American Box Art Sucks

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It's true, most American box art sucks a fat one.

I think it's because the marketing people who develop these things are under the impression that all Americans are big spazzy, attention-deficit-having, neanderthals who couldn't possibly appreciate anything remotely artistic or stylized. We need the cover crammed with 5 million different things to look at or we will get bored. We can't just have some artsy fartsy landscape, or simple logo art or something! That's for pansies!

I'd love to see some more examples of this. I'm not sure why I like pissing myself off...

Dannyjw:

And the worst one i have seen is pretty recent and i know Yahtzee will hate it.

Amnesia.
http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/9024/boxartj.jpg

Guess what one belongs to who.

holy frekaing god! is that real!?
I didn't even know Amnesia had a retail box, I thought it was download only. that's atrocious

imnotparanoid:

LadyRhian:

Dannyjw:
I am from England and i can't stand american box art.

Other examples of this are Final Fantasy. The EU and JP box art id just a white case with the logo on it, rather than the mess americans have.

And the worst one i have seen is pretty recent and i know Yahtzee will hate it.

Amnesia.
http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/9024/boxartj.jpg

Guess what one belongs to who.

That monster on the cover looks like it has a beak for a mouth. :P

Oh lord no, no NO!
How could they do that!

Wait... Amnesia has cover art? Well, I can't view the popup. The internet is being an idiot when I try to open it.
EDIT: Nevermind, it works now. WTF? That HAS to be fake. Amnesia is only sold on steam and on Frictional's website. It isn't sold in retail, therefore can have no cover art. It looks like it was made on Deviantart or something.

Hadn't realised the scale of this problem before, but the contrast in those examples is pretty damn stark...

If it's any consolation, PAL box art for SNES games were terri-bad, while the US covers were, for the most part, okay.

Art Lesson #1: Giant, obstrusive borders make for bad box art

Akalabeth:

Lord Kloo:
Cover Art is usually irrelevant to buying games as if its on the big display board in shops then its big and you heard about it, if not then you only get to see the side of the box so art is pointless..

Eh? What stores do you go to? Every store I've been to shows the cover not the spine. Some stores like EB Games sometimes have one shelf per console that has only spines showing, but the new releases and so forth are the covers not the spines.

Oh I generally shop in game, gamestation, (uk stores) and the new big releases, or just new things usually have their own sections, but most 'left over' games have only spines showing unless arranging with the first cover towards the corridor, then no-one gets a spine...

I'm sure it's different elsewhere, but I suppose I was making a generalisation based on my experience of medium-sized uk cities..

There's one title I really have to bring as another example of what American marketing does with box art. But, due to how obscure the game is, I'm going to approach this a little differently...

The game is Chulip -- a game that can only be described as a "kissing RPG." In the game, you and your father have just moved to a new town. You don't know anybody, and you have to start your life anew. But almost immediately, you meet the girl of your dreams. You want to kiss her, but you're not good enough yet, so you have to go and get better at it...by kissing everyone you possibly can. It was odd, for sure.

I'll start with the cover art it got here in the US:

image

Now, granted, it does somewhat convey what the game is about. You're trying to kiss everyone. But...they sure don't make it look good. I mean, would you buy that if you didn't know what it was?

In Japan, however, the cover art they got was incredibly different:

Now, same title notwithstanding, if you saw two games on a shelf, one with the American cover and one with the Japanese...which would you be more interested in?

Amnesia is sold in retail in some places. That cover is from amazon.

The real answer is that America is more consumerist. We expect our products to convey information about the game that we can use to buy it. Collages give you several aspects together, while the minimalist or abstract approach might look better, it doesn't tell you much about gameplay. The main idea behind the American style is to cram in as much information as possible. Let the consumer see the hero and the villain, etc.

This is one of those things my brain knew about but I somehow never noticed. Now that you've pointed it out, goddamn. Wow. That some bad boxart.

I think a lot of people in the thread don't necessarily shop the same way I would.

Sometimes I want a specific game, and I go out and get it.
But sometimes I just want to waste some money, so I go to the store, and browse what games they have. If something looks interesting, I pick it up and read the backside. Check out the screenshots.

Now what people's definition of interesting is can vary, but telling people what the game is on the cover can be counterproductive because people can dismiss it. "Oh another zombie game" "Oh a kids game".

Compare this to one of the artistic covers that people are slamming, where I might think "What the hell is this?" So I pick it up, and look at it.

That's what a cover is for. Cover's aren't meant to show you what the game is, they're to get you to pick it up and look at study it in more detail. They're like resumes for jobs. Resumes don't get you the job, they get you the interview. The interview gets you the job. In the same way, the cover should promote interest. And the backside should sell the game and what it's about.

