Expanding the WWE Universe: A Deep Dive into Interactive Media and Gaming

“Because of the way we capture excitement and entertainment through live action and dynamic storytelling, interactive media has always been part of what we do,” Executive Vice President of Consumer Products Casey Collins says. “As social media and ubiquitous mobile access have proliferated, we’ve been able to leverage these platforms to create an even more immersive level of engagement with our fans.”

More than 480 million people follow WWE across multiple social media platforms and its shows are typically No. 1-trending topics across Twitter while they’re on air. WWE programming encourages social media interaction, with hashtags appearing in the corner of the screen and select Tweets being shown on air. Every Superstar, Diva and many of the company’s Legends also maintain individual social media accounts to engage with fans.

The company’s app, which has been installed more than 18 million times, also offers direct engagement opportunities, including a second-screen experience with exclusive content airing during commercial breaks.

A New Approach

WWE last year began to greatly expand its digital offerings. In addition to the February 2014 launch of the WWE Network – which is available for just $9.99 a month – the company also turned its attention to the world of mobile gaming.

“WWE has been in the interactive licensing space for a long time, with our first video game released in 1989 on the [Nintendo Entertainment System],” Collins says. “With that said, the interactive licensing team and our products have continually evolved along with the changing marketplace.”

Within the past year, the company “rebooted” its overall gaming strategy, which typically included just one annual wrestling simulation game. For the past two years, that game has been developed and produced by 2K Games, which assumed the license after previous licensee THQ filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

“Our research was telling us that we have a very diverse fanbase that engages with our brand, and a high percentage of those fans identified as gamers,” says Ed Kiang, WWE’s vice president of interactive media licensing. “However, we only really had one game targeting that audience.”

WWE’s fanbase is intergenerational, connecting with young kids – who have made it the No. 3 best-selling action figure brand in the country – as well as teens, young adults, parents and grandparents. Mattel, the company’s toy licensee, helped spur WWE in the direction of mobile gaming by pointing out the popularity of games among the youngest audience members in particular, Kiang says.

The company began expanding its gaming platforms last summer with the launch of WWE SuperCard, a free-to-download battle trading card game app published by 2K and developed by Cat Daddy.  Players collect and duel with cards featuring WWE performers past and present, from Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to John Cena and Daniel Bryan. Cards can be earned through gameplay as well as purchased.

At the beginning of 2015, WWE launched a second mobile game offering a completely different experience. WWE Immortals places Superstars, Divas and Legends in a supernatural fantasy world, giving them different abilities and looks while preserving many of their familiar characteristics and signature moves. The fighting game was developed by NetherRealm Studios, the creators of the best-selling “Mortal Kombat” franchise and “Injustice: Gods Among Us” in conjunction with Phosphor Game Studios. Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment is the game’s publisher.

“Our goal was to expand beyond just simulation games by exploring new and different gameplay mechanics while still capturing the essence of our brand through a combination of action, characters and storylines,” Collins says.

Supercard and Immortals are regularly updated with new features, many of which reflect and coincide with WWE on-air programming. This includes a release of rare collectible cards in Supercard in March, when the company held its annual signature event, Wrestlemania.

Immortals features an “Events” system that offers unique rewards during multiplayer tournaments themed after monthly PPVs. Daily challenges during in-game events are also tied to on-screen stories. “Because we have a regular cadence of PPV events and live programming, we’re able to do some innovative things,” Kiang notes. “Being able to tie the games together with what’s on TV is very exciting for us.”

Rave Reviews

Both games have proven immensely popular since their launch. Supercard has more than 8 million downloads in the iTunes and Google Play app stores, and Immortals has 9.5 million downloads, the company reports.

The games reach beyond WWE’s core viewing audience to include other gaming enthusiasts and lapsed fans. “We were thrilled to see some of the product reviews come in where players would tell that they had not previously been fans, but the quality of our games brought them in and the characters and integration with our TV programming has made them new fans,” Collins says.

Immortals in particular is proving to be so successful that the company is pursuing a sub-brand based on the concept. “The great thing about WWE Immortals is that it’s easy to connect with for our existing fans, but it also expands on our universe of characters and environments in new and fantastical ways,” he adds. “This new creative direction not only breathes new life into our existing product categories, but also lets us explore new licensing opportunities where the live-action aspect of our brand might not have been a good fit.”

While action figures and apparel based on the Immortals concept are likely a safe bet for merchandising, the company is seeing interest across other categories as well. “We always knew there’d be some interest, but we were blown away with the level of interest from other licensees who want to work with WWE Immortals assets within their own licensed product categories,” Collins says.

Although Collins says he can’t yet share specifics about plans for the sub-brand, he does say the company will “take a similar approach as our overall interactive strategy and not over-license the sub-brand.

“We want to take a more measured and premium approach to licensing opportunities like WWE Immortals,” he adds.

‘Room to Grow’

WWE added to its gaming portfolio in April with the launch of a mobile version of the popular WWE 2K game. The game, available for $7.99, scales the gameplay and several of the features of the 2K simulation franchise to the mobile environment, including a playable roster of superstars, different match types, multiplayer matches and a career mode.

New game launches are planned before the end of the year as well as in the coming years. Licensees are being sought to develop and market games in the puzzle, toys-to-life and resource management genres specifically, as those are popular genres among WWE’s fanbase.

“We think there’s still a lot of room to grow in the interactive gaming space, and we’re very excited about some of the products and features we have in the pipeline,” Collins says.