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How WWE’s ‘WarGames’ finally made it into a video game after 35 years

‘I saw a build, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re doing it!’’ says longtime developer

WWE superstar John Cena making his entrance in WWE 2K23; he is wearing a t-shirt that shows him wrestling in 8-bit video game art, over the motto “Never Give Up.”
John Cena (and check out that awesome shirt, btw) takes the cover of WWE 2K22 again. The longtime WWE superstar was on the cover of WWE 2K15.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

When it launches on March 17, WWE 2K23’s showpiece feature should be the one pro wrestling fans have clamored for in forums and threads for years on end: WarGames.

The wrestling match variant — involving two teams, battling in two rings side-by-side, ringed by a chain-link cage — has a 35-year history, and for a time even seemed to be taboo for the WWE’s main promotions. But once WarGames debuted in November at the Survivor Series, it all but assured that its brand of mayhem would finally visit the WWE’s video game, too.

“It scared the hell out of us,” Lynell Jinks, Visual Concepts’ creative director for WWE 2K, said of approaching WarGames. But, Jinks said, the team had been preparing for the possibility. The widely praised, rebuilt combat engine the studio made for WWE 2K22 — which helped the series recover from a disastrous 2K20 — was developed with WarGames in mind.

“When we rebuilt the engine on 2K22 we were like, ‘Alright, let’s talk about… traversal, let’s talk about the things that we’re going to want to be able to do one day,” Jinks said. “So we kind of built everything with that in mind.”

WarGames in WWE 2K23 will be a match type among teams of three or teams of four (at Survivor Series, it was five). The arena itself is the one used in November, and also used in WWE’s up-and-comers NXT series since 2017. Jinks said that certain out-of-ring areas in WWE 2K22 were test beds, somewhat, for what WWE Superstars would need to do in a future WarGames match — things that were “kind of impossible to do in our previous engine.”

Those things: “Oh my gosh, I have to put two cages in the crowd; then there’s, like, a timer, and these guys come out, and there’s entrances,” Jinks said. “And, there’s two rings, side-by-side, surrounded by a cage; and you can climb the cage, and you can bring weapons in, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God…’”

Around this time, Jinks said, he “put up the bat signal” to bring back Bryan Williams, a longtime wrestling game developer who had worked on WWE games since the THQ days 20 years ago. Williams most recently had been with Yuke’s, which had supported WWE 2K development up to 2019; he came back to Visual Concepts as a gameplay producer. The number one reason he came back: WarGames.

“The first day back, I saw a build, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, you guys, we’re doing it!’” Williams said. “And it was in such a good state early on.”

This isn’t to suggest that the WarGames match type will be the only significant change fans notice. Even after last year’s overhaul, core gameplay changes are coming. Wrestlers’ stamina and the pin minigame will be changed again, Jinks said, though both are responsive to community feedback on the systems in last year’s game. Either way, Jinks vows “It’s hard for me to even go back to play 2K22 without the stuff that we added this year,” he said. “It’s more balanced, in a realistic way, not a slow way.”

In the game’s broader modes, online multiplayer will come to the card-collection-based MyFaction mode; it wasn’t present last year, frustrating some fans, but at least it signaled Visual Concepts was serious about building something folks would want to play, rather than slapping on a microtransaction vehicle. Jinks pointed to MyFaction as a way to get Superstars’ newest ring attire into the game. But taking your stable up against another player’s collection was job one for that mode.

MyGM, a single-season mode that debuted last year, will get more of just about everything, Jinks said. “We added two more GMs [to play as], you can have up to four playable GMs at the same time, on co-op, and more match types, more seasons,” Jinks said. It’s good to hear; I thought the concept in WWE 2K22 was solid, but limited in the variety it offered. Still, it will not have online multiplayer, which Jinks called a hard but necessary decision for this year.

WWE 2K23 will launch March 17 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Two special editions will give players a three-day head start, with access beginning March 14. The 13-time WWE Championship winner John Cena is on the cover; he also appeared on the cover of WWE 2K15.