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How Important is Cover Art?

Owning a video game is a lot like owning a book. Half of the enjoyment comes from physically holding the object and organizing it on a bookshelf, situating it with other games  to perfect the narrative of your tastes. I personally love owning a physical copy of a game instead of downloading it, and a large reason why is because I love looking at cover art. Impressive cover art doesn't just make me want to play a game, it makes me want to know why the image displayed on the cover embodies the reason I should be playing it. This type of marketing isn't just convincing me to play - it's a visual aid to immerse me in a world and to also strengthen my nostalgia the next time I look at the cover. I want to be able to pick it up after playing it, look at the cover, and have the image trigger memories of playing the game.

There was some criticism of Ken Levine recently when he explained the reasons behind the bro-tastic cover art for BioShock Infinite, claiming that although some fans are disappointed, it's a small price to pay to make sure that Infinite gets into frathouses and the like. It's like salad dressing, you know? It makes sense from a marketing perspective to strategically use a stock image of a man holding a shotgun like a badass, but I think most BioShock fans would agree that part of the appeal in playing the games from this franchise is because they're so different. If you were especially upset about this cover art, there's a poll at Irrational Games right now for fans to vote on a reversible cover. There are six new designs, and to be honest, I have no idea what they were thinking with the first one. It looks half complete, and would make more sense if the city was actually shown behind Elizabeth. Anyway, go ahead and cast your vote

A copy of a copy of a copy...

I want to look at my shelf and see a different cover with every game I pull out. A cover that, when I look at it, I can explain why it makes sense and what it means in relation to the game. If you consider the price we pay for video games and assuming it's more than one game a year, is it too much to ask for some creativity? To want to see something new, striking, and maybe even controversial? The BioShock Infinite cover art shows Booker DeWitt, who can easily be Nathan Drake, who can also easily be some dude's face in a soldier's uniform, and just becomes a copy of a copy. I find it very strange to even use Booker on the cover art since this is a first person shooter, and not in third person like Uncharted. Considering the amazing gameplay we've seen so far from Infinite, they could have come up with something that really showed off how unique this game will be, which should ideally be the reason people pick this game up. Am I wrong to speculate that the average FPS lover who picks this game up thinking it's just like every other FPS he or she loves, may be disappointed when it's not?

What are your thoughts on cover art? Any favourites from 2012, or all time? My personal favourite this year is Borderlands 2 because it's the perfect cover art for a sequel. It's an homage to the first game and has a "new and improved" feel, which is exactly what I want to look for when looking at sequels. As for my favourite cover art of all time, I still haven't come to a decision, but when I do I'll frame it and let you all know.

Comments

  • Davethezombie 6 years, 9 months ago

    Cover art doesn't matter a whole lot to me. While they could be more creative, it is true that they are specifically designed to be marketed towards the masses, and well, games cost a lot to make so they do need to make up that difference even if it means going with a generic cover art. Reversable covers is one of the greater ideas in game design decisions yet. To be able to appeal to both sides of the audience is a very smart decisions. Regardless, I've played great games with crappy cover art, but that hardly changes how I feel about the game. As far as 2012 cover arts go, the only one I ever really liked or cared about was Gravity Rush's. For once, that's a cover art I could hang on the wall if it was a painting.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      Thanks for commenting. I like the idea of reversible covers as well! I think it's also a good thing Levine went ahead and made that poll and left the reversible art up to the fans.

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  • CommanderZx2 6 years, 9 months ago

    Did you really just write an article claiming people should judge a book by its cover and similary games too?

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  • Absolutely_Daft 6 years, 9 months ago

    I'm not into cover art as much as you are, only because sometimes the cover art can be deceptive or too simle. However there are several good cover arts i've liked. What mattered to me back in the early 2000s was the back cover. For example Vagrant Story's front cover only showed two of the main characters and the title shown around their hips. However when you flipped it to the back cover, it showed a gypsy-esque woman dancing in fire and screenshots of the game. Back-side were what gave a true glimpse at the game since I didn't know how to use the internet back then , but now cover art doesn't matter to me as much anymore because I've done my research of a game I want beforehand.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      Excellent point. We've already done a majority of research online before we go ahead and make our purchase(s), so the cover art wouldn't matter as much. I personally enjoy having really good art with the box because it gives it more value to me. Thanks for commenting!

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  • koutetsuhime 6 years, 9 months ago

    I think last time I really cared about cover art for a game was back when I still rented random games from Blockbuster and didn't know anything about them. I also used to sometimes buy music if it had really cool cover art (actually I probably still would do this if I had more disposable income!). But now I generally know all about whatever I plan to buy beforehand, so cover art is of little concern to me anymore. That said, I did think the cover art for Bioshock Infinite was bland as hell, but it wouldn't have bothered me that much in the end.

