You may recall that I published two pieces on baseball video games. I used video game simulations to judge the Indians first half (hint: they underachieved) last Monday. Then, last Thursday, I “predicted” the second half in each game. After publishing these articles, I had the opportunity to interview Markus Heinsohn, the lead developer for Out of the Park Developments. OOTP Developments is the studio behind both Out of the Park Baseball and iOOTP Baseball, two of the games used in the simulations. I want to thank Markus for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.
How did you get started in baseball video games? Were you in the industry before?
No, I wasn’t in the industry before I created OOTP, but I did develop some shareware tools for DOS back then. Sports management games have a long history in Europe, so I grew up playing a wide variety of them. When I couldn’t find a baseball management game that did what I wanted, I decided to create my own.
What is the biggest change/addition/improvement that you’ve worked on consistently over the last 15 years?
The AI is probably the main thing that I’ve worked on consistently during the past 15 years, since it’s the foundation for everything else in the game. Things like free agency, trading, scouting, etc. won’t work well without solid AI behind them. The next step is 3D: it opens up endless possibilities and we’ll be working on that for years to come.
How have gamers, specifically Out of the Park players, changed and evolved from the first iteration to now?
Good question. I would say all gamers expect more and more out of games. A lot of them look at how many hours of entertainment they will get out of their purchase, and OOTP players are no different in that regard. Given the nearly unlimited number of ways you can play the game, they’ve come to expect that I will keep giving them more and more options, so that even if just one person wants to set up their league a certain way, they will be able to.
What improvements have been made to the most recent edition, OOTP 15?
We added 7 real international leagues, along with support for 3D stadiums and 3D ball flight. OOTP 15 also has a revamped interface, a new optional ratings system, and much more. The full list can be found in this newsletter:
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Aside from Major League and Minor League Baseball, Out of the Park has a bunch of international leagues. What made you decide to add these leagues in the first place?
Baseball has been an international sport for several decades (it’s even played here in Germany, but only by 11 people I suppose ), so I always knew that eventually I would have to add real leagues in other countries. While we had leagues in other countries before, they didn’t have real players, so OOTP 15 added real leagues with real players in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and other countries. Doing that helps make the game more realistic, and we’ve added the posting system so players can come to the United States the way Tanaka did this year.
How do you find data from countries such as Italy and The Netherlands?
We already had a great research team that spends countless hours filling in rosters and stats for major and minor league teams in the US and Canada, so it wasn’t difficult to ask them to do the same for the new leagues in other countries. They use online sources to assemble the information and put it in our database. My hat’s off to them.
More recent editions have been featured on Steam. Has that platform helped sales?
Yes, definitely. Steam is the largest video game platform in the world, so it has exposed Out of the Park Baseball and our other game, Franchise Hockey Manager, to millions of people who likely wouldn’t have learned about them any other way. The key is that not only have our sales benefited, but all those new customers will tell their friends about our games.
Valve has already told us that our next new game, Beyond the Sideline Football, will be on Steam when it comes out sometime next year, so that will help us grow our overall sales even more.
OOTP 15 has a 90 rating on Metacritic, which is a norm for the series. How have you been able to keep refining the experience while still maintaining a very high level of consistency?
I take our fans’ comments to heart and try to deliver everything they ask for, within reason, so I’m able to tailor OOTP to the kind of game they want to play. And no request is too small – someone on our forum recently asked me to add an option to turn off player nicknames, so I was able to do that since it didn’t require too much of my time.
You have also created a mobile version of your baseball franchise, called iOOTP Baseball. What was the rationale behind adding a mobile edition?
Gaming was gaining a lot of traction on smartphones and tablets when we decided to release the first version of iOOTP in 2011, so we knew we had to be part of that wave and establish our place in the iOS App Store. (An Android version is in the works, but we don’t have a timetable for release right now.) Tablets in particular will only become more and more powerful in the years to come, eating away at traditional computer sales in the process, so we will continue to evolve iOOTP along those lines.
Right now, though, the philosophy behind iOOTP is that it’s a casual gateway into the world offered by OOTP. For just $4.99, someone can dip their foot into the sports management pool and understand how those kinds of games work before deciding to dive into OOTP.
Obviously, there are limitations for smartphones and tablets, but there are also features that a mobile device adds compared to a computer. What are some mobile-friendly additions to iOOTP?
When we created iOOTP, we went through OOTP screen by screen and decided what to keep and what to lose. We ended up removing most of OOTP and stripping iOOTP down to the basics because we knew that was what mobile gamers would want. iOOTP is geared toward someone commuting on a train, for example, or waiting in a doctor’s office, and they want to pull out their device and sim through a few games, maybe tweak their lineup, and look into a trade or two. So I would say the way we set up iOOTP’s user interface was very mobile-friendly because we made it easy to swipe and tap between screens and quickly get to the information players need.
Downloadable content is popular in iOOTP, where historical seasons can be bought individually or in packs. Have you thought about implementing the same strategy for the computer game?
No. OOTP has always shipped with all seasons dating back to 1871 and will continue to do so. Again, that gets back to the basic philosophies of the two games: OOTP is the full meal and iOOTP is an appetizer, because we know that iOOTP players will probably just want to play a few historical seasons here and there, rather than digging into the full history of baseball.
Out of the Park Developments also has a hockey franchise and a football game in the works. Is there anything else that you’ve considered such as a basketball franchise?
Our current resources are maxed out, so the only way we could take on a basketball game would be the same way the hockey and football games happened: Someone would need to approach us with a project they are already working on and a business proposal. Then we could discuss it with them and if the terms made sense, we would enter into an arrangement to publish their basketball management game.
We have had plenty of requests for such a game, so if anyone out there has a project they want to pitch to us, please see the contact information on our web site:
If people want to learn more about the Out of the Park franchise and buy the games, how can they do so?
They can learn more about the games and our company at our web site:
They can also find our games on Steam:
Franchise Hockey Manager 2014: http://store.steampowered.com/app/299890/
And iOOTP Baseball 2014 is on the App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/iootp-baseball-2014-edition/id824235888?mt=8