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Levine: Bioshock box art isn't for fans

Levine: Bioshock box art isn't for fans

Mon 10 Dec 2012 8:53am GMT / 3:53am EST / 12:53am PST
DevelopmentMarketing

Irrational boss explains why Bioshock Infinite art is like salad dressing

Irrational head Ken Levine has responded with brutal honesty to fan complaints that the box art for Bioshock Infinite was too generic, arguing that it's for the uninformed.

“We had to make that trade-off in terms of where we were spending our marketing dollars," he told Wired.

"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.”

He explained that to people who don't follow the games industry through specialist media, choosing a game is a process like choosing any other household item, even one you pour over lettuce.

"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"

"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.”

The box art that has caused all the drama? It's hero Booker DeWitt, with a shotgun, stood in front of a burning flag.

"The sequel to one of the most thought provoking and imaginative games of this generation, and yet we STILL can't get away from grizzled-brown-haired-main-protagonist-holding-weapon-while-looking-somewhere-past-the-viewer box art," grumbled Redditor SKIKS.

Levine recognised that fans might be disappointed, but explained that the move came about after Irrational did some product testing at places like frathouses, and found that few people had heard of Bioshock, despite the series' fame in the gamer world.

“I understand that our fan says, that's great Ken, what's in it for me? One, 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."

He added that Irrational did have plans to help soothe the angry hardcore beast with alternate downloadable covers.

Bioshock Infinite is due for release February 26.

26 Comments

J.K. Studying Game Design Specialization, Austin Community College

7 10 1.4
"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"

This honestly sounds like he doesn't know what an entertainment industry this. That's a really poor analogy to use.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
What about the limited editions? As only a fan would bother with them, is it safe to assume they could have different covers?
That said, I don't think the cover is that bad, and anyone buying it digitally won't have it anyway.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Gareth John Marketing Consultant, Gamoso Ltd

6 10 1.7
I find the honesty or, at least, ostensible honesty of this approach refreshing. Valve have adopted a similar approach to their PR in the past and it's paid dividends with their customer relations.

The minority of fans who are genuinely upset by the perceived lack of artistry in this box art are, ultimately, still purchasers. Levine dealt with this correctly.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
The honesty is great. The reasoning is, pardon me, irrational.

He said their PR money is for the fans while the box art is for the uninformed. Isn't the marketing spend supposed to be what attracts the uninformed? You know, by way of informing them? If you are looking to grab new fans, that box art isn't likely to do it.

And if you want new fans, why is it only on the consoles that have established fans?

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
I'm not sure I agree with that, Andreas. I can't imagine many people that have never heard of Bioshock before buying the game just because the cover has a similar pictographic semblance to other FPS's.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
Salad dressing doesn't cost $60. I'd hope game buyers would be slightly more discerning than simply grabbing a game box because it looks like the same box they bought last time.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
But it may indeed have the opposite effect whereby a few thousand fans of the series may find the intention of the box art being too similar to another game series or generic overall may suspect the game itself has simply become another generic FPS rather then the groundbreaking series it started as.

It's win/lose.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Matt Martin Editor, GamesIndustry.biz

173 113 0.7
Popular Comment
I saw the artwork as a James Dean/Giant type reference. I think it's pretty cool. At least the main dude hasn't got a bald head.

There's no point preaching to the converted with your boxart. Fair play for Levine to tell his players "it's not for you". I'm not sure how entitled you have to be to have a moan about boxart.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Matt Martin on 10th December 2012 4:44pm

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
I personally don't have anything against the box art. I just think the intention behind it is....injudicious

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist,

67 46 0.7
Why can't they make a double-sided cover sleeve? So the fans can turn the sleeve around as they like? If it worked for Black & White 11 years ago, it should work now.

