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WWE 2K (formerly known as WWF/E SmackDown!, SmackDown vs. Raw, or simply WWE), is a series of professional wrestling sports simulation video games that launched in 2000. The premise of the series is to emulate the sport of pro wrestling, more specifically that of WWE, with various match types, storylines, and characters.
The games were originally published by THQ and developed by Yuke’s. 2K Sports took over as publisher beginning with 2013’s WWE 2K14, and the series was co-developed with Visual Concepts until Yuke’s departure in 2018. Visual Concepts would take over lead development of the series beginning with WWE 2K20 in 2019.
The inaugural game, WWF SmackDown!, was developed by Yuke’s, published by THQ, and released on March 2, 2000; this arrangement would continue until 2012. The series was originally named after one of WWE’s weekly television programs, SmackDown, and was initially exclusive to Sony‘s PlayStation 2 consoles. The series engine was originally based on the one used by the Japanese Toukon Retsuden, which was also developed by Yuke’s.
The series would rebrand with 2004’s WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw, following the introduction brand extension, which saw WWE’s roster divided between the SmackDown and Raw brands; the latter named after WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw. After using subtitles in previous installments, voice overs were introduced to the game’s “Season Mode”. With the exception of 2003’s WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, pre-recorded commentary by WWE commentators has been included in each game since the release of WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It in 2001.
Yuke’s studios in Yokohama, Japan worked with WWE writers to create storylines for the “Season” modes of each game since 2005’s WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006. Up until the release of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006, Yuke’s had released previous entries of the series in Japan under the title of Exciting Pro Wrestling. That year, THQ took over as the Japanese publisher and rebranded the Exciting Pro Wrestling series under the western name.
2006’s WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 was the first game in the series to be release for multiple game consoles. The series would continue to expand to various seventh-generation consoles, handhelds, and mobile devices. In an interview with GameSpy, Yuke’s revealed they had to port their original game codes that make up each game mode and graphic designs to a new game engine that supported the new consoles. When new features are added to future games, the developers had to create new gaming codes for these features. The developers also had to test the game for any errors.
The series would relaunch in 2011 with the release of WWE ’12. However, after THQ’s bankruptcy, liquidation, and eventual dissolution in January 2013, publishing rights for the WWE video games were acquired by Take-Two Interactive. Take-Two confirmed the acquisition in February, saying that it would also retain the services of Yuke’s and the THQ staff that worked on the WWE series. As a result, the WWE branding would be retired with 2012’s WWE ’13.
2013’s WWE 2K14 was the first game to be released under the 2K Sports branding. In 2015, a mobile-only spin-off was released for Android and iOS. 2K’s license of the series would be extended in early 2016. 2018’s WWE 2K19 would be the last game in the series to be developed by Yuke’s.
2019’s WWE 2K20 was the first game in the series to be developed solely by Visual Concepts, who had also worked with Yuke’s on previous game under the WWE 2K banner. The game received generally negative reviews for various changes seen as a regression from 2K19, and for numerous bugs and technical issues upon its launch. The series would go on a two-year hiatus in response, with WWE 2K Battlegrounds released in 2020 as a replacement for a previously-planned WWE 2K21 game.