BioShock is, as much as anything, a series about familial legacies. The weaving story of the first game touched on personal relationships and parenthood and BioShock 2 is, first and foremost, about a Big Daddy trying to find his Little Sister. Consequently, the first BioShock left an impression on gaming that made things somewhat difficult for its followup BioShock 2. We talked with Matt Gorman and Tom Bass, VP of Marketing and Director of Marketing for 2K Games respectively, about how the first BioShock affected their approach for BioShock 2, and what they learned from marketing the sequel.

Can you give a good one over of where you all were at when you started the BioShock 2 ad campaign?

One of the main things that was “a blessing and a curse” was BioShock 1. You had many scores that were 100 and you had a lot of people who felt it was a contained, finite experience. So you had hardcore fans that weren’t convinced that they needed a sequel and here we were two years later with BioShock 2. There were also people that never got on board and it was a challenge to detail to them they don’t have to play the first to enjoy the second.

It wasn’t a given our fanbase would buy this, just like there’s no guarantee that those who buy Modern Warfare would buy Modern Warfare 2. So we had campaigns for the hardcore and we had one for those who weren’t fans, with the understanding that the same message would not work for everyone. For those that didn’t play the first, we had a 3:30 trailer that debuted on GameTrailers TV. We started our TV spots two months before the game came out, which is unconventional. We also had the machinima stuff with GameStop, and the launch trailer. In-store was also very important for the casual gamer; we had huge displays on the outside of GameStop stores. If you were at retail during the month of release, you knew BioShock 2 was out.

What did you learn from marketing the first BioShock that you applied to BioShock 2?

One of the primary things is to not underestimate your fans. One of the great things about BioShock (and troublesome parts for us) is that you can’t describe it in the elevator ride! The brand sort of engenders risk; for instance, for the ad we were using the music from the period, which we were initially scared to do! Not everyone is like, ‘lets use a music from 1931’ for it, but fans like the uniqueness. So we were careful to not make it ‘Call of Duty meets X under the sea!’ We didn’t want to distill it and make it easier to play, and consumers wanted to see what makes this game different.

Were there specific elements you sought to replicate from the BioShock campaign for BioShock 2?

Yes, I’ll give you one example. Internally we had what we called cool s**t videos — you can do some cool things in the game using the game physics and the different plamids. We started making those combinations, and those are the videos we released and were asking people to submit, showing the over the top nature of the combat system.

How did you try and expand the promotional efforts compared to the first BioShock?

Matt Gorman: For the original, it was a new IP and product; it wasn’t a brand and it didn’t have the accolades, so for the second we had more cred with the finance groups and from the media. So everyone had more willingness to work with us, and they were easy to get on board. The first one we had to prove ourselves, but with the second one, retail was super stoked for it and just the level of presence we were given was amazing. Also with online, the amount of coverage we got, people just wanted to talk about BioShock. People were skeptical, so there was a lot of editorial stuff that would discuss the game outside of realm of what we’d usually do. One of the last things that BioShock 1 afforded us is that it became the people’s game and they evangelized it. With the “Cult of Rapture” stuff and “There’s Something From the Sea,” the community did so much more than we could of hoped for.

Image from “There’s Something in the Sea.”

From a marketing standpoint, that was a challenge. The hardcore gamer has a higher level of aesthetic experience. Then there’s the gamer who wants to go, ‘What is it Is it a shooter, RPG, basketball game ‘ What we do find is there’s a bit of confusion from the consumer, so part of our strategy was to say that it is a shooter with an incredible amount of depth.

What have you taken from promoting BioShock 2 that you think will be helpful in the future?

One of the things is the success of . . . we won’t call it viral . . . but, “Something From the Sea.” We were very happy with the enthusiasm with that. We don’t even really like to call it marketing, because it’s a BioShock experience. The team worked very closely with us for this; they adjusted the fiction with Mark Meltzer to find out how the story ends and that involves finding him. That’s one of the great things, is creating a parallel fiction and incorporating that into the experience. That’s when you blur the experience and traditional marketing. In some cases, a regular TV ad can be a negative for the core consumer if they see it too many times, so it’s great to engage with them on this.

There’s no formula though, no template. It’s about being involved with the product and it speaks differently. We’re doing Civ 5 and right now we’re not going into a process with that. We really enjoy what we do and we’re all gamers and we think it’s necessary for getting the fans engaged.

Are you, in general, happy with the way that BioShock 2 has been received by both consumers and the press?

MG: Yes, I think we are. It was based on our key characters, like Big Daddy. Seeing as how BioShock is our primary brand, we made sure he and the Little Sister are everywhere. We fortunately had the budget to be really comprehensive with that. Our marketing started two months before launch and ran even after launch. There were few times you could turn around and not see BioShock 2 during February. So from a campaign standpoint, we’re happy with how it was received as far as pure media exposure.

I’m sure it was beneficial that you guys were essentially able to “own” February, rather than release during a crowded fourth quarter.

So many games moved out of that time period, it actually helped titles like Borderlands. The unique part of this first quarter is that it looked like fourth quarter, and the window we had wasn’t as large as later in the month. Still, we’re tremendously happy with the way it was received, both critically and commercially.

All and all, it was a tremendous learning experience and we’re very thankful for the dev team for working with us on this. We realize this is a unique title to work on and we think that is a great challenge to have.

Thank you both for your time.