Wednesday, May 05, 2010

In Defense Of Non Arty Box Art

Lots of gamers- myself included- like nice, artistic box art.

Lots of gamers- myself included- bitch when a publisher kicks a nice, arty box to the curb and replaces it with a lesser box. ICO is a pretty famous example of this:

Neither box is that commercial and no doubt the box on the left better represents the brilliance of the game inside the box. BUT I would say that the box on the right- which promises an action adventure to the average person just strolling by the box- is a smarter marketing decision. It's simply more commercial. Not by much cause there are better looking action/adventure boxes out there. But compared to the two, if I HAD to choose one based on which box would generate the most sales, I'd take the one on the right.

Two More Examples:

EXAMPLE #1: Twisted Metal:Black box art. I fucking LOVED it.
Thought it was and still think it is a powerful image. But it was a terrible box for a game about car combat. And I think it hurt our sales. I pushed for the mood and theme of the game over the game itself and I think it was a mistake.

Granted, you can go too far with JUST putting the core mechanics on the box. For example:

Now I really like the Split/Second demo and wish the game well. It looks tons of fun. And to be fair to Split, I think they have a new, better retail box and are not using this early box for the retail space. But there are lots of final, retail boxes out there like the one on the left and it illustrates the danger of being too literal and SIMPLY reflecting the mechanics and setting and leaving out the spirit of the game; leaving out the FEELING that the game promises to provide. Hell, now that I think about it, the perfect box for TM:BLACK would have blended the Black image above (what you FEEL) with the Split/Second image to the left (what you DO). With some guns and rocket launchers thrown in for good measure and so it was clear TMBLACK was not a racing game :)...

EXAMPLE #2: HEAVY RAIN. Lots of people don't like the SCEA version of the Heavy Rain box. They'd have rather seen SCEA go with the SCEE box. I happen to disagree. Here is why:
Do you see it? See how the Heavy Rain box- in CONTEXT- kind me anyway...fails?

Now Europe- duh- is clearly a different market. So perhaps the lone origami image works great over there. And no doubt it's a very nice cover. But is it an effective cover? I would say- at least for America- it is not. Just look at it: amid the sea of boxes that promise action, adventure, power, fantasy, much loved movies, being a sports hero, and taking home a virtual pet, the Heavy Rain box looks like some dull puzzle game. Is it a jigsaw puzzle game? Do I fold virtual paper to make shapes? For me, I would totally pass it by if I just had the box art to go on (which is how a good % of shoppers look for games. Sure, many use the net or word of mouth to aid in their decision, but when they go into a store, the box art is a major factor in if they are going to take the time to reach out and grab the product).

So I guess what I'm really saying is: I've changed. I don't need art for my box art. I don't need a box that can be turned into a nice poster or tee-shirt or an icon that those in-the-know will respect. These days I want a box that functions, a box that screams- to the masses- pick me up, bitch! :)


ps. I get that for SOME people- and maybe some cultures even- a nice, arty box is JUST the thing that makes them reach out and grab the box. I just don't think this is the case for the majority of American game shoppers.

pps. I also get that for new, unique games like HEAVY RAIN there is value in standing out as different from the crowd. Because a good argument to be made is that a large number of the people who will love HEAVY RAIN are the same kind of people whose eyes are glazing over at ANOTHER box with a power fantasy or sports star...and they would pick up the SCEE HEAVY RAIN box simply because it looks DIFFERENT. I get that. Makes sense. But in the case of the box above, I think that idea could have come across while still creating a box that seems less like a puzzle game. For example, the SHUTTER ISLAND movie poster seems like it could have been a good inspiration for 'something different but still commercial'. Anyway, just rambling now :) 

ppps. Shit, they made PAIN into a retail game over in Europe? Sweet! Did not know that :)