Q&A: Dayne Myers talks sports text sims

We chat with the CEO of Imagine Sports about the company's recently announced deal with Major League Baseball and the online future of management sims.

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Baseball management sims have always been a niche market, favored by fans who aren't so much into the personalities of the sport as much as the intimate, abstract workings of the game's statistical side. The Diamond Mind Baseball series, which saw its first release back in 1987, is one such entry in the text-sim category. The last entry in the series, Diamond Mind Baseball 9, was released back in 2004. Since then, Imagine Sports, a Silicon Valley-based company, purchased Diamond Mind Baseball and has subsequently released Diamond Mind Online, a Web-based version of the Diamond Mine series. Last week, the company announced a deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media to license league and team logos, as well as player names and images for use in Diamond Mind Online. We recently spoke with Imagine Sports' CEO Dayne Myers about the deal as well as the future of baseball text sims.

GameSpot: When did you start importing information from the MLB into the game?

Dayne Myers: Well, we've been importing information from MLB for years. So there's been a pre-existing relationship for quite some time. Diamond Mine Online, though, is very new. It was just started last year. There's no information from MLB that we need for that game other than what we already had. It's the promotion and licensing that is new.

GS: So team names and players and things like that?

DM: Right. So we can now use player images, team logos, and the Major League Baseball logo in our game, and we've incorporated some of that stuff and are in the process of incorporating a lot more of it. We'll be adding player images into the site and team logos. We already have some team logo stuff in there. In fact, when a new customer clicks through from the MLB link--the link on the MLB page--they get a landing page with an offer for a free trial. And all the team logos are there, but like I said, it's just begun.

GS: So with that part established, what are the next steps for you guys in terms of development?

DM: We want to incorporate all that content that we've gotten from the MLB. We've just scratched the surface, literally. And the idea is to really enrich the game and make it a more personal experience between the customer and the history of baseball. Not just the present. I mean, you can play fantasy baseball now and see pictures, if they've done a deal with MLB. Like ESPN and Yahoo have. The difference is that you don't get to do that from a historical standpoint. And obviously one of the great things about baseball is all that history and all that nostalgia--and our customers tend to be more of an adult customer rather than kids.

GS: Right now you've got historical data in the game. What's the cutoff year for that? How recent are we talking about?

DM: Currently in the game, the most recent players I think retired in 2004. But we're going to be putting in about 18 of the retirees from 2005 and 2006, and then some current players. This version of the game we have right now is based on a player's career. So what we do is we take the statistics, say, of Ted Williams, and create a model for Ted Williams based on his career, not on any particular season. So right now we only have players in the game whose careers are done, or at least long enough so far that you can say, "OK, there's enough data to really do his whole career." To say, "This is the career of, say, Ted Williams." Somebody who hasn't retired yet, you don't have that. But we think with the 18 players--we're adding, including Roger Clemens, for instance, or Greg Maddux--and you know they've played long enough to have a career.

GS: Barry Bonds won't allow his likeness or his name to be in console baseball games. Are there players that you would like to get that you can't get because of a similar type of licensing restrictions for your game?

DM: Not that I'm aware of. And you know, I think our deal with MLB covers all the players that we need.

GS: But it's not a deal with the Players' Association, right?

DM: Well, the Players' Association has a deal with Major League Baseball. Yeah, so that happened several years ago. There was a licenser purchase. I don't know exactly what the deal was. But basically the Players' Association transferred their rights over to--for a large sum of money, I'm sure--over to MLB Advanced Media, the subsidiary of MLB that handles all their online other stuff. And that's one reason this only applies to our online game. It doesn't apply to our PC game because of that. We'd have to go to the Players' Association I guess for that.

GS: Do you view Diamond Mind Online as a complementary product to your PC Diamond Mind series or as competition for it?

DM: They're very different products. I don't think they compete, and I sort of see them as side by side. Each one has advantages, and so I think the games support each other. But I think it's so much easier for an online game--what you can do on the Internet that you can't do on a PC game is play a bunch of people together. What I perceived as the opportunity here was that you've got a lot of people who love playing these PC games that want something more realistic, more adultlike than, say, the games that you'd play on a console where it's more controlling things. They want more of a brain game.

These guys don't want to be like a kid sitting with their console or their joystick. They want to be Billy Bean. They want to be Brian Sabian. They want to be the general manager of the Yankees. So they're trying to out-think their opponents. So what we saw as the opportunity was a lot of guys like to do this sort of PC game and really think. So the real opportunity we identified was, well, what if you could get into an online environment where you could play lots of people? So effectively what we've tried to do is take the simulation sports game and turn it into a multiplayer environment.

GS: Do you see a similar customer base for both products? Do you see people buying both games?

DM: Oh, yeah. I think so. We already have some customers who buy both games. But there's also a lot of guys who, to them, it's the competition against other people. And to some they just want to sit at home and play themselves, with the PC game and try to imagine different things.

GS: Because the Diamond Mind Online is a newer product, it obviously isn't as feature-rich as your PC game. How often do you update the game with new content and features?

DM: We've been pretty much updating the Web game every month. And that's the big advantage--you know, the Internet changes games. I think our angle on it is, wow, you can turn a PC game into a multiplayer online game and get a lot of people who wouldn't bother playing because they like the competitive aspect against other people and wouldn't play a PC game. But like you said, it's very liberating in the sense that you don't have to be tied to the PC. You don't have to worry about what operating system you're running, what you have to upgrade to, and when you have to get a bug fixed and all that stuff. So development cycles are much, much, much faster.

And the other thing is we don't have to worry about certain things like we just did in the PC game. We had to do a patch release for the PC game because of Windows XP. Customers who had bought our past versions of the software were finding that it wasn't compatible with XP. So we had to go through this whole process. Well, obviously with an Internet game, we don't have to do that. That's a huge advantage. But right now, the PC game does have a lot more stuff to it. But we're planning to incorporate everything that the PC game does into the online game so that people will have a choice.

GS: What's the status of the next PC Diamond Mind? When can we expect that?

DM: We're still planning that out. We're always looking to improve it. The one thing I think that we can do is improve the look and feel. There's been a lot of changes, as I'm sure you're aware, over the years in graphics. So that's one thing we're looking at, but we're kind of hampered by the fact that when the code was written. So we're looking at options to how we do that most efficiently.

GS: Do you think it will be 2008, though?

DM: Oh, yeah. It will be at least 2008.

GS: One other question: Do you see growth in the text-sim market, or is it fairly static? Or, how do you view your competition in the market in general?

DM: I think the real growth is in the Internet. There's always going to be a hardcore, dedicated PC market. And we're in that market. But I think the real growth is online, and that's why we're doing this. I think of it as like a bull's-eye. You know, the center or the red dot in the center is the current PC market, and the rings on the outside are the people who aren't playing this kind of game right now at all, but on the Internet they will play it.

GS: Thanks for your time, Dayne.

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