[“Marketing Melancholy” is an occasional column by Siliconera's Spencer Yip that examines multiple facets of marketing games from an end user's point of view, from advertising campaigns through box art and beyond. This first column tries to see what happens when a video game store-goer gets literal with game boxes.]

For informed gamers, the box art is not going to be the deciding factor whether to purchase a game or not. By reading magazines, reviews and seeing shakycam clips on YouTube they already have an opinion whether on they are going to buy a game, wait for it to drop on to the clearance racks or ignore it forever. However, box art does serve an important purpose. It’s a first impression for uninformed gamers to learn about a title.

Introduction: The Idea

As an experiment, I’m going to venture into an unnamed 'popular-video-game-store' as an “uninformed gamer” (or at least, my attempt to blank my mind and become one!) and do something you should probably never do to a person - judge a book game by its cover alone.

Part 1: The Movie Game Enticement

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The first thing I noticed was games based on movies. Why? Because as a “non-gamer”, the box art was familiar to me. Take a look at the Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End or Spider-Man 3 box art. The images are similar, if not identical to the movie posters. I may not be a gamer, but repetitive branding has conditioned me to recognize these titles, whether their gameplay is rudimentary or revolutionary.

I might actually pick one of these games up because I have not read reviews and I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I think of (insert favorite movie title here). The same goes with video games based on TV shows or anime. Naruto is on the front of all the Naruto anime-based games, of course, because he is the selling point for anyone who hasn't previously read up on the games.

Part 2: The Mascot Advantage

Hmm… there are a lot of boxes with this “Mario” character on the Nintendo side. I may not be a gamer, but I've certainly heard of Mario and Sonic before. The box art for Sonic the Hedgehog (next-gen) has a simple message: 'Look - Sonic is in this, you’re buying it because Sonic is in this.'

Mario Strikers Charged has a similar message: this game has Mario playing soccer; you don’t need to know any more. The majority of video game box art out there relies on pre-branding, familiarity with the characters or franchise.

Part 3: Preaching To The Converted

Take the box art for Final Fantasy III as an example - it's a simple logo mounted on a white background. Yes, it looks classy. However, if I've never heard about Final Fantasy in the first place, I’m going to ignore it. Obviously, there is a problem here. Not for Final Fantasy III, but for games that aren’t part of an established series. What kind of box art can break through the branding barrier?

Conundrum: Box Art Differentiators?

One option is to have a different design for your box. I know fans might not have been thrilled with the outside box art for Persona 3, but on a shelf the packaging stands out. When you quickly scan the walls of unnamed-popular-video-game-store the larger box is noticeable, perhaps noticeable enough for people to pick up.

BioShock has a similar eye-catching trick - it’s shiny and puffy. Viva Piñata (pictured) takes this concept a step further by making their box an entirely different shape. Too bad unnamed-popular-video-game-store alphabetically sorts games, which puts Viva Piñata close to the floor. Ouch.

Solution: Use Familiar Elements?

When you can’t make special packaging, the next best thing is to piggyback on familiar elements to showcase a new product. I may not know what Riviera: The Promised Land is, but the PSP’s box art has anime-style characters on it. Lots of localized games from Japan go with this concept.

They know which niche they are catering to, but this is a double-edged sword. While they are catering to the growing anime crowd, the box art doesn’t tell enough of a story to attract potential customers uninterested in anime. Perhaps explaining the gameplay may make a title more accessible, regardless of the art style.

Boxes Done Right: Picross DS

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A great example of gameplay illustrated by box art is Picross DS. The box art does a fantastic job of explaining what the game is, and how to play it. On the box you can see the Picross grid with a completed picture. Just to the right of it, you have a DS with a stylus touching the picture. The concept is easy to grasp and the text on the box makes it obvious - “Solve the picture, see the puzzle”.

The packaging explains what Picross is to a non-gamer and a gamer who didn’t pay attention to the title. Games aimed towards the casual gamer should pay special attention to this. If their cover art can explain how to play the game, a potential buyer who doesn’t pay attention to the latest game news may think: “Hey, I can do this, this game is for me!”

Boxes Done Me Wrong: Trapt, Soul Nomad

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Not every game can be as simple as Picross to explain, but highlighting a feature or two can broaden a title's appeal. Let’s look at the box art for Tecmo's Trapt as an example. Trapt is a unique game involving setting and triggering dungeon-based traps, but the box art doesn’t scream: “Hey look I have something new to offer!”

In fact, the generic cover shows an anime heroine with electricity flowing from one of her arms. If I knew nothing about it beforehand, I would pass on it. I have no clue how Trapt plays or what it is - other than I’m probably playing as the girl on the cover. Tecmo could have explained the game by showing Princess Allura with a sly smile watching in the distance, while the assassins trigger the traps - for example.

The same goes for NIS America's PlayStation 2 RPG, Soul Nomad. Seeing Gig on the cover placates the close knit community of strategy RPG fans. But I wonder how many more copies Soul Nomad would sell if the art explained the sandbox system or how you set up rooms in the game.

Of course, both of the above titles cater to a niche audience, but there are elements in both of these games that extend outside of the usual. These games also share a similar problem - a limited marketing budget. In both of these cases, my opinion is that self-explanatory box art can be another cheap form of grass roots marketing. What do GSW readers think?