    I did manage to buy some pretty awesome stuff based just on the cover, though! Vagrant Story, found out about the band Death that way, and tons more I can't even remember.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      Yeah now that we're in this instant-information age, it seems like not as many people care about cover art. That's the second Vagrant Story mention, and it surely is beautiful to look at. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Frank Hartnett 6 years, 9 months ago

      Pretty much exactly how I feel. Now that I've become much more involved with gaming, the cover art just ends up being meaning nothing to me. Probably doesn't help that most of my purchases are through Steam nowadays.

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  • OlMuttonchops 6 years, 9 months ago

    Cover art means nothing to me. Sure nice cover art is nice, but I look at my game cases for maybe 10 seconds before I pop the game in. I may admire it or make fun of it but ultimately it doesn't do anything for me and I've never not played a game because of it. As an experienced renter of games the description on the back of the box is much more important than the art on the front.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      The back cover seems to be getting more value placed in the comments, which I find really interesting. Thanks for commenting!

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  • Sickbrain 6 years, 9 months ago

    #4 cover is winning in the vote - that's why designers shouldn't listen to fans when it comes to marketing. If they had that cover as their primary art, buyers who didn't know about BioShock wouldn't even bother looking at the game.

    Me personally, I don't care about cover art. Almost all my games come in a from of a download these days so no cover to begin with.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      I think it's gorgeous as a poster or even a cover for a collector's edition, but I agree that it says nothing about the game from a marketing perspective.

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  • Dimensaur2 6 years, 9 months ago

    I tend to think of cover arts for things like video games and books as being like food pictures on menus. The only goal there is to attract as many people to the item as possible. We all love cool and creative cover designs but the nature of the industry these days is that creative doesn't always equal a profitable return. If they feel that this direction is the way to go to put the game into the hands and consoles of those who aren't sold on the title already or to encourage an impulse buy from those unfamiliar to the series as a whole. They have to make their game look as palatable as possible to as wide of a range of people as possible, and I can't blame them for that. It's just really unfortunate that the flavors here are so bland.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      Very good point, and I can definitely understand their decision from a marketing standpoint to get the game into as many hands as possible. Thanks for leaving a comment!

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  • George Denison 6 years, 9 months ago

    It's a shame how indifferent people have become towards cover art. It's not the 'I won't not buy the game because the cover art is bad' line everyone is trotting out that gets to me, it's how people don't seem to take any pride in the ownership of physical media any more. Based on some of these reactions, it seems most people couldn't care less if Bioshock Infinite was presented to them in a cardboard sleeve with the game's title spelled wrong scrawled on the side in faded marker pen.
    I guess this is just a sign of the times, and physical media really is on the way out.

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    • Soha E. 6 years, 9 months ago

      I definitely agree. I think this is also a symptom of the rise of downloadable games, where the digital library of video games is more significant than the physical. I actually wonder how people would react to Infinite being put into a cardboard sleeve... that would be great to watch.

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    • OlMuttonchops 6 years, 9 months ago

      I can only speak for myself, but I have NEVER cared about cover art. I care about the game. If you handed me Bioshock Infinite in a cardboard sleeve with the game's title spelled wrong I would still love the game. I would buy a proper case for the game's safety (or just pop it in one of those big CD sleeve album things), but I wouldn't care if it didn't have some magnificent cover art. Some of my most beloved games are in those generic Gamestop cases, but I don't care. The only time I see the cover is when I pick up the case to play the game. My pride comes from owning the game itself, not the box it came in.

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    • theottomatic91 6 years, 9 months ago

      While I am one of those that don't really care about what my cover art looks like I still prefer a physical copy in my hands over a digital copy any day. I agree that digital distribution is definitely rising in popularity but as long as gamer's like me want to trade/sell games among friends or at stores I don't see physical copies disappearing anytime soon.

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  • FalkonFace 6 years, 9 months ago

    Thanks for the article! It was an enjoyable read. The cover art and the back of the box are rather important to me. Whenever I get a new game, before I even play the game itself, I like to look at the box and go through the manual (the biggest atrocity that Resident Evil 6 committed, whatever you think of the game, is that it literally had no manual whatsoever -- the warranties and health warnings were printed on the flip side of the cover art, which you could read through the plastic shitty recycled box). What happened to the good old days, like in Metal Gear Solid where you had to look at one of the pictures on the back of the game box to figure out Meryl's codec number? For Christmas last year I got Resident Evil Zero in the cheap-ass blank Gamestop used white box. After 3/4ths of a year of being tortured by the piece of shit sitting on my shelf, I went out and bought a second copy of Resident Evil Zero in the original box. If a game doesn't have cover art or nice pretty pictures on the back or the game manual inside, I will absolutely not buy it. Speaking of which, if any of the other fine gentleman above who don't care about box art would like to buy a blank-box copy of Resident Evil Zero...

