Find all previous editions of the PCG Q&A here. Some highlights:
- Have you tried to make your own game or mod? (opens in new tab)
- What's something about games you didn't mind as a kid but can't stand now? (opens in new tab)
- What was the best game on your school computers? (opens in new tab)
Back in the day box art was a significant part on our decision whether or not to buy games. Sure, the art wasn't what the graphics actually looked like. It wasn't supposed to be. It represented the idea you held in your head while you played, the dream of a game rather than the reality. Nowadays the thumbnail on a store page serves the same purpose and can have the same effect, even if you can't hold it in your hands.
Have you ever bought a game just because of its cover art? Here are our answers, as well as one from game collector and CEO of Nightdive Studios Stephen Kick, plus some from our forum (opens in new tab).
James Davenport: This is strictly how I used to operate. My only access to videogame media was through skimming the PC Gamer magazines at the local grocery store, though they'd usually catch on and shoo me out of there. I wasn't allowed to use the internet very often either, so on the rare trips out of town to Butte, the nearest town PC games were sold in, I'd have to trust my instincts. I distinctly remember buying Black & White because the PC box was so simple on its face compared to the rest. Just the title on a black surface. Get closer though and the glossy embossed art covering the front would hit the light and reveal monsters and gods hidden on the surface. Also, you knew it was gonna be a good PC game if the front of the box had a Velcro-secured panel that opened up to tell you more about the game. I can still hear the scrunnnch when I close my eyes.
Evan Lahti: Tribes' desolate tundra may have sold me on the openness of its environments. In 1998, after playing Quake 2 and Doom and other shooters set mostly inside bases and ceilinged facilities for years, Tribes' box conveyed a multiplayer FPS where you could really feel the wind in your face as you jetpacked over hilltops or hopped into flying vehicles that could seat multiple players. I'd never seen anything like it. In practice, Tribes' intricate bases were a pretty big part of the experience too, but two decades later its box art stands out as one that's honest and representative of its open-air dueling.
Wes Fenlon: I will always pay $1 for Jeff Goldblum. Most of us were lured into buying games with captivating box art as foolish children, but I've been hooked much more recently. Just last year, I bought a bad 1999 pinball game (opens in new tab) for $1 at the Portland Retro Game Show, and wrote a whole article about it. You got me again, Goldblum!
My memory isn't good enough to recall any PC games I plucked off the shelf based on their box art as a kid, but I do remember being ecstatic when my dad brought Tomb Raider home from a business trip. That trapezoid box—so striking! I'm not sure I knew anything about Tomb Raider before that, so the box was definitely a big part of the appeal. You could just tell that game was going to be cool as hell.
Rachel Watts: So many indie games. I am a complete sucker when it comes to eye-catching visuals and have bought far too many indie games on Steam because I was enticed by their lovely thumbnail art. Sometimes my brash purchases actually work out for the best, like when I discovered Pavilion (opens in new tab) and Aviary Attorney (opens in new tab) but most of the time I'm a terrible person and never get around to playing them (I promise I will play you one day Bright Bird (opens in new tab)).
Stephen Kick, CEO of Nightdive Studios: When I was growing up I had a small budget for PC games so I often hit the bargain bin at Babbage's, Computer City, or Electronics Boutique. I would have a certain criteria that would need to be met before I was parted with my lawn mowing money, specifically how radical the box art was and how much the box weighed. If it was heavy there was a good chance that it’d have multiple discs, a large print manual or hopefully some trinket or figurine. The game would also win my favor for embossed artwork, metallic ink, a gatefold cover, or some striking illustration. These were all hallmarks of quality to a 12-year-old.
The first game that comes to mind is CHASM: The Rift with its lizardy dog-like creature snarling at you through a triangular portal. It’s festooned with a jester’s hat as well as a blood-drenched spinning saw blade. It’s such a weird assortment of elements that through some stroke of genius find a bizarre cohesion that captivated me. Embossed cover? Check. Shiny metallic foil? Check? Gatefold cover? Now that’s where the party really gets started. Fold that flappy flap back and you’re treated to a glorious illustration featuring more of those zany enemies you’ll come to love. Egyptian cat-men brandishing spears, axe wielding executioners, cybernetically enhanced soldiers from the future? In Chasm, anything goes.
Maybe because it offered "Quake-like" action at a price I could afford, or maybe because it was my first experience with Euro-jank, to this day it’s a centerpiece of my collection.
Krud: I'm sure I must have done that with bargain bin buys back in the day, but nothing stands out, except for once instance where it was not a bargain.
I was at a department store (not the usual place to buy games), in 1992, and they had a small game display that included The Legend of Kyrandia. I knew nothing about the game at the time and based my decision solely on cover artwork which looked cool. Much cooler than the actual game. This was not a new phenomenon, as most games before the 21st century tended to have cooler looking artwork than the game could deliver. But I don't think I'd ever paid full price ($40-$50 range) sight unseen before.
Long story short, I was disappointed, and from that point on, I never bought a game solely due to its cover (I think), and rarely paid full price if I could help it. It was a key turning point in my game consumption, and those rules combined with playable demos helped me keep my game collection to a reasonable size for years, though that totally went out the window when digital downloads came along (and demos went away for the most part. I used to rely heavily on the PC Gamer demo discs, moreso than reviews.)
Rensje: Yes, actually. I remember looking at the PC game shelf of my local toy store around the time of my 13th birthday. I had some birthday money in my pocket and was ready to get something for myself, and then I saw this:
Two games, an expansion AND a strategy guide for the price of one game?! The cover art looked rad as hell, too. I remember giving my stepfather a look that said "would this be allowed" but he didn't seem to think much of it. The screenshots on the back of the box didn't look particularly violent or offensive, so he let me pick it up.
Some ten thousand hours later, I would say that was some money well spent. And I was sold on it because of the box art.
Speaking of Blizzard games, does anyone remember the cardboard boxes that World of Warcraft used to come in? The ones with the flipbook-style page that would open and reveal a bunch of amazing screenshots? Those were legit. I still have all of them up until Wrath of the Lich King. I had the collector's edition of Cataclysm and after that I finally stopped playing.
Man, video game boxes. Those were the days. Manuals, too. I loved reading those, and I actually did read most of them front to back.
McStabStab: 13 year old me saw this at the height of my days when I would go to six flags and ride rollercoasters until I felt sick (and sometimes got sick):
I also remember thinking that whoever designed the box art clearly didn't understand rollercoaster physics cause the corkscrew starts with the wrong inversion and the rollercoaster car doesn't have up stop or side friction wheels.
Kaamos_Llama: Back before the internet as a child, box art or word of mouth was all I had to go on quite often. Magazines cost almost as much as a budget game! Most of the times I would buy a title for something like £7.99 if I ever had money quite often based purely on the box. There was a limited selection in our local WH Smiths, a lot of them were trash, it was the wild west back then and I mostly didn't know any better.
The one that sticks in my memory most though is Realms, I bought it for full price, after my birthday. It was the first proper strategy game I remember playing. I'm sure the game doesn't hold up these days but the music is etched in my soul.