In Real Life

Ken Levine Makes A Great Argument For The Much Maligned BioShock Infinite Cover

In another life I worked in magazines and I distinctly remember a handful of rules being followed to the absolute letter. The first was this: cover art featuring some kind of human being was valued above all. A human being making eye contact? Even better. This is the reason why you’re more likely to see game magazine with a soldier plastered on it as opposed to a car.

Another little rule was guns. Magazine covers with guns tended to sell better than covers without guns. This sounds terrible, but it was a rule hammered into me from the day I started working in magazines till the day I left. There were multiple other rules, mostly built around coverlines, and the different types of coverlines — where they were positioned, what they said, etc.

But the main point was this: a game magazine featuring a human being with a gun, making eye contact or sporting some sort of focused gaze, was always the ideal. If you decided to do a cover for, say, Call of Duty or Mass Effect. You always breathed a big sigh of relief when something like this came through…

So when people started making a massive fuss about how BioShock Infinite’s cover was terrible, blah blah blah, I instantly thought back to my days working in magazines. How I always wanted to do something insane and outrageous with cover art, but how I always reigned myself in. It would have been self-indulgent. The most important thing about covers is that people see them, first and foremost. The second most important thing is that the audience understood what that image meant.

So when Ken Levine was asked about BioShock Infinite’s cover — asked to ‘explain himself‘ by Wired — he gave, almost to the letter, the precise explanation I would have expected him to make. BioShock Infinite’s cover is for the person who hasn’t necessarily followed every single detail of game’s conception. It’s for the person who doesn’t know what BioShock Infinite is, and that’s as it should be.

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 agree completely. In addition, I’m pretty sure that the team has something a little different planned for an Special Edition 2K and Irrational decides to release alongside the game. The original BioShock, I’m sure, was most likely successful in spite of its cover, not because of it. I think it makes sense that Ken Levine and his team wants to maximise the potential sales of the game in-store. It’s certainly not something worth complaining about.

Ken Levine Explains BioShock Infinite‘s Bland Box Art [Wired]

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