BioShock 2's submerged marketing campaign surfaces

MI6 2010: Two of 2K's top salesmen talk about the mixed blessing of promoting a sequel to a blockbuster original with a rabid fan base.

by

Who Was There: 2K Games director of marketing Tom Bass and VP of marketing Matt Gorman.

The BioShock 2 marketing campaign was actually scrapped twice before 2K hit on a formula that would work.

What They Talked About: Gorman started off the presentation by acknowledging that following BioShock was both a blessing and a curse when it came to marketing BioShock 2. The original game's "rapturous" critical reception ensured the second game would receive attention but also made for a fan base that was suspicious of any extension or alteration of what they loved about the first game. The new development team at 2K Marin was also an issue for the first game's fan base, even though the studio was formed around a heart of key talent from the original BioShock team.

The first step for Bass and Gorman was simply titled "Throw Out the Marketing Plan." They ditched everything that was done with marketing BioShock and started fresh for the sequel. The team started by focusing on the "new-ness," specifically the Big Sister character. At the outset, they focused heavily on the Big Sister. However, it quickly became clear that they couldn't just keep talking about the Big Sister for another year.

That led to the second step: "Throw Out the Marketing Plan." Starting fresh, they tried to cram every new element of the game into a single panorama to convey how different BioShock 2 really was, from new characters to multiplayer. While it worked on paper, the execution was convoluted, so it was once again time to "Throw Out the Marketing Plan." The third time was the charm, as the team distilled the appeal of BioShock 2 down to a handful of key factors (the Big Daddy, the Little Sister, the deterioration of Rapture) that carried the marketing campaign through the final push.

The "Something in the Sea" campaign centered on a series of kidnappings that led into the main plot of BioShock 2.

The BioShock 2 media blitz was focused on making everything "a destination." They introduced the launch trailer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (where Epic Games will unveil a new game next week). They created a wealth of high-quality renders and gave each to just one magazine for a poster insert, making each new piece of marketing something of an event.

Another aspect working in the marketing team's benefit was the BioShock fan community, specifically the Cult of Rapture Web site. Bass emphasized the respect 2K's marketing team had for the community. Those fans are very sensitive to being marketed to, he stressed, so they created the "Something in the Sea" Web site, which told bits and pieces of a story about the fictional character Mark Meltzer, whose daughter was kidnapped and taken to Rapture.

They showed some of Meltzer's mail on the latter site, and the first person to send in a letter to his real-life address received back a letter from the character asking for help with deciphering some clues. That prompted an avalanche of mail, Bass said, comparing it to a scene from Miracle on 34th Street. The marketing efforts continued to ramp up, with 2K sending out mock telegraphs on Meltzer's behalf to people who had written in, or sending out splicer masks, wine from Rapture, a record single of music from the game, and other props.

Appropriately enough, Something in the Sea wasn't all smooth sailing. Bass said they had to call some narrative audibles in their Mark Meltzer promotion when the game was delayed to February, as their original storytelling schedule had to be stretched months longer than expected. There was also the issue of trying to register a P.O. Box using a fake name, something the government frowns upon. Bass didn't explain how he got around that, but he did say it was a story better told over drinks some other time.

The Meltzer promotion ended with a virtual manhunt. Bass didn't mention the Halo 2 I Love Bees campaign by name, but the BioShock 2 campaign echoed it in some respects, with the community's collaborative online efforts helping to fill in parts of a larger story. That core community of rabid fans is one that needs to be catered to, Gorman said. They're starved for content, and a successful marketing campaign will provide them with as much as they need, even if that amount changes along the way.

Naturally, the Big Daddy was still an iconic cornerstone of the marketing.

"Marketing plans are dynamic nowadays," Gorman said. "With the advent of DLC, we can't just market games like we did in the old days."

