When a sports video game keeps users entertained until the next year's edition comes out, you know it's been a success. When a sports video game spawns a community of gamers who continue to play it 12 years after its release, who manually update its rosters, uniforms, and stadiums, and who disseminate those updates to other community members to keep the game alive, you know you have something special. Such is the case with MVP Baseball 2005, widely regarded as the greatest baseball video game ever made.
The reason that nobody plays MVP Baseball 2017 is because no such game exists. In fact, MVP '05 was the last of just three MVP games, the successors to EA Sports's late-nineties and early-aughts series, Triple Play. Just as MVP '05 was released, Take-Two Interactive signed an exclusive licensing agreement with MLB, effectively ending EA Sports's participation in that market.
Why, then, didn't MVP's disciples just switch over to games like MLB: The Show and MLB 2K, which endured under the new agreement? Because, quite simply, they weren't as good. MVP has a number of features that made it the best of all time and none of its competitors was ever able to quite replicate them.
First and foremost are MVP's graphics and gameplay. MVP looks, feels, and plays like a real baseball game. Its visual presentation avoids looking cartoonish, even after all these years. Hitters' stances and pitchers' windups are strikingly realistic. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive, and avoids the jumpiness and glitchiness seen in so many other baseball games.
Finally, the MVP series introduced a number of innovative features, including pitching and throwing meters, hot and cold areas within the strike zone, and a hitter's eye that briefly color codes the ball out of the pitcher's hand depending on what pitch is being thrown. You can see these features for yourself in this clip of an MVP exhibition game featuring the 2005 Mets and Phillies.
MVP featured several other innovations unrelated to gameplay: extensive dynasty and owner modes allowing users to build a stadium, manage the team's finances, and make acquisitions over multiple seasons; a comprehensive minor league system with farm teams for Single-A up through Triple-A for each franchise; skills-based mini games, such as batting practice sessions that award you points for hitting targets on the field and bullpen sessions that do the same for targets within the strike zone; and unlockable players, stadiums, and jerseys from baseball history, allowing you to pitch, for example, in the Astrodome as Tom Seaver wearing an eighties-era racing stripe Mets uniform.
When you throw in the highly entertaining broadcast due of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow—with signature phrases like “He's so strong, he doesn't even know his own strength!” and “Challenge the hitter; you're killin' me!”—and a catchy soundtrack featuring songs like “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys, the result is a fun, memorable, and re-playable baseball video game that has survived the test of time.
MVP’s staying power manifests itself in a cult following that keeps the brand alive and well more than a decade after it was officially discontinued. Ben Lindbergh wrote about the MVP gaming community two years ago in an excellent piece for Grantland. Lindbergh writes that, because the PC version of MVP “allows greater access to its innards than most titles,” modders have been able to manipulate the game's code to keep its rosters, jerseys, and even stadiums remarkably up-to-date. They then post these updates to a website, where fellow MVP junkies can download and use them on their own computers.
Here’s a screenshot of the original Citi Field—Great Wall of Flushing and all—that a user uploaded to the mod site. Keep in mind that this was created from scratch four years after MVP was released.
Lindbergh describes another incredible feat of MVP modding. After MVP '05 was released, a group of modders reengineered the game to create a Caribbean Series version of it, known as MVP Caribe. This allows users to play with Caribbean Series players wearing that league's uniforms and playing in its stadiums—all while using the MVP '05 interface.
Unfortunately for PS2, Xbox, GameCube, and PSP owners, these advanced mods only exist for the PC version of MVP '05. For $25, however, you can actually buy a PS2 memory card on eBay with updated MVP rosters that are current as of this week. Although you can't play at Citi Field wearing the alternate blues, you can pitch as Noah Syndergaard with Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabera manning the middle infield behind you.
Take-Two's licensing agreement with MLB expired in 2012, theoretically opening the door for an MVP rebirth. Unfortunately, reviving the franchise would be a little more complicated than it sounds. Given the 12-year layoff since MVP’s last installment, EA Sports would need to completely redesign the game for different consoles with a new team of developers under a new licensing agreement that it would need to reach with MLB. EA executives have, thus far, shown little inclination to get that process started. That’s too bad, because the rebirth of the MVP franchise would be a huge win for baseball gamers.
The continued popularity of MVP '05 and the intense loyalty of its fans are testaments to just how good of a game it was. Although the next installment does not appear to be forthcoming, the baseball gaming community can always hope to see—and play—an MVP Baseball 2018.