Midway Gets in the Wrestling Ring

Posted by jgaudiosi :: Company News-M&A | Sports & Video Games

Tna The world of professional wrestling is beginning to heat up again. A number of recent chages on TV has allowed Midway Games to enter the pro wrestling ring with the videogame license for TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling. Midway will ship its first TNA Wrestling games for current generation consoles in 2007. That gives TNA plenty of time to grow its audience. Wrestling fans already know some of the top talent at TNA, because wrestlers like Raven, Jeff Hardy and Kevin Nash are all former WWE wrestlers.

Spike TV, which previously aired WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) "RAW" live every Monday night, struck a deal with TNA Entertainment to broadcast weekly TNA programming, "TNA Impact," on Saturday nights at 11 pm with reruns on Monday night at midnight. With the later timeslots, TNA will likely be able to get away with more sexual inuendo and violence than WWE, which should help it grow an audience. WWE moved "RAW" to USA and "Smackdown!" remains on UPN, although it now airs on Friday night instead of Thursday.

In the game world, THQ has been able to make the most of its exclusive licensed (along with partner JAKKS Pacific) for WWE videogames. The publisher releases WWE games across all console and portable game systems, as well as on mobile phones through THQ Wireless. Rather than porting games across platforms, THQ has had success with providing exclusive WWE game brands for each system. "WWE Smackdown! vs. RAW 2006" ships this week for PlayStation 2. And a port of this game will be available for PSP in December. GameCube has the exclusive WWE Day of Reckoning franchise. And Xbox will have the "Wrestlemania" franchise (which was previously a GameCube exclusive). With next generation consoles launching, THQ is expected to take the ring action to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Revolution next year.

The ongoing litigation between WWE and JAKKS Pacific, which revoles around alleged illicit behavoir of ex-executives in getting the videogame license, has had no impact on the release of games or in the WWE's cross-promotions. WWE superstars and divas routinely talk to videogame press about their involvement in the games. The newest games feature both motion-capture and dialogue from the WWE talent. Many of the WWE personalities are big gamers. So much so that Vince McMahon, president of WWE, recently banned games from backstage during programming and live events.

One cross-promotion that has really grown over the past few years is the THQ Superstar Challenge, which has been held at the past three Wrestlemania events. This contest features 16 superstars and divas battling it out in a tiered tournament on the latest THQ WWE videogame in front of a live audience. The last competition, held in Los Angeles' House of Blues, was used as a charity fundraiser.

Like real sports franchises, sports entertainment videogames offer wrestling fans the chance to buy new incarnations of their favorite pasttime every year. With all of the changes that occur in pro wrestling as new talent comes and goes, fans buy new versions annually to get the best graphics, updated rosters and new online gameplay features. This has allowed THQ to sell millions of WWE games over the years. And Midway, which has a long history of sports games, can follow a similar model with TNA. These days, the games can help grow a sport. Just look at the deal that Arena Football League cut with Electronic Arts to make games based on the indoor football league.

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