With wrestlers like John Cena doubling as celebrities and practically being household names, the WWE brand is hot right now, and mobile game developers have caught on.
In April, Sega announced a partnership to develop WWE Tap Mania, which released in July. The pro-wrestling-themed mobile title combines idle game mechanics similar to AdVenture Capitalist with gacha gameplay—meaning that players can collect characters and upgrade them.
At around the same time in June, Glu Mobile announced a multi-year partnership with the WWE, and its first game is expected to release in 2018. The game is being developed by the same studio that made Glu’s highly successful mobile baseball game Tap Sports Baseball, which received a major upgrade earlier this year with the addition of the official MLB license.
AListDaily united Joseph Kim, chief product officer at Sega Networks (Sega’s mobile division) and Chris Akhavan, chief revenue officer at Glu Mobile, for a tag team event discussing the incredible strength of the WWE brand in the mobile gaming space.
Why The WWE Brand Stands Out
“When we talk about the WWE, we’re talking about sports entertainment, but we’re also talking about a roster of personalities,” said Akhavan. “So, we think that a lot of what we learned with Tap Sports Baseball is going to carry over to creating a great WWE product.”
Akhavan also stated that the Tap Sports team happens to be big WWE fans themselves, which will benefit the game greatly. “We’ve always seen a great correlation between a team being truly passionate and knowledgeable about a particular IP leading to success,” he added. “They’re really going to do the franchise justice and bring a lot of authenticity to it that you wouldn’t be able to do if you weren’t a hardcore fan.”
“I think that there is a strong emotional attachment to the WWE brand,” said Kim. “I believe that what WWE has done better than any other professional sports franchise is to weave in narrative and story. Today, we’re starting to see that happen with other professional sports, with the press conference tour of Mayweather-versus-McGregor being an example in terms of narrative and story.”
Kim believes that storytelling is one of the WWE’s greatest strengths.
“There’s something inherent within our psyche—within our DNA—that just resonates with story and narrative,” said Kim. “I think that’s what the WWE has done powerfully. When we launch a game with this brand, what we see in our metrics is that exact phenomenon, where strong fans of the WWE are engaging with our product.”
Although narrative storytelling is the key, it’s the WWE superstars that bring it all together and draw in audiences from all over the world.
“There’s also a massive character roster of both current wrestlers and past superstars—everyone from The Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to current stars such as Roman Reigns and John Cena,” said Akhavan. “That provides a huge opportunity to create a lot of depth for this game. There are only a few other IPs like the WWE, which have a rich character universe to tap into.”
Kim agrees with the importance of superstars, especially since WWE Tap Mania lets you collect them. In fact, some of the characters will talk to players throughout the game, challenging them to matches.
“It’s a cast of characters that people truly identify with,” said Kim, discussing how WWE fans all have different favorites and how no one fixates on just one person. “One thing I think they (the WWE) do effectively is create this universe of characters that allow a very diverse group of people to identify with. That taps into that inner aspiration of being a hero or superstar. I think that’s what makes the IP very special.”
The WWE Is Always On
Kim observed that another strength of the brand is that it’s not as seasonal as football or basketball. Instead, it has near continuous TV exposure.
“While football has the Super Bowl and the NBA has the Finals, the WWE has more events such as Summer Slam, Smackdown and Raw, which help promote the game because we can tie in-game events to them,” said Kim.
“The WWE is keeping the audience engaged 365 days a year, offering constant turns, new stories and new characters to continue deepening that emotional connection with their audience,” Akhavan explained. “They reach 650 million homes worldwide in 20 languages and there’s a constantly evolving storyline. A mobile game developer couldn’t ask for anything better than something that’s always on, always relevant and always evolving.”
A Fully Engaged Audience
“We actually validated the power of the WWE IP before this deal,” said Akhavan, referring to the multi-year partnership with the WWE. “A couple of years ago, we did a limited-time event with the WWE in our Racing Rivals title, and that actually produced the biggest revenue the game has ever had. In that particular event, players are able to chase after WWE wrestler-themed cars. That was an opportunity for us to see firsthand the power of the WWE IP and how passionate the audience is about WWE content.”
Additionally, Akhavan said that beyond a massive TV reach, the WWE has a huge social media following across its channels. “It’s a very digitally savvy company,” he explained. “The WWE digital network is doing very well and has millions of people subscribing to it. Between its digital channels, its TV channels and real-world events, the WWE has so many touchpoints with its audience that it can promote content through.”
Kim also has firsthand experience with the dedicated fan base through WWE Tap Mania. “There was a TV spot that ran on the WWE network, and we saw a huge spike in users,” he said. “It speaks to that fanatical WWE audience. When they learned about the game, they just jumped on it. We not only saw a massive spike in downloads, but we also saw that user acquisition became a lot easier after that promotion.”
It’s An Open Market
Both Akhavan and Kim agreed that there is a great deal of untapped potential in the WWE market from a mobile gaming perspective.
Akhavan explained how EA dominated the football and soccer spaces with Madden and FIFA, respectively.
“When you look at the WWE on mobile, there isn’t a top-grossing WWE title today,” he said. “There are a couple that are successful, but they’re not really dominating and owning the market. The opportunity that we see is that no one has quite cracked the nut of delivering a mobile game around the WWE IP that has captured fans’ engagement and attention to the level we think is possible.”
Further comparing wrestling with other sports, Akhavan said that the WWE IP has true global appeal while baseball remained very North American-centric.
Sega saw the same opportunities in the pro wrestling space, and for Kim, the WWE’s global appeal circles back to the superstars.
“There’s something about narrative and story and being able to follow along with these superstars at a more personal level,” said Kim. “I think that’s what attracts people more broadly to these kinds of brands.”