But a lot of these game covers in my opinion would lead me to easily dismiss them because they say too much or are rendered badly. That Amnesia cover is a perfect example. If I saw the american cover, I wouldn't touch the thing. It looks like ass. If I saw the original cover, I'd probably at least take a look at it.

Though I may be in the minority.

Lord Kloo:

Akalabeth:

Lord Kloo:
Cover Art is usually irrelevant to buying games as if its on the big display board in shops then its big and you heard about it, if not then you only get to see the side of the box so art is pointless..

Eh? What stores do you go to? Every store I've been to shows the cover not the spine. Some stores like EB Games sometimes have one shelf per console that has only spines showing, but the new releases and so forth are the covers not the spines.

Oh I generally shop in game, gamestation, (uk stores) and the new big releases, or just new things usually have their own sections, but most 'left over' games have only spines showing unless arranging with the first cover towards the corridor, then no-one gets a spine...

I'm sure it's different elsewhere, but I suppose I was making a generalisation based on my experience of medium-sized uk cities..

Hmmn. Well I usually go to Futureshop, Best Buy, EB Games or something similar where most games save a few have the covers showing. Even department stores like Zellers have covers showing behind the cases. Same goes for a lot of DVDs.

Depends where you shop I suppose.

I love Extra Punctuation, but this was very image heavy and that dampened my love a bit.

Yathzee, you Charismatic Stallion, you!
Next time please rely a bit more on text for humour as usual.

Danzaivar:

JuryNelson:
The thing about America is that it is fucking huge.

When they brought over the Office, they had to change quite a bit about it before it would be palatable-not to An American Audience, but to an incredibly massive and varied one. Lowest Common Denominator doesn't mean that we're a pack of idiots, it means that we're a nation that's so loosely connected, there's very little that we can all legitimately enjoy.

Design by Committee happens so often here because we usually Enjoy by Committee, too.

That's changing, it should be noted. Inception, Mad Men, Even Kanye West. The vision of a single auteur seen through from beginning to end is coming out more quality, and getting the critical recognition and commercial success we hope for it.

As for why we hate the French, it's partly that we're jealous of their cheap wine and delicious bread, and partly because they take every chance they can to just up and quit working, and that looks too much like laziness to be ignored.

Europe has twice as many people and a dozen times as many languages, and completely different cultures every few hundred miles too. Don't try selling that varied culture crap. :p

That's a good point, but you're all much closer together than we are. If you don't get a joke, you can shout out your window, "Oi! What they laughin for?" and someone will explain it to you.

If Americans don't get a joke on TV, they just start writing letters. :)

We need big face on box! If there is not big face on the box then we get confused. We say, "WHAT IS THIS IS IT CEREAL." Big face on box tells American brain, "Do not eat! This is heroic journey not breakfast food. You will identify with the massive face and/or breasts on this box and want to become giant head and/or chest for heroic journey adventure. Thank you." Then we understand and are able to place contents of box into correct hole.

What's even worse is in Canada, we get shitty US cover art twice because they have to include French inserts as well!

Anyway, here's one of my personal favourite offences...

North America:
image

Japan:
image

You know, call me crazy, but it seems to me that we can pretty much trace these issues back to a few select films.

image

image

image

Please Note: This is all just guesswork.

The most likely explanation that I can think of is a very simple one (at least for the 1980s and 90s cover art). The answer is that the average American gamer of the 80s and 90s was younger than his Japanese and European counterparts. The reason for this is videogame crash of 1983, which was caused by the over-saturation of the videogame market with hundreds of poorly made games. Home console gaming effectively died out and until the NES was released in 1985 new videogames in America were nonexistent. Japan and Europe didn't experience this crash on the same level as America and therefore, while American gamers moved on and found other hobbies, gamers in Japan and Europe kept playing. When combined with the fact that the NES was marketed towards children and not adults the age of the average American gamer was much younger than it was in Japan and Europe. Teenagers would be more attracted to violence and action than a well drawn piece of art that portrays the themes and elements of the game. Therefore publishers ordered the remaking of box art for America in order to make it more "action packed" and "cool" or, in other words, kinda crappy. As for the more recent games, no clue. Maybe we really do just have horrible taste and I just wrote a paragraph for no reason.

I havent looked at box art in sooo long... And it always seemed normal to me... Maybe we should start shooting and see if we hit the right people

I've seen some horrid bluray art that came from the UK, so nobody is innocent as far as bad cover art goes.

None of those covers grab my attention. Therefore, they must be for shitty games.

