At his MI6 session on marketing 2K Boston/Australia's hit Xbox 360/PC title BioShock
, 2K director of marketing Tom Bass revealed the five secrets to its success, from not underestimating the consumer to putting a heavy focus on building and maintaining a strong community.
Looking back at Irrational's prior works, Bass explained that while their former games "never broke out" with sales in the neighborhood of 250,000 to 300,000," the task with BioShock
was to "break it out to 1 or 2 million."
"The world it takes place in," he continued, "we viewed it as inaccessible to most people. When we focus-tested it, we found that most people found the environment was old-fashioned."
To counter these perceptions, Bass said 2K followed a "golden rules of marketing plan" propogated through sales, marketing, and the development team, and found that "the community all followed."
Rule one of the plan was that 2K "wanted to build a great community," said Bass, following with rule two: "We set out a rule which was really, really important -- we weren't going to underestimate the consumer and just dumb down everything BioShock
stood for... we wanted to keep what made BioShock
unique in the marketing."
Rule three, he continued was that 2K would "never ever stray from triple-A positioning" with the press, something he said "would be hard."
"An editor would call and say, 'hey, give me two screens, a half-page opened up in the next issue' and we would decline it," he admitted, but added that "in the reviews, I saw some of the best writing I've ever seen in the video game press come out there."
The fourth rule was that "we didn't want to be the developer and publisher in a brick house with no windows -- we wanted an open door to the fans," and the fifth rule was, quite simply, "don't screw up."
"The campaign was interesting," Bass said. "The game was evolving at the same time. We would meet with Irrational and make sure our campaign was evolving as the game was evolving too."
"Anything that wasn't a press release or big enough for an email blast, we'd announce it on the community site," he continued, "and as journalists would have to come through every day and cite their source, people would find the community."
"It's really a commitment to the community, you have to make sure you support it and believe in it," he explained, "and don't just treat it like a marketing arm."
Bass said the team created exclusive assets to use as as rewards for community participation. "We actually made themes and gamerpics that you could download from Xbox Live," he said. "You could not buy these, the only way you could download these was with a token code."
And finally, Bass showed how the community led sales and marketing just as much as the opposite was true: "All our research showed we shouldn't do [a limited edition of the game]," he confessed, but in the end the community led a petition for one. "We let them design the cover and everything."