Quote: "It's all bull**** to them. They hate marketing people. They hate all of us…We can't market to them, so this was our way of engaging that audience in a meaningful and sincere way." --Bass, on why the Meltzer campaign was needed in the first place.

Takeaway: The BioShock 2 promotional campaign went far beyond 30-second TV spots, and it went further--and longer--than the marketing team originally expected. Gorman and Bass had to roll with a few punches along the way, scrapping things that didn't work and refocusing on the things that did.

Discussion

58 comments
TheGreyArea
TheGreyArea

Bioshock became SUCH a personal game to the player. I think it Inadvertently achieved exactly the kind of connection with it's player that Fable FAILED to. I've even held-off playing the second one for now. I fully intend to! don't get me wrong... But this is exactly my point. I'm actually waiting for a slightly less busy period in my life, so that I can really REALLY get involved in it. I'll be interested to read this very same conversation, based on Borderlands 2. Another very unique new franchise with a serious die-hard fan base.

wwonka666
wwonka666

Bioshock 2 was a letdown IMO. The story is what was so great about the original Bioshock and they never envisioned the story going on beyond that, so that's where they really messed up.

Ghostquote44
Ghostquote44

In my honest opinion Bioshock 2 had a great gameplay, good graphics and everything I wanted the fun to be. Storywise though it was God-awful, You run around Rapture tryinvg to get a specific point when I wanted to explore this magically disturbing city. Also who in their right mind cared about being "the first big daddy"? Set me up as a Rosie and see if I care! Also about the characters, who in their right mind would team up with a tin daddy? It could have gone psyco and shot'em with a rivet. Also I hate Sofia Lamb. "I hate you. Family Utopia. Rapture Elenor!" Just shut her up already! I do like the mutiplayer. But still the story sucked.

Nightseva01
Nightseva01

I like the 2nd one more. I don't know, but I found the gameplay, the story, the characters more involving. I think the problem is that many people were expecting a big plot twist, failing to realize that falling back on that element would have made it more repetive, deja vu if you will. Anyway, I replayed Bioshock 1 on my PS3 and to be honest, after the plot twist and in the last 2 hours I found the game weak. Additionally, the ending was not as touching as in Bioshock 2. Where bioshock 1 actions are reflected only in the ending of your playthrough, Bioshock 2 takes your "moral" choices and reflects them in other characters. I don't know, but I feel many people are being unfair to Bioshock 2, failing to realize that sometimes something different is better appericated in the long run. Example, Final Fantasy 8 v. 7, back then everyone felt that 8 was weak compare to 7, but over time 8 is viewed by more people with more respect and love. My advice, go into the game not expecting Bioshock Redux, but Bioshock 2. Believe me, you will enjoy the game more. Sorry, if I come passionate, but I feel that Bioshock 2 has been the best game I played this year, even over GOW 3 ( and I beat that game).

paulust2002
paulust2002

would rather them have patched bioshock 1 with the improvements in the feel and combat along with the new powers. Started off ok, then gradually got more and more shallow and lost atmosphere. The atmosphere thorughout bioshock was unsurpassed, then this. Much of it looked neon and bright and didnt suit it at all. The last half has so much action felt like everything else, the combat is the only sabing grace as thought the weapons and powers were spot on, putting right some of the failings of the first with the invisibility being changed to a limited power, and the hacking being so much easier and in context. Worth a rent for the first half, I think, but glad I didnt buy the collectors.

absolut_gamerz
absolut_gamerz

say goodbye to 'GOTY' title, bishock 2. there's no way this game will be the GOTY 2010. I totally agree with it009x9281 said, i felt the same way. my money was wasted buying this game. theres nothing to be proud of about this game.... i'll not buy the next bioshock 3...

darkchrisify
darkchrisify

Bioshock was one of the best games I've ever played and cant wait to play the second one.

it009x9281
it009x9281

I loved the first bioshock but the second game felt more like an addon than a new game

