GTA devs would've made a wrestling game in 2000, if not for a $1 million problem

ECW Hardcore Revolution
(Image credit: Acclaim/ECW)

Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar nearly made an ECW game in the '90s, and for a specific generation of video game and wrestling fandom, that thought is nearly unbelievable.

If you weren't a wrestling fan in the '90s, Extreme Championship Wrestling was essentially the hardcore, underground alternative to the likes of WCW and WWF (now WWE). Its combination of high-speed wrestling, extreme violence, and a difficult-to-consider-in-2022 amount of lowbrow sexual content made it a hit with passionate set of fans, but poor management led to the company falling apart in 2001.

But ECW was successful enough to draw enough interest for video game adaptations, the first of which was Acclaim's ECW Hardcore Revolution in 2000. It turns out, however, that Acclaim wasn't the only company pursuing the license - an ardent ECW fan at Rockstar (then known as DMA Design) was pushing to pick up the rights, too.

Wrestler Tommy Dreamer ran down some of the details in a recent interview with YouTube channel Hard4Games (via VGC). "There was a fan, who worked for this company, and they were like ‘man, we want this ECW game to be our number two behind this other game, and it’s revolutionary, it’s a perfect fit for ECW. They all came to an ECW Arena show and this one guy was such a big fan, and all this stuff was supposed to happen. They go, ‘we just need our one game to hit, and if that game hits you will be our next game.'"

As Dreamer explained, that hit game was Grand Theft Auto, and that studio was Rockstar. It's unclear exactly which GTA game is referred to here - the first two GTAs likely would've been out by this time, but GTA3, which really built the series' reputation, would've been years away. Whenever these talks were taking place, it was Rockstar's Kevin Gill that was leading the charge.

As VGC notes, Gill - who since moved from games into the wrestling business - actually spoke about this proposed deal in a different interview earlier this year. Gill says that the deal between ECW and Rockstar was essentially done before the higher-ups pushed back.

"Video games take so many years to develop, and cost so much to develop" Gill explained, discussing a conversation he had with Ryan Brant, founder of Rockstar parent company Take-Two. "It was put to me like, ‘do you think ECW will be around in two-and-a-half or three years when we put this game out?'"

That deal would've seen Rockstar give ECW a $1 million advance, according to Gill - when the studio returned the signed contract and a check to the wrestling promotion, it would've been finalized. Brant asked if Gill was willing to gamble a million dollars on ECW's longevity.

"I'm like 'if it was my only million dollars'?" Gill jokes. "Let's be honest, if you're on a pool of 50 million dollars, it's a good million dollar bet. If it's the only million dollars… He's just like 'if it's your only million dollars right now, would you bet everything you have that ECW will be here in 18 to 36 months when this game comes out?' And I was like 'it breaks my heart to say it, but I can't.'" So Gill was told to tear up the contract, and our dreams of Rockstar's ECW game were fated to never come true.

There are still plenty of ways to pretend to beat people up in the best fighting games.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.