The uninspired BioShock Infinite box art, which has gone down like a lead balloon amongst the franchise's fans, is a necessity in order to get the game into the hands of uninformed gamers, Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine has told Wired.
"I understand that some of the fans are disappointed. We expected it. I know that may be hard to hear, but let me explain the thinking," said Levine.
"We went and did a tour... around to a bunch of, like, frathouses and places like that. People who were gamers. Not people who read IGN. And [we] said, so, have you guys heard of BioShock? Not a single one of them had heard of it."
"And we live in this very special... you know, BioShock is a reasonably successful franchise, right? Our gaming world, we sometimes forget, is so important to us, but... there are plenty of products that I buy that I don't spend a lot of time thinking about. My salad dressing. If there's a new salad dressing coming out, I would have no idea. I use salad dressing; I don't read Salad Dressing Weekly. I don't care who makes it, I don't know any of the personalities in the salad dressing business.
"For some people, [games are] like salad dressing. Or movies, or TV shows. It was definitely a reality check for us. Games are big, and they're expensive, I think that's very clear .... they have to be financially successful to keep getting made."
Levine says he looked hard at the cover art for BioShock 1, and stepped away from his personal involvement with it.
"I would think, this is a game about a robot and a little girl," he said. "That's what I would think. I was trying to be honest with myself."
He continued: "Would I buy that game if I had 60 bucks and I bought three games a year... would I even pick up the box? I went back to the box for System Shock 1, which was obviously incredibly important - that game was incredibly influential on me, System Shock 2 was the first game I ever made. I remember I picked it up… looked at it and I said, I have no idea what this game is. And I didn't have a lot of money back then. So, back on the shelf. And I was a gamer."
The goal of the box art for BioShock Infinite is to get an uninformed person to "pick up the box and say, okay, this looks kind of cool, let me turn it over. Oh, a flying city. Look at this girl, Elizabeth on the back. Look at that creature. And start to read about it, start to think about it."
As for the BioShock hardcore fans, Levine says they must understand that this kind of marketing is needed in order for future titles of the same ilk to be made.
"We need to be successful to make these types of games, and I think it's important, and I think the cover is a small price for the hardcore gamer to pay," said Levine. "I think also when we do something for the hardcore gamer, there's something we're talking about and something we're sure about. The thing we're sure about is that we're going to be releasing a whole set of alternate covers that you can download and print. We're going to be working with the community to see what they're interested in."
Levine concluded: "We had to make that trade-off in terms of where we were spending our marketing dollars. By the time you get to the store, or see an ad, the BioShock fan knows about the game. The money we're spending on PR, the conversations with games journalists — that's for the fans. For the people who aren't informed, that's who the box art is for."
BioShock Infinite will be released March 26. For our recent impressions on the game check out Nick Cowen's thoughts.