Hanzoadam
Hanzoadam

The 1st game was alot better the 2nd was disapointing

pete_merlin
pete_merlin

was very similar to the first, except the first had the excellent storyline

buft
buft

I really enjoyed bioshock 2 but i did prefer the first game just because the story clicked for me so much better, this marketing stuff is over my head as all i seen was there tv spots after the game was launched

mos2000
mos2000

Bioshock 2 at the end of the day is a real good game. But I agree with both sentiments expressed here: The more strategic approach endless plasmids and playing as a Big Daddy (once powerful enough) are things that not only rival but surpass certain elements in the first game. However, first discovering and journeying through Rapture, and all its more open world splendor is what makes the first installment a 10. The sequel may not be a 10 in my opinion, but it still a very, very good game. I suggest picking this one up, even if you are a skeptic - like how I was. It takes a couple of levels for the game to really work its magic, but once it does, it is a title that fans of BS1 should not miss.

rolasin
rolasin

Joker328....you haven't played it and are giving a bad review???? Play the game for a few hours then make a comment.

kmconstable
kmconstable

The sequel is very good and has some new things, but is still very familiar and similar. The finished product is a game that is more immersive and has better enemies with similar settings as the first. There is just no way to replace going to rapture the first time and discovering it. But still a great game. btw does anyone else find it ironic that GS gas yet to review the PC version of the game, but keeps writing these stupid tidbits for it?

Joker328
Joker328

@Flashcharge I couldn't agree more. I just rented BS2 and haven't even started, but I know there's no way a sequel could compare to the experience of BS1, marketing be damned. What made that game great was discovering this new world and figuring out what happened to these people and why you were there. It was like unraveling a mystery. A truly compelling mystery that dealt with deep concepts like scientific progress and the value of government. It's nearly impossible to have that same kind of surreal and eyeopening experience in a sequel. Look at the Matrix movies. Like you said, ME2 is a rare exception in that they have managed to out-do themselves in every way (story, characters, gameplay) in the sequel, and draw you in even further to the gameworld. Maybe because it was originally written to be a trilogy and you've built up a connection to the characters. I'm still holding out hope for BS2, but if all they did was extend the story and modify the gameplay a bit, I don't see myself really loving it. When I read the GS review I kept thinking to myself, why would I want to play this game. Developers making sequels need to think about whether they have an interesting story to tell before they make them. Rapture is a great playground, but really the only thing left that I'd be interested in is witnessing the initial downfall and normal people dealing with the splicers and the deterioration of society. I really think they should have gone this direction with BS2 instead.

dublet13
dublet13

I loved Bioshock 2. The only thing I don't love about it is the damn Games For Windows Live on the computer you have to use.

warstomp
warstomp

Great campaign they really sucked me into buying an utter pile of crap shame they messed everything up in the sequal The enviornment wasnt as interesting as the last. The enemies were lame and the magic that captured the last game was gone...fail game

venomvolkan
venomvolkan

I love this game, the campaing was awesome!!!!!!

WarLokk1980
WarLokk1980

I had waited a long time for BioShock 2 following it's development. I did like the finished product but it was a shame that the PC version didn't roll out with Xbox 360 controller support. Overall though it is a great game and I can't wait for the 2nd patch to come out

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

It is hard to develop a sequel to live up to the original. Many times its the uniqueness of the original that made it such a hit. Sequels often go no where in its originality which causes it to lose its appeal to many gamers. Two games that avoided this feeling, in my opinion, are Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2. In many ways these sequels make the game better and through their stories engrossed the gamer further into the game play.

tomrocks666
tomrocks666

im strangely not a big fan of this one. bioshock 1 is one of my favourite ever games, i just wanted to get bioshock 2 over and done with, the atmosphere just wasnt there this time around. the characters were less interesting, the new enemies were a pain and it just wasnt really fun at all until near the end of the game. im going to trade it in i think but im not sure what ill get for it

Dagamemonkey
Dagamemonkey

It's a shame that too often sequels don't live up to the originals. I didn't think BioShock 2 was a bad game, but it certainly wasn't like the original.

