Out of the Park 14 and Challenge in Video Games


There’s an inherent and irreconcilable conflict buried deep within the mechanics of every video baseball game, from Atari Baseball to The Show. No matter how immersive and smooth the graphics, how realistic the player traits and statistics, the paradox persists: we want a baseball game which is both realistic and that we can dominate. It’s something boyish within us, a desire to be 2001 Barry Bonds, to break the mold of expectations, to have little nonexistent digital journalists scrambling to explain our greatness.

The concept of challenge in any video game is a fine line. There are games out there that are far too easy (Mega Man 2) or far too difficult (Mega Man 9) and yet are still enjoyable, because they’re superior in control, graphics, or design. Average games that are too far to one side or the other, however, are set aside in neglect or disgust. This is particularly important for a sports game: we want to feel that challenge, of our ability to overcome it, to come out on top. But total victory, as fans of many major teams will attest, is hardly realistic. We as fans have the patience to live through years of futility and struggle for that one chance at glory. We as video game players do not. Gamers don’t enjoy failing seven times out of ten anymore.

Consider being a Mariners fan. If the game were a strictly representative, realistic depiction of the organization in its current state, there’d be no reason to play; you could listen to them lose on the radio and put up some crown molding or something. The baseball simulation faces a tricky challenge: create a universe that looks and feels realistic, but where the Mariners can still believably win multiple ballgames. It needs to challenge us but still, at the end of the day, make us feel like Billy Beane.


As I write this I’m watching the progress bar meander eastward on my game of Out of the Park 14, as my fake general manager (named “Danny Kaye”) makes his fake little phone calls to scan trade interest in AAA outfielder Marcus Thames. Thames doesn’t net many offers. Most likely, they’re sick of Danny Kaye calling them three times a day about their top prospects and how many org guys it would take to get them.

Out of the Park 14 is the most realistic baseball simulation program on the market, one that provides control over almost every aspect of managing a major league franchise, from ticket sales to scouting budgets to hit and run tendencies to lineups. Perhaps more impressively, however, it can also not provide that control.

Many long-running sports franchises, whose model is to improve and innovate year after year, create an increasingly niche market for themselves. The faithful, annual customers who improve each year want an increased challenge, until you get something like the modern Madden franchise, which requires college credit to learn and play. The beginner and the dilettante find themselves frozen out, and the franchise dies.

Out of the Park, despite its initial learning curve, does a good job of providing the player with what they want and shouldering what they don’t want to deal with. Don’t care about the draft? Let the computer handle it. In-game management decisions too tedious for you? Auto-play the games. In fact, the game is happy to let you treat baseball like a collectible card game, swapping players every five minutes and building a whole new roster, the way I do.


I read something somewhere that said that most gamers, when playing simulation games like Civilization, rarely pick a difficulty level that actually provides a fair test for them. Most people like to win easily. Most people are lazy jerks. I, too, am a lazy jerk.

OOTP 14 is more difficult than previous iterations, mostly due to improved computer AI. Each time I fired up a new game of OOTP 13, I would as my inaugural transaction trade Chone Figgins to the Yankees for Nick Swisher, who could be shipped for any one of a number of talented players. This year shopping around Franklin Gutierrez nets Adam Dunn, who can only be traded for Vernon Wells, who can only be traded for just kidding no team would ever trade for Vernon Wells. Instead of turning my moribund franchises into champions overnight, I found poor Danny Kaye out on the street, probably juggling for loose change.

I could get frustrated that Out of the Park no longer caters to me, that it’s decided to destroy my pretense at being a talented, strategic mind. But instead, it makes me want to try a little harder, earn it a little more. Maybe I won’t auto-play through every single game and concentrate only on trades. Maybe I will actually optimize my rotation, or bother negotiating with impending free agents. Maybe I’ll try scouting a player once. Maybe I’ll try to actually become better at the game.

This is what the old video games did. They killed you, and they made you start over, try a different approach to what stopped you. They made you get better at them. They made you want to get better at them. Out of the Park has made me want to be less of a lazy bastard, and that’s a compliment to the franchise.

