It is often said you never get a second chance to make a first impression and that statement is true in pretty much all situations in life. The reason I bring that statement up is because of all the recent reports that have come out about AEW’s highly anticipated first major video game. These reports are very concerning for a wide variety of reasons and the perception that they are giving is that this game could greatly under deliver, which is exactly what you don’t want after two years of hype for this game.
Wrestling video games are pretty much an extension of the brand that they represent. A great wrestling game can do wonders for a brand because it can bring gamers in as fans for the first time or bring old fans back into the fold. A friend of mine was a wrestling fan growing up, but like many fans stopped watching, well when WWE2K14 came out I happened to send this friend the footage and it not only got him interested in the game, but he also became a fan again. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a bad game can really hurt the brand. When WWE 2K20 came out a few years ago and it turned out to be a game full of bugs and worse graphics than the previous edition of the game, this not only hurt 2K, the distributors of the game, sales but I’m sure it hurt the WWE brand themselves having this steaming pile of garbage out there bearing their names.
At one time there used to be a lot of sports games released in a given year, but as the years have gone by the numbers have greatly shrunk from for example there were eleven baseball games released from home consoles to PC in 2003 and that list is down to one in 2022. I literally remember looking at the ratings for the games and picking out the best rated one to play that year. When it comes to professional wrestling, there hasn’t been a legitimate competition in the video game market since the 90s.
At one time you had WWF, WCW and ECW all releasing annual video games, all trying to get the fans to buy their games. There were also console exclusives that really annoyed fans that lets say had a PlayStation, but a game was exclusive to the N64. I literally remember fans debating which wrestling game was better, arguing well this game has this feature or this wrestler and your game doesn’t. It was nowhere near the toxic level of fan fighting we see today, back then it was just friendly banter. The WWF’s biggest competition in video games at the time was WCW and there was a dramatic shift in the licenses in 1999 as WWF dumped Acclaim and WCW dumped THQ. Acclaim would go and sign ECW and essentially take their WWF game and slap ECW paint on it. THQ, who was responsible for WCW’s best game WCW/nWo Revenge signed WCW’s biggest rival, WWF. WCW would sign with EA Sports. WWF under THQ would release one of their biggest successes WWF No Mercy on the N64 and the WWF Smackdown series on the PlayStation. Ultimately, the WWF Smackdown series would eventually become the WWE 2K series.
WCW and ECW would release their last games under EA Sports and Acclaim respectively, before both companies were bought out by the WWF. The last competitive video game to compete in the marketplace with a WWF title in 2000 was WCW Backstage Assault going against WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role. Like the previous SD game, this was leaps and bounds better than the WWF Acclaim games and would be the last WWF game on the original PlayStation. WCW on the other hand much like the WCW programming itself took a major step backwards with a game that was worse than the bad WCW Mayhem game the year before. WCW Backstage Assault was not only the last WCW game, but it was also a game with horrible mechanics and a match with no wrestling ring. That’s right, the game featured no wrestling ring whatsoever and all the fighting was in various backstage environments.
As WWF/E would become essentially the only major wrestling video game in the market for many years. Sure, there were the occasional one-off games that would pop up over the years like Legends of Wrestling or Fire Pro Wrestling World, but none of them were in the same league with WWE’s games and they failed to make the financial impact on the market to be lasting competition. There is a concern from me that AEW’s video game could potentially suffer the same fate as TNA did in 2008, when they made an attempt to compete with the WWE in the video game market.
Visually TNA’s game was very impressive for the time period and like AEW’s Fight Forever, was very hyped up and had wrestlers help develop the game, the result was a game that was badly reviewed and failed to get an audience. A major console sequel never happened other than a handheld game. IGN’s review of TNA iMPACT was as follows:
“TNA iMPACT! had a lot of potential, but it didn’t follow through on most of it. Beyond the limited/repetitive moves, lackluster CAW, and scaled back online, my main problem is that iMPACT! doesn’t feel like real wrestling. The opponents never stay down long enough, they don’t sell limb damage, there’s an announce table and announcer voices (which are super-repetitive), but no announcer bodies, there are no championship belts to wear or defend even though they’re mentioned in the story, chairs are just sitting around the outside of the ring, there is no rope break, and every match is no count out/no DQ.Don’t get me wrong, the control scheme is solid as well as a throwback to the wrestling games of old (so it’s sure to appeal to a lot of people) and the Ultimate X Match is fun and provides for some good-looking spots, but overall TNA iMPACT! ends up being a shallow game. It’s not going to take you long to see everything this title has to offer and start dreaming about the sequel.”
So, with reports from the highly respectable Sports Gamers Online (SGO) that AEW: Fight Forever is significantly over budget, cutting features, not all music being licensed and Kenny Omega being at odds with the developer, Yukes. None of these things you’d want to hear when you are looking forward to possibly getting a game series that could compete with WWE. How overbudget are they? We don’t know, but according to Sportster, Tony Khan himself has spent north of $10M of his own money into the game. That is a lot of money to sink into the game, but you have to believe you’ll see the return on the investment. With these negative reports coming out, you have to wonder what the point is where you can no longer pour money into it because you are going to suffer a loss on the product?
Tony’s net worth is reportedly $1B, and his father’s net worth a reported $7.86B. So, assuming these reports have any validity at all, Tony certainly has the capital to take a gamble on this video game. It certainly would be a smart choice in taking a loss on this game, but as I said you only have one chance to make a first impression. Music and entrances add to the authenticity of the game and it is something fans pretty much expect in their wrestling games, so personally I think it’s a mistake not to include the real music and the full entrances. Depending how bad overbudget they are and considering their potential net worth, how much more over budget would they be by including all the music and full entrances?
At the end of the day, you are competing in a heavily competitive market not just with video games, but all forms of entertainment, so to get people to put down over $70 for a video game that may not deliver full entrances, not all the entrance music is there, limited features and considering the prices of everything including gas are so high right now, it is going to be a very hard sell to people to part with their money unless they can get some good press and deliver on a game that is at least close to their expectations.
Now, there are reports that they are aiming for a Fall 2022 release, personally with all the issues going on behind the scenes I’m not sure how likely that is happening and quite frankly I don’t think they should rush release it just to meet the Christmas season or to just dump it so Yukes and AEW can be done with each other. Releasing a game for either of these reasons could hurt both brands in the fans eyes if it’s a bad game that fails to deliver.
The issues between the two sides are likely creative issues in my opinion. This is just purely speculation on my part, but since Omega is a fan of old-style wrestling games and is probably like any wrestling fan in that position and has never developed a game before and is probably throwing out ideas. Yukes, who has been doing this for years successfully, is probably annoyed with his suggestions, because they may feel he is acting like they don’t know what they are doing. It is also possible that Omega’s ideas may not be practical or feasible to do with the reported Fall 2022 release date, especially with a game already reportedly significantly over budget. Both sides need to realize they have the same end goal in mind despite their differences, they want to produce a great wrestling game that is very profitable for both sides.
As a wrestling fan and a gamer, I really want AEW to deliver an amazing game, because I miss the competitive days when multiple promotions released video games. AEW has the opportunity here to truly deliver something special and considering they have working relationships with multiple promotions, there is certainly the possibility to release sequel game called Forbidden Door that features talent from AEW, NJPW, ROH, Impact and the NWA. However, a game like Forbidden Door may never happen if AEW: Fight Forever fails to deliver.
Photo Credits – AEW, Yukes, VariableMag.com, WWE, Impact Wrestling, Midway, Acclaim, EA Sports, THQ, 2K, Voice of Wrestling, Gamespot, Nintendo and Playstation