BioShock Infinite’s Cover Art And The Problem Of Selling Games

BioShock Infinite released its cover art about a week ago, and gamers were outraged. OUTRAGED. How dare they feature some dude with a shotgun on the cover of a video game?

Leaving aside the whining of the Butthurt Dweller, it is a bit of a strange choice considering how much time and money went into BioShock Infinite‘s exactingly researched and textured art style. Turns out, there are good reasons for that: Exacting researched and textured art doesn’t sell games.

It’s easy to lose track of the fact that even most console owners are not hardcore gamers. BioShock, as a franchise, is not Madden or Call of Duty, and, well, you have to sell games to the kind of people who only ever buy Madden and Call of Duty. As BioShock Infinite mastermind Ken Levine pointed out:

“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.”

Levine goes on to make a pretty good point: If you can’t figure out what the game’s about from the cover art, a lot of people who only buy a couple of games a year and have no idea who Ken Levine is or why they should care just aren’t going to think twice about it. And, like it or not, that’s the audience your average AAA game has to sell to.

It’s easy to forget, especially for those of us who grew up gaming, that not everybody has the background we do with games. For a lot of people, gaming literally stops at yearly franchises. Activision started offering the option to download some graphics for the Call of Duty series because fans were playing the game so much the console broke under the strain.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is debatable, but this cover art kerfluffle is, in the end, really about who holds the purse strings in the gaming market. And it’s not the hardcore.