It was the writing on the wall. It was self-evident. It was so unbelievably obvious that for the first time in over a decade, I did not get a newly released WWE game day one – and I’m so glad I didn’t. I’m so unbelievably glad that I didn’t waste $60 – or worse the usual $80 for me for a special edition/pre-order, on this hunk of garbage. It took me 6 full months and a 90% discount to finally test this game out, and within an hour I had already wished I could get my money back.
But what exactly is wrong with WWE 2K20, and does it deserve all the hate that it gets? In a word – yes. Everything is wrong with WWE 2K20 – from the graphics to the gameplay to the way the game runs to the physics – everything is either a dumbed down version of a predecessor, feels phoned in, or literally copies and pastes elements from previous games (and somehow manages to make them worse). But enough generalities, let’s talk about why I feel the way I feel about this game.
The development of this game is the basis of horror stories. One thing is for sure, I definitely pity the individuals who had to work on this game for the last 4 months of development – not enough to give them $60 pity dollars, but still…their situation was crap.
For the uninitiated, the WWE 2K franchise had been held up for the last 2 decades by a company called Yuke’s – which had been with the WWE games all the way dating back to 2000 before the WWE 2K franchise was even conceived. Yuke’s had been a core part of the WWE games development team – and arguably the biggest contributor to each iteration of these games for 20 years until they just couldn’t do it anymore. Tired of the monotony, disrespect, crunch development time, and burnout, the team left development of WWE 2K20 smack in the middle of its development. A loss like that is absolutely crippling to a development team – especially when the game is only half-finished.
But rather than delay the game and either find a suitable replacement or find a realistic way of completing the game as intended, the development teams as well as WWE management demanded the game be finished in time for its’ projected original release. This was arguably the decision that doomed the game – as this kind of crunch in a development cycle is cursed from the jump. You can’t magically create time and effort and apply it to the game when it isn’t there – and this sort of trend is becoming frighteningly common in the gaming industry.
This move to plow through the development while not giving aspects of the game the attention it needed to even run well resulted in a game that is a shell of its former self – something that’s evident even upon launching the game. But of course, none of this was certain to outside consumers – only the developers of the game who still stood to make a quick buck off a subpar product.
Before the game was released I was skeptical. I’ve been in the video game landscape long enough to recognize red flags and warning signs about a certain game, and this one in particular was riddled with them in the leadup to launch. There wasn’t a lot of information available on the game in the weeks before it’s release – which was definitely a change of pace from the release of previous installments. In years’ past, we had ample information on the upcoming game around the time of Summerslam before each year’s release, with much more information being released in the weeks leading up to launch.
2K20 didn’t do this, rather it held most of the details surrounding the game very close to the chest – a practice in the video game industry that is becoming increasingly common by developers that often gets criticized by consumers of the industry due to its shady nature. After all, if the development of a game is going well – what is it that you have to hide?
Despite the loss of Yuke’s during development being common knowledge at this point, the developers at 2K still thought they had a chance of selling a good amount of copies of the game if they just kept quiet and didn’t allow details of the game out to the public. People who didn’t do their research and just bought the game every year wouldn’t know the difference until it was too late.
The biggest warning sign to come though was felt with force – a review embargo on the game which prevented individuals with early access to the game from saying anything about it whatsoever, mere weeks before release – not even allowing for praise of the game. This is not a good look for any developer, as the only single reason a company wouldn’t want anything at all said about their product would be that they’re not proud of it – or the definite sign of a bad product.
So when you continue to say nothing about your game, prohibit others from saying anything about your game, and then continue to charge $100 for a special pre-order, those are marketing tactics that (coming from someone who does marketing as a career) I can’t stand. They were all designed to misinform the consumer or misrepresent the product in which the consumer was purchasing. Quite frankly, I’m surprised 2K hasn’t been the target of a lawsuit over this notion. Especially considering 2K didn’t even deliver on half of these promises to consumers.
One particular lowlight of this situation was the mysterious portraits of WWE Legends such as Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, and others that had been promised as part of the special pre-order package for the game. Many consumers never received this part of the package, and ended up having to contact the Legends themselves on their personal Twitter accounts to have the situation resolved. Not good business at all.
Plus considering what happened on release. Oh my god.
My decision to not purchase the game Day 1 was met with criticism and disgust on social media: with many people who intended to purchase the game Day 1 calling me an “untrue fan” of the franchise. Considering these claims and my own curiosity, I logged on to Twitch and found 3 streamers streaming the game on release. The first 2 I watched for 30 minutes respectively, the entirety of which was spent on the game’s main screen – as the game was frozen and the players were unable to advance past the title screen of the game. Ha.
Certainly a game of the year candidate thus far. My 3rd livestreamer had a better bout of luck as he was actually able to boot into the game. He immediately began testing the creative suite, only to find a watered down version of last year’s outing coupled with an avalanche of graphical glitches and physics-based kerfuffles, all just on the character creation screen. None of this boded well for the game, and these experiences quickly made their rounds on social media as Day 1 grabbers of the game became more infuriated. An influx of refund requests and angry consumers flooded the inboxes of 2K lambasting the game and 2K’s poor efforts all around.
The horror stories exploded. Everything from random game crashes, save game corruption, awful physics and graphics, bugs and glitches, the whole 9 yards. Nearly nobody was happy with this game – even the diehard fans. This isn’t to say that nobody in the world liked this game, but it was known that this was far and away one of the worst outings the 2K franchise had to offer.
