WWE 2K22 is well on their way to a launch that will finally help them move forward from WWE 2K20 into a new era. But they've also got competition in the form of the AEW Console Game looming on the horizon.
With WWE 2K22 targeting a release date in a few short months and the AEW Console Game aiming for a window early next year, wrestling games might finally be in competition once again.
WWE 2K22 is ready to move on from WWE 2K20
If you look at the build and launch of WWE 2K22 compared to the build and launch of WWE 2K20, even this early the differences are night and day.
Back in mid-2019, there wasn't really much focus yet on what was then the upcoming release of WWE 2K20, and actual news didn't start trickling out until August of 2019.
Of course, things have changed quite a bit in those two years, and that includes the struggles WWE 2K20 faced at launch and shortly after.
That title was released on October 22, 2019, and by October 25, 2019 there was a statement released by WWE Games acknowledging the overwhelmingly negative feedback they were receiving over the game's issues.
Significant updates were released on November 1, November 21, and December 18 to mostly remedy a myriad of glitches and bugs, with that third major update also adding Create-A-Championship which wasn't present at launch.
We saw a very different focus by the team at 2K Games and Visual Concepts when it came to WWE 2K20, and that carried over in the months after the game was released.
WWE 2K20 Originals & WWE Battlegrounds struggled to change the narrative
During the buildup to launch and after the title was released, the biggest focus by WWE Games on WWE 2K20 was the continued addition of WWE 2K20 Originals.
These unique pieces of fantasy-inspired DLC added new attires, arenas, moves, and weapons into the existing game, usually following a larger theme like Bump in the Night or Wasteland Wanderers.
While the global pandemic was certainly a factor, the impact of the reception WWE 2K20 got cannot be understated, and it gave a franchise that had existed without much pressure for several years a sharp injection of reality.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds later attempted crossovers, taking Damian Lillard from the NBA 2K series and cartoonishly transforming him into "Laheem Lillard" along with adding Rob Gronkowski or "Gronkster" to the title.
While the Battlegrounds title and these unique DLC packs weren't necessarily bad ideas, neither could change the narrative of just how broken WWE 2K20 was at launch.
WWE 2K20 actually saw higher search traffic at launch than some previous years had, but it was because the entire game became a meme, and not because of authentic excitement over the release.
AEW Console Game could finally provide real competition
While there were a lot of factors that went into the fumbles of WWE 2K20, one significant one had to be the fact that WWE games existed without challenge for nearly two decades.
There were niche options such as the TNA iMPACT! video game in 2008 or smaller beloved franchises like Fire Pro Wrestling, but nothing really had the kind of mainstream success in North America needed to actually challenge the WWE gaming franchise.
In fact, the last time they had real competition was arguably the late 1990s during the Nintendo 64 era, which is also the period that led to some of the most beloved titles in wrestling gaming history.
WWF No Mercy was released in late 2000, and it was the culmination of a series of competing titles by both WWF (now WWE) and WCW primarily on Nintendo 64 and PlayStation.
When you look at the companies involved in the development of wrestling games during that period, a fascinating parallel to today starts to emerge.
Yuke's jumping to AEW is in line with classic developer defections
The golden era of WWE games is usually focused on either WWF No Mercy or the WWF SmackDown series, which eventually morphed into SmackDown vs. Raw and is now the WWE 2K franchise.
Developed by the AKI Corporation, WWF No Mercy was a groundbreaking release that's still influencing wrestling gaming today, but it wasn't their first foray into wrestling games.
AKI Corporation got their start by releasing Virtual Pro Wrestling exclusively in Japan back in September of 1996, and that title was localized and turned into WCW vs. The World on PlayStation in early 1997.
Following that, AKI Corporation also released WCW vs. nWo: World Tour in 1997 and WCW/nWo Revenge in 1998 (both on Nintendo 64). Both games are still well regarded today, and saw mainstream crossover and popularity at the time even among non-wrestling fans.
By 1999, AKI Corporation had switched to working with WWE and developed WWF WrestleMania 2000 that year and then WWF No Mercy the following year, both of which saw major success.
Meanwhile, Yuke's got their start with New Japan Pro Wrestling titles in the mid 1990s before breaking in by developing WWF SmackDown! to be released in 2000 on PlayStation with THQ as the publisher.
Yuke's and THQ became the standard team for several years and developed beloved titles like WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, with 2K Sports taking over the publishing side following the closure of THQ back in 2013.
Yuke's remained the primary developer for the WWE 2K series until halfway through the development of WWE 2K20, at which point they ended the partnership and Visual Concepts was left with a time crunch to make WWE 2K20 ready for launch.
Today, AEW Games has put together a team that includes both the development team at Yuke's and the creative mind behind the success of WWF No Mercy, readying them to challenge WWE 2K22 with an already proven group at the helm.
WWE 2K22 has an edge and a weakness compared to the AEW Console Game
When it finally gets down to time for the AEW Console Game to release, there's going to be no stopping the relentless ways that gamers and wrestling fans alike will compare it to WWE 2K22.
As of now, WWE 2K22 is targeting a likely release date in October while the AEW Console Game has a much looser current release window of the first quarter of 2022, and that time gap is going to serve as both a positive and a negative.
WWE 2K22 has the advantage of being able to try and reset the way their series is viewed with this year's release, and they've already started repairing that image with behind the scenes development videos showing the process of creating WWE 2K22.
That should continue in the weeks and months until the game is launched, and it's clear they're more focused on core game quality and gameplay this year than fantasy DLC add-ons.
However, WWE 2K22 is facing massive pressure to deliver when this title is released, and a fumbled launch will leave things wide open for the AEW Console Game to take a massive bite out of the wrestling gaming market when it is released.
WWE 2K22 has to deliver the second the game is live, because even updates in the months after the title is released won't be enough to change the way people are talking about it.
Of course, even with serious success at launch, WWE 2K22 will likely be at least a few months old by the time the AEW Console Game is looking to be released, and AEW has the "newness" factor working in their favor.
If the upcoming AEW Console Game succeeds in delivering a quality game with gameplay reminiscent of WWF No Mercy and WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, WWE will face stiffer competition in gaming than they've seen for over two decades.