By now, you’ve probably seen at least a few good GIFs of this year’s entry in the WWE 2K series. WWE 2K20 seems like a chaotic mess, with wrestlers clipping through objects and walls, bodies flying around the ring, horrors enacted on the joints of innocent refs, and Create-A-Wrestler glitches that would make Bloodborne blush.
While the response online, from fans and bystanders alike, has been sheer enjoyment, the state of 2K20 seems the end result of both recent shifts for the franchise and an overall downward trend for the series. So how did we get from virtual pro wrestling to whatever is happening in this tweet?
Let’s trace WWE 2K’s history and see. It might be best to start not just with the last year when larger changes occurred, but even a little further back.
Trouble with the Ports
WWE 2K18 found its way to the Nintendo Switch in 2018, and the results were less than stellar. Digital Foundry called the port quantifiably terrible, as both resolution and frame rate plunged on the hybrid system. It was so immediately clear that the game wouldn’t work on the system that 2K announced it wouldn’t even try bringing 2K19 over, and predictably, 2K20 is not on the Nintendo Switch either.
But it isn’t quite obvious as to whether this was evidence of growing issues within the 2K system. Past games have had their fair share of rough edges, though few are as horrifying as what’s happening in every second of every 2K20 clip.
Where WWE 2K20’s development hit friction, in a very public way, was within the development process.
Yuke’s has been the longtime developer of the WWE series, creating virtual squared circle games for over two decades. But the studio has also been fairly candid, in recent years, about its frustration over innovating on the 2K series.
Earlier this year, senior vice president and producer Hiromi Furuta tells Video Games Chronicle that Yuke’s was working on some ways to innovate on wrestling games, including developing its own competition.
“We are also aware that our creators are beginning to lose sight of their passion and confidence and becoming focused only on completing assigned tasks,” Furuta tells VGC. “That’s not the direction Yuke’s wants to go in.”
Because WWE’s contract with 2K is exclusive, there were very few competitors in the space to push Yuke’s to deliver each year. “Players are expecting something new every time we release a game and we feel like we haven’t achieved what we’ve really wanted to do,” Furuta says.
This discontent with the state of WWE 2K would gradually fester into a split, as 2K announced Yuke’s departure from the series in August 2019, just a few short months before the launch of 2K20. The reins were handed off to NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts. In a statement to VGC, 2K reaffirmed its faith in Visual Concepts:
“As we’ve continued to invest in the WWE 2K franchise, we’ve seen the Visual Concepts team display incredible passion, talent and commitment to the future of the series,” 2K says. “We thank Yuke’s for their years of partnership and are excited to see what the Visual Concepts team brings to the franchise moving forward.”
In the build-up to the actual launch of WWE 2K20 though, things started to seem amiss. Fan sites and YouTubers had noted the lack of info in the lead-up to WWE 2K20. A few weeks ago, interviews started rolling out where the focus seemed to be on ousting Yuke’s from the project. In an interview with YouTuber Chris Denker, who goes by DenkOps, the devs said the split from Yuke’s meant bringing on new people and getting them up to speed with WWE 2K.
Just yesterday, GameSpot published an interview from a WWE 2K20 event where they spoke to creative director Lynell Jinks about the future of 2K. In it, Jinks characterizes developing WWE 2K20 without Yuke’s as “freeing.”
“Every system in the game, every piece of code, and every art asset had to go through our pipeline, had to go through us,” Jinks says. “And it was our responsibility to make sure that we understood everything that we’re putting in the game from front to back, right? And this is 20 years of just Yukes’ code, Yukes’ art, Yukes’ pipelines that we had to take apart and understand. Not only understand, but make it ours and try to make it better at the same time, or make it as good as it was.”
Jinks drew comparisons of what WWE 2K could do, under Visual Concepts’ direction, to the NBA 2K series and The Neighborhood experience. “You’re seeing it with a lot of other games it’s like, ‘You can have a sim but still be fun. You can still be creative, take this license, and provide people with a different experience and different characters.’ A spin on an existing character,” Jinks says. “That’s what we were doing.”
But the results are in for WWE 2K20’s launch. Words really can’t suffice as much as short, bite-sized clips can in conveying what state the game is currently in. The hashtag #FixWWE2K20 has been trending, and it’s filled with plenty of examples.
The WWE 2K social account has been quiet since its post celebrating the game’s launch yesterday, where fans also shared their experiences thus far in the replies. It’s hard to know exactly where things went awry, whether it’s a symptom of Yuke’s absence or not. But Visual Concepts definitely has its work cut out for itself in trying to fix 2K20 up.