2K and Irrational Games recently unveiled the cover art for the hotly anticipated Bioshock Infinite to a lukewarm response, with a great many fans labelling it as being too generic for a game with its ambitious, inventive nature. Even we had our reservations, but didn’t go on to make it a bigger deal than it really was; a lot of great games have pretty god-awful cover art. Partaking of an interview with Wired, the game’s lead designer, Ken Levine, admitted that he knew that fans would be disappointed, but still defended the choice in an astute, concise way:

“…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.”

“… 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.”

“I looked at the cover art for BioShock 1, which I was heavily involved with and… I tried to step back and say, if I’m just some guy, some frat guy, I love games but don’t pay attention to them… if I saw the cover of that box, what would I think?”

“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.”

“I wanted the uninformed, the person who doesn’t read IGN… 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.”

“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.”

“We had to make that tradeoff 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.”

It’s a reasonable explanation and it’s entirely true that the make-up of the box art has been focus grouped, tested and proven in the past, so we really shouldn’t hold too much against the developers for wanting to capture the imagination of the non-gamers. The full interview also mentions that the team is looking into providing alternate covers for download for those that are truly put-out by the poor artwork. The game is currently scheduled to release on the 26th of March next year.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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2 Comments

  1. I respect Ken Levine&#039s decision to do what&#039s best for his product and his company. It is a common-sense decision on their part, and it&#039s designed to get their game the widest audience possible. Games are a business, and it&#039s simple economics to make this decision. Good on you, Ken, for being honest about it and sticking to your guns. It takes a lot of integrity to defend this kind of decision to an angry fanbase in an honest and frank way.

  2. I respect Ken Levine's decision to do what's best for his product and his company. It is a common-sense decision on their part, and it's designed to get their game the widest audience possible. Games are a business, and it's simple economics to make this decision. Good on you, Ken, for being honest about it and sticking to your guns. It takes a lot of integrity to defend this kind of decision to an angry fanbase in an honest and frank way.

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