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

Bioshock 2 doesn't even come close to being half the game Bioshock 1 seemed to do so effortlessly... the story was empty and weak..the creepiness and tension was gone, it seemed like you were stuck in a very small confined area for the whole game, the sense of space and the grand size were gone... and you played as a gimped Big Daddy...I had such high hopes for the game too. These devs have to learn that just because the first game was a hit, you don't always have to do a sequel right away... in fact sometimes it's better to let the game stand on it's own with NO sequel...

Larzarus1
Larzarus1

Bioshock 2 has better gameplay but all other aspects are worse than the first; story, characters, environment, atmosphere

bahamat0
bahamat0

I enjoyed the second more than the first as well, just an opinion of course. I think the reason why some people say that BS2 feels like you're playing the same game and other people say that BS2 feels different than the first would be primarily because they may have been comparing the game with the first on every step they were going through the game. While I was playing the game, I never got the feeling saying that "This game feels like I'm playing BS1 again" or "This game doesn't feel like the first BS at all" because I was judging from what the game itself has to offer, not from how better or how worse it is than the first. If we set the comparing thing aside and treat it as a stand alone game, while at the same time we link the story of the 2 games together then many people will agree that BS2 would be one of the best games released in 2010 so far. BS2 still has a unique gameplay and a great story when you compare it with other fps games. Although I respect the opinion of people who say that they enjoyed the BS1 more than BS2 :)

biagio55
biagio55

i really liked it but by the end i felt like i had too much power. there wasnt much challenge left in the game because i had enough adam to get everything i wanted lvl 3 and then some. plus i found the gathering from little sisters annoying aftera while.

True_Chaos_UK
True_Chaos_UK

Loved the campaign, multiplayer was okay at best, haven't played it since the BS DLC went up. Single player had some posotives but I still prefer the story to the first game. I hope if they make a 3rd which im sure they will they really push the boat out this time-Upgrade the engine, improve story etc..

DEATH775
DEATH775

The campaign was awesome. Love it.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

I liked both kinda equal, the original is just that but I love dual wielding because I didn't use plasmids much in the first but now I do tons. I don't really care about multiplayer and hated that half the trophies were for online play, I focus really on the single player experience.

lance435
lance435

I still haven't gotten myself BioShock 2 but probably I won't. I noticed something about video games (and probably many other things). When something starts great, it's sequel may not be as good (Seen in BioShock). But when a game does not start completely great, it's sequel becomes evolved, almost perfect (Mass Effect). Another reason I won't be getting BioShock 2 would be that it does not sound as good as BioShock. Sure we have some better gameplay mechanics, but it also seems to lack the beautiful story delivered by Ken Levine and Irrational/2K Boston. To make it simple: There's no Andrew Ryan. He's just a simple whisper in Rapture, a ghost. Another reason to NOT get BioShock 2 is that it has multiplayer. Sure, it gives more value to your game but BioShock was built around the concept of a great Single Player story and atmosphere, not much into the different form of gameplay it gave. Also, the moment you place a bunch of Haloists in a game, you lose whatever atmosphere/ambiance you want to look for and simply obtain a hardcore kind of play (something that you wouldn't really care much about in BioShock). Would have been better to just make a longer, better Single Player instead of that.

railroberto2007
railroberto2007

bioshock 2 was good but bioshock 1 was better in every way. its kinda like ghostbusters the movie 1 and 2!

dovberg
dovberg

Bio Shock 2 is only rated as low as it is because really the original should have been rated higher than possible and 2 deserves something very close to 10 if not a 10.

