Sega is the most recent traditional game developer to move into the social space with the official release of its Facebook title, SEGA Play! Baseball. A sports simulation game of highly cartoonish characters, the game has close to 68,000 monthly active users and near 18,000 daily active users around a week after launch.
Centered around team management, SEGA Play! Baseball changes things up by placing players into virtual seasons, resting a large amount of player data each cycle. Whether or not this will hinder the long term growth of the game is unclear, but other than this, the game doesn’t feel all that particularly fresh, and even consists of some arbitrarily implemented mechanics such as its virtual space decoration.
As with virtually all sports manager type games, the object here is for players to build up their sports team and climb the leaderboards to win an entire season in the Pro Leagues. That said, these leagues don’t open up until level ten, thus a new player will have some time to practice before getting in to such.
Upon starting up the game, players are tasked with customizing (though this is fairly limited) their own avatar and adjusting their player stats based on their position, such as outfielder, and their play style of offensive, defensive, or agile. Depending on the choice, the skills of Contact, Power, Speed, Fielding, and Clutch will be augmented. Once created, players can then drag and drop players into the field positions they desire, as well as rearrange the batting order and pitching rotation.
Unfortunately, while some of the stats are self-explanatory (e.g. Fielding), it is often unclear as to which position benefits most from particular statistics. This leads to assumptions being made that might not always be correct. For example, Power seems like it would affect batting, thus high Power players should be early in the batting order, but does this also affect pitching?
In fact, pitchers come with a whole other set of stats. Along with Power and Clutch (we have no idea what that does), there is also Energy, Stamina, and Control. Again, logic can give a good idea what these do, but never is it clearly stated. Since sports managers are all about strategically allocating stats and players, it is crucial to make educated choices rather than leaving it to trial and error.
To simplify things, players can’t actually improve the stats of their generic, non-player teammates. This is where Sega is pushing the social play amongst friends. As users level up, they can add more and more friends that play, to their team, upgrading all of the above noted stats as they see fit. What is curious, is that training is purchased, but what type it is appears to be random.
Each player can upgrade any of the stats, with one catch. The training of that stat must be available for purchase. Initially, only two randomly selected stats will be available to train. In order to train a stat the player wants, these must first be purchased so a new one is randomly selected. As users level up, more slots for training purchases unlock. As an example, rather than two random stats available for training, three will be. Basically, this means that players only have a chance to purchase training in the stats they want, and unlocking more purchase slots only increases the chances of getting it.
As one might expect, stats affect how well the team performs in the automated games, which are played against other random users. At first, users can only play five exhibition games (with the number of plays slowly recharging), but as they level, more game modes will unlock. Well, that’s the theory anyway. At level five, we unlocked a “special game mode,” yet can find no way to access it.
Still, of everything within the game, the most interesting concept is that play is broken up into “Cycles.” Essentially, this is reminiscent of a season. Every 30 days, the Cycle restarts, and with it, all the training for players does as well. It’s hard to judge whether this is a good or bad thing. On the one hand, it coaxes more regular play for those that want to remain on top and helps prevent one team from forever dominating the game. However, since training costs in-game currency, many players might find it irritating to constantly bolster stats over and over.
SEGA Play! Baseball also comes with a virtual space element tied into it. Truth be told, however, this implementation feels a bit arbitrary and is there merely for the sake of being there. It’s not that this is bad, as many other sports managers have had this mechanic, but here the space is just the field and background. In past games, it has been the field, stadium, surrounding grounds, and so on. Furthermore, many of the purchasable items are completely random with no set theme; showing a struggle for ideas that fit. Gardens, pets, and even dinosaurs are all thrown into the mix, leaving the field more of a circus than a baseball stadium.
Despite complaints, nothing dramatically takes away from SEGA Play! Baseball. The big problem, however, is that there isn’t a whole lot of newness to the game as a whole. Other than the concept of resetting the Cycles, everything is fairly standard: Train players, change positions, play automated games. The game is well polished, which is to be expected from a company like Sega, but there’s nothing that truly makes the player want to play it over any other games in the genre.