Baseball, on the other hand, has eight players acting independently on every defensive play, and as many as four base runners functioning with only minimal support from a human. Sure, programmers can give us increasing levels of control over these in-game players, but the learning curve skyrockets. The only other option is to put most control over these players' actions in the hands of AI, which ultimately takes away from the player the bulk of the responsibility for any single game's outcome. And no matter what kind of game you're talking about, that's a formula for disaster.
Beales and other retro-baseball game fans have found their answer to this quandary by looking to the past. "There's a point in RBI where you can almost no longer get better," he says. "It goes from gameplay to strategy. You have to know who you're playing, in terms of your opponent, what his style is and who he likes to choose as a team. Do you want to have a Boston vs. Detroit match-up? Some people like that, some people don't. [With] righty pitchers, I mean, if you're batting, you definitely want to have a righty batter. It's just easier because they have to throw more over the plate and can't go for the outside corners."
Fans may find joy in the details, but games like RBI originally succeeded in large part because the graphics of the day - crude by today's standards, but still a large upgrade over LED hand-helds and earlier consoles - allowed fans to experience baseball on their own terms. Without the internet, and with 24-hour cable sports networks still in their infancy, fans weren't able to quench their baseball thirsts as they are today. The novelty of a game like RBI, especially with its MLBPA license, was still a force to be reckoned with.
Today, baseball fans play fantasy sports and subscribe to DirecTV's Extra Innings. At MLB.com, we can stream any game's video or radio broadcast. Our every baseball-related whim is catered to by more services than we could have imagined 20 years ago. Videogames no longer need to fill that void for fans, and developers have failed to find a consistent gameplay formula to truly keep gamers coming back.
Don't get me wrong; some of today's baseball simulators offer a deep and enjoyable experience, but the days of baseball's dominance of sports gaming may be over. The Wii, with games like Take-Two's The Bigs or even Wii Sports' baseball, has given us a glimpse of what new control options may mean for the future, but at this point it's hard to say if anything will put baseball game sales anywhere in the ballpark of other sports franchises. We're conditioned to always look for the newest offering, but it simply might be the case that for a sport built largely on tradition, the best gaming experiences will always be the classic ones.
Jon Schnaars is a freelance writer with interests in genre and representation in gaming. He blogs full-time about issues in psychology and mental health for Treatment Online.