MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) continues to innovate with new video games, apps and digital services to connect baseball with tech-savvy fans. In 2014, the technology division of MLB decided to revive Namco’s classic RBI Baseball franchise, which originally launched in Japan on NES in 1986. Since then, the franchise has grown in size and scope, while retaining a $20 price point for consoles and $5 price for tablets and smartphones.
MLBAM shipped the new game with season, postseason, exhibition and local multiplayer modes, including season-saving and simulation capabilities. A free update will add online multiplayer to the mix.
RBI Baseball 17 features all 30 MLB teams, 30 detailed ballparks and over 1,000 MLB players with detailed attributes. Players can modify lineups with complete MLB rosters, or play classic RBI Baseball rosters, while staying current with downloadable roster updates throughout the season. There’s also the ability to track season stats by team, player and league leaders across multiple seasons.
Peter Banks, MLBAM’s director of marketing for gaming and virtual reality, joined AListDaily to explain how the league revived one of its most popular video games.
What are the challenges of bringing out a new RBI Baseball game every year?
Annualized games present great challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, we need to really look into what’s most central to the identity of our game, and what areas present might benefit from change. While bolt on “bullet features” are tempting, it’s much more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding to the user, to evolve and advance the core tenets of the game while preserving the feel that brings fans back. On the other hand, there’s a really wonderful opportunity to develop a closer connection and relationship with your core fan base, to really understand what is loved (or not) and provides an opportunity to have a really unique dialogue both overtly and through gameplay. With RBI Baseball 2017, we’re very proud to have brought development wholly in-house to our New York studios at MLBAM. Ramping the team up and getting all our skus in line for retail, digital consoles and mobile presented challenges no other league has ever had to deal with internally, and we think really positions us to further deepen the dialogue with our fans as we bring more content, more authenticity and more fun to RBI every year.
How do you expand this game’s offerings through online updates throughout the year?
One of our big focus areas is roster updates. As you’re aware, there will be trades, injuries and guys brought up from and sent down to the minor leagues throughout the season; this can really change the way a team plays. This almost forms a metagame for core baseball fans as the teams they love evolve and grow. We have an entire team here dedicated to roster updates. These developers are huge fans of the game, and keep track of all the player changes across the 30 clubs. We reflect this with monthly patches that update player teams, stats and performances, so our fans can have access to the most authentic MLB experience possible. At this point RBI has stayed away from a lot of the paid content packs and releases. As a $20 title, it’s important that RBI be accessible to all fans of the sport, and we’re sticking with that model for the time being.
How have you worked with cover athlete and Dodgers star Corey Seager to promote this year’s game in the US, and with Kevin Pillar of the Blue Jays to promote it in Canada?
Our athlete partnerships in general are one of the most enjoyable aspects of rolling out the game. While Seager and Pillar were obviously a big part of our marketing, we also have partnerships with Kyle Schwarber, Francisco Lindor, Dansby Swanson and many others. Baseball fandom is both national and regional, so we try to find players that have appeal for both individual markets and more nationwide reach. Our licensed players really give us a great individual effort to shape marketing around, while supporting the league-wide efforts to promote MLB’s amazing, and growing, roster of young stars and speaking directly to regional fandoms and more. With Seager and Pillar, we’ve worked closely with the guys and their clubs to pull off a range of fun promotion points, and will continue to do so throughout the regular season. One activation that was really entertaining was Corey revealing this year’s cover at the LA Dodgers Fanfest. We were at Dodger Stadium with thousands of their most dedicated fans and were able to collaborate with the team to get this really personal, impactful message. The game was on the jumbotron, making for a really fun day. We did something similar with Pillar as part of a broadcast package with MLB Network.
What type of retailer cross-promotions do you have going on?
We try to promote our retail partners in all our key retail touch points, so we include tags in our online presence trailers. We have to balance being both a strong digital title as well as a solid retail performer, so we’re allocating resources to both of these channels throughout the product life cycle. One specific promo we just wrapped up that was pretty cool was a custom Xbox giveaway with EB Games in Canada. We’re also partnering with the Red Box around our roster updates, to help keep the games active in their ecosystem.
How does MLB Gaming tap into the social media channels of MLB to cross-promote this franchise?
We work closely with the MLBAM social teams to deliver relevant and timely content through the official MLB social channels. Facebook and Twitter have the largest viewership base, but we’re definitely exploring more emergent platforms. These have great reach and really target our core fans. In addition, we work with the individual clubs to create content that targets fans with club specific social messaging.
What type of engagement did the Twitter Xbox One RBI Baseball 17 contest generate?
Huge! This was a pretty heroic effort to pull off. We were able to work with nearly every major club to deliver a unified, timely and well-amplified message that tied in directly with the launch of the game and the start of the regular season. We were also very happy with the prizing. We collaborated with Microsoft to produced 30 super nice, exclusive-enameled Xbox S consoles customized by Colorware. This is more than just a decal; the actual box is taken apart and transformed into a one-of-a-kind collectable featuring branding from the game, the club and the league.
How does MLB Gaming work with MLB TV and MLB.com to connect the RBI Baseball brand with baseball fans?
We have a handful of product groups and owners across MLBAM and we work closely across all of these verticals to deliver meaningful content to our fans on the appropriate platform. While these are individual business units with their own priorities, all of these products are designed and defined by our charter to give fans great access to the game in whatever way they want and that helps us find common ground to leverage these platforms for our key messages.
How does MLB Gaming work with individual teams and stadiums to market this game?
Gaming is a part of the DNA of baseball fans, so when it comes to working with clubs it has been pretty easy. The clubs understand the connection that both their club and video games have with their fans. Working with them and providing activations for both games and VR creates a win-win with our products and the individual club fan bases.
Baseball has a long season. What role do key days like Opening Day, the All-Star Game and the postseason play as marketing opportunities?
RBI has a very long tail, largely thanks to the structure of the season. We try to maintain a steady drumbeat of robust content and marketing pipeline throughout the season. This includes things like live events and activations around high points, digital content that speaks specifically to the various stages of the regular and post season and content updates that advance RBI’s gameplay. The MLB All-Star FanFest also continues to be a powerful in-person platform for us to engage with fans, including this year where we’ll have a special never-before-seen enhanced VR experience. More to come there soon.
The classic RBI Baseball is still mentioned by MLB players as a favorite. How have you revived that brand awareness over the past few years?
This was a big part of our thinking behind reviving the franchise in 2014. RBI Baseball is synonymous with fun, accessible baseball. We’ve taken that core DNA and evolved it with more authenticity with clubs, players and parks and continue to polish the experience to deliver something unique and rewarding for our users.
What do you feel differentiates the RBI Baseball brand from competition like Sony’s MLB The Show?
They’re very different titles, serving different audiences. The focus of RBI is more the ability to jump right in and get playing. Our game is all about accessibility. The Show is a much more involved and elaborate product. We think they both serve a passionate and engaged audience.
Sony is both a partner with PlayStation 4 and a license holder with MLB The Show. How do you work with them in the baseball game space?
We really love what they do with The Show and support them in their successes. Our core licensing and product strategy is to make sure our fans have access to the types of experiences they are looking for and having multiple products helps us deliver on that goal.