AEW Fight Forever is almost here, and to celebrate, I sat down with Day 0 employee Nik Sobic. He is the Senior VP of Business Development, Partnership, and AEW Games. As someone who has been playing wrestling video games since the NES, I’ve seen pretty much everything by this point. However, AEW Fight Forever brings a change of pace to modern wrestling games, and that’s a good thing.
When I spoke to Nik Sobic, we discussed the decision to avoid the ultra-realistic games. We also talked about how cool the Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match will be, and of course, Kenny Omega and Owen Hart.
Nik Sobic talks AEW Fight Forever
Q. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Would you mind introducing yourself to our audience and your role in AEW Fight Forever?
Nik: Nik Sobic, Sr. VP of Business Development, Partnership, and AEW Games. I was the first employee of AEW, and I've been here since day zero. AEW has been imagining this game since we started our company. AEW: Fight Forever and AEW Games are a pillar of this company, and we hope to be able to make great games for a very long time. I oversee all gaming-related activities and have been involved in this project from the initial concept through today.
Q. It's well known that Kenny Omega has been deeply involved in the creation of AEW Fight Forever. What has that experience been like?
Nik: Part of Kenny's wishes from joining AEW from Day 1 has been being a part of this game. Kenny is a huge part of this game. His fingerprints are all over this thing. I would consider Kenny the thought leader on AEW: Fight Forever from start to finish. It's rare you meet someone who is a generational talent both inside the ring and outside. If Kenny weren't a professional wrestler full-time, he'd make a nice living as a game developer.
Q. Did Kenny, or any other AEW members, offer input that maybe your team wouldn't have caught for designing the game?
Nik: It helped to have Kenny's big wrestling brain on this project from start to finish. Without Kenny, I don't believe we would have been able to achieve the authentic feel this game has. Kenny has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wrestling and the fighting game genre – if you had to build someone in a lab that was perfect to steer the ship on this project creatively, that person would be Kenny.
Q. What sort of research went into getting the look and feel of AEW’s product right for this game?
Nik: AEW's founder, Tony Khan, is a data-centric thinker. Our research showed a gap in the market for a game that captures the imagination of a wrestling audience but goes beyond that. Something that is less of a hardcore simulator and more ‘pure fun’ from start to finish.
The beautiful thing about video games is that they can mimic reality but take things a step further. Our characters are meant to reflect the gameplay style – a little larger than life. The moves in the game mimic reality, but the characters in the game jump a little higher and hit a little harder.
Q. Speaking of looks, the decision to go with a retro arcade look was an interesting one. Was there ever any talk of another art style, or was the more over-the-top style always the decision?
Nik: I think of it as a retro arcade with a modern refresh. Like I mentioned early, the character art style in the game is meant to reflect the gameplay style – a slightly exaggerated sense of reality. There’s this ‘arms race’ in gaming for ultra-realism. I play some of those games.
I love some of those games. But if the focus of a game is being hyper-realistic, sometimes, people can miss the point. The point is to have fun. The point is wanting to play this game A LOT. I think every decision we made was rooted in ‘fun factor’ all the way down to the character art.
Q. One of the difficulties of creating a professional wrestling game is by the time the game comes out, so many things have already changed in the real world’s storylines. Has there been any talk of releasing updates to bring the game more in line with the current roster/factions?
Nik: Our focus, where possible, has been on creating evergreen content. If someone is playing this game five years from now, is it still going to be fun and relevant? For example, the story mode in this game features somewhat of an origin story of how AEW began.
That storyline will always be relevant. The beauty of creating video games today is downloadable content – factions can change, but so can we! A simple DLC patch can refresh the game to reflect new allegiances and factions.
Q. One of my favorite things about AEW: Fight Forever is that my favorite wrestler of all time, Owen Hart, will be featured in the game. Did your team work with any of his family or wrestlers that knew him to help create his moveset?
Nik: The opportunity to work with Dr. Martha Hart and the Owen Hart foundation is truly one of the greatest privileges of working on this game and working at AEW. Dr. Martha Hart and Owen’s legacy are part of the AEW family and culture. Dr. Hart has been involved in not only the video game but in all Owen-related AEW ventures.
Furthermore, it helps that everyone on the AEW roster, including Kenny Omega, are huge fans of Owen – it was really fun to watch Kenny and the team when it came to Owen’s character – the ability to create and develop move sets for an icon and someone influential in their own lives was a special part of this project.
Q. On the topic of characters, are there any wrestlers that aren’t featured in the game, that aren’t signed by AEW, that your team wanted to include?
Nik: All wrestlers will be revealed leading up to the launch! It’s been a fun part of the marketing cycle of this game – the ability to release wrestlers over time as opposed to all at once. They all deserve their own spotlight because they are so different, and each brings something special to the table.
Q. It’s also been revealed that AEW: Fight Forever will feature custom characters and a story mode. Is this story mode going to feature multiple storyline options or any decision making? Are you able to talk about how long the mode is?
Nik: Wins and losses matter in Story Mode! The path isn’t the same every time you play, and there are decisions to be made along the way. I love that there are multiple branches. Our goal was to make a mode that is not so overwhelming that you’ll want to play multiple times with multiple characters.
Q. One of the more contentious matches in AEW history is confirmed to be in the game – the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. While many fans were let down by the explosion in real life, will the virtual one be more awe-inspiring?
Nik: As you can imagine, in real life, blowing something up indoors is a little risky. Let me just say that it’s a different story in the game. Enough explosions to satisfy even the most seasoned pyromaniac!
Q. What are you excited for people to discover the most in the game?
Nik: I don’t think of this as one game. I think of it as multiple games in one. Multiplayer wrestling, story mode, mini-games, etc. I’m excited for people who love video games to explore all we have to offer. I’m excited for people to try all the modes. I’m excited for the outspoken gaming fan who has been asking for something like this for a long time.
Q. What's the future of AEW: Fight Forever? Will players be able to look forward to more modes or content in the future?
Nik: Short answer, Yes. The longer answer is that it’s somewhat up to the fans of the game. The reason this game exists in the first place is because we are listening, and we aim to surprise and delight our core AEW fans and the gaming community.
If I can leave you with one thing – BUY THE GAME! It’s magical. Play online. Get a group of friends together and get comfortable on the couch. It’s got something for everyone and more. This project has been a labor of love for our team over the last 3.5 years, and we hope to be able to continue to deliver really meaningful experiences for many years to come.