Dear @WWEGames - An Open Letter
Dear 2K Games,
I'm writing this not out of spite, quite the opposite in fact. You see, I've been an adamant buyer of the WWE games since WWF Warzone and I've ridden all of the bumps in the road. I've seen the heights of WWF No Mercy, all the way to the lows of WWE 2K15 - every poorly realised vision, every broken animation and every single one (and there have been multiple) of the server issues.
All along though, my support of these games is unwavering. Now I'm willing to grant you a few truths here. Yes, there are no alternatives on the market, so I'm forced to buy this game every year if I want a wrestling game. Yes, I have taken to playing the games competitively since the online aspects of the games were introduced, and continue to do so to this day. Despite their flaws, these games are a huge part of my video game life, and spread out further than that. The group of guys that work on this very website came out of a WWE gaming community which still exists to this day... and this is why I consider myself perfectly placed to talk on this subject.
Throughout the years, we've seen a shift in the games industry whereby games are promoted way differently than they ever have been before. In the past, you'd have your standard print media promoting the game with "exclusives" several months out, you'd see screenshots and demos nice and early and you'd have an idea of what you were going to buy. It was a transparent, neat way to ensure that you had some sort of idea of the nonsense you were going to be spending your hard earned money on.
Fast forward to 2017, and games media has become a mostly online affair. Any person can get involved in it and, because of that, many games publishers are utilising those people in order to "improve" their games. It's a strange concept really. Youtubers talk about the game a lot, they're then invited into a studio to have the first look at the game. They're then allowed to go onto social media and wax lyrical about how good the new game is...
If they toe the company line, they get invited back, they'll get free copies, free swag - all of the questionable benefits that come with being paid off by the mafia. If they decide to speak ill of what they've seen they... well I've never seen someone live to tell the tale.
This then translates to a games company being in control of their reputation on the "streets" - a free team of minions are out there trumpeting the game while they shoot down any naysayers. Further to that, it creates an opportunity for the publisher to starve their community of anything actually useful in the run up to their game release... which brings us to the @wwegames account on twitter.
A couple of days ago, an image dropped saying that the first screenshot of WWE 2K18 would be released the following day. Cue the millennials and the previously mentioned minions freaking out on social media, creating the buzz they so desperately desire. Perfect right? Except for these people who are so excited about the new game haven't taken the time to consider what's going on here.
So while they were frothing at the collective starved mouths at these shiny images of Seth Rollins' torso, these people had erased something key from their memories. I, on the other hand, hadn't - I was still entrenched in the nonsense that 2K creates every year with their poor realisation of ideas. Why? I was trying to play WWE 2K17 online.
As much as we all love a shiny new screenshot, we should consider that fact that 2K has a terrible record of giving you the game that you want. Each year, in the previously mentioned wrestling league, we're treated to server issues from release. Usually, they're ironed out within the first few weeks, but this year has been particularly bad for connection issues. Matches will de-sync, if they even connect at all in a lot of cases, logos will vanish off of created wrestlers and once you're in a match that's working pretty well, you'll run into various weird glitches that, while hilarious, render the game "unwatchable".
Why is this important? Well for the league I play in, we record all of the matches and create actual wrestling shows with them. We do this on a weekly turnaround, which means deadlines to get these matches all recorded and put together within that timescale. It's quite an undertaking, and for years and years and years, people like us have been on the outskirts. If we venture into a 2K forum for instance to mention our concerns with the online aspects of the game, we're met with a blanket "who cares". It's a strange stance for a company that proclaims to be so community orientated. It makes sense why they do it, don't get me wrong, there are 50 "casual" players of this series for every one of me. A lot of people won't dive into the creation suites and mechanics as deeply as we do, but surely that's the very reason that they should at least attempt to listen to us? Well, that all depends on what they're trying to do here.
On one hand, if they're looking to create a great wrestling game, then listening to the people who have played these games to death for years, broken them apart, fixed them back together again and entrenched themselves in every single thing that encompasses them makes sense. On the other hand - this isn't a wrestling game you're playing.
WWE has been telling us for years that they are "Sports Entertainment". Now, wrestling fans know what that means, and they know that realistically, only one company is doing this style at the moment. That means it's unreasonable to think that 2K's remit is anything more than creating an arcade game with these larger than life TV characters. So why do they refer to it as a wrestling game? As a simulation? Well... this is something that happens in gaming an awful lot.
If you take FIFA for example - one of the most played games in the world. Considered to be the game of the gods when it comes to (casual) football game players. EA Sports calls FIFA a simulation, but if you really get into the crux of it, FIFA is an arcade game. It's very simple to get into, and it's simple to master - why? They want to sell games. If a game is too hard (see Crash Bandicoot's remaster) then they'll get a backlash and ultimately it's not a commercial success because it's too hard for the casuals.
So where does that leave us with 2K? For years, people have been saying we want to make a wrestling game that is "like WWF No Mercy", but it never materialises. This is because No Mercy was an incredibly complex game with a WWE skin on it. The WWE license nowadays doesn't stretch to this kind of complexity, because it calls for a yearly updated game. It calls for a game that the PG audience to which it pitches its product can get along with. The WWE license is based on selling copies, which is why we'll never get a beautifully rich game. It's a real shame because I love this series. I've put ten years of my life into a niche corner of the WWE Games community built around this series, and because of the people I play with, we're able to adapt the game to make it something that we can use to do what we do. It means that, fundamentally, we're a captive audience with no other place to really go (except for Fire Pro World, which is doing things right).
So right at the start of this, I said this wasn't a spiteful letter - it's a love letter to a game that I wish I (and my equivalents rattling around the doldrums of the WWE Games community) could have some sort of influence on improving, ultimately creating a game that the casual players and the competitive/e-fed players can enjoy as well. To use FIFA as an example again - they embrace all of their community, not just the casuals - I just wish 2K would do the same thing for the WWE Games...
...and fix the bloody servers, because I've got a match to turn in before Monday night.