More than just a pretty package.
Despite what we might think, a product's success depends almost as much on the box it comes in as what's on the CD inside, in this special report, Next Generation deconstructs video and computer game packaging
Video and computer games — the best ones, anyway — are art. Maybe not fine art, yet, but art nonetheless. Video and computer game packages, on the other hand, are not art, they are marketing tools. They may have art on them, but if a great game package has ever been done just for the sake of it, we’re unaware of it. Game packaging is designed to do one thing: sell games.
“We don’t believe that the package is going to sell the game, but a bad package could certainly prevent a sale,” says Sony Computer Entertainment America’s senior director of product marketing, Peter Dille. Assuming, even for a second, that serious game publishers are satisfied with nothing more than a pretty picture on the cover of their games is like thinking of the Marlboro Man as just some guy who happened to like Marlboro cigarettes. Every nuance on a game package is used to target a specific audience.
In every successful game publisher’s office, there a number of people who care deeply about making great games. But there are just as many people (at least) for whom sales are far more important than gameplay. An important way these hard-working souls can achieve their goal is through great product marketing at retail, and very few methods are off limits in the cutthroat business of games. The game box is not the sole way to drive retail performance either; other methods include in-store competitions, standees, point-of-purchase (POP) displays, and even (of course) greasing store employees.
Though this may all sound devious, it’s not really that bad. First, retail marketing is a fact of life; everything gets marketed hard, not just games. Second, it’s often through product packaging that a great game that would have otherwise been left for dead on the retailer’s shelf is found, particularly if it’s from a smaller publisher who can’t afford to spend millions in pre-retail marketing.
But often the tricks are completely devious. Perhaps a game cover proudly displays a vast 3D battle scene with amazing explosions, but the game is a slow-paced and rather tedious war strategy-sim. There’s nothing wrong with a such a game, but the marketing folks know full-well that this is a niche product, so they cloud its true identity to move units, particularly to less sophisticated buyers who may be unlikely to look past the cool picture on the front of the box (or the screens of cut scenes on the back).
Another common scene: Gamer Y is leaning toward a certain game or even hardware system when suddenly the store clerk mentions that system X is a better buy. Maybe system X is a better buy, but then again maybe that employee is just trying to get a free system X from the manufacturer.
The critical moment when a consumer is ready to spend $50 on a game and has to choose from hundreds of titles is the “do-or-die” moment. “Packaging and POP are your final word to the consumer prior to a purchase,” says Sharon Wood, executive VP of marketing for ASC. And, since most game publishers are not able to take advantage of mass market techniques to promote their products, the game’s retail marketing has to pick up a lot of the slack. According to Eric Johnson, VP of marketing for Activision, “The only thing you can be sure of is that at the end of the day a consumer is going to pick up a box off the shelf and buy it.”
So how do publishers make sure you walk out of the store with their game? Turn the page for the complete story.
The primary goal of a game box cover is to make the consumer pick it up and look at the screenshots on the back. If the marketing department can get the box into your hands, then all their careful planning has already begun to pay off. Some publishers estimate that getting the consumer to pick up the box gets them 50% closer to a sale. The theory is simple: once consumers have a product in their hands, they begin to feel the power of possession. Even before any money has changed hands, those consumers know what it feels like to own the game; only by a conscious decision to abandon the product will they be leaving the store without it. So what can publishers do to make sure consumers pick up their box and not one of the hundred or so others screaming for attention? Countless theories suggest how best to snag the customer’s attention, but in the end there are a few techniques that seem to pop up over and over again.
Inventing a look that identifies a game as part of a specific line is an extremely potent technique to successful publishers’ retail marketing strategies. “A line look creates a scenario where the sum is greater than the parts,” says Dille. Look closely at the PlayStation library. It is not by accident that every cover has a black border with a white “PlayStation” logo running down the left side. Sony has successfully created a “look” for PlayStation software. In doing so, the consumer with a mind to purchase PlayStation software is led straight to the PlayStation section of the store without the complication of having to first look through competing software selections. Of course, it’s easier to establish a line look on the console side, since the first party can set rigid product guidelines, but it happens to a lesser degree on the PC, within specific brands.
Within a rigid line look a number of opportunities exist to further brand and tie together specific products. This is step one in a marketing technique called cross-selling. If a publisher has a particularly strong sports line, like EA Sports, that company can brand its sports games with a specific logo or illustration style. In doing so, one successful title in the series, Madden for example, can help sell the latest installment in the NHