The UFC Video Game Chronicles (Part 1) – Enter the Digital Era

May 16, 2013

The Ultimate Fighting Championship video game franchise made its debut towards the end of what many of its fans now refer to as the “Dark Ages” for Mixed Martial Arts. The successful venture occurred just a few months before current owners, Zuffa LLC, purchased the MMA promotion from the near bankrupt Semaphore Entertainment Group.

UFCDreamcastGame

 

During this time, the struggling MMA promotion was still sporting a black-eye from politicians and mainstream media who labeled it “human cockfighting”.  This was a time before “cage fighting” was fully regulated, sanctioned, or accepted throughout the country. Due to the circumstances, not much was expected from the UFC’s initial foray into the video gaming world.

The self titled release was first made available on a console that many critics and fans now say was ahead of its time, the Sega Dreamcast. The UFC poster-boy and brand ambassador at the time, Tito Ortiz, was a no-brainer as its first cover athlete.   The game was first developed by Anchor Inc. for the Dreamcast and released on August 29, 2000. A follow up release was then developed by Opus for the Sony PlayStation (PSX) on November 13, just a few months later. The game was even ported to the Game Boy Color on November 27, just weeks after the PSX release by Fluid Studios. All three versions were published by Crave Entertainment.

To the surprise of many, the game was well received by fans and critics. Popular video game outlet IGN gave it score of “9.1 – Amazing” and was awarded the “Editors Choice” tag. Metacritic, who takes the scores from all major outlets and computes an average score, scored it an 88 out of 100. The game on it’s own merit proved to be a success, but it did more than just provide good game-play to video game fans.  Due to word-of-mouth and rave reviews, it served as a tool to introduce the UFC and MMA product to an untapped market.  It was the first step the UFC had taken towards trickling into the mainstream, where they could reach young teens and commence the process of converting the non-MMA fan. The video-game playing teen demographic back in the early 2000’s eventually evolved into a sizable portion of what has become key to the UFC’s growth over the years, the elusive male 18-34 demographic.

Much of the success the first UFC video game obtained can be attributed to one key decision… or stroke of  luck, depending on who you ask. SEG made the decision to license their product to Crave Entertainment and selected a relatively small Japanese video game development start-up, Anchor Inc.

 

- The Anchor Inc. Era

Anchor_Inc_Logo

Anchor Inc. is a Japanese video game development & CG animation production studio, founded on October 1996. The small development group, which has employed a staff of anywhere between 25-50 throughout the years, was founded by Masahiro Onoguchi and his brother Kohichi Onoguchi.  Before starting Anchor Inc, Masahiro Onoguchi worked at Namco, one of the most prestigious Japanese game development studios. While at Namco, he worked on classic fighting games such as Tekken and Soul Calibur. After leaving Namco, Onoguchi worked for a small company, DreamFactory, which was founded by some of the people from Namco and Sega.  His strong relationship with the group led to providing animation and support for the Virtua Fighter game series, an original 3-D fighter title released for Sega consoles.

Anchor Inc’s  first release was Fighter’s Destiny for the N64, which was produced in cooperation with Namco.  Their next release would be their first full-fledged in-house release. The title of that game was “Ultimate Fighting Championship” and was set to release on the Sega Dreamcast on August 2000.  Anchor Inc. would go on to release some of the best MMA & WWE games ever developed for that era, though they never made another UFC game after their initial full release.

 

 – THQ Crosses Path With the UFC

pride_fc_fighting_championships_PS2

With the amount of success and popularity the Japanese MMA promotion PRIDE had amounted in recent years, game publisher THQ decided to acquire the PRIDE video game license from Dream Stage Entertainment.  The next step in THQ’s MMA venture was to find a developer to work on the game.  Ironically, because of the success the first UFC title had achieved, THQ reached out to Anchor Inc. to develop their PRIDE game a few months after Ultimate Fighting Championship was released. As you can imagine, Anchor Inc was more than thrilled to take on the 2-year project, which involved creating the PRIDE video game engine from scratch.

“Yes. With UFC for the Dreamcast, Anchor was given more attention outside of Japan. When we got the Pride project, we were excited because Pride is very well known in Japan. We got the feeling that we’d be recognized as the Pride developers. UFC was a popular overseas event at the time of our developing the game, so we didn’t really know about the fighters or the skills. But Pride is held in Japan, so we know the fighters, events, etc. We’re more attached to Pride than we were to UFC.”

When “PRIDE FC: Fighting Championships” was ready to release, it had much hype from gaming and MMA enthusiasts. The game walked away with IGN’s PS2 simulation and fighting game award of E3 in 2002 and only created more hype to the much anticipated Anchor Inc follow-up. After it was released in February 2003, the game got many positive reviews but the lack of a few game-play options drew some minor critiques. IGN gave it a score of “8.0 – Great” while Metacritic scored it a 77 out of 100. In the end, the game became a classic, just like the previous Anchor Inc release.

 

 – The Crave Entertainment Era

Crave Entertainment will forever be known as the first video game publisher to release a UFC game, but it released many games for multiple consoles for over a decade. Crave was founded in 1997 by Nima Taghavi and was based out of Newport Beach, California. After the successful release of “Ultimate Fighting Championship”, Crave quickly began to work on a sequel.  Since Anchor Inc was busy working on their PRIDE FC video game, Crave partnered with another Japanese developer, DreamFactory, for the release of “UFC Tapout”. Interestingly enough, DreamFactory was the company Onoguchi worked for before founding Anchor Inc after leaving Namco.

UFC Tapout was released for the XBOX on February 2002. The game received some high scores though there were some mixed reviews from the critics. GameSpot gave Tapout a score of “8.3 – Great”, though Metacritic computed a score of 77 out of 100, which was a similar score the PRIDE FC game received one year later. The game eventually became the official Xbox Magazine 2002 Editors Choice Award winner. Though the game had some flaws from the original Dreamcast title, the release by DreamFactory was another success for Crave.

The next step for Crave was to release a PS2 version of the game, which they titled “UFC Throwdown”. This time around, Crave teamed up with Genki, Capcom Production Studio 3 for the release.  The reviews were not as pleasant as previous releases and Metacritic computed a score of 68 out of 100 for the game.

After the PS2 release, Crave focused on the Tapout sequel for the XBOX.

“Tapout 2 will feature a completely overhauled core game engine. ‘With the changes in the engine, an enhanced AI, upgraded career mode, and new fighting moves, we’re practically putting the gamer right in the middle of The Octagon,’ said Rob Sandberg, senior producer at Crave Entertainment. ‘Tapout 2 will look and play noticeably different from any previous version, and I think fighting game fans will be very impressed.”

By the time “Tapout 2″ was released for the XBOX on March 2003, Crave Entertainment had lost the UFC video game license.  The game ended up being published by TDK Mediactive, though it was still developed by DreamFactory. Metacritic computed a score of 66 out of 100, continuing it’s ratings slide from the first two games it had released.

Crave continued to release games for multiple gaming consoles after the partnership with the UFC ended. It was eventually acquired by Handleman Corporation in 2005 for $95M. Four years later in 2009, it was sold to Fillpoint for only $8.1M due to Handleman’s bankruptcy proceedings. As has become the fate for many video game companies that went through the recession, Crave Entertainment eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

 

- The Post Anchor Inc Era

After Tapout 2 was released by TDK Mediactive for the XBOX in 2003, TDK did not retain the UFC video game license.  This time around, UFC partnered with video game publisher Global Star and previously used development group “Opus” for the PS2 follow-up to “Throwdown”.  The game once again received mixed reviews and  Metacritic computed it’s lowest score to date, 54 out of 100 for a UFC game.  As it turns out, this would end up being the last video game release for the UFC before going on a 6 year hiatus.

Many fans and critics pin-point losing Anchor Inc. studios to THQ and the PRIDE FC game as the culprits for the downward slide of the UFC video game franchise.  As it turns out, not only was PRIDE stealing some of the UFC’s best fighters at the time, it also took an essential component of what made the UFC’s first release such a big hit, the small video game development group Anchor Inc.

Anchor Inc’s Onoguchi said the following about the UFC games that were developed after their departure:

“Not fun at all. I want to be honest. First, I don’t like the gameplay at all. And it seems that they put in more modes and features to cover up the lack of gameplay.”

Video game critics shared a similar view:

“Overall, UFC: Tapout 2 has some strengths, but they’re the same strengths that the previous Tapout game had. The game doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, and the game’s AI flaws make it a very dull single-player experience. Even devout fans of the sport would be better off with the previous Tapout game, or, if they own a PlayStation 2, THQ’s Pride FC.”

The next UFC game would not be released until 2009, by none other than THQ… which we will continue in part 2 of this series.

 

Tapout (XBOX – 2002)

UFC_Tapout_XBOX

 

Throwdown (PS2, GC – 2002)

UFC_Throwdown_PS2

 

Tapout 2 (XBOX – 2003)

ufc_tapout_2_Xbox

 

Sudden Impact (PS2 – 2003)

UFC_Sudden_Impact_PS2

NOTE 1: Throwdown, Tapout 2, and Sudden Impact cover art features the late UFC Hall of Famer Charles Lewis, Jr., aka “The Mask” from the “TapouT” clothing brand. He is also also an unlockable fighter along with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta.

NOTE 2: Before there was Ronda Rousey or even Gina Carano, there was Erica Montoya.  The UFC was so close to featuring Montoya as the first female fighter in the UFC, that she was put into the UFC Sudden Impact video game as a fighter, which released in 2003. In fact, the UFC was strongly considering a bout between Erica Montoya and Shelby Walker for UFC 51 in 2005, but the match never materialized.

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Bellator 71 live on Gametrailers.com to promote “MMA Onslaught”

June 21, 2012

The Bellator Summer Series begins tomorrow and it will be streamed live without commercial interruption on video game web site Gametrailers.com to promote the new Bellator video game “MMA Onslaught.”

Via Bellator press release:

“We are taking this opportunity to dedicate an entire event to showcase our new video game, ‘MMA Onslaught’ and will substitute commercial inventory with a really cool first-look at the game,” said Bjorn Rebney, Bellator Chairman & CEO. “We are confident both fight fans and gamers will enjoy our first foray into the gaming world.”

Bellator will also be streaming the fight card on Ustream, Spike.com, and Bellator.com, along with various other MMA and video game websites to be announced later this week.

Payout Perspective:

The Gametrailers.com web site kicked me off as of Thursday night so hopefully this will be rectified so that this promotion will work for tomorrow.  The promotion makes sense considering Bellator is releasing the game this summer and it’s kicking off the summer season.  The video game will be a test balloon for Bellator to see what the market is like for the game and we may see a full blown game in the future.

Bellator video game coming Summer 2012

March 9, 2012

Bellator will launch its own video game this summer entitled, “Bellator: MMA Onslaught.” The video game developed by Kung Fu Factory and published by 345 Games in conjunction with Spike TV will be available for download on the XBox and Playstation platforms.

Via press release:

In “Bellator: MMA Onslaught” gamers can customize their own fighter’s look and fighting style to battle the way they want, whether it be Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing or other styles.  The game also shares tips directly from Bellator fighters through exclusive video content as players continue to level-up and gain experience points, allowing them to learn MMA skills in a fun and engaging way.  For bragging rights, players who gain the most wins and XP will top the “Onslaught Leader Boards” online and can have  the opportunity to be recognized in upcoming Bellator fights live on-air during broadcast episodes.

345 Games collaborated with Bellator Championships to create “Bellator: MMA Onslaught,” ensuring the arcade style gaming experience mirrors the organization’s format, styles,  graphics, and music.  As the single-elimination MMA championships league continues to grow, 345 Games will support and update the game with new moves and styles, weight classes, fighter selections and additional content.

Payout Perspective:

The video game is more of a PR/marketing tool to get the Bellator name and brand out there. The downloaded video game presents minimal risk versus a full-blown video game which would have to include much more expense. The anticipated price for the game will be $10-$15 and a demo will likely be available for free.  I think its a good move to see the market and interest for the game as well as expose more of an audience to Bellator.

Rampage enters phone app market

February 4, 2012

Rampage Jackson has signed a three app deal to develop mobile games. His deal with Fountain Valley, California’s MEDL Mobile includes an executive position with the company.

Via MEDL press release:

Jackson, an active gaming enthusiast, has been appointed to the role of Creative Game Development Executive at MEDL and will work closely with its team of creative executives and programmers to develop three games based on his ideas. The first app is slated for launch in Spring 2012.

The three-app deal signifies a continuing trend of celebrities who are marketing their own mobile apps to connect with their fans and extend their brands into the fast-growing mobile apps market. Jackson is known for being exceptionally engaged with his fans, which is partly why his role in creating the apps will be much more in-depth and hands-on than what is typical of a celebrity-branded app. While the apps will bear Jackson’s name, they will not necessarily reflect his UFC or acting endeavors; rather, they will be based on his original ideas as a gamer.

“Rampage is a long-time avid gamer with great ideas that he’s been interested in developing for some time,” said Todd Jacobs of William Morris Endeavor. “This isn’t a case of a celebrity stamping his or her name or brand on a trendy product, but of a serious creative talent who is looking to chart new territory for himself and for his fans who share his passion for gaming.”

“With Rampage’s acting career taking off and his UFC achievements well established, now is a perfect time for him to expand into mobile and connect with his fans in a new way,” said Dave Swartz, MEDL Mobile co-founder and chief creative officer. “In his case, it’s going to not only provide another avenue for his brand, but an opportunity for him to validate yet another one of his talents – creative development.”

Payout Perspective:

Its nice to see UFC fighters expanding their business ventures and the phone app market seems to be a growing industry. We’ve seen from the UFC Countdown shows that Rampage is an avid gamer. We’ll have to wait and see what Rampage develops and at what price point. His name alone should be able to garner his fans to get the app.

UFC coming to XBox Dec. 20th

December 1, 2011

The UFC is coming to XBox Live on December 20th. XBox announced via twitter the start date in which fans can purchase UFC PPVs on the XBox platform.

It was announced last summer at E3 by Dana White that UFC PPVs would be on XBox. Earlier this fall, it was announced that the UFC would be available on December 1st with the first live event available being UFC 140 on December 10th. It now looks like the first PPV available on the platform would be UFC 141 on December 30th.

Payout Perspective:

We will continue to follow this story and see if there was any reason behind what appears to be a delay in rolling out the UFC on XBox. The video above was posted by XBox on November 30th. Its a good promo featuring White and various UFC stars. It looks like the UFC on XBox will also include a social media component which will allow users to post things onto their Facebook pages. As we’ve stated before, the UFC-Microsoft relationship is a good thing. We will see how many people jump on their XBox to order UFC PPVs. With PPV buys down overall, it will be interesting to see what affect the UFC’s partnership with XBox does.

Lauzon signs sponsorship deal with Gamma Labs

November 3, 2011

UFC Lightweight Joe Lauzon has signed a sponsorship deal with Gamma Labs. Coming off of winning one of the UFC’s first twitter bonuses, the supplement company is looking to capitalize on Lauzon’s rising popularity and social media saviness.

The sponsorship deal will go beyond the normal fight short placement and focus on viral videos, social media and Lauzon’s interest of video games. According to Lauzon’s manager, Oren Hodak, Gamma Labs will do some cross promotional gaming spots with Punch Drunk Gamer, another one of Lauzon’s sponsors.

