What happened to Video Game cover art?

Remember that magical time when you bought your games based on the cover and the text and pictures on the back? Remember when there was no way of knowing whether the game was even worth a penny? Were those better times? Arguably not, but what was definitely better was the cover art.

I am not one to get nostalgic easily and I am definitely not trying to invoke the spirits of times long past, when game advertisement consisted of a poster in the window at best. Yet, if I have to return to these simpler times, there must be a reason for it and the trigger that set this nostalgia trip off with a mixture of anger and sadness was the Doom cover art. Now Bethesda has apparently been trying to put some pleasing nostalgia water over the fire, but you won’t get away this easily from me.

Apart from being bland as anything and be substitutable for any other gamer, I asked myself: What marketing executive looked at his graphs and tables and came to the abysmally ignorant conclusion that this game would sell better with a by the numbers cover of generic modern shooters. Of course, Doom being the daddy of all modern shooters would make this cover somewhat self-aware, but since I cannot see an American flag sticking in a pile of dead foreigners that could not have been the intention at all.doomcover

One might reasonably assume that today’s marketing does not rely on box art anymore. That trailers and exciting pre-order bonuses would do the work ten times, scratch that, a million times better than any cover art ever could. I do not remember a time in the recent past when I simply walked into a game store and saw something I had never heard of before (except some Japanese Anime games perhaps). I can recall trailers that spoil the entire game (that is a matter for another time), I recognize developers that splash their logo on the front and brand it as a piece of unfinished code that was spit out of the marketing machine to grab a bit of extra cash (welcome to the club Capcom). What I do not see are two things: New games and lovely box art (for the most part).

Let us, for a moment, assume marketing executives are just a bit more that money hungry gluttons with not the slightest glimmer of understanding for art (you’ll have to assume a lot harder to make that work). A box art should simply associate the game with the trailers. Easy right? And what is the only, THE ONLY, thing you never see in this first-person shooter? The idiotic helmet covered face of your generic space marine Call-of-Duty-Halo-Rip-off guy with his campy amour that visualises the image of masculinity a five year old would have. Doom has nothing going for it but gore, so load the cover down with it. Special edition comes soaked in blood. There, marketing done. The more controversial the better. A mother that buys her fifteen-year old Call of Duty also buys Doom; so why not go all the

Moments like these make it reallycrysisdoomcover.0
difficult to sell video games as a medium
with aesthetic sense, since even trashy horror movies have appropriately horrible covers. But Doom is nothing, it is a weak reflection of the shooter genre that can’t muster up any strength to stand on its own. This is an excuse of a game cover nothing more and you can find tons like these on so many games. And sadly not only shooters are infected by this plague.

Space marine in armour stands right next to protagonist looking sad or walking away/towards the camera. All with as much artistic sense as a fridge drawing. Bland and repetitive and nothing is save from this tidal wave of mediocrity. So is there even such a thing as good video game cover art and what would it be?

Well, let’s say you have a shooter. What is characteristic of a military shooter? Racism, yes. What else? Action. Very good! Why not put some action on the cover that way the player gets the feeling that this game might induce some excitement and not just include standing around brooding. And the crowd with a slightly higher attention span might enjoy a bit more artistic cover that could convey a central theme, or be simply pleasing to look at, since it densely packed with symbolism or simply a beautiful drawing.

As always, I am well aware that this fight is b25utterly pointless, especially in an age with
growing numbers of digital sales and cover art getting little to no recognition anymore. And while cover art may not boost your sales by 10%, for all you marketing people out there, good cover art will never, NEVER, subtract from the value of your game, but bad and uninspired art will earn you a thwacking across the knuckles from me. And while companies increase in size and fans swallow any half-finished garbage they toss out, I will keep thwacking, thwacking until the end of time.


(Excuse the odd formating, but getting cover art into an article is not the easiest of tasks)


Image sources in order of appearance:




2 thoughts on “What happened to Video Game cover art?

  1. Thwack on, my friend, thwack like there´s no tomorrow, I´m right behind you!
    You are quite right: There is little to no difference between the majority of more recent cover art. Perhaps it´s supposed to have a psychological reason? Like covers are more likely to draw one´s attention if there´s one huge, bulky figure all over the place? I don´t know. Perhaps it´s just laziness?
    At the moment, I try hard to think of a game cover art I really enjoyed, just to realise that I don´t come up with one, most probably, because – I have to admit – I don´t really pay that much attention to it (although I know I should).
    Again, I have to refer to Mass Effect 3, though. Sure, it´s basically the same: heavy-armoured protagonist staring grumpily at the gamer, however, they at least have a female heavy-armoured version staring grumpily at the gamer, too…

    Okay, I give up.


    • Laziness would be my guess. Or this really “smart” marketing that I don’t get at all. At least they had this “choose your femshep” thing going and and can thus be slightly redeemed, but aside from that it is pretty standard. But good cover art… well, certainly not recently, but look at the box art for ICO (not the American one) that is preety beautiful.


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