Irrational Games' creative director Ken Levine has urged developers seeking to expand the audience for their products to tackle the mainstream media head-on.
Levine was a guest on the Gamers With Jobs podcast ahead of the public premiere of Bioshock Infinite's E3 demo on Spike TV, and recounted his experiences conducting market research for the new project.
"We had a room full of college students, in some fraternity in some state school somewhere – this is about a year ago – and they had never heard of Bioshock. None of them. Not a single one," he said.
"I think as an alpha gamer you assume that, 'whether you've played Bioshock or not, you've heard of it, right?' These guys had never even heard of it."
Levine referred to a widely held belief in marketing that a consumer needs to be exposed to a piece of advertising three times before they really absorb it, and believes that the games industry needs to achieve that kind of public presence.
"I mean, how many times have you seen images of Transformers?" he asked. "Whether you want to or not you've probably seen it 15 or 20 times... We're making products that cost however many millions of dollars and have the potential to have a large audience, but... to get people who aren't alpha gamers there's a whole different kind of activity that you have to undertake."
Levine acknowledged that even TV-advertising and bus-advertising have only been commonplace in the marketing of videogames "for a few years", but asserted the importance of getting videogames in front of new people in a more direct way.
"That isn't just about buying ads. It's the places you can reach [new people]... We need to be on mainstream shows, we need to be on NPR, we need to be on The Daily Show, we need to be in those places talking about what we do."
"We're still ghettoized as game developers, and Spike TV is a great place in the middle, but we really need to think about how do we reach out and talk to people so you don't have a room full of college kids saying, 'I've never heard of that damn thing.'"
The Daily Show, Levine points out, will have an author whose book has sold 15,000 copies as a guest, but won't necessarily consider booking game developers like Bioware's Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk.
"You can't find a more impressive set of guys than Ray and Greg from Bioware - they're medical doctors, they're MBAs, they run this company, they're brilliant game developers, but I haven't seen them on The Daily Show."
The question, then, is why not, and Levine rejects the common assumption that the mainstream isn't interested in games.
"It's not their fault. It's our fault. As an industry we need to think of ourselves differently. We need to think of ourselves that way and present ourselves that way... We have a responsibility. People like me, like Cliff [Bleszinski], like Ray and Greg, have a responsibility to educate people who don't think of games. Like the people booking those shows."
"A lot of it is getting the guys that book those shows past their own lack of knowledge and their own discomfort about games. There's no material reason why a Tim Schaffer isn't going to be as good a guest as some guy who wrote a book that sells 15,000 copies. But there's a natural discomfort that the bookers must have, and part of our job is to get in front of those people and say, 'Hey, we're out here, we're doing cool stuff, and we want to speak to a broader audience as well.'"