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  • NierAndFar 6 years, 9 months ago

    I, personally, really like admiring a game I own with good cover art. If I buy a game that has beautiful art on it's cover, I feel that much happier owning it and feel better putting it on my shelf for everyone to see. One of my favourite cover art designs would have to be the Japanese Dark Souls cover. I think it conveys the tone of the game well and it looks great as well.

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  • mike 6 years, 9 months ago

    I think good cover art becomes iconic in and of itself. As you stated, it's a visual summation of your gaming experience that evokes strong memory when looked upon throughout the years.

    ex:
    Cloud standing in the shadow of the Shinra Corporattion.

    A wanderer on his horse, sword raised at the giant he must topple in front of him.

    A knight running towards a vortex of dark souls.

    These images have all become an icon for the great games they represent.

    I also really dig the recent PS3 covers that you can flip and have pure artwork on the box instead of the barcode and game summation on the back. For instance, this cover of the HD SotC release: http://tinyurl.com/cpkw6fl

    Or Skyrim: http://www.coverdude.com/covers/elder-scrolls-v-skyrim-inside-cover-83012.jpg

    Looking at those covers makes me want to play them again. A testament to the power of good artwork, imo.

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  • VagrantHige 6 years, 9 months ago

    For me the whole Bioshock Infinite cover debate/debacle/fiasco is actually a win-win for everyone involved. While the reasoning behind the original cover is extremely disappointing I can understand it from a marketing/profitability standpoint. Offering the reverse is at least away of giving something back to the fans who don't like it (understandably). While I wish that the current landscape of the industry didn't lend itself towards such an obvious marketing ploy, I cannot condemn them for it.

    Personal nods from me would be the original Ico cover, Vagrant Story, the Japanese PS1 cover for SMT2, and more recently Catherine (though I wish that one had reversible so I could get Katherine on my PS3 copy). You know what, a nod to a lot of the PS1/SNES era. Just feels like a lot of the soul, creativity, and variety from those days are harder to come by. I used to see a slew of games and just seeing the cover made me want them. Not so much the case anymore.

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    • VagrantHige 6 years, 9 months ago

      random aside: is there a particular technical reason the comment section cannot handle paragraph breaks?

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  • Shazza1990 6 years, 9 months ago

    I love great looking cover art, though in the end it wont convince me to buy a game, it will make me pick up the game and have a look whilst browsing in the shops, so yes, it does grab my attention.
    Though I really haven't played any of the Borderland's games, I do agree, that cover art for the 2nd game is bitchin'.

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  • Moom 6 years, 9 months ago

    Adam Sessler recently did a video regarding game collections and owning the physical box. Very interesting. Regarding my thoughts though. A bad as some covers are I like having a place where I can simply look at the side and go, "Oh thats where Bayonneta is, let me grab that". I also like knowing that someone put their time and effort into making a cover, especially when it is a good one. I feel that every cover should be something you want to enlarge and put on your wall and it adds a level of charm or value to the product. It saddens me slightly that a lot of what I feel are the best "cover art" these days are from downloadable games such as Bastion or Limbo.

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  • Matt 6 years, 9 months ago

    Good cover art is more like a bonus to me. If it's good, I'll go "Neat!" and it'll definitely add to the that whole kinda vibe you get from owning your own physical copy of the game. Still, I won't be mortified if it's kinda mediocre or boring, I just won't get that kinda "Fuck yeah" feeling you get from creative / interesting cover art.

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  • wing2k12 6 years, 9 months ago

    Well...u know the saying, "never judge a book by its cover". I'm not going make a big hay about a cover that is dam awful. But good cover art can be eye-catching when shopping for games to play.

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  • SonicKitsune 6 years, 9 months ago

    Reversible covers are neat. You have your marketing side and your fancy display-at-home side. I really like minimalism or excellent hand-painted masterpieces. Or both. Either way, it's the game inside I really care about.

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  • Moblyn 6 years, 8 months ago

    Cover art is not very important to me, aslong as it does not look to horrible (Yes i would mind if it was in a cardboard sleeve) The European cover art for Resident Evil 4 is one of my faves.

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  • Valeria 6 years, 8 months ago

    I, typically, buy the physical copy of a game from my favorite companies (id software, Rockstar Games, etc.), but because digital sales are the most predominant sales seen online, I haven't been able to buy physical copies of extraordinary games. I love showing off the box art/manual and recommending these games to friends while they visit my room and rummage through my games, but since we live in this digital era (with the development of online computing and the Cloud), it's harder to share games with friends without having to bluntly state online, "this is a great game, buy it". Although some games offer digital art files and the soundtrack, to me, it's not the same.

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