Hamming it up

Hamming it up - 26th July 2003
(Credit: f2)

They're big, they're sweaty, and they yell scripted abuse at each other before pretending to belt the daylights out of anyone within reach. They are the proud men and women of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), an organisation that's turned theatrical combat into big business.

On Friday, thousands of fans are expected to turn out at the Sydney Superdome to watch them during the WWE Ruthless Aggression tour, a show that is as much about spruiking video games as it is about ringside ticket sales.

Sure enough, there are new WWE video games scheduled for release over the next three months, including WWE Wrestlemania XIX for GameCube, WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain for PlayStation 2 and WWE Raw: Ruthless Aggression for Xbox.

Video games have been associated with various professional wrestling factions over the past 14 years. With the WWE starting to tour Australia only in the past year, the video games have served as a substitute for its action-starved fans.

"Wrestling games accounted for over $6 million worth of revenue in Australia in 2002," says Phil Burnham, account director, GfK Marketing Services Australia, "The WWE licence is the strongest within wrestling games and accounted for 77 per cent of the genre's sales in 2002."

The market for wrestling video games has grown significantly in recent years. WWE video games raked in more than $US270 million ($412 million) last year in the US. It has been a marketing coup for software publisher THQ, which acquired the exclusive licence to develop WWE games in 1999 and is now enjoying the spoils of possessing the only recognised wrestling brand in the world.

However, THQ is a third-party software publisher without any corporate allegiance, so the WWE video games have marked an interesting battleground in the so-called console wars between the Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube. "With the emergence of a new generation of consoles, the decision was made to separate the three WWE brands (Smackdown, Raw and Wrestlemania) across the three competing platforms," says Estelle Cleaver, promotions manager for THQ Asia Pacific. This ensures that WWE fans will have an official game to play, regardless of the system they have.

Last year, Microsoft was the first to test the waters with WWE, sponsoring the WWE Global Warming Tour at Melbourne's Colonial Stadium. More than 56,700 people attended the event, setting a record for the venue.

"It was a very important platform for us, particularly as at the time we were launching the Xbox in Australia," says the marketing manager for Xbox, Richard Hirst.

This year, WWE is coming to Australia again as part of its Ruthless Aggression tour, performing at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena on July 31 and the Sydney Superdome on August 2.

And this time around, it is THQ that's snapped up the role of sponsor for the tour, one of those rare occasions in which a third-party publisher has out-pitched the big guns - Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. As far as the local gaming industry is concerned, the WWE provides brand association benefits worth spending to secure.

Software publishers now pitch for the rights to almost any action-based movie licence. Likewise, internationally recognised brands such as WWE are heavily sought after and there's immense pressure from fans and consumers alike for these licensed games to do justice to the real-life spectacle which inspires them. "Licensing is becoming a stronger influence on all game sales, along with franchises built in the gaming world such as Grand Theft Auto or Pokemon," says Burnham.

To that end, THQ is hoping to deliver as much of the overacted "beefcake soap opera" source material as possible.

"We are making the games as much like the television experience of the WWE as possible", says Daniel Armstrong, product manager of THQ Asia Pacific. "Short of becoming a wrestler themselves, our games provide WWE fans the only means to immerse themselves in the wrestling world, assuming the role of their favourite WWE superstar."





Official websites

World Wrestling Entertainment

World Wrestling Entertainment corporate website



R-rated... but is it grown-up? - 3rd June 2004

Games - The Games People Play



Games Directory



Current Projects