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MLB 11 The Show: The Franchise Woes

The plan was to post this long and drawn out examination of The Show’s franchise mode.

But I am not going to do that. Instead I’m going to tell you why I have finally raised the white flag…

There was a time, let’s call it from 1992 to 2009 that I railed, some would say endlessly, about franchise modes in sports games.

No mas. I’m done. You developers win. White flag of surrender.

Every year all of the major sports franchises which include a type of franchise mode has an AI that struggles to play its own game in one form or another. It’s sort of like Civ V but with home runs. The developers have limited time/resources to focus on certain areas of its game and while a very vocal part of the sports gaming community plays franchise mode because really — that’s the meat of a game’s longevity for many of us, money/time is usually spent in other areas.

Let’s take The Show 11 as an example.

Baseball, off the field, is an incredibly complicated animal.

So many rules: Rule 5 draft, arbitration, option years, budgets, 40-man rosters, minor leagues, waivers, free agency, and on and on. It’s a lot to ask for a videogame where the majority of the resources are put into on the field execution.

When you combine ALL that goes into playing a great baseball game franchise mode, you really can’t DO that on a console because the interface makes it a PAIN IN THE ASS. Managing minor leagues, contracts, etc. etc. — it’s just not worth the effort to do it. At least not for me. Not anymore. I am tired of fighting that fight.

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The Show has all sorts of weird franchise issues that are easily spotted after playing around with it for 30 minutes. Player progression, budget oddities, great players rotting in the FA pool, great players under team control not being tendered offers and becoming free agents, and so on. “Arcade” sports games do this sort of thing all the time. And make no mistake, as realistic as The Show is, it’s an arcade sports game. Arcade isn’t a dirty word but when YOU tell Pujols when to swing — you’re playing an arcade game, almost by definition.

Anyway, for a franchise mode to really work it needs to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and The Show 11 doesn’t do that. If you read forums you’ll see highly dedicated users offering suggestions on how to “fix” some of these issues — like “users controlling all 30 teams” and things that no sane person should have to do to enjoy a game’s designed feature.

I’m not doing that. I am not fighting a console UI just so I can see a star player go unsigned in the FA pool for three seasons. I turned 39 last month; I graduated from that school of nuttiness — with honors.

For these games to accomplish something with its franchise mode I’d like to see ALL of the money stuff removed. Gone. Get rid of it. Trash canned.

Think of it this way — why do we PLAY a game’s franchise mode?

I play them because I enjoy creating my own sense of history — building a team over the years, watching my league ebb and flow and evolve over time. Watching a player who used to be a star, now an aged vet well past his prime and a young rookie offering a glimpse to the future of the franchise.

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It’s NOT whether or not the Reds should take a ******* bus or fly to their game in Cleveland. Or whether a vendor has enough team jackets to sell.

I like seeing league evolution but I also like to do this with as little busy time as humanly possible. Scouting, training, week to week “recruiting” in a college game — no more. Done.

As for the finances, I am sick of worrying about player salary in games of this nature. If a game is not going to be able to HANDLE finances — remove them. Go back to Reserve Clause baseball when free agency was a unicorn and teams owned players and you had to build your club via trades and the draft. Wouldn’t that be easier on the developer and also provide gamers with what they want? Some roster turnover and the ability to play a game that actually…worked?

As for me, my franchise fix is covered by Out of the Park Baseball, as our online league kicks off its 6th year of existence, I am getting that ebb and flow and watching players come and go and loving it. I’m not fighting with The Show to get what that game already provides — in spades.

Bill Abner

Bill has been writing about games for the past 16 years for such outlets as Computer Games Magazine, GameSpy, The Escapist, GameShark, and Crispy Gamer. He will continue to do so until his wife tells him to get a real job.

3 thoughts to “MLB 11 The Show: The Franchise Woes”

  1. This is the main reason I do not buy console based baseball games. Even if a single game in The Show is done as well as I have ever seen in an action based game, without a larger context the games feel pointless. For a few seasons we tried to run an online league using the The Show. But lag and inadequacies of Sony’s online franchise mode killed every season before we even made it to the playoffs.

    My favorite console based sports game is, and probably always will be NFL 2K5. That game had a terrible single player franchise mode. But the web based online leagues kept me playing almost daily for 2 years after release, until they finally took the league servers down. Each league had it’s own web site, with a forum and the ability to make trades. After a few years we were even running full online drafts with free agency by creatively using trades and dummy teams to hold the free agents. Most of the people on my XBL friends list were met through NFL 2K5.

    God I miss that game.

    I didn’t mean to derail this thread with the first post. But I guess I am trying to say that if The Show had an online franchise mode that worked as well as NFL 2K5′s I would buy the game in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even care about the SP franchise mode.

  2. “If a game is not going to be able to HANDLE finances — remove them.”

    That should be the watchword for franchise mode in sports games. If you’re not going to do it well enough that it can, you know, function? Don’t do it. I’ll grant you I’m a hypocrite because I’m arguing nearly the opposite about Dragon Age 2 right now. Whatever. I’m special.

    I do mean “function” there, though. Doesn’t have to be perfect, but today’s franchise modes are so bloated over with flat out broken features that franchise itself is basically broken in these games. That does no one any good. It doesn’t have to be dead simple, but it should be simple enough that you don’t spend more time navigating a kaleidoscope of menus, jaw dropping every five minutes because the best player in the league just got cut, than you do actually playing the darn game.

  3. Bill, do you plan to test out and report on the online franchise mode in The Show?

    Even though OOTP’s SP franchise mode is very solid. Playing against the AI still gets old fast. Playing with 29 other GMs is so much more engaging.

    By focusing on online franchise they would not even have to worry about AI. Just make the mechanics work well and streamline the interface. Allow the commish to replace owners, reset games that disconnect, edit the schedule during the season, sim unplayed games, etc.

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