The backstage drama in the world of professional wrestling can upstage the theatrics inside the squared circle. AEW’s lack of a release date for its upcoming video game is starting to wear thin on fans.
AEW, short for All Elite Wrestling, is a new wrestling promotion on TNT that was founded in 2019 by Tony Khan, whose father owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, alongside professional wrestlers and executive vice presidents Kenny Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson, and WWE superstar Cody Rhodes. AEW first announced its video game, AEW Fight Forever, in the second year of the promotion’s existence. While fans were excited about the idea, since then, things have gone awry in a couple of ways.
Most recently, the discord appeared in the form of a lack of internal consistency between the people involved in making and promoting the game. AEW president Tony Khan had a press conference following AEW’s pay-per-view recently, to discuss match results and generate buzz about future storylines. During this presser, Khan was asked whether fans should anticipate an announcement about AEW Fight Forever’s official release date.
Tony Khan said that the game was “basically finished” but didn’t provide a release date to the press.
“I can’t say the exact release date. There’s a lot of things that go into that, and I don’t want to step on anybody with that,” Khan said. “It is coming very soon. The game is finished.”
The problem with Khan’s statement arose when the folks actually making the game not only weren’t on the same page, things sounded slightly contentious. THQ Nordic’s senior community manager, Per Hollenbo (known as Zyddie on Twitter), clarified for fans online that Khan’s claim isn’t exactly true. In a reply to a post linking to Khan’s response, Hollenbo said “I mean, if you want an unfinished game, sure, we could release now.” At the end of his response, Hollenbo said any reports that AEW Fight Forever is 100% done is “just another rumour on Twitter.”
In a Twitter thread response to followers, Hollenbo explained that he doesn’t think that Khan “lied in any shape or form” about AEW Fight Forever’s development status but that there was a clear difference in how the AEW president and THQ Nordic view a game being finished. This is the latest in a longer series of dramatics with the game, which includes cover art that had to pull its depiction of wrestler CM Punk following his backstage fight with Omega and the Jacksons and the game’s lack of a release date.
What does it mean for a game to be finished?
Speaking with Kotaku via email, Hollenbo explained that a game being finished goes further than being playable at video game events like Gamescom 2022 or IGN Fan Fest 2023.
“For a publishing house, a game is not finished until we have a shipping date and a release date 100% in stone. Development is just one part of the bigger picture,” Hollenbo said.
Outside of playing great in test matches, Hollenbo said AEW: Fight Forever needs to:
- Pass quality assurance tests
- Get localized in seven languages (for AEW Fight Forever, those languages would include: English, German, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, and Japanese)
- Get “polished”
- Have retailer and shipping deals
- Get submitted to first-party platforms (i.e. PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch) and have all the unique requirements for said devices
- Get optimized on every platform
- Have marketing and public relation plans
- Get an ERSB rating
“Now if just ONE of these things isn’t finished then the game in a publisher’s eye is not ready to be shipped as then the product is not as wanted,” Hollenbo said.
Hollenbo went on to explain that AEW Fight Forever is being developed by “three houses,” as in the companies developing the game. Those companies are Yukes, the Japanese studio behind WWE Smackdown! and the WWE 2K games, THQ Nordic, and AEW.
Because AEW Fight Forever has three houses developing it, Hollenbo said “all must agree and be happy with the result of every step.”
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Last June, AEW wrestler Kenny Omega claimed AEW Fight Forever’s original release was held up after some content was “scaled back” to get a Teen ESRB rating, according to Fightful Select. Previously, Fightful Select reported that the game was on schedule to release in 2022 and was later rumored to release in February 2023.
When Kotaku reached out to THQ Nordic for comment about how far along AEW Fight Forever is in its development process, THQ Nordic’s PR team responded by saying, “AEW: Fight Forever will be released when it’s done.”
AEW Fight Forever’s new cover art
Although the AEW Fight Forever sausage has been cooking longer than fans might have hoped, AEW hasn’t slowed down when it comes to generating hype for the game with early gameplay footage on its YouTube channel, AEW Games.
AEW Fight Forever was first announced in November 2020. Since its announcement, AEW has intermittently released early footage of the game and created a series of spoof press conference videos about the game, parodying video game presentations like E3. Despite AEW Dynamite’s commentary team repeatedly plugging preorders for the game on fans’ “favorite consoles,” the only definitive news fans have gotten on the game is AEW Fight Forever isn’t a release date, but the game’s new cover art.
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Originally, AEW Fight Forever’s cover art prominently featured returning wrestler CM Punk as the centerpiece of the game’s advertising campaign. However, following CM Punk and fellow wrestlers, Matt Jackson, Nick Jackson, and Omega’s backstage brawl and CM Punk’s subsequent suspension, the game’s cover art no longer features him on the cover. Instead, Maxwell Jacob Friedman, AEW’s current world champion, is featured as the centerpiece of AEW Fight Forever’s cover. CM Punk is rumored to be open to returning to the wrestling promotion, according to WrestleTalk.
Time will tell whether this wrestling rumor leads to the return of CM Punk before AEW gives its video game a concrete release date.
Correction 4/12/2023 6:25 p.m. ET: Clarified owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.