Reviewers started bombing the game and gamers began to take the game out of their console for the final time only to have the copy be indefinitely shelved to collect dust for the rest of its days. WWE 2K20 was a flop, an unsatisfying and worrying event during the current climate of subpar WWE Games which have become stark contrasts and mere shells of what was presented to us in our childhoods in the form of the Smackdown VS Raw series. This of course led to speculation about the future of the franchise – especially coupled with WWE’s own dissatisfaction with the game’s reception.
But was the game REALLY that bad? Over time, would 2K be able to fix some of the major issues and present us with a suitable game for the franchise? Should we give 2K a chance to correct their mistake? So patiently, I waited. I stayed updated on patch notes, features, and plans for the game. Until I stopped 3 months later. By that point it was evident that nothing 2K could do would be able to save this game from its own legacy. So I decided to forget about it and move on.
Until I saw the Deluxe Edition on sale on the PSN store for $15. With a price that low – I had to take the chance. What did I really have to lose? $15 Bucks that’s what…
Due to crashes, glitches, and the game not performing as intended, I was unable to complete the MyCareer mode of the game for the 2nd year in a row. Not only that, but nearly every match I attempted was met with crashes, performance issues, glitches, breaks, or just plain stunning graphical errors. This game was obviously still in it’s Alpha stage months after release. This…hurt.
What This Means For WWE 2K22
As a result of this game doing so poorly, 2K did the smart thing and decided to cancel plans for the upcoming WWE 2K21 to give them additional time to plan out their next game. This was arguably the best thing they could have done – as another iteration of the disastrous WWE 2K20 would surely spell disaster for both 2K and WWE. In lieu of another WWE 2K game, we got another subpar outing in the form of WWE Battlegrounds, a game I don’t want to take too much time to talk about, as the focus here now should be WWE 2K22, and what the disaster of these latest two games means for this new outing.
There are at least two encouraging indicators about the condition of WWE 2K22 we have already – the first of which has already been lightly discussed. The fact that WWE and 2K are willing to give WWE 2K22 the attention it needs by cancelling their 2K21 project was the best move they could have ever done. After years of releasing disappointing games, they finally got the reality check they needed with WWE 2K20 and are taking the time to go back to square one and try their best – something that has been missing with the last few iterations purely due to the time crunch these employees were under.
The second being a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Executive Producer of the WWE 2K Games, Patrick Gilmore. In this AMA, Gilmore touched on a number of things regarding the development of WWE 2K22.
Gilmore confirmed that “core gameplay” will be one of the major investments in the next installment, and they’re researching both today’s gaming climate as well as the series’ top hits from the past to do this. “We are looking at much-loved previous games like No Mercy or Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain, along with top franchise installments, and more modern wrestling and fighting games to build an all-new philosophical foundation for the game.”
With this AMA it seems that there has been a definite shift in priority over at 2K – one which puts the thoughts and feelings of the fans of the franchise at the centerfold. Gilmore continued “On our end, we’re doing some things I don’t think we’ve ever done before, including scraping feedback, and prioritizing according to mentions. We’re also sharing some of this back out to the community, so you’re seeing the same information we’re using to prioritize our development. Of course, there are no guarantees that all feedback from the community makes it into the game. Ultimately, the evidence will be in the game, but I can assure you we’re looking at player feedback more closely than ever.”
Definitely some encouraging signs there, and ones that are paramount if these games are going to survive. But it looks like this next iteration may do more than just simply survive, it might well have the potential to do something a WWE game hasn’t done for a long time – and that’s LIVE.
One of the main aspects in which the developers plan to do this is through the creation suite and Universe mode, two very important features to the recent WWE games. Universe mode has arguably been the thing keeping these games alive, and there’s some important developments to be shared by Gilmore himself. “”Create” is one of the six primary areas of focus for the next game. We are looking at all modes in the “Create” suite, streamlining interfaces and improving the experience for power users. We’re also upgrading the base models and trying to bring more personality and flow to the creation process. Across that entire lifecycle of creation, we have improvements planned. As some of you know, we’ve reached out to power creators in the community to get their recommendations on how to take Universe to the next level.”
This is great news to many diehard fans of the game, as Universe Mode getting additions and revamped is exciting news for a hallmark feature of the franchise. In addition to the “Create” aspect of the game and the Core Gameplay, the other 4 pillars of focus for development on 2K22 are:
-Emergence – Leveraging physics and more generic object/environment systems to enable spectacular gameplay that players feel in control of
-WWEX (WWE Experience) – Delivering an end-to-end true WWE experience in all aspects of the game, from UI and wrapper, to superstars, match types and story modes.
-Online – Improving all aspects of the online experience.
-Character – Make the best looking superstars of all time.
Another hope that dedicated players are clinging to is the much anticipated return of GM Mode from the Smackdown Vs. Raw series – which also got touched on by Gilmore. “GM Mode is one of the most requested features we get. I can say that my message to the team was, “We’re not just going to trot out a mode from 2008 without bringing something new.” Top minds are thinking about that right now. Top. Minds.”
It’s worth mentioning that this AMA took place around 8 months ago without any further pertinent information being released by the developers. However, things are looking much better at this stage than they ever did for WWE 2K20, and that alone is a sign of encouragement. We could very well see the best WWE 2K game to date come out of this, but we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.
I for one am cautiously optimistic and excited. As Uncle Iroh once said – “When we have hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”