Think you could out-Moneyball Billy Beane? Maybe make a few trades or find that diamond-in-the-rough prospect to help the Cubs actually win a World Series before you die? 2K Sports is going to give you that chance, at least virtually, with MLB Front Office Manager (January; Xbox 360, PS3, PC), a game in which Beane himself stars, and one that takes gamers off the field and puts them in the shoes of the general manager.
It's put-up-or-shut-up time for baseball know-it-alls, and producer Edwin Loo tells us why.
MAG.COM: In this video game world of turbo buttons and monster home runs, how does a GM simulation come into play?
Edwin Loo: The reason why we developed this game is because just like every baseball fan, every trade deadline we're always wondering why the team we're rooting for isn't trading for that guy who seems to be available. It just doesn't make sense, because in our minds, trading for that star hitter is going to put us over the hump and right into the World Series.
We embarked on this because we're baseball enthusiasts and we wanted to make a game that was really deep, really authentic baseball. To do this, we built a brand new sim engine. This engine has not been used in any of the other 2K games. Instead of season stats, where past baseball games only take into account the past season, we have career stats. We have all the stats for all MLB players throughout their careers. This way, our sim engine can put together logic so that if Dan Haren is matching up against Ryan Braun, if they had faced each other in previous years, they would have a history, and we could put that into our sim engine to get a pretty accurate outlook of what that at bat is going to look like. We also have all the stats on how each player matches up against left-handed or right-handed pitchers, day versus night, all sorts of situations. Our sim engine eats all of that information up and then outputs an accurate outcome. It's really complex.
And since we're going out on PS3, 360 and PC, we knew that we couldn't have a game that looked like it was developed in the 80's. We have full 3D graphics including 3D stadiums and 3D players. You're the general manager of the team that you pick. You adjust the rosters, make trades, sign free agents, and then you watch all the action play out.
Once the game starts and you're watching the action, is there anything you could do to persuade the manager to pinch hit or adjust his lineup?
We talked to Billy Beane and Brian Cashman about their jobs and what they really do, and we asked them if they have any influence over setting the lineups. And while they said not really, what they did say is that they talk to the manager about how particular players are feeling that day, and that they go over the lineups. So in our game, we do let you set your lineups before each game, and you can also make phone calls throughout the game from the general manager's suite and tell the manager to substitute certain players. You sit back in your comfy chair eating popcorn, but you're calling all the shots.
Does the game start at the beginning of your first season or in the offseason?
We're starting you off the day after the World Series. That's when Billy Beane told us a general manager's job really starts. That's when you have players whose contracts are expiring or are eligible for arbitration and you have to deal with those issues. So if you start with the season, you're missing half of the year already. There is just so much to the off season that you need to deal with. We even have the proper Japan bidding process. You can scout Japan, and then start the bidding process for the players that fit your needs.
Do you deal with ticket prices and other economic factors?
Talking to the GMs, there is someone else in the organization who deals with the pricing of the tickets, the parking, the hot dogs and all that stuff. The general managers we talked to dealt with strictly the on-field product, so that is what we focused on. Besides, there is a lot you'll need to focus on besides the price of hot dogs. There are 30 teams and all of the minor league teams, and there is always something happening. You can build your team through either a fantasy draft or from a set roster. Beyond just the trades and free agents, there's waivers. There are all of the significant dates like the amateur draft and the Rule 5 draft. The whole arbitration system is in the game. The list goes on and on.
How does scouting for the draft work?
You have a scouting budget and you allocate where you want to concentrate those resources. We have all the countries where MLB players come from, so you allocate your budget and either split it up or concentrate on a specific area like the Caribbean or the midwest part of the United States. If you see a high concentration of players from a particular area, then the smart gamers will allocate their money there. Or maybe if you're from the west coast, you can concentrate on California players.
Then, after you allocate, your scouts will unearth prospects that your competition may not have seen, because they haven't spent the same kind of money in the same area. Once you go through the amateur draft, you then decide what minor league team you want to place him on, deciding if he's a player that's on the fast-track to the show like some players or if he needs some seasoning. And through career mode, you gain skill points, and you can then invest those points into your coaching staff to make your players develop a little quicker. You're growing your team, and then you can either call these prospects up or use them as trade bait. The purpose of career mode is to reach legendary status in 30 years. The way to do that is to build a winning team. You have pressure from the owner, the media and fans as they all want your head when you're going on a losing streak. And if you run your team into the ground, you will get fired.
When you get fired, can you get hired by another team, or is it game over?
It depends how bad your record is. We try to mimic real life. Some general managers seem to stick around for years and years, while other guys might do such a poor job, they just disappear out of the game.
When the game begins, do you pick your own team or do you get hired by a team desperate for help?
When you start the game, you can scroll through all of the teams and you'll see that each team comes with a specific set of goals. If you take over the Red Sox or the Yankees, you're expected to win the World Series. But if you take over a smaller market team, your goal might be to just make the playoffs or even finish with a .500 record. A goal might be to bring up three prospects from your minor leagues to your major league roster. I imagine that most people will take their favorite team, but when they go through the challenges and see what some of the other teams go through, they might change their minds and pick a team like the Oakland A's and see if they can mimic that kind of success, or see if they can do even a better job than Billy Beane. But you'll have to do it all within your budget. We didn't make the game so you can just go out and sign all the best players.
Can you play head-to-head online?
Online fantasy mode is our version of fantasy baseball, and it's something that isn't being done in other sports games. You can play in 30 person leagues, each representing their own MLB team, and you can play rotisserie, head-to-head or traditional scoring, and you play out the season. In real fantasy baseball, you make your moves during the day, but have to wait for nighttime for the games. But with our game, if everybody is online, you can advance the day within minutes. If you have some big baseball fans in your league, you can actually play through a season in a couple of weeks. You can see how you're doing matching wits. It's a good way to get bragging rights.
Since Billy Beane not only helped you develop the game but also appears on screen to give pointers, will we be forced to play Moneyball in order to win?
We were really cautious about that. I think if we only used one philosophy to win, that would make things really boring. It's not something where if you read Moneyball you'll win this game. You bring your own techniques with you. It's what you think as a general manager, not Billy Beane, that's most important. Whether it works or not, you'll just have to play the game to find out.