Via Gamma Labs press release:

This partnership will utilize Lauzon’s rapidly growing fan-base through new media platforms and will support Gamma Labs’ new Pre-Training Formula through special appearances, making an immediate impact with new consumers.

“Working with an athlete like Joe who is very active on social media brings incredible value to a sponsor. As a top ranked fighter and video game competitor Joe is a perfect fit for Gamma Labs,” said Lauzon’s manager Oren Hodak of Knock Out Representation. Hodak continues saying, “Joe’s been using Gamma Labs’ products for several months and is benefiting from the increased focus and energy that he gets from PTF.” A number of unique viral videos, social media and online gaming contests will feature Joe in 2012.

Lauzon boasts a twitter following that just surpassed 44,000 followers.

Payout Perspective:

This is a win-win for fighter and sponsor. The deal includes Lauzon’s interest of being a gamer which helps his personal brand. It also goes beyond the normal one-off sponsorship on fight nights. We’ve seen a rise of more fighters and sponsors engaging in promotions outside of the octagon which is key for the growth of the athlete-sponsor dynamic in MMA. While it may not be the lucrative endorsement contracts of other sports such as the NFL or major league baseball, its a start. We’ll see how many more of this will happen as the UFC-Fox partnership evolves.

Lesnar character appears in new WWE video game

October 12, 2011

TMZ broke the news that Brock Lesnar would be a character in the new WWE video game, WWE ‘12. Dana White told TMZ that he was “fine” with Lesnar being in the game.

Lesnar indicated that he would not have agreed to the WWE video game unless gave him the ok. In addition to the news, Lesnar told ESPN in an interview to promote the game that he could see himself back in the WWE for one match.

Brock Lesnar Via ESPN:

I think I will. I think under the right circumstances I will. I think if Vince McMahon and I were able to sit down at the same dinner table and break some bread that we could come up with some kind of game plan. At the end of the day, I’m an ultimate fighter. That’s who I am and that’s who I’ll always be. I was an entertainer but at the end of the day, I’m still as real as it gets. I think a lot of things have to fall in the right places for something like that to happen.

Here is the Brock Lesnar trailer for WWE ‘12. Notably, the video comes courtesy of Paul Heyman.

And here is Dana White being asked about Brock Lesnar in WWE ‘12:

WWE ‘12 will be available November 22nd – just in time for the holidays.

Payout Perspective:

White dismissed any notion of confusion between UFC-WWE by having Lesnar in the WWE video game. He did state that it would be an issue if Lesnar wanted to wrestle while still under UFC contract. This is interesting considering Lesnar’s comments to ESPN. Of course, the Lesnar interview could be part hype for the video game. It could also mean that one day, after his UFC contract expires, Lesnar would go back to the WWE.

For White, granting Lesnar the opportunity to appear in the video game takes nothing away from the UFC business-wise right now. However, Lesnar’s appearance in the WWE video game may mean his departure from the UFC in the not too distant future. Lesnar has been the UFC PPV draw the past three years garnering over 1 million buys each time he fights. Without Lesnar, only Rashad Evans has had PPV success of over 1 million buys since 2008. (source:  MMA Payout Blue Book). With Evans on the shelf again and Lesnar scheduled for a showdown with Alistair Overeem for UFC 141, the UFC might be concerned about its PPV business after 141. Certainly a Lesnar-Overeem matchup will do over 1 million buys. But, if Lesnar decides to leave in 2012, who will step up as the draw that could garner over 1 million PPV buys.

Notwithstanding the 1 million PPV buy threshold, the UFC may be concerned with its PPV business. With the UFC falling back with its scheduled time for PPVs, it hopes that the 2012 PPV business will be much more successful than this year.

Spider on the cover of Undisputed 3

October 10, 2011

Anderson Silva will be on the cover of THQ’s latest UFC game, “Undisputed 3.” The Spider was picked over UFC champs Frankie Edgar, GSP, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez in an internet fan vote.

 

Via Gamepro.

