Baseball is an incredibly popular sport in the US and Japan, with its presence becoming more popular across the UK and Europe as a whole, too. As with any sport, there are various baseball videogames out there, across various platforms including mobile. Though there are a couple on iOS and Android, few can boast the longevity of MLB 9 Innings, which celebrates its seventh anniversary this year.
Any game lasting that long in the mobile market deserves some attention, especially in the competitive sports genre. So, we couldn’t pass up the chance to catch up with Com2us’ director of business development, Rich Grisham. Luckily for us, he’s ready to talk about all sorts, from how you design a game centered around stop and start sport, the challenges of bringing baseball to mobile given real-life matches can be up to three hours long, what the future of MLB 9 Innings looks like, and more.
As most sports fans know, especially those who enjoy baseball, there are numerous aspects to consider when it comes to America’s favorite pastime, which can make designing a baseball videogame quite daunting. Yet, this also opens a world of possibilities and allows the developer to show the world what it can do. The team needs to consider not only the hitter, but the pitcher, catcher, defense in the field, the roster, the type of players, and more.
For those of you who aren’t baseball fans, there are different types of pitchers and hitters. The former can be either an opener or a closer, while the latter tends to be a power or contact hitter. Occasionally, you might even get stars like Shohei Ohtani who excel in both positions.
Understanding the fundamentals of baseball is crucial if you want to create a game for sport, and that’s something the team at Com2us clearly understands as Grisham tells us that “the great thing about baseball is that there are all sorts of ways to create interesting, competitive aspects to a game. The core of baseball – a pitcher facing a hitter, and the defense reacting to the result – can be enjoyed in so many ways, from single games to seasons, events to player vs player.” Given a couple of us at PT are baseball fans, we agree with this statement. Part of the joy in a baseball game is the thrill of diving into various positions and experiencing how a developer chooses to approach things.
Of course, many baseball games embrace some CCG mechanics, and MLB 9 Innings is no different. Grisham believes that “when you add card-collecting to the mix, and the strategies of building rosters based on your preferences of team and type of player, that takes engagement to a higher level.” For those that don’t know, like in most sports games, you can get card packs in which you receive different players, each of which boasts their own stats. So if you want to build your dream team, you need to collect the stars you need.
However, that’s not where the fun ends with cards. You see, while all of the aforementioned design choices are solid and help to elevate MLB 9 Innings, there’s one more piece of the puzzle. “when you top all of that off with the ability to upgrade cards and teams, you create a really satisfying and fun community that flourishes at all times of the year. The MLB 9 Innings community is constantly rewarded with new things to do and new content to explore, and the results really speak for themselves with how much the fans love the game.”
Okay, so now we know what Com2us considers when it comes to design choices, but we want to look into potential challenges the developers face. Real-life games take between two and three hours, sometimes going above that should extra innings be needed, but that’s not a realistic amount of time for someone to spend playing a single match on mobile. Mind you, there’s also a fair bit of faff in between innings, as the teams swap over and the pitcher throws a couple of warm-up pitches – mobile players don’t need to deal with this, as Grisham claims that “the player has full control of the experience, and that means that all of the ‘non-action’ is eliminated.”
You can also opt not to take part in every play, “When the player is playing a game on the field, they can either get involved in every pitch of every at-bat, or can move forward as quickly as they want, and jump into and out of the action to their heart’s content.” This is common in sports games and is a welcome feature as while it’s fun, these games can feel a tad repetitive, so not being forced to participate at all times is great.
Though sports games can share some similarities, there are also some fundamental differences due to how different the sports are. In the words of Grisham, “On the diamond, the number one element is the unique experience of a batter facing a pitcher. There’s nothing quite like it in any other sport – one person batting another, while everyone else on the field watches and then reacts.” He goes on to say that “all of the pitchers and hitters are real MLB players – or former MLB legends – and they all have their own unique attributes that make these matchups irresistible.”
As Grisham rightly points out, when you combine that with “player-chosen improvements to the attributes of the cards in that matchup, what we’ve really created is an experience that is customized to every single individual in their own MLB 9 Innings world.” Undoubtedly, this is a huge part of what makes MLB 9 Innings so successful. The freedom to alter a virtual world such as this is appealing to many players, and being able to comprise your dream baseball team is a joy to fans.
