The formerly PlayStation-exclusive MLB The Show is not only headed cross-platform to Xbox, but it’s launching day one as an Xbox Game Pass release. A PlayStation Studios game going to Xbox was one thing, but the announcement that it will be launching on Game Pass free for all subscribers is the kind of industry-shaking news that tends to have fanboys readying their pitchforks and spitting hot takes with reckless abandon. So I thought, “why not join in the fun?” MLB The Show 21 launching on Xbox Game Pass is a good thing for Sony, PlayStation, and PlayStation players.
All right, let’s call this one a psuedo-sequel to my previous Daily Reaction on Game Pass, which discussed Outriders launching day one for the service, as well as Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition putting their entire catalog on Game Pass. Many of my arguments from that piece still stand, and this one will be building on a few of them, so I’d recommend giving that one a read first.
MLB The Show 21 Xbox Game Pass Launch Doesn’t Take Anything From Sony
Microsoft is not taking anything from Sony. MLB The Show 21 isn’t suddenly an Xbox exclusive. Nothing has changed for PlayStation players who had been planning on picking the game up. The status quo remains. While it’s unclear whether the Game Pass launch was the result of Microsoft throwing money at it, or if MLB greased the wheels (or even if Sony itself pursued it), it’s all simply extra. Things remain unchanged for PlayStation fans. While I understand the argument that launching on Game Pass is a bit of a slap to players who still have to pay the $60 or $70 premiums to play on PlayStation.
The fact is that there are a lot of underlying deals, contracts, and arrangements we’ll probably never be aware of that led to this agreement in the first place. Again, what parts Microsoft, MLB, and Sony played into it aren’t clear, but this more than likely isn’t just Sony handing MLB The Show 21 to Game Pass for nothing and saying “Here you go! Enjoy!” Microsoft probably agreed to pay a decent up front sum of money to get it there, a sum that Sony would not equally see if it were to launch MLB The Show 21 on PS Plus or PS Now. At the end of the day, it’s business. It’s about building player bases and profits.
Speaking of player bases, one has to consider that Sony is launching MLB The Show 21 on a platform its never been on before. While there’s a built in fanbase of PlayStation players for the franchise, its reception on Xbox was less assured. Launching it directly into Microsoft Game Pass allows Sony to reach players that may have never bought the game otherwise, which drastically expands the player base. It’s a bit of a rolling out of the welcome mat; the red carpet treatment for the MLB The Show franchise releasing on Xbox for the first time. It’s intended to be inviting and exciting, with a low barrier of entry to attract more players. “Hey, come play our really cool baseball game that you’ve never been able to before.”
Given that MLB The Show 21 is cross-play and cross-progress on all platforms, that expanded pool benefits everyone. MLB The Show 19 was the US’ best-selling baseball game, so I don’t think Sony has much to worry about when it comes to sales of the series. Its Game Pass release is not going to cannibalize sales elsewhere in a big way. Of note, sports games like MLB The Show 21 make a lot of money from microtransactions as well, which is money going directly back into Sony’s pocket (minus whatever fees go to MLB and Xbox via their storefront). Again, the specific financials and details here are largely unknown, but obviously it makes sense from a business perspective for all parties to have agreed on it.
Comparing Premium Sales to a Subscription Launch
Sony now has a rare opportunity. They can now directly compare premium sales of a title to launching that very same game via a subscription service. They can get a look at in-game spending habits of players. Are people willing to spend more money in a game if they got it for free versus having paid $70 out the gate for it? You can bet they’ll be taking notes and analyzing the numbers to see what will work best for the future of PlayStation. And maybe in the future, that does result in some innovation and changes to how Sony approaches subscription services. Or perhaps it strengthens their resolve on avoiding launching PlayStation-exclusives on either PlayStation Plus or PS Now. Either way, Sony builds more empirical data for future plans and innovations.
And that’s really what this is all about. Innovations for the business of games. And of course, when the players win, everyone wins, but it has to make sense from a business perspective as well. That’s why we’re seeing PC releases of PlayStation exclusives to extend their tail and interest players in potential sequels. It’s why we’re seeing a game like MLB The Show—with external licenses and microtransactions—headed to Xbox with a release strategy to gather as many players as possible.
Sony will never have Microsoft money, and let’s not forget that. Microsoft is not just Xbox. Microsoft is Microsoft. And while Sony may have divisions outside of PlayStation that also bring in revenue, Microsoft is seeded into the PC market in ways that Sony can never be. Xbox can afford to toss its moneybags’ worth of weight around, acquiring the likes of Bethesda and most likely paying a hefty fee for the likes of Outriders and MLB The Show 21 to launch day one on Xbox Game Pass. So Sony can only do what makes the most sense for its own business and financials.
At the end of the day, MLB The Show 21 heading for release on Xbox Game Pass will prove to be a great thing for the industry as a whole—yes, Sony, PlayStation, and PlayStation players included. I’m still rather critical of a number of decisions Sony’s been making recently. Most notably, their communications since and leading up to the PS5 launch have been much, much colder and corporate than Xbox’s warm, friendly, and very social communications. Microsoft’s Xbox team—Phil Spencer, Aaron Greenberg, etc.—feels genuinely excited about their games and products, having fun with the business of games. Sony, comparatively, has felt like a cold corporate wall in recent years, and hasn’t seemed to drum up nearly as much excitement in their communications with players since the PS5 launch. It feel’s more like talking at the players than with the players. It’s something I’ve talked about before, and a whole different conversation that I’m sure I’ll continue to elaborate on in the future.
The point is that there are certainly things worth being critical with Sony about, but MLB The Show 21 launching on Game Pass is not one of them. Ultimately, the Game Pass release will prove to be a very good thing, and I expect we’ll see this moment as a critical turning point in the industry in the future. I’m just excited to see how it all plays out.
Daily Reaction reacts to the video game industry. Have suggestions for the column or subjects you’d like us to react to? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out previous Daily Reactions for more dives beyond the headlines.