Leave it to Yahtzee to talk about a game that I thought no one knew about, Flashback. For someone to bring up that gem in this day and age brings a certain warmth to my heart that someone actually played it. Betting he played aproper version, that wasn't the slow SNES version too.

Anyway, this happened to SO many games, hell Sega was notorious for this with their games, Ecco, Phantasy Star 2 and 4 these games were not only redone but they were redone by Boris Vallejo the famous painter. I'm not making it up, I got the PSIV box right here and there's his bloody signature.

While the art is all well and good, the Japanese version of PSIV has a better cover, it's ..well, more accurate. And to make things more insane, if you open the manual to PSIV it has JAPANESE ANIME style art so what the heck were they thinking?? Heck the game is filled with anime style because the story is told through comicbook cells to tell the story vs sprites.

Mass Effect 2. We've all seen the non-American box art, right?

I remember thinking that the cover of the instruction booklet of Metroid Prime should have been on the cover of the box instead of Samus just standing there. The instruction booklet cover was much more dynamic.

When I visited Japan in Nov. 2002, I noticed that the Japanese made the choice I preferred.

I'm too busy watching/playing to be overly concerned about the cover art.

Yeah, I'm going to side with the folks that mention the primary style of American movie posters (and the slavish devotion that American box-art creators have to them) with their, as another poster put it, "One man will...." centrism. We don't like big ensemble casts here, what can I say?

But seriously, the utter hack-job Out of This World got for its boxart made me gnash my teeth, especially the SNES version (which also looks nothing like the main character). Thankfully that's been the worst example ever, and certainly box-art designers have learned their lesson and will never again create such an affront to-

Dannyjw:

Amnesia.
http://img98.imageshack.us/img98/9024/boxartj.jpg

Guess what one belongs to who.

...if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go fellate an oncoming bus now. *storms out*

AgentNein:

Mcface:

MacNille:
You should have brought up resident evil 4 boxart.

here is the pal version: image It's very stylise and a litte scary too.

Now here is the american: image

So generic. Nothing about this cover is good. It's so damn bland.

American box art is just more descriptive of the game.
So if you are browsing the store, you see both of these game cases, knowing nothing about the game, you are more likely to get a better idea of what the game is from it.

It's not a creepy dark game where you are in a empty desolate place like the top cover suggests, you are in a village packed with zombies carrying chainsaws, like the bottom.

I don't know, the first one definitely conveys the feeling of being alone in an alien and threatening environment, that feeling that something can pop out from any corner at any time.

Completely correct. It conveys something that does not exist at all in the action shooter that is RE4 whereas the American box art shows what it is. An action game

Atmos Duality:
Must be a really slow week if we're sitting around bitching about box art from the DOS era.

True that.

Akalabeth:

Lord Kloo:
Cover Art is usually irrelevant to buying games as if its on the big display board in shops then its big and you heard about it, if not then you only get to see the side of the box so art is pointless..

Eh? What stores do you go to? Every store I've been to shows the cover not the spine. Some stores like EB Games sometimes have one shelf per console that has only spines showing, but the new releases and so forth are the covers not the spines.

Any Gamestop/EB I go to has such a large amount of games that they stock them so that only the spine is visible.

Frotality:
typical american video game boxart is designed after typical american movie posters, and i think the logic behind those are "shove every characters face on the poster and hopefully people will identify with at least one of them".

secondly, our boxart is NOT meant to convey what the game is about... it is all floaty heads as you said, and it is meant solely to get someone to buy it, with no mind to what the hell its actually about. look at the whole add campaign for dragon age, heavy metal action scenes for a damn RPG, and what does it say about our box art that superimposed witches over a field of swords inside a dragon shaped blood splatter is probably one of the most minimalist boxart designs for recent games? also take the famously atrocious ME2 boxart; not a week after it was shown, forum goers posted their own vastly superior photoshopped boxart pleading for bioware to use that instead, but nope, they had to have as generic a boxart as possible, as apparently no one seems to catch on that doing that makes your game just blend in with all the other floaty head boxarts in the video store.

There is a problem with what you just said. All American boxart DOES tell what the game is about.

Take Enslaved for example. The bottom of the box is covered in red flowers. Red, denoting conflict, strife. But also being represented in such fragile form as a flower. This shows softness, possibly romance. Move up a bit more and on the left side you see ruined buildings. Something wrong has happened. Moving up more, the sky. It is a lightly cloudy blue. This represents that something nice still exists in this broken world.

Now to the characters. There are six total. First you have Monkey. And aggressive look on face, what looks to be metal boxing gloves, and a headband with an ominous red glow. From this alone you can tell he is a fighter, more of a no-nonsense kind of guy. Ready to take something down when the time comes.

