Developed by Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports, WWE 2K20 is out on store shelves both digital and physical this week. We spoke to Visual Concepts producer Mark Little as well as the studio’s creative director, Lynell Jinks at a preview event for the game to get an idea of what to expect from the latest instalment in the long-running wrestling franchise. From its over the top, bizarre single-player campaign to what the next-generation of consoles has in store for WWE games, here’s what you need to know.
First up, we had to ask how WWE 2K20 would implement micro-transactions. Other games from publisher 2K Sports such as NBA 2K20 have been demonised for being exceptionally predatory, to the point of having glorified casinos in-game. It’s something 2K Sports parent company Take 2 first incorporated in GTA 5 with a recent update. Considering the widespread appeal of WWE in developing markets like India, what would the approach be to this divisive part of the game?
Thankfully, gamers can breathe a sigh of relief with Little pointing to content-driven expansions such as 2K Originals, the first of which has players diving through Bump in the Night — a Halloween-themed campaign and is out a week after the game is out.
“Because we wanted to do 2K Originals, it didn’t make sense to break them up into micro-transactions,” Little says. “That isn’t the right way to present that. There are four unique originals that have themes, story content, and have a soul to them that you could get into and enjoy. That’s the creative direction we wanted to go with this stuff, we picked the right monetisation system for that which in this case was buying it by the package.”
That said, it doesn’t mean that future WWE games would be completely free from micro-transactions. Little shed light on the thought process that drives Visual Concepts’ decisions.
“If we designed for a mode that made sense to micro-transactions we would do it, but that’s not where we’re at right now with our game,” he says. “I think micro-transactions done well aren’t a bad friction for people. When it feels like you’re getting nickel and dimed it becomes an issue. So we always say to our team, whenever you’re asking for money or whenever it’s a paid situation, overdeliver on content. This is why the WWE 2K Originals has so much content in them. We want to overdeliver on what you’re paying for.”
While we played through WWE 2K20’s story, we noticed some outrageous touches like its dialogue which has a high school protagonist proclaiming to give a bully’s grandmother bed sores. Single-player story campaigns have usually been an after-thought in WWE games so it was interesting to see humorous moments wedged in.
According to Jinks, a lot of it has to do with how early Visual Concepts got to working on the script as well as the amount of time narrative designer Sean Conaway had spent with the team.
“[L]ast year he played it safer than he would have because we started writing the script late in the year and he didn’t really know us and what our style was,” Jinks says. “Now he spent a lot of time with us and 2K, Visual Concepts, he went crazy and we allowed him to.”
Furthermore, Jinks claims the care and attention given to WWE 2K20’s story was infectious, making the team at Visual Concepts care a lot more for the game than it usually did.
“If you look at the green-screen room there’s a bomb-disabling dolphin prop because the artist wanted it in the game because it’s said in the script,” he reveals. “He didn’t need to, but he wanted to. That’s how invested these guys are. That’s not something we’ve seen in years past. Where the guys are really getting into it and really passionate about what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish and going the extra mile to give us that level of quality we see on NBA, Borderlands, and other games. That’s what I’m proud about of what we’ve built this years.”
The conversation shifts towards one of the most hyped aspects of a new WWE game, the rating system. Every year, Visual Concepts tends to be on the receiving end from wrestlers who believe they should be rated higher in-game. With WWE 2K20, this is no different.
“We’re getting some heat, we’re not going to lie. There are a few people giving us some choice words,” says Jinks. “Viktor burst into our media session the other day and complained about his rating. I tried to hide behind a console.”
“I like the fact that they’re all caring now,”Little adds. “To me that means it’s a good thing. That the game is getting to a place where they want to pay attention to it. If it matters to them that’s good.”
Like past entries, WWE 2K20’s ratings are based on wrestler’s performance on the TV show. Around the time Wrestlemania airs is when it gets locked down.
“We usually wait because usually a lot of changes come after Wrestlemania and we tried seeing who is getting the push and who is not, who is the champion, who is not and we adjust ratings around that,” Little says.
While WWE 2K20 is due for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC (with a 60 frames per second target on consoles no less), the Nintendo Switch gets ignored. No surprise since WWE 2K18 was poorly received on that platform. However we wondered if there were plans for the Switch in the near future.
“I don’t know about ‘near’ but maybe,” teases Jinks. “I have a Switch, Mark has one. We know the market is there. Either we find the right partner or time to do it ourselves.“
And while the response does little to abate fans of Nintendo’s hybrid console, one aspect of the WWE series the duo is more confident about is cross-platform play or cross-play as it’s known. This feature allows those who buy games on one console or PC to play with others on other platforms. Previously restricted to the likes of Fortnite, PUBG has rolled it out too. Would cross-play be a feature in WWE 2K20 or future titles?
“I have honestly been bugging them [Sony and Microsoft] about it for the last four years,” Little says with a look of relief. “Every year I call my account execs at those [companies] and ask if this is possible, they say no. Two years ago they said ‘well maybe we’re working on something’ and so that was it. It’s something we’re looking at, it’s still the very early days, we just got access to the information we need to actually be able to start evaluating it.
“I really like seeing people play each other in this game. The most fun you can have in this game is playing with other people. For me that means a bigger community, more people online, better fun. The more we can bring people together with this game, where I feel that it shines, the better off everybody’s going to be.”
Looking beyond WWE 2K20, with the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett on the horizon, would the additional horse power they have allow Visual Concepts make the WWE game fans could only dream of?
Sadly, the duo hasn’t seen them yet, instead preferring to focus on WWE 2K20.
“I just haven’t seen it or thought about it because we’re still busy fixing bugs on this one and we give you the best game possible this year,” Jinks says. “Also with all this original content coming for 2K20 our hands are pretty full. But it’s on someone’s mind. Someone is looking at it, just not Mark and I right now.”
“In general the new consoles are great for opening up doors but it’s also a lot of work so you have to figure out a lot of new stuff,” Little adds.
With that in mind, we wondered if like in past generations, would we see new WWE games available on old consoles and new. Jinks left us with this.
“We have so many ideas bottled up inside of us that we’re digging out our old notes and emails to each other about all the things we want to try, that’s our number one goal.”
“If that can happen on an old console or a new console - great. It’s just about giving fans the best game we feel possible and dreamt up ever since we took up the franchise and even before then since we played old school WWF WrestleFest in arcades. There’s just so much we want to try I think we’re eager to jump onto future iterations to keep trying.”
The WWE 2K20 release date is October 22 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.