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Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he served as former Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

18 Responses to “Out of the Park 14 and Challenge in Video Games”

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  1. Wil says:

    I love OOTP baseball. I generally sim every game (I like to imagine I am a GM, and Gm’s don’t manage! They respond to the games) but I control everything else about the team from roster moves, scouting, FA/trades, DL, budget etc.

    It’s a really fantastic game. My best advice for new comers to the game. Once you figure out the menus (there are a lot) take time to spend the money and immediately upgrade your scouting department. There are a lot of top notch scouts you can hire that are more expensive but pay extreme dividends in the long run as you’ll be able to draft high upside talent in the lower rounds and you’ll also have a better view of which players are underrated (and thus cheap).

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    • Jason Bourne says:

      I play in the exact same way and I agree 100% with your statements about scouting. The extra budget towards scouting and scouting directors is definitely worth it.

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  2. whonichol says:

    My biggest problem with OOTP is that, at least with the ipad version, player and prospect values don’t change with regard to what’s happening in real life. So when I’m trading and whatnot, I have to think about how good a player was or what his stock was like when the game was released as opposed to what it is currently. I could see myself getting really into it if there were constant updates, but it’s hard enough trying to keep my head in what’s happening in real life to keep up with what a fictional universe…

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    • Kevin says:

      This was my biggest issue when I played a year old version of the game. Dan Haren and Josh Hamilton are the big free agents for a summer and I have to remind myself that they are not the real Haren and Hamilton.

      It’s a few steps too meta for me. How good do I think the designers of this game thought Hamilton was when they determined his stats? Which means you’re better off ignoring the names. Which makes the game no longer MLB-based, in my mind.

      Regardless, I still enjoyed the few seasons I played.

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      I’ve never had a problem distinguishing this. In my game, Deck McGuire is on his way to becoming an ace, but I don’t find it confusing at all. After all, the game tells you everything you need to know about the players’ in-game skills.

      That said, I’ve been impressed when OOTP occasionally nails a player’s future. In my game from the 2011 OOTP release, I’ve seen things like criminally underrated Nate Schierholtz, resurgent Rick Porcello, and budding superstar Carlos Gomez. Almost makes up for those juggernaut MVP candidates Colby Rasmus and Tommy Hanson.

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    • Andrew says:

      This is pretty easy to fix, though it takes a little time and effort. If you turn on commissioner mode you can adjust the ratings by putting in a stat line and it will generate the ratings that correspond. Definitely worth doing if you want realism. The starting ratings are based off PECOTA’s preseason projections, so guys like Hamilton are better than they are in real life and guys like Chris Davis are worse.

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  3. Francisco Cordero says:


    Some glitches:

    Sign minor league contracts to everyone above a star —> profit

    Trade for cash.. cash is undervalued. Sign free agents for cash, even if your over budget, trade newly signed FA’s for assets

    WAIVER WIRE. Stay diligent.

    Make sure to always offer extensions to your major leaguers.. never know who’ll accept a undervalued deal.

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  4. ettin says:

    Nice double shot at the Angels and Yankees…. we deserved it.

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  5. BubbaBiscuit says:

    Of all the years I have played this game, I have never played with real players, feels like cheating.

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  6. aa says:

    Baseball Prospectus (A)
    “OOTP 14 has raised the bar to a Matt Kemp-like level of greatness. It remains the Triple Crown of computer baseball sims.”

    What seems like a good buy at the time…

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    • The reader should note that among the talented experts of the FanGraphs Collective, I alone projected Matt Kemp as the 2013 NL MVP. Feeling good about that one now.

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  7. Ben says:

    Please install the MLB all in one pack. Those generic uniforms and logos hurt my eyes.

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  8. Rico says:

    I agree 100% with your statements about scouting! And I actually play in the exact same way. Worth it :)

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  9. greyz14 says:

    The statemen is so true about scouting! EmoSpark is that indefinable, indescribable energy that will make the digital world truly alive, more than mere machines or avatars.

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  10. HerbD says:

    You have never really played OOTP until you play in an online league against other human GMs. You will not want to play it solo again.

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  11. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Reading this…Madden games are hard to learn or difficult?

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