Why do we need video game boxes?

Don’t be alarmed by the headline. This is not a pro digital distribution post, or ranting about too many logos on artwork ruining the cover art. Well, it can be since these are factors that will play into it all, but overall I am vocalizing something that I have noticed for years, many years, too many years now that I am sort of late in just saying it.

I like to look at the box to understand what the game is.

Maybe I am a dinosaur. Maybe my time is outlived and I should just accept the fact that I am extinct. Maybe. But this dinosaur has at least one last roar in him.

See, this is how I grew up with games. I would go to the store and look at the boxes (or at least the replication of the boxes since I shopped at Toys R Us and they had laminated cards hanging on the shelf.) I would look at the covers and be drawn in. I would flip it over and look at the back and dream of what I could be playing if I had this at home. That has been my methodology all my life. And I believe it is largely a generational thing. Gaming has changed. Games have changed. Long gone are the boxes I would drool over. Heck, they barely come with manuals anymore.

You see, for as long as I can remember now games have come with some splash artwork cover, and the back is more of the same, along with their text, specs, etc…

It used to be that I could see the gameplay on the back. Screen shots of exactly what the game looks like. I can understand the game that way. I can envision myself playing it. Then it started becoming those cut scene shots. Well, you see, the cut scenes are part of the game, and they look better than the actual gameplay so there were typically gameplay shots and cut scene shots included. But then it became more cut scene shots, weeding out the gameplay screen shots all together.

These days it is even worse. I can’t even tell what I am looking at half the time. Is it a cut scene? Is it a CG render of concept art? Is it glorified gameplay shots? What the heck am I looking at!? It sure isn’t the game in the box.

Yes I get that marketing gets graphical assets and tries to create packaging with it, and it might not perfectly match or it might look better than the actual product (Like pictures of a Big Mac. We all know they don’t look like that when you order them). I also get that many retail outlets don’t even let you pick up the box. Many are locked in glass cases so you can only stare at the front cover unless you take 20 minutes to track down an employee to open it up. And at that point you basically should know if you want the game or not. Pre-investigation is the name of the game these days. You need to do your due diligence on the game before you go to the store. Internet sites, game magazines, friends of friends, whatever it takes. So the box becomes less important.

But I venture that it shouldn’t be. What about selling me on the game? Why should I shell out $60 on your game, when I don’t even know what it is? That is the publisher’s job, not mine. Push selling, not pull (as in pushing products toward me that fit my needs versus me pulling products off a shelf, just for definition for those not familiar with the terms).

Take recent example of Spec Ops: The Line. I had heard about it, read about it, but never really saw it. Then I stood there and looked at the box. Okay, generic soldier type cover to be expected. I flipped it over. Not a game play shot in sight. Well not literally. There was a header art piece that looked almost hand drawn, then three tiny game shots across the back. None of which though looked like a game shot. I have no idea what this game is. Is it a FPS? A TPS? Is it cover based? Is it tactical? A picture does speak a thousand words. I got a thousand words of garbage from their pictures. I put the box down knowing nothing more about the game than when I picked it up. Seriously, that is bad. The box did not do its job.

I looked at Sleeping Dogs. The rear cover doesn’t tell me what the game is like. There is one giant CG image on the header of the back showing the protagonist (I assume) and then there are 2 images that are both CG and are supposed to represent the game. But they are clearly not the game. I just understand the story of the game more (which is good) but I can only imagine games that I know of beforehand. I look at it and I think GTA meets Yakuza. So basically the selling me on the game is me thinking of the competition. That can’t be good.

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I took a look at Transformers Fall of Cybertron. The game comes with one of those cool paper sleeve covers that is embossed and gives you a really nice presentation of the game. Looking at that cover (and knowing the game because I played the prior game) I really want it. I flip it over to see the back, and I am greeted with 2 boxes with "game images" on them, which are simply CG rendered images that look nothing like the game. This is all over a backsplash of a CG rendered Megatron. Does it all look beautiful? Yes. Does it tell me what the game is like? No way. My only knowledge of the game is having played the prior game.

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So in the end, what is the point? Why do we do this? “We” being the whole video game world. Why do people have the job of attempting to put so much on the box? I know they struggle to put graphically appealing images, with “game shots” that are nice looking, format it to be aesthetically pleasing, put the text blurbs they are told to put on there – in at least one language if not two or three, plus have all the appropriate branding and icons on it, and the legal mumbo jumbo. That is a lot of work for something that end up not representing the game, and so is rendered pointless.

Why can’t the industry put out some game boxes that actually represent the game inside? Are they afraid that in this digital world us seeing what the game actually looks like will be less awe inspiring than a fabrication? I want to see the game darn it. Let me judge if it is good for me or not. I spend countless hours of my own time keeping up with this stuff, reading, researching, watching youtube videos. I am doing more than my part, you can at least make a box that shows what they product is like.

So what about you? Do you even care what your box looks like? I’m sure some of you do. There wouldn’t be collector’s edition and various steel case versions of games if that wasn’t the case. But should the packaging be a marketing tool? It is for every other product out there. Shouldn’t game boxes tell you why their game is good, if not better than anything else?