Baseball Mogul Online (PC) review
"Programmers of baseball management games must make a decision between two paths early in development. The first option is to faithfully reproduce all the nuances of real baseball management - hiring coaches, setting up minor league teams, drafting amateur players, etc. The second option focuses upon the “important” aspects, such as setting major league lineups and pitching rotations, letting a computer AI handle complex decisions. "
Programmers of baseball management games must make a decision between two paths early in development. The first option is to faithfully reproduce all the nuances of real baseball management - hiring coaches, setting up minor league teams, drafting amateur players, etc. The second option focuses upon the “important” aspects, such as setting major league lineups and pitching rotations, letting a computer AI handle complex decisions.
Baseball Mogul Online tries to facilitate fans of both paths by providing an immersive simulation that still has appeal to casual fans. However, this fails due to the frustrating lack of control you actually have on the inner workings of your team. When you combine this factor with the general unpredictable nature of online multiplayer gaming, you get a highly combustible experience. Also, legitimate concerns about the future of the game (and the money you invest in it) are strikes against it.
The “action” in Baseball Mogul Online is entirely generated by the online servers which house it. Based on the players you possess and the strategies you employ, results in both standings and finances are spit out. Control of your team is by graphical menus, as there is no actual playing involved. All major league teams are present, and rosters are current as to early spring training of the 2003 season. The number of games simulated varies from ten to sixty per day, a rate selected by the commissioner (creator) of the league. A daily or hourly sim can be chosen; a daily sim does all the games at once, while an hourly sim spreads the games out during the hours of operation (9 a.m. to 6 p.m., EST).
Superficially, Baseball Mogul Online has everything you could seemingly want in a baseball simulation in terms of game management. You can control your lineup, along with five bench spots. You control your pitching staff, choosing between a variety of four and five man rotations, and slotting relievers into roles such as closer, middle relief, and spot starting. A strategy screen allows you to select how often you should pinch hit, use defensive replacements, and pitch around batters. All players are rated in four distinctive categories by letter grades. Batters have contact, power, speed, and eye. Pitchers are rated in endurance, control, power, and movement. Likewise, a MLBPA license is purchased, so all your favorite superstars are in the game, on their respective teams. Due to the endless nature of the game, new players are randomly generated and old players retire once they past their prime.
However, noticeable aspects of baseball are totally absent. There is no platooning, so the strategic element of a right handed batter vs. a left handed pitcher is negated entirely. This also eliminates the need for lefty one-out pitchers such as ageless wonder Jesse Orsoco. You are allowed to have five bench players, but you can’t define their roles, which makes for hilarious substitutions like Nefi Perez pinch hitting and Jeremy Giambi as a defensive sub. You must carry fourteen position players and eleven pitchers. You can’t exchange a pitcher for a hitter if you need another bat on the bench, or vice versa if you have a grueling four game series at Coors Field.
Statistical accuracy is important in a game like Baseball Mogul Online, and it does not disappoint. Player stats are reflective of the current offense inflated game but not to the extreme. You won’t see 100 home run seasons or .450 batting averages. Prospect growth is also reasonable, and the batting statistics churned out adhere to the established standards of Bill James and the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection system.
Pitching is a different story though; Baseball Mogul Online relies primarily on batting average against for career and development progression. This factor has been proven false by statistician Voros McCracken. Hit rates from year to year fluctuate regardless of pitcher. There are only a few factors which a pitcher can control - strikeouts, walks, hit batsman, and home runs allowed. However, this is a flaw which is repeated throughout all video baseball games, and one which will take programmers (and real life baseball organizations) years to catch up to.
Player transactions are superbly done though. Negotiating a big trade takes just a few clicks, as does releasing an underachieving veteran. Free agent signings are also realistic. During the off-season, everyone is up for grabs, and free agents tend to go to the highest bidder, but as the season goes on players are more willing to play on the cheap. A trading block allows you to specify who you want to move, and to see what other teams have for the taking. All of the major transactions are recorded in the headlines section, along with injuries, awards, and daily box scores.
Players won’t work on karma though. This is where the financial side of Baseball Mogul Online comes in. You control expenses such as contracts, the farm system, the scouting department, and the medical staff. To cover these expenses, you can set ticket prices, sell broadcast rights, or reduce spending. An expenses screen gives you an overview of how your money is being spent in relation to the rest of the league. The higher your revenue, the more you can spend on these expenses. All expenses are in points; one point roughly equals two hundred thousand dollars.
However, the financial system is fatally crippled due to a lack of control over how the money you allocate is spent. You have no say in regards to what players you pursue in the amateur draft, or what to focus on in minor league development. If you need a new first baseman to replace your aging slugger, you are entirely at the whim of the computer crapshoot of random prospect development. Pumping more money into the ambiguous sinkhole of “farm system” seems to help, but it’s no guarantee of receiving quality prospects. All this duress could have been bypassed by allowing the more advanced users direct control over the entire farm system and drafting process.
As the name implies, Baseball Mogul Online is an online baseball simulation. You challenge other general managers for the World Series championship each year. Therefore, much of Baseball Mogul Online is people management - working one GM for a trade, hyping up your own prospects on the message boards, and tip-toeing through minefields of personal conflicts between GMs. Each league has a commissioner who sets the base rules, such as whether city population and wealth (huge factors upon ticket sales) are equalized throughout the league, or if computer trading should be disabled. Most leagues also feature gimmicks like franchise and homegrown players to limit contract costs, thus allowing small market teams to keep their superstar players. Like any other online game, Baseball Mogul Online features its share of idiots, lamers, and flamers. This aspect comes when you introduce any game to the general public though.
A major concern hovers over Baseball Mogul Online though, concerning the future of the game itself. The main programmers can no longer concentrate upon it because of financial concerns. Apparently, a baseball simulation isn’t a ticket in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle. As such, development and roster patches have disappeared. There’s no option to “insert” new players, or shuffled players based upon real life trades. Also, hackers recently stole a batch of credit card numbers from the customer database, casting serious doubts upon online security. The pleasure gained from the five to ten dollar game fee can be quickly negated when five thousand bucks of stolen merchandise appears on your Visa bill.
Despite all of these flaws, Baseball Mogul Online can still be worth playing because there is simply no other game like it on the market. Sure, it’s likely to frustrate hardcore (lack of control) and novice (no actual playing) baseball simulation fans. But given that the alternatives are slow and unrealistic real life leagues based on outdated statistics (fantasy and rotisserie baseball), Baseball Mogul Online holds some value for its niche audience.
Community review by sgreenwell (August 25, 2003)
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