However, there are other entertainment markets that appear even more fragmented. I've always been annoyed how Disney puts out really cheap-looking film covers in the US and UK, while the French covers - particularly the special editions - are much more elaborate and better looking

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Petter Solberg on 10th December 2012 6:00pm

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,196 1,176 0.5
Damn, Peter - you beat me to it. That or a slipcase (expensive though it may be) should appease the dopes who only buy games based on cover art.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Ruud Van De Moosdijk VP of Development, Engine Software

51 58 1.1
Well my first part of this reply is for Joseph or anyone else who thinks the Salad-dressing analogy is a bad one, it is actually a surprisingly good one. You think everyone who buys a game gives a damn who made it? Or that there were other games before it in the same series? Most "normal" gamers I know don't even know the difference between Konami and THQ, let alone the difference between Kojima and Levine. My wife - a very avid gamer who owned every single game console even before we met - had no idea who Shigeru Miyamoto was, she doesn't know Jason Graves (well until I worked with him recently)...but she does know Hans Zimmer. She doesn't know John Romero, or Al Lowe, or Gabe Newell, or Will Wright. She knows Cameron and J.J.Abrams though.

My point being: if you are a hardcore gamer, or a member of the industry, you apparently automatically get the notion that what you care about is what "the general consumer" cares about and it's just not true...its even less true, because for salad dressing I stick to a brand that works for me...but I do not only buy Take 2 games. So simply calling the analogy invalid because Levine doesn't get what the entertainment industry is about, is plainly wrong. The games industry as a coillection of companies and individuals is still very very far away from the same name-recognition the rest of the entertainment industry enjoys (movie directors, actors, composers, singers, bands). Hardcore gamers are incredibly important, but they still don't rank the numbers to make a huge project like Bioshock a commercial success. So yeah, you have to take measures to appeal to the clueless.

That being said, I appreciate the honesty in this response and I hope it doesn't backfire on him...

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

144 94 0.7
Joseph & Jim, how many million CoD buyers have actually read gaming magazines? I think the salad dressing analogy works very well. How many people who go and see The Hobbit have read making ofs, interviews with actors and directors etc.? Both are entertainment brands that are very well established where people could care less how the movie poster looks like.

On the other hand, Bioshock alledgedly sold four million copies, so I really wonder why the brand isn't known "well enough" yet. Personally, I believe because there were no angry gamers complaining bitterly in the forums about this or that feature, Take Two is a bit clueless marketing wise and didn't influence the team that much creatively. However, they probably needed some sort of victory so they intended to have their way with the cover. Frat boys, that's whom you market adult games to these days, it seems.

We have a long way to go still.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roland Austinat on 10th December 2012 9:30pm

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
No once in my comments do you see that I am suggesting that these people research the products in depth prior to purchasing.

What I am suggesting is that for $60, people will look at far more than just the similarity between the box art of a title they don't know and title they do know.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

144 94 0.7
Got it. I believe fans of the series will buy it regardless, and a lot of them on Steam - where a cover isn't really a factor in buying.

Now, a box art for someone who has never heard of the series? I worked in magazines for years and every month there was much disagreement about what should be on the cover and how the texts should be arranged so that sales would go up.

From those discussions I've learned to accept that what's on a cover doesn't have that big of an effect on sales. For example, I found the cover of Dead Space ridiculous with that floating hand. The game sold well and is arguably the best survival horror series out there. ;)

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,287 2,507 1.1
I agree that it matters very, very little. I'm only disagreeing with Levine's insinuation that the box art should imitate other franchises as a means to attract new fans.

I keep seeing these salad dressing analogies and I still don't think that works. Yes, you tend to buy the same one every time but that also means it's a brand you are already familiar with because you've bought it before which is the opposite of what Levine is pointing out. With his attempt to use a similar box cover to attract fans of other franchises, that would be like Wishbone changing their label to look more like Kraft in hopes they gain customers who have never heard of any Wishbone salad dressings before.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,196 1,176 0.5
One would think that a game this carefully crafted (based on what I'm reading from people who've been lucky to play it as a work in progress) would at least have a cover that not only reflects the story it's telling, but finds a way to start the story on the cover itself.

I see that cover and I don't think anything other than "That looks like Ash from the Evil Dead flicks, but it's a Bioshock game, so it should be pretty decent stuff." Eh, whatever - it's done (but they should STILL do a reverse cover just to keep the worst of the naysayers silent)

Posted:2 years ago

#17
Its ok to make a generic cover. It can still also be produced with a distinct stylish edge with narrative

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Fran Mulhern , Recruit3D

863 707 0.8
Reminds me of the tv ads for games that come with the "not gameplay footage" warning.

