Alright guys, I want to play a game. It's an easy game and won't end up like when they play games in SAW. In order to play all you need to do is grab some cases from your favorite games. Easy enough right? So grab them and come back. Got them? Good. Now look at the covers of the cases. Do you notice anything similar about all of them? This is where the game part comes in. I'm going to try to guess what they look like from a design standpoint. Unless you picked a special edition box up you are probably looking at the main or secondary characters of the game centered on the case, who are staring either slightly off camera or directly at it, and the background of the picture gives a vague sense of the setting of the game.
Was I right? Chances are that I was. This has been something that has annoyed me for years so I decided to look into what caused this stagnation of design on boxart. It's not a secret that video games have been influenced by movies, hell at this point calling a game “cinematic” seems to be one of the highest compliments we can give. This started in the 80s when video games were very much a boys club and the only way to get sales was to appeal to kids who were probably also enjoying Schwarzenegger movies. Does anyone remember the Mega Man boxart? The art itself has become infamous for demonstrating exactly this, a game that is now regarded as adorable had a box showing Mega Man as a man in a jumpsuit with a gun. This idea of making the box as “action-packed” seems to have been perpetuated until today because that is the only thing we know, and thus is the only thing consumers are willing to buy.
Sales seem to be the only reason why we keep this trend going. There have been games that have come out in the past that have failed due to the fact that they didn't have a cover with a strong leading man on it. I think it's time for us to crawl out of the mud of graphic design, and come up with something more creative. The music industry followed a similar path. Look at any record cover from the 1950s and chances are that you will see 4-5 guys (presumably members of the band) sitting in a group and staring at the camera. If you fast-forward 60 years to now you will find a diverse collection of artistic styles and subjects on the covers of cds that have become art just as much as the the music that it adorns. It's true that there is no true visual manifestation of music so they are more free to do as they like, but that doesn't make us any less able to find new directions to push our borders.
One of the current trends in gaming, and something I'm sure everyone reading this is aware of is that of collector's editions. These games run $20-$100 more than the “vanilla” versions of the game and feature bonus content like cards or soundtracks, and oddly enough they have alternate boxart. If you've ever listened to anything I've said on the Communicast you know that I love owning these deliciously large boxes of pointless swag, and among my entire collection there is not a single cover involving any character from any of these games. So what is it about these more expensive versions of games that publishers have decided is ok to allow varied (and usually beautiful) art on the covers?
I think that we, as the gaming community, are ready to accept new designs on the cases of our games. Back in 2009 Neogaf had a photoshop contest entitled “the Gaf Collection” it was a play on the Criterion Collection in which people started to emulate the collection's unique style of cover art for game cases. Once game-blogs picked it up people just seemed to lose their shit over them. People across the board decided that these covers were basically the greatest things ever created. Since this point people have taken to creating their own custom covers for their games, and the funny thing about it is that none of them involve the main character staring directly at the camera, or even near the camera. Some times the main character is completely removed from the box altogether. This just makes it clear that when given the choice of what to put on the cover of a game people don't like what is currently sold.
When I've spoken to people before about this topic I have gotten the response that “your idea of artistic covers doesn't show anything about what the game is about.” I think that this comment is sort of absurd, as no cover can show what is gaming's greatest strength, the gameplay. So without any real representation of what is inside that plastic case why can't we have something fantastic on the outside of the box? Why can't we have beauty on both the inside and outside of that little plastic case?
So what do you guys think? Are we ready for some boxart that is better than that of a B-grade action film from the 1980s? Is this nitpicky and pointless? Should we just get over it and wait until everything goes digital in 10 years? Or are we content with seeing the same design over and over again a la romance novels?