The Regression of Video Game Box Art
For as long as video games have existed, they’ve relied on box art to sell the uniqueness of their titles. However, gaming box art for the past decade has been heavily lacking in creativity and it seems as though that won’t be changing anytime soon. With box art in America becoming so unremarkable recently, it’s important to look back at its history to see how it ended up here.
In the early years of video games, it was very obvious that most companies were unaware of how to market games to Americans. With the internet not being around at the time, a game’s box art was the main way to sell what makes a game so appealing to play. From the Atari 2600 to the SNES era, games often had unique art that embellished the game’s qualities. While some games such as Bomberman, Mega Man, and Double Dragon served to completely mislead players with their ludicrous representations of what the games were about, the majority of them kept the art simple in how it conveyed the feeling of playing the game.
Unfortunately, box art in America has been spotty due to outside countries(notably Japan) misunderstanding how to market games to Americans. Box art like the aforementioned Mega Man were early examples of how concepts can get lost in translation. These were very common during the NES and SNES era and had persisted until the middle of the PS3/Xbox era. The American box art of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night completely misses the point of the game by focusing on the castle explored in the game instead of the European/Japan box art which depicts the main character, Alucard, hardening his resolve as the game’s main castle hides in the moonlight. A similar situation occurred with the game Ico where the American box art stripped all of the artistic integrity from the European/Japan versions by advertising the game like an action title instead of a deep, thoughtful puzzle platformer.
With the rising prominence of events like E3, game companies became more confident that they would sell games based off of names alone. This caused them to put far less effort into making creative box art and resulted in a cavalcade of popular titles throughout the PS3/Xbox era of games simply having box art that shows the main character holding their preferred type of weapon. Notable examples of this are Bioshock Infinite, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Tomb Raider(2013) and Mass Effect 2. As the internet’s prominence grew exponentially and reviews became more prevalent, people had been confident of what games they were going to buy before even looking at the box art.
As digital games seem to be overtaking physical ones, it seems like creative box art is becoming a remnant of the past. Digital games don’t even require box art and can easily become successful on unique premises alone.Games no longer need to hire artists to creatively portray their game’s appeal anymore, since people can easily look them up on the internet. Though they used to be a staple of how games were presented, it seems as though box art will no longer strive to be truly unique.