But what else keeps MLB 9 Innings relevant? According to Grisham, “The biggest keys are authenticity and content.” Simple and clear, but what do MLB 9 Innings players want specifically? They “crave the real, authentic Major League Baseball experience, from the real teams and stadiums to real hitters and pitchers and fielders.” As such, Grisham and the team “strive to ensure everything about the on-field experience to match that of what they see and feel on TV and at the ballpark. That is coupled with a consistent delivery of new content to ensure the experience is always fresh, fun, and evolving.” Such things include “new Legend players to new Events and in-game content.”
Speaking of legends, just like any other sports game, MLB 9 Innings works with real-life baseball stars, so we had to ask how Com2us selects who to approach. Well, if you already play the game, you likely recognize the face of Mike Trout on the app icon as he’s the game’s cover star. If you’re unfamiliar with him, Trout is an 11-time MLB All-Star, three-time American League MVP, and a nine-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award. Essentially, this means that the Los Angeles Angels CF is one of the best in the game.
Unsurprisingly, with a resume like that, Com2us is very happy to be working with him. Grisham tells us “we’ve been delighted to be working with Mike Trout for years as our Cover player, and he has been incredible to work with. We believe he represents the best that the game has to offer, as a player who consistently works hard and delivers MVP performances for his team and his fans.” I might be biased here, but Mike Trout is one of my favorite players, so I completely agree that he represents the best that the sport has to offer, not to disservice other great players like Aaron Judge.
But what about legends? Yes, Trout is very likely to enter the Hall of Fame when he retires, but does Com2us partner with any greats of the game? Turns out this year has been huge for MLB 9 Innings as the developer worked with Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. If you want to know how incredible a player Griffey Jr was, just look at his home run tally – 630, the seventh most in MLB history.
So, we know that these huge stars are happy to work with Com2us, but do they play mobile baseball themselves? While Grisham won’t give the game away, he does tell us “we have definitely had some current baseball players reach out to us in the past and comment on their in-game attributes – sometimes even nicely arguing that they should be better in the game than maybe they are. That is always a fun conversation.” We can 100% believe that some stars think they should have a higher rating.
It’s not just current stars that Com2us considers when it comes to MLB 9 Innings, as many fans enjoy seeing legends pop up in-game, adding them to their teams. To decide who to add, Com2us is “always listening to the fans,” Grisham goes on to explain that “With so many incredible players over the history of Major League Baseball, it can be intimidating to find the right mix, but we have been very happy with the response to all the different Legendary players that have been introduced so far – with more on the way in the future too.”
Fan input goes beyond a mere want for specific players, Grisham tells us that the team is “always looking at feedback! It’s a critical part of how we shape the direction of the game. With so many fans, and with so many of those being very dedicated to the game, we regularly incorporate constructive feedback into what we do and deliver.” Honestly, we love hearing how important fan feedback is to a developer. Things like this help a mobile game remain strong after seven years.
For a specific example of how fan feedback aided the game, Grisham claims “there are many examples of this, but probably the best one is the addition of Legend players over the past few years. People have deep connections to the greatest players of all time and really love to be able to collect Legends and use them on their teams.” Luckily for fans, it seems even more in-game content may be on the way, though Grisham tells us he “can’t spill the beans on anything that has yet to be announced.”
Nonetheless, he can say “that we plan on continuing to deliver the best content possible based on what the community loves. We are well known for doing that at the start of each new baseball season, and that won’t change.” Since the current season has come to a close and the postseason is at its peak, fans may have to wait until next March when the 2024 season kicks off, but we’ll certainly keep an eye out for any fresh content.
It seems that MLB 9 Innings remains a powerhouse in the mobile games market, even after such a long time, so we asked Grisham what the next seven years looks like. Delighted, he tells us “at its core, the goal of MLB 9 Innings is to delight baseball fans and create new ones around the world. As you said, seven years is a long time for a mobile game – and our goal is for the MLB 9 Innings name to continue to be known as the best mobile game in the world.”
That should be the place to end the interview, but in a heartbreaking turn of events, we discovered that Grisham is a New York Mets fan. The Mets haven’t won the World Series since 1986, but hey, it took the Red Sox 86 years to end the Curse of Bambino and as Grisham rightly states, “maybe next year will be our year!” Speaking as one New York fan to another, I sincerely hope that’s not the case. Let’s go Yankees.