Ken Levine on why games get "overexposed" before release

There's a reason there have been so many touchpoints for BioShock Infinite

AAA games have more marketing support than ever before, but that means early exposure for a lot of games. Irrational's Ken Levine says there was pressure to announce Bioshock Infinite early to try to inform gamers what was different with this entry.

"We probably would have announced it later, but we were worried about it leaking. We had a nice unintentional head fake, everyone thought we were working on this X-Com game, but we weren't. It wasn't what people expected," Levine told the Penny Arcade Report. "Without our presentation, people would have gotten the wrong message about [BioShock Infinite], it would have been confusing."

"I would have announced it significantly later if I wasn't worried about that," Levine added. "We had this external factor."

For some in the hardcore gaming community, it spoils the experience of a game when so many details are shown off and talked about for months and months ahead of a game release. When asked about this issue, Levine said, "We get this a lot. Many people are really hardcore and don't want to know about it. If you step back, and this might not be a popular opinion, but compare how games are marketed versus movies. Look at the Hunger Games, a big movie. And BioShock Infinite, a big game release. Or Call of Duty, look at the extreme examples. How many impressions do you think a Hunger Games gets on the average person versus Call of Duty? How many opportunities are there to tell people about this cool thing?"

While games are getting occasional late night television coverage these days, the amount of publicity is still smaller than a blockbuster movie would have. "We're not covered in the New York Times in a major way, the way a movie would be," noted Levine. "We're not on the cover of Entertainment Weekly."

The issue stems from those immersed in gaming culture not seeing the comparatively limited mainstream reach that traditional gaming sites and game blogs have. "People overestimate how exposed games are, in comparison to other forms of media," Levine said. "There are maybe a million hardcore games, and Call of Duty is going to sell 25 million copies. You either find ways to reach the other [24 million] in ways you can't normally, or repeat the imagery enough that when they go to IGN they might come across it."

Of course, those in the gaming press are in a privileged position that most gamers simply are not; they're exposed to games in demos, at events and then are often given early access to the game itself. Levine believes that giving gamers the choice of receiving more videos and stories is better than starving everyone of information.

"[Games] come to you. [Polygon's Justin McElroy] was a game reviewer. He probably got most of his games for free before," Levine said. "I can understand why he doesn't want to be exposed, the game is going to be on his doorstep."

"We're asking them to spend a lot of money: $60. That's a lot of money. It's our responsibility to give them the information they need to make the purchasing decision," Levine explained. "But at the end of the day, the last person you should listening to about making a buying decision about BioShock Infinite is Ken Levine. I'm biased."

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Latest comments (1)

Terence Gage Freelance writer 10 years ago
As a consumer I don't really like it when games are revealed 18 or 24 months before release, but I appreciate what Ken is saying and how it can be useful from a marketing perspective. I find it a nice surprise when games are revealed and released within the same year - such as Vanquish, for instance, which as I recall was revealed at E3 2010 and released that October - so, what, less than 5 months between the reveal and release? Then you have games like The Last Guardian (which I recall being leaked, but all the same...) which feels like it's in development limbo.

Anyway, I do like Ken Levine and am really looking forward to BioShock Infinite. I just hope it and Dishonored do not come out too close together!
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