Last week, Sony San Diego Studio announced that MLB The Show 20 would include full minor league rosters — that is, real-life players, under their real names — for the first time in the game’s history. I assumed that, to make this happen, something must have changed within the licensing agreements that usually govern such things.
Turns out, Sony Interactive Entertainment has had the rights to do this all along.
Earlier this week, Baseball America reported that the 1,500 or so minor leaguers who make up the Double-A and Triple-A rosters for MLB The Show 20 won’t be paid for the use of their name, image, and likeness, a concept lots of sports video gamers are familiar with since the cancellation of the NCAA Football series seven years ago.
But these minor leaguers don’t have to be paid, and it’s all fair and legitimate; the uniform player contract every minor-league ballplayer signs expressly say their “name, voice, signature, biographical information and likeness … may be used, reproduced, sold, licensed or otherwise disseminated or published by [their] Club or its licensees … (including but not limited to … electronics, audio, in video or in connection with any media).”
Sony Interactive Entertainment has paid for Minor League Baseball (MiLB) licensing since MLB 06 The Show, so this language pertains to them and their video game. I reached out to an MiLB spokesman, who told me that this part of their uniform player contract has not changed recently.
“MiLB’s licensing agreement with Sony has always provided them the right to use player names and likenesses,” he said. “You’d have to speak with Sony as to why they just started using them this year.”
So, I did. Per a Sony Interactive Entertainment rep:
The addition of full Minor League rosters is something we’ve been looking to incorporate for some time. The team decided this was the year to make it happen and it’s been a true collaboration across multiple departments and our community. We’re really excited about this as it adds another layer of depth and authenticity to the game.
That’s nice, but it doesn’t really answer the question. The assumption has long been that minor league players were off-limits until their first day of Major League service, which made them members of the Major League Baseball Players Association and therefore covered by the group license Sony also pays for, which allows them to put real big leaguers in the game.
That assumption wasn’t just mine alone. In years past, big-time prospects like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper or Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. all had to reach the bigs before they showed up in this game, or in 2K Sports’ defunct Major League Baseball 2K series. Here’s a clip from 2010 at Kotaku in which I talked to an SIE rep about their plans to add in Aroldis Chapman following his major league debut, for example.
Is it possible that Sony or its studio didn’t know they had the rights to these players until now? I can’t say for sure. (And I did ask that question of Sony, directly, getting only that statement above in reply.) A cottage industry of civilian roster editors has filled in over the past decade or so, creating and sharing full minor league rosters using just a DualShock controller. They’ve usually been able to do the job within two weeks of the game’s launch.
I don’t deny that tripling the roster size, rating it, and giving players faces and animations, is a big job for developers, (and for announcer Matt Vasgersian, assuming he recorded any new names joining the game). But the fact fans were able to pull it off in a couple of weeks every year suggests to me this wasn’t a prohibitively large task. In fact, Scott “RidinRosters” Spindler, the leader of the roster-editing effort over the past several years, was brought in to collaborate on the official version for MLB The Show 20, with some of his collaborators pitching in, too.
In the end, this is all hot stove talk that doesn’t really amount to much. As I said last week, you’re talking about 1,500 players, most of whom will make only the slightest of cameos in your created player’s journey.
But it is a huge step toward delivering greater immersion in the big-league fantasy MLB The Show delivers. When big-time phenoms have been added mid-season in past years, many players would restart their career modes so they could play with or against them. Immersion and realism have always been top-of-the-list goals for The Show, or any other sports video game. So it fairly raises the question of why it took until now to see these official rosters.
Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.