kush Games, a subdivision of Sega's internal sports studio, Visual Concepts, which Take-Two has acquired the option to buy.
Initially, the vague wording of MLBPA's statement made it unclear if Take-Two had exclusive MLB rights after all. However, further along, the exact terms of the deal are spelled out. Starting in 2006, "Take-Two will have exclusive rights among third-party publishers to develop and market simulation, arcade and manager-style baseball video games on the current and next-generation PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, personal computer and hand-held video game systems," read the statement. (Emphasis added.) Said third-party exclusivity will last for seven years, until 2012.
Presumably, this means that Electronic Arts' pro baseball series will not return after MVP 2005 launches in March. But an EA spokesperson would not say the agreement marked the end of EA Sports baseball games. "We will launch MVP Baseball 2005 this spring, and we're exploring our long term options. This proves that there's plenty of competition in sports games," said the rep.
However, the Take-Two/MLBPA deal is not totally exclusive, as the EA/NFL agreement was. "At the same time, manufacturers of video game systems will have the opportunity to develop and publish baseball simulation games for their own platforms," read the statement. That caveat is significant since one of the most popular baseball series, MLB, is published by Sony and internally developed at its 989 Sports studio.
When contacted, Take-Two corporate reps declined comment. "We have nothing to add at the moment," said one. But that didn't stop John Olshan, the MLBPA's director for interactive games, from heaping praise on Take-Two. "The baseball video game business has been underdeveloped for years," he said. "The upcoming change in technology makes this the perfect time for us to implement our plan for growing the business, and we have no doubt that Take-Two's proven creativity and innovation, combined with their incredible distribution strength and powerful commitment to baseball, will add real excitement and depth to the video game marketplace. Baseball fans will be the big winners."
GameSpot will have more on this developing story as further details emerge.