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Ken Levine Explains the Reasoning Behind the BioShock Infinite Box Art

December 9, 2012 Written by Jason Dunning

When Irrational Games unveiled the BioShock Infinite box art last week (check out the front and the back), certain people in the gaming community were unhappy. They complained that it was a generic box art of the over-used male protagonist holding a gun, with a serious look on his face. Definitely not something befitting a game that has you travelling through a city floating in the sky and on a killing people with crows.

As it turns out, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational had expected this. In an interview with Wired, he laid out in great detail the decision behind the box art for their recently delayed game:

*For better reading enjoyment, replace IGN with PSLS.

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.

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. And to be successful, and to continue to make these kinds of games which frankly, of the people who make these types of games, there’s not a lot of them, and they haven’t exactly been the most successful with these types of games that have come out in the last few years. I was thrilled because I love them, and I hope that we had some small role in getting those games greenlit… But they have to be financially successful to keep getting made.

I looked at the cover art for BioShock 1, which I was heavily involved with and love, I adored. 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? And I would think, this is a game about a robot and a little girl. That’s what I would think. I was trying to be honest with myself. Trust me, I was heavily involved with the creation of those characters and I love them.

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. 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.

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.

So even though the BioShock Infinite box art is here to stay, you’ll be able to change it either through downloadable covers or maybe even a reversible cover.

What would you like to see on those alternate box arts? Let us know in the comments below.