If it's not gameplay, stop showing it to me. It's like an ad for a car, when what you actually get is a BMX.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Fran Mulhern on 11th December 2012 10:12am

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Vincent De Clercq Level Designer, Larian Studios

5 2 0.4
His logic is quite clear. And of course it's correct. The function of box art is in the first place to stand out when your game is in the shop. That's true. But that's no excuse to make such an ugly box...

To make a comparison with the AC3 box art, which has basicly the same visuals: The protagonist is holding a weapon, and you see an american flag. So why is that box a good example, although it is basicly the same? First of all, the protagonist is performing one of his finishing moves, AC is know for it's combat, so it clearly shows the gamer: see, we have the same style of combat. Second, the American flag makes sense in this scenario too, because the game is set in the American Revolution... you can't speak of the Revolution without the flag, which pretty much symbolises that time period. A period which is also very violent, which is shown in the background. Beautiful cover image, an image that captures the game and setting in one view.

Bioshock: Infinite's cover doesn't say anything about the game. It could be the cover of any other shooter, that takes place in America. And the use of the burning American flag ... Urgh. Really? That's a symbol that only, maybe, works for American gamers. The rest of the world really doesn't care about that. Hell, some people might even enjoy the sight, and I don't think that's the message you want to send. The only way this cover could work, is when Duke Nukem is the protagonist, or when it's a cowboy game, with a lone cowboy in front with a shotgun over his shoulders. Then it might work as an image.

So don't come tell me some PR tale, which most of the time probably sounds good on paper, but doesn't work at all in real life. Just do an effort, and you can capture the essence of the game in a beautiful image with the same kind of PR related messages inside.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Vincent De Clercq on 11th December 2012 3:28pm

Posted:2 years ago

#20
The skyhook thingy would have been more interesting to use

Posted:2 years ago

#21

David Serrano Freelancer

300 273 0.9
"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.”

It should be the other way around. This strategy is very much like Mitt Romney's 47 percent concept and strategy, and we saw how it worked out for him. Except in this case, it's 85 to 90 percent of Irrational's potential audience being dismissed.

The bottom line is the most vocal subsegment of the "hardcore" audience will bitch and complain about everything and anything regardless of what developers do. But at the end of the day, the majority of those players still buy the games. But AAA developers (and the industry as a whole) can't survive, let alone prosper, by continuing to pander to 10 to 15 percent of its potential audience. At some point, all parties concerned must accept that they must shift their time, money and resources away from catering to the hardcore audience and towards appealing to the much larger potential audience. The bad news is the vast majority of the people in that potential audience are adults who have already been exposed to AAA games and rejected them as a primary form of entertainment and as a form of play. "Box art" is not going to change their perception or opinions. So Ken Levine should stop focusing on trying to sell me games, and start focusing on what he needs to do differently to make his games more appealing to my brothers who don't play video or computer games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 11th December 2012 5:30pm

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer

482 293 0.6
I don't think you can moan about the box art but, I find it a little dangerous to tell your loyal fans that it's not for them. I don't know about anyone else but, I then have to start questioning if the game itself is actually for me either or tailored for the uninformed college jock as it were. That would then speak of a dumbed down game (forgive my generalisation of the jock species).

This approach may yet backfire if the game itself turns out to be tailored in any way like the box art. Even if that tailoring is changing the art asset look to match the box.

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com

39 96 2.5
Why would I look at the cover and buy this game over any other game with a similar generic cover? All something like this does is make sure that if some frat boy wanders into Gamestop, there will be as much chance that he will buy this game as there is a chance that he'll buy one of ten others with similar covers. I understand the guy's explanation, and I see his point, but I don't see this cover as being one that's going to get him what he wants.

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Eric Leisy VR Production Designer, Nike

117 127 1.1
im surprised at how "okay" everyone is with this. yay, someone is being honest - shouldn't we always be? and what, the box cover art didn't focus test well at a FRAT HOUSE. Really? i think its lame as all heck that they are going with a more generic box cover for this game. who buys video games solely based on the box cover?

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

144 94 0.7
Returning to this a few days and a few time zone changes later, my biggest beef with the cover is that it is simply boring.

It doesn't make me go "Wow, what a cool shot" or "Whoa, I wonder what this is?".

Instead, I think "Okay, another guy with guns taken from a B-movie poster."

That's my real concern, not the fact that there's no female co-star on it.

Posted:2 years ago

#26

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