With Trip you see a lightly clothed woman, running close behind Monkey with a concerned, piercing look aimed towards Monkey.

And behind them you see a large mechanical beast. It appears to be chasing Monkey and Trip. With Monkey's fierce attitude this shows that there are things bigger than he. Things even he will tackle "cautiously". And that Trip is looking towards him for protection.

The birds and "dragon fly" lend their own part to what the cover-art story is, but I won't bother with it. At this point you either see that you are wrong, or too pig-headed to admit it.

I'm pretty sure people that actually decide what will go on the box are from marketing, or advertising, not the actual graphic arts department, so insulting the people who design it is largely unfair. It's like when you (if you work in retail) are told to go stack a product so that it's a cube, or so that it's an inverted pyramid. It's idiotic, possibly unnecessary, but it's what they want, so you do it so that they will give you money.

I think that, possibly, the difference may have to do with American social relations. First - I don't appreciate Americans on a whole being insulted. It happens a lot, I get it, we're all apparently retarded and violent and we love beer or... whatever it is. That said, Americans do tend to be more detached from the people around them than certain other countries (see: Japan) when it comes to the workplace. I don't know about other people's jobs, or people who love their jobs, start companies with friends, etc, but most people are doing the above: doing what their boss tells them to avoid conflict and to get "teh moneiz." You never ask your quest givers why they can't just go find twenty badger eyes for themselves, you just start mowing down badgers to get them.

Some other countries (and this comes from a place of heavy conjecture, so if I sound intelligent, I'm sorry) tend to have more inclusive attitudes towards work. They work /together/. I'm not saying people in other countries love their jobs like no tomorrow, but there are notable differences in the way that some countries raise their kids in mind to work.

This is an extremely long, rambling post, and I've gotten away from the point. Basically, box art in America may suck - and I'm not saying it does every time because, well, I buy off Steam and there is no box involved - because certain larger companies in America don't give a rat's backend what their graphic design team thinks is a bad idea. Marketing says slap a giant floating head on it to grab people's attention, so you slap a giant floating head on it and die a little more inside, go home, drink, and write a webcomic.

The main one I can think of are all the subtle changes we get in some covers, like Kirby being given an angry face on US ports of his games instead of a smiling one.

As an American I can say that I am not proud of most of the alternate box art that we get. Then again now most of my sales go to steam so I don't really care about box art much anymore.

Bump for Flashback!
One of the greatest games ever and who's title music will forever be burned in my brain.

But I do have to say that I think the issue of box art is increasingly becoming a null point as we move to digital distribution.

I really do hope they start doing a better job on the box art in the future.

Yahtzee, you're awesome, but I fail to see your point. Mainly because you primarily refer to games from an era that was 1. Before I played console games (I was only a computer gamer until late grade school, in the last couple years of the 90s) and 2. Back when console games were kinda lame in general (which is what I felt even back then, hence my not playing console games until the late 90s).

Also, haven't you heard the phrase "Never judge a book by its cover"? Actually, I bet you have already. And probably dozens of times again since you posted this article. Point remains. I don't judge games based on their box art. What I care about is the game content. I go into stores knowing ahead of time which game(s) I intend to get, and if I see one that I haven't heard of which looks interesting based on what I read on the BACK of the box, I do some research before deciding to buy.

Finally, I have to be honest and say I don't like the condescending tone you took when making remarks about Americans. Yes, we do have a lot of stupid people. But then again, stupid people are everywhere (just take a look at some of the legislation being put in place in Canada, the supposed paradise of tolerance and progress in North America), and honestly, there are worse places to be from. Granted, I believe you are a misanthropic limey with a pole up your ass, but that's only because it's what you present yourself as (quite intentionally) in Zero Punctuation and Extra Punctuation, not because of prejudice due to you being English.

mjc0961:
Yup. We sure get some weird boxart over here in the States. I also submit for this discussion, Kirby:

Last one is a joke obviously, but really, why did they keep making Kirby angry on our box art?

Many Japanese game designers things we want boobies and bad ass violence. Does that say more about us or them?

hawk533:
Yahtzee, this just seems kind of irrelevant in this day and age. With online distribution on the rise there's not much of future for box art. It's all screenshots nowadays.

I don't know, I've brought games on Steam because I like the little "box art" icons in the browse list, well not because, but that was what attracted me to the info page in the first place.

Why did our boxart in the '80s need squids/octopi? Were there squids and/or octopi in those games? And if there were, why were there mollusks in each of these games? The hell is that about?

SilentHunter7:
It's a trade off. You Aussies get good box art. We Yankees get games before they become irrelevant.

We are not all Yanks. That word is not synonymous with American, pal.

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