Via Business Wire:

More than 110,000 votes were cast by fans from around the world, with Silva garnering the largest percentage among his fellow competitors.

Payout Perspective:

Silva was unveiled as the cover athlete Saturday night at UFC 136. It may be surprising to some that Silva beat out GSP and Jon Jones. But, Silva is a big draw if you consider that he drew mainstream sponsors (Nike, Burger King, Budweiser) at UFC 134. The timing could not have been better considering Chael Sonnen’s “loser leaves town” post-fight interview which should garner more interest in this possible showdown Super Bowl weekend.

Fans can vote for cover of UFC Undisputed 3

September 1, 2011

UFC Undisputed 3, from video game maker THQ is giving gamers the chance to vote for the fighter they would like to see on the cover. The video game is set to debut January 12th.

The fans can choose from Frankie Edgar, GSP, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez. In addition to voting for their favorite fighter, fans will have the opportunity to win a trip to Las Vegas for UFC 137.

Look here for a promotion video for the game featuring Cain Velasquez.

Payout Perspective:

No Jose Aldo or Dominick Cruz? Unfortunately the snub is another sign that the UFC needs to build up its lighter divisions so that fans will become more familiar with them. With 125ers coming in 2012, it seems like this will be a necessity. Realistically, the UFC needs a major name in one of the major divisions to grace the cover of its new game.

The promotion is a similar to EA’s NCAA Football 2012 where fans voted for their favorite player on Facebook. Its still a good way to infuse interest in the video game and get MMA gamers interested in getting the game.

THQ-Zuffa announce UFC 131 sweepstakes

April 21, 2011

THQ and Zuffa announced a partnership to promote UFC 131: Lesnar vs. Dos Santos using the UFC’s official Facebook game. The grand prize winner will win a trip for two to UFC 131 in Vancouver.

Via THQ press release:

AGOURA HILLS, Calif. – April 20, 2011 – THQ Inc. (NASDAQ: THQI) and Zuffa, LLC today announced a consumer sweepstakes surrounding UFC® 131: LESNAR vs. DOS SANTOS via UFC® Undisputed Fight Nation™, the official Facebook game based on the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship®. Available for download at http://apps.facebook.com/ufcfightnation, players may enter the sweepstakes through an on-screen pop-up display after training moves and competing against others with their virtual UFC fighters to reach Level 5 within the game. One grand prize winner will receive a trip for two to UFC 131, currently scheduled for June 11, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The trip includes two tickets to UFC 131, roundtrip airfare, hotel accommodations and a stipend for meals and/or spending money.  One first prize winner will receive an autographed UFC poster and a $250 UFC gift certificate for use on ufcstore.com, while 10 second-prize winners will receive $50 UFC gift certificates for use on ufcstore.com. 

THQ is sponsoring the UFC Undisputed Fight Nation sweepstakes, which is open to residents of the United States and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and over.  Participants can enter the contest between now and 12:00 p.m. PT on May 6, 2011.  There is no purchase necessary to participate, and the sweepstakes is void where prohibited.  Further information regarding the sweepstakes, including rules and eligibility requirements, may be found at community.ufcundisputed.com.

“The launch of UFC Undisputed Fight Nation earlier this year provided us with an invaluable way to share the virtual UFC experience in a social networking environment,” said Danny Bilson, Executive Vice President, Core Games, THQ.  “Through announcement of the UFC 131 consumer sweepstakes, we look forward to engaging even more players on Facebook as they experience solid training tools, competitive gameplay and tremendous replay value.”

 Payout Perspective:
The collaboration between THQ and the UFC integrates its social media (Facebook), gaming component and the promotion of the upcoming UFC PPV. The partnership mobilizes the THQ brand by promoting consumers to play the UFC Undisputed Fight Nation game online at the UFC Facebook home page. Successful players will promote the game via social networks such as Facebook. For the UFC, its another opportunity for fans to go to its Facebook page and attract more unique visitors.

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