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How WWE 2K20 highlights the worst of the gaming industry

We explore the root causes of WWE 2K20's glitch infested launch and ask whether the whole debacle could actually end up changing gaming for the better

Shortly after the first details about WWE 2K20 were revealed earlier this year, we ran a feature predicting that this year’s entry in the long-running series would be a disappointment and suggesting features that could help it (or even future titles) return to the glory days of WWE video games.

Well it turned out we were sort of right, because while it turned out to be disappointing, we couldn’t have predicted just how much vitriol this game would receive from fans and critics alike.  WWE 2K20 was torn to shreds for its poorly written career mode, arguably downgraded graphics and an ocean of glitches that led to #FixWWE2K20 becoming one of the top trends worldwide on Twitter.

So what led to a usually respectable gaming franchise releasing a broken, frankly unacceptable product? Let’s explore:

Annual releases

If you’re a long-time patron of any long-running sports (or sports entertainment) video game series, chances are that you’ve been frustrated by the annual release model in one way or another. Be it due to the knowledge that all of the time that you’ve poured into enhancing an Ultimate Team, creating your own WWE Universe or managing your preferred team to the elite level in their sport is lost, requiring you to start from scratch the next year, or because the new iteration of the game offers little in the way of notable differences compared to the previous year.

While WWE 2K20 is guilty of both of these offences, the blame for the latter can be attributed to the requirement to release at approximately the same time each year. Constricting developers in this way stifles creativity, meaning they must focus on changes that can be realistically achieved within that timeframe rather than more lofty ones that require more time. Since 2K Sports took over the WWE series, every new idea seems to be presented in an either bare bones or shoddy way and has to be improved and built upon over the coming years, which doesn’t speak to the skill of the developers, but rather the binding deadlines they have to meet.

In a case like this where a game is rushed and not debugged or tested to a proper standard, it builds animosity between developers/publishers and fans, which is sad because we know that an insane amount of time that goes into creating these games and we appreciate the efforts of the people who create these experiences that we’ve enjoyed for years. Yet, sometimes it feels like publishers take the loyalty of its fans for granted. When people pay for a new release they are entitled to expect a certain standard of quality and when companies knowingly release a sub-par product, it just comes across as disrespectful to the people who have supported them for decades.

We’ve seen Ubisoft amend the annual release model for the Assassin’s Creed series and give it a break every couple of years, which has done wonders for the series’ reputation, but are our favourite sports/sports entertainment dynasties likely to follow suit? Probably not. Let’s be realistic, there are countless articles and videos strewn across the internet arguing an end to yearly release windows but it’s not going to make any difference as long as people keep buying these games every year and they remain as profitable. We can complain as much as we want but in the end, it’s a business and nothing’s likely to change until this frustration hits its publishers in the wallet.

Pre-order bonus content

Following the controversy, one has to wonder whether 2K Sports was aware of the sorry state of WWE 2K20 before it was released. Of course, it would be incredible not to be, so the answer is most likely ‘yes’, and when you consider how pre-order bonus content was used, it suggests that the company was aware of this well in advance:

In past WWE games , as a bonus for pre-ordering the game you would usually one additional character, often an additional ‘WWE Legend’. However, fans who ordered WWE 2K20 received the first ‘Originals’ pack (which would cost $14.99 if bought separately) which featured additional playable character The Fiend (the current WWE Universal Champion and one of the hottest acts in pro wresting), story content involving The Fiend, and a bunch of smaller extra content.

We’re not saying that pre-order bonus content is a bad thing per se, but when you consider how it appears to have been used here – locking away a large chunk of content that should probably have been included in the base game and using it to secure customers who would then receive their copies before they have the chance to read reviews from most major outlets (that were bound to be awful) – it just comes across as a slap in the face to anyone who was enticed to shell out to get their copy on day one.

Is this sort of strategy likely disappear any time soon? Unlikely, it’s an effective way to secure early sales and will probably be employed going forward as well. Sony has provided some relief in this case by offering full refunds to dissatisfied customers, but if nothing else, WWE 2K20 should serve as a warning for players going forward: If a pre-order bonus seems suspiciously generous, there’s probably a good reason for it.

‘Release now, fix later’ mentality

This ideal is so prevalent in today’s gaming scene that you can see it in almost every major release, from monster franchises like WWE 2K20 to charming indie titles like Indivisible (2019), which required three patches within the first week of release to fix bugs and add missing content.

Patches are a great tool for developers to correct lingering problems and add new content, so in theory they’re a fantastic advantage of modern gaming. On the other hand, the over-reliance on patches that we see today creates disparity – not only for players who don’t have an internet connection, but also for people who do have an internet connection and are most keen to play the game.

With so many titles released with major issues that are intended to be fixed at a later date, players who buy the game on day one and pour most of their time into it in the coming days and weeks are often given a broken, sloppy product, whereas the person who picks up the title for a fraction of the price a year or so down the line or sees it in the library of a streaming service and decides to ‘give it a go’, gets the complete, final product. It’s a system that essentially punishes enthusiasm.

Within days of the WWE 2K20 controversy, it was announced that four major titles set for release next year have been delayed by several months in order to give the developers more time to achieve their vision of the game. This may merely be coincidence or it may be a sign that big companies are paying attention to the outcry from fans, taking it as a sign that consumers have had enough of being sold incomplete games, but the timing of these announcements certainly indicates that the WWE 2K20 debacle may well have been a factor.

In summary, WWE 2K20‘s problems stem from issues that are not exclusive to this series or its creators, but issues that appear throughout the gaming industry because it is just that – an industry; a means to make as much money as possible by securing maximum sales of a product. While we’ll have to wait until sales figures are released to find out whether the backlash against WWE 2K20 has affected the franchise’s profitability and if so, what steps will be taken to remedy this in future, there are clearly lessons to be learned for both players and publishers in the here and now.

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