After a long, long period with little in the way of high-profile competition to contend with, the WWE finally has a new rival wrestling promotion in All Elite Wrestling (or AEW). Having launched its regular TV program just last year, AEW is still much smaller than the WWE, but it's now gearing up to take the top wrestling game spot from WWE 2K with the help of the series' former developers.
AEW formally announced the creation of its AEW Games division yesterday and revealed a partnership with Yuke's, the Osaka-based studio that led development of 2K's WWE games for close to two decades. Yuke's is now developing a still-untitled AEW game for "current and next-gen consoles" with the help of Hideyuki "Geta" Iwashita, who was the director for 2000's well-loved WWF No Mercy on the N64.
Yuke's left the WWE license behind last year, putting the series' future in the hands of NBA 2K developers Visual Concepts. 2K confirmed the Yuke's departure not long before the troubled launch of WWE 2K20. In the wake of 2K20's poor reception, 2K and the WWE are skipping over a new annual installment this year—instead, September saw the release of the arcade-oriented WWE 2K Battlegrounds from Saber Interactive.
The new partnership between AEW, Yuke's, and Iwashita was unveiled by wrestler and AEW executive Kenny Omega. Omega, who's a huge fan of video games (here he is entering the ring as Sans from Undertale and interviewing Square Enix's Yoshinori Kitase) put on the event as a mock-Apple keynote, even donning Steve Jobs' iconic black turtleneck and blue jeans. In addition to name-dropping No Mercy, Omega also mentions Virtual Pro Wrestling and NBA Jam as touchstones for the direction of the new AEW console game.
Before exiting the partnership with 2K on the WWE franchise, Yuke's senior vice president and producer Hiromi Furuta expressed disappointment with the state of the studio's own wrestling games. "Our creators are beginning to lose sight of their passion and confidence and becoming focused only on completing assigned tasks," Furuta said. "That's not the direction Yuke's wants to go in. So, in order to compensate, we're going to start a new wrestling project."
Whether or not Yuke's was in talks with AEW at that time is unknown, but that stern self-assessment certainly tracks with how critics and fans alike have judged the past few years' WWE titles. AEW likely won't dethrone the WWE as the top wrestling promotion any time soon, but the new competition could give both Yuke's and Visual Concepts the motivation to really rethink what a modern wrestling game should be.