The PlayStation Studios published and Sony San Diego Studio developed MLB The Show 21 isn’t just coming to Xbox platforms, it’s also launching as a free title on Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service, a move that shocked many when it was announced earlier this week. Apparently the decision to release the game on Xbox Game Pass was made by MLB, not Sony.
Speaking with Inverse, a representative for PlayStation said “As part of the goal for this year’s game, MLB decided to bring the franchise to more players and baseball fans. This decision provides a unique opportunity to further establish MLB The Show as the premier brand for baseball video games.”
The decision to bring MLB The Show to Xbox was made when Sony renewed the licensing agreements back at the end of 2019. While not explicitly stated, it’s widely understood that part of the agreement included a requirement from MLB to bring the formerly PlayStation exclusive game outside of the PlayStation ecosystem to other platforms. Similarly, it appears that the choice to launch MLB The Show 21 on Xbox Game Pass was a strategic move by MLB to get the game into the hands of more players on a platform the game has never been on before.
Ampere Analysis Research Director Piers Harding-Rolls says the decision was about audience reach for potential in-game monetization, not premium sales. “I’m sure [MLB] has been watching the in-game monetization of other sports games franchises such as Madden and FIFA with interest and is thinking about audience reach rather than premium sales in this case.” While that may raise the question of why the game isn’t launching on PS Plus or PS Now for a similar reason, one again has to consider that there is an in-built audience on PlayStation willing to pay the premiums, where Xbox is an untested platform for MLB The Show. A Game Pass launch brings awareness of the series’ introduction on the new platform.
Launching on Game Pass doesn’t come without a cost to Xbox, however. It’s a strategy developers use to minimize risk—accepting an upfront payment from Xbox to put their game in front of 18 million subscribers for free—where the launch outcome is less than assured. Both in-game monetization and removal of the title from Game Pass at a later date can help retain ongoing revenue streams. Unlike PlayStation Plus, once a game leaves Game Pass, players no longer have access to play it and will have to purchase it in order to continue.
Harding-Rolls reiterated that he believes Microsoft paid a “substantial sum” to get MLB The Show onto Game Pass at launch. “From Microsoft’s perspective, even paying a substantial sum to secure the game on release is worth it,” he said. “Microsoft is not thinking about short-term profitability as it continues its aggressive content and subscriber acquisition path for Game Pass. Competitively, the optics of this move are strong, and it keeps the Game Pass momentum building.”
While MLB is taking on publishing responsibilities for the title on Xbox, the game is still developed by PlayStation Studios developer San Diego Studio, and bears the PlayStation Studios logo. At least some of the fee paid by Microsoft for the Game Pass launch is expected to make it back into PlayStation’s pocket.
However, much of the kerfuffle around the formerly PlayStation exclusive series coming to Xbox Game Pass at launch of the new entry centers on the license holder, MLB. With that in mind, don’t expect this to foretell what Sony plans to do with future exclusives. “This development is unlikely to have tangible ramifications on future Sony exclusives,” Omdia Principal Analyst George Jijiashvili said. “I believe this was a unique case, where a game’s license holder forced Sony’s hand.”