drangel_jam
drangel_jam

I really loved Bioshock 1, and completed it four times. I'll eventually buy Bio2 but to be honest, I wasn't so thrilled that the sequel of such a groundbreaking and powerful game is so grounded on being more of the same, subsequently making it look weak. But I know there's a great game behind my skepticism, that's why I'll eventually buy it new. Also, there was that little game called Mass Effect 2. It kinda made forget about everything else.

jace_speed
jace_speed

"why do you guys have to be like that? i will never understand why people write that a game is meh on the comments section concerning the game they are trashing. if you didn't like the game, cool, thats great, but don't ruin it for the people that are interested in the game and might actually enjoy it." If other people saying things like "I hate this game it's boring" ruins a game for you, you really need to work on how peer pressure impacts your life. Are you really only able to feel good about liking a game if everyone else likes it too?

ForsakenWicked
ForsakenWicked

I rented Bioshock 2 just a few weeks ago. To be honest, I found the game disappointing. The atmosphere in the game was no where near Bioshock 1. As a big fan for the first Bioshock game I doubt I'll be buying 2 due to my experience with the rent. I mean, the story isn't even interesting and there's no "mystery" this time. I couldn't even finish the game out of boredom.

solidniko
solidniko

i liked bioshock 2 better than bioshock

Dante200X
Dante200X

FarmFreshDX: I can tell you quite literally know nothing at all of the game. Go read ANYTHING about the game (even before the game was released) and your little "problem" will go away. Seriously....*facepalm*

nukeforbinladen
nukeforbinladen

why do you guys have to be like that? i will never understand why people write that a game is meh on the comments section concerning the game they are trashing. if you didn't like the game, cool, thats great, but don't ruin it for the people that are interested in the game and might actually enjoy it

mars_mezmerize
mars_mezmerize

Bioshock 2 was beautiful. The whole story was much more emotional in the sense that you were rooting for Subject Delta throughout the whole story to save his love, Eleanor.

green_dominator
green_dominator

Bioshock 1 was fun to play and the story twists and reveals were a lot of fun to witness, Bioshock was just as much fun and the graphics and character design were a little better this time around...Marketing campaign may have been coming from a convoluted place but the strength of the first game made me want part 2, if a part 3 is made I'm still there......

FarmFreshDX
FarmFreshDX

I loved the first Bioshock, and granted I haven't played Bioshock 2, it seems to me the problem is you're "a" big daddy. No special character, just one in a crowd. What made Bioshock great was being that special outcast that was unknown even to the player until the last few hours of the game.

Doolz2024
Doolz2024

I think most people don't give Bioshock 2 enough credit. And I'm referring only to its single player. Some call it disappointing, I call it amazing. Bioshock 2 was just as enjoyable as the first game, imo.

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

part2 was better then i expected!

Boblehead2008
Boblehead2008

the game was great the story could have been a little better but overall a great game multiplayer ehhh

MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

Played the first BioShock title the first day it was released and finished it that same day. Game was great. I still haven't played the second title. I hear nothing but negatives about BioShock 2, but that isn't what keeps me from buying/playing it. I really want to find a good empty space of time to play the title without other releases I would rather play instead.

FidelSarcastro
FidelSarcastro

Bioshock 2 was okay, it was more of the same ol same ol though. I hope if they do continue the series they would make the third game a prequel. Show rapture in it's hay day, then over the course of the game show how everything went from the utopia Ryan set out to create to the dystopia seen in the other games. Having the main character go from an ordinary citizen of Rapture to areluctant hero that is swept into the growin turmoil and eventually has to fight his way out of Rapture. Something along those lines I would enjoy playing.

Boblehead2008
Boblehead2008

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

deathstream
deathstream

Sadly, the game would have better served by having you play as Mark Meltzer, rather than a "Big Daddy" who isn't at all like a Big Daddy aside from the Drill and the Rivet Gun. I loved the "Something in the Sea" site, lost all interest in the game when I heard you play as a Big Daddy, then ultimately tried it anyway and found it not bad, just terribly underwhelming (in a been-there-done-that kind of way).