After months of speculation, rumors and fierce negotiations, Take-Two Interactive has officially acquired the exclusive rights to the WWE video game license for the next five years and will publish the popular wrestling franchise as part of its 2K Sports brand.
Video game publisher THQ, which has held the exclusive WWE gaming rights since 1999, was forced to sell its assets after the U.S. Bankruptcy Court struck down its potential sale to Clearlake Capital Group in January.
Prior to the court’s ruling, however, THQ and WWE held a private bid for the wrestling franchise, and according to Casey Collins, WWE’s executive vice president of consumer products, the bidding process was more about finding the right partner than grabbing the most cash.
“We looked at a lot of different leaders in the industry and talked to all of the big guys, and for us, we had been with THQ for so many years, it was nice to finally go out and date a few other companies and see what kind of thought process they had about the video game industry going forward,” Collins told ESPN Tuesday in an exclusive interview. “As we look at the next-gen systems coming out, whether that’s this holiday or next holiday, we want to make sure we align our property with who we thought would be a leader going forward on these next-gen systems.”
Collins and the WWE leaders were particularly impressed by what Take-Two has done with the “NBA 2K” franchise.
“The work they do, and the quality of the games they put out and how they’ve been able to grow their franchise with not only the simulation aspect of the game, but also the entertainment aspect, we thought they’d be a perfect partner,” Collins said.
To 2K Sports’ vice president of marketing, Jason Argent, this was a good fit in terms of what the company envisions for WWE video games moving forward.
“We’ve looked at the WWE franchise with respect for a long time,” said Argent. “There are a lot of similarities that we see, from the size of the franchise to the demographics of the franchise, and they fit in very well with what we’ve done with NBA in terms of development and marketing. We thought we could add tremendous value right off the bat and down the road. We’re super excited to get an agreement in place.”
As part of the five-year deal (financial terms were not disclosed), Take-Two has not only hired some of the key designers behind the WWE gaming franchise from THQ to work hand in hand with 2K Sports’ game design team at Visual Concepts, but has also agreed to bring back longtime WWE games developer Yukes from Japan to continue pushing ahead with the development of “WWE 14,” ensuring the new game will hit its fall 2013 release window.
“With Yukes, we have a lot of history, and we’ve been very happy with what Yukes has done in the past,” said Collins. “What we’re going to do moving forward is meld Yukes with the team at Visual Concepts, so we can have the best of both worlds. Having Yukes’ experience and then getting the Visual Concepts guys on board with them, we think this is going to be a dynamic duo.
“The THQ Fight Team is also being brought over, and they’ll report directly to Visual Concepts. Their experience in the marketing, their experience in the development, their experience with our franchise for years … we thought that it was very valuable to keep that continuity.”
Now that “WWE 14” is under the 2K Sports umbrella, look for the game to also feature a slight change in name.
Coming this fall: “WWE 2K14.”
“Now that we have the deal done, we have a lot of internal meetings with Take-Two, Yukes and Visual Concepts,” Collins said. “Everyone is going to come to the table and talk about how we can really ratchet this game up for this year.”
Added Argent: “Everything that we’ve done with NBA is what we’re trying to contribute to WWE. So the growth that you’ve see in the NBA franchise from the authenticity in the game to the excitement of the marketing that surrounds it is all something we expect to add to the franchise. We’re going to create one hell of a video game franchise.”