The Story Of How A Dog Chose The Cover Of A Borderlands Game, Sort Of
How did 2K decide on the cover for 2014's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? The president of 2K's dog chose it, or at least that's what some employees were led to believe.
The cover art for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was chosen by one of the most unlikely of sources--a dog. Well, that's partly true. With just months to go before the game was released in October 2014, the head of 2K Games--Christoph Hartmann--didn't have a final cover for the game. Blood pressures were rising. Stress was mounting. Hartmann's plan? Let his dog decide.
Speaking with GameSpot, Hartmann recalled how this all went down. He brought together his marketing team who put around 40 mockups on the floor. He informed staff that his dog Sissi, named after the series of German films, would sit on the cover she wanted, and that would be the one sent to market.
"We're like, 'What?' We've been working so hard, our blood pressure is so high. We're like, 'Okay, funny joke, haha, now let's get down to business.' He's like, 'No, we're doing this,'" Matt Gorman, one of 2K's earliest employees, recalled. "And so we all just looked at each other, and we're like, 'Holy cow! We've all gone insane.'"
Sissi paced around the room and finally sat down on her preferred cover, and those in the room say they believed this would be the cover printed millions of times over before heading to retail. The marketing team was shocked at this out-there approach for such an important decision.
"Sissi walks out, she sits on one, and it wasn't a bad one, but we were like, 'Are we really choosing the key art for this next big brand by where this pug sits?'" Gorman recalled. "And we got to the point, and he goes, 'That's it!" And we all just said, 'Okay,' and we gathered up all the pieces and started toward the door, and [Hartmann] goes, 'You know I'm f***ing with you guys, right?'"
Gorman said he now understands this was Hartmann's way of easing the tension in a pressure-packed environment. In reality, Hartmann went with the most popular and expected pitch, but the let-the-dog-decide approach was an intentional move by Hartmann to establish a bond with his workers.
"When it comes to high-pressure business situations where everyone around is flipping out, he just decided to misdirect everything with this episode of nonsense on us; that just deflated the tension and the atmosphere," Gorman said. "He said, 'Of course, we're going to go with this one,' and it was the one we had been pitching all along. But it was the strangest, most surreal moment in time, because for a good 10 minutes, we were like, 'Oh my god, we have become that weird company that has that captain that is just on another plane of existence?' So there was 10 minutes of an out-of-body experience, but then ultimately Sissi walked away, and he said, 'Don't worry, we're going with X, and we went with that...."
Sarah Anderson, a longtime 2K marketing executive, was also there in the room for this dog-infused meeting. While having a dog select the cover of a big game franchise like Borderlands was anything but traditional, Anderson said it was representative of the culture at 2K at the time.
"That was part of 2K, that we had this culture that was... we had fun. We weren't trying to take ourselves too seriously even though we're in a public company and we're making huge money and working on giant franchises," she said. "But you have to remember, ultimately we are making games to entertain people and make people happy. You have to keep that perspective."
GameSpot recently caught up with Hartmann, who is something of a hidden figure in the games industry who you may not know by name but surely felt his influence from 2K to Rockstar and beyond. He is now the president of Amazon Games, and he has big plans for the company's future.
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