MLB The Show 21 is finally coming to Xbox, and Microsoft confirmed on April 2 that the next installment of the long-running baseball game franchise would be on Xbox Game Pass on launch day, April 20.
Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft’s video game subscription service, best described as a Netflix for games. For $15 a month (often less for new subscribers), players get access to a library of more than 100 titles spanning various genres. As MLB The Show 21 will cost a whopping $70 on PS5, Xbox Game Pass presents a far cheaper alternative to experience the next-gen version of the baseball simulator.
It’s an unexpected move from Sony, which has long kept its first-party IP exclusive to its PlayStation consoles. So does this mean we could see more Sony-made games on Xbox hardware in the future? We spoke with two industry analysts and representatives from Sony and Microsoft to get a broader understanding of how this unprecedented deal happened, and what it could mean for games in the months and years ahead.
Why is MLB The Show 21 on Game Pass?
According to PlayStation, the decision to bring MLB The Show 21 to more platforms and Game Pass came straight from MLB.
“As part of the goal for this year’s game, MLB decided to bring the franchise to more players and baseball fans,” a PlayStation representative tells Inverse. “This decision provides a unique opportunity to further establish MLB The Show as the premier brand for baseball video games.”
Sony Interactive Entertainment agreed to support more platforms when it renewed its license agreement with MLB in late 2019. MLB appears to have gone further to get the game in the hands of as many players as possible.
Omdia Principal Analyst George Jijiashvili tells Inverse this move is primarily about expanding the series’ reach. “This is all about MLB finding a bigger audience, which took precedence over console manufacturer jousting,” he explains.
Ampere Analysis Research Director Piers Harding-Rolls considers this a practical move on MLB’s part. “From MLB’s point of view, this makes commercial sense as it opens up the content to a lot more players, especially in the US, but also keeps the established studio working on the game,” Harding-Rolls explains.
“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.”
According to Ampere’s comments, Xbox Game Pass now has over 18 million subscribers. As such, it makes a lot of sense that MLB would see it as an attractive opportunity.
Jijiashvili describes the move as a “conscious decision” from Microsoft to “put the cat among the pigeons.” This deal exposes just how great of a deal Xbox Game Pass is for multiplatform titles, as $15 a month is cheaper in the short term than $70. In turn, Xbox is starting to become the must-have platform for this Sony title.
When asked about this deal, an Xbox representative reiterated that “We curate the library with the diversity of our 18 million members in mind” and that for day one titles, they “look forward to bringing more new games to our members in the future” like Halo Infinite.
MLB did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment.
Why are AAA games coming to Game Pass at launch?
In April 2021 alone, Outriders and MLB The Show 21 — both AAA games from non-Microsoft developers — launched day one on Xbox Game Pass. These major releases seem to defy perceptions that games won’t turn as big a profit on a subscription service. So what’s prompted publishers to change their minds?
“For some titles, launching day one into Game Pass is an increasingly risk-averse strategy: It secures a payment upfront, offers an engaged audience of over 18 million subscribers that can still be monetized through in-game spending, and there is the flexibility of removing the title to boost premium sales at a later date if required,” Harding-Rolls says.
“Those titles that are not top-tier in sales volume terms or that are based on new IP — i.e., do not have an established audience — could be solid candidates for day one releases,’ he adds.
Harding-Rolls points out that Game Pass’s attractiveness to publishers relies on Microsoft’s willingness to spend the money necessary to close these deals. Harding-Rolls believes Microsoft paid a steep fee for MLB The Show 21 to sweeten the deal for MLB and Sony.
“From Microsoft’s perspective, even paying a substantial sum to secure the game on release is worth it,” he explains. “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.”
Will more PlayStation games come to Game Pass?
MLB The Show 21 is a prime example of Microsoft’s deep commitment to Game Pass, even if it’s the only Sony-published game that ever ends up on the service. According to analysts, this move doesn’t mean fans should expect to see more Sony games come to Xbox consoles or Game Pass.
“This development is unlikely to have tangible ramifications on future Sony exclusives,” Jijiashvili asserts. “I believe this was a unique case, where a game’s license holder forced Sony’s hand.”
Harding-Rolls comes to a similar conclusion, saying, “I don’t expect Sony to make a habit of it, no.” Still, the release of MLB The Show 21 is a groundbreaking moment, as a Sony game comes to Xbox Game Pass for the first time.
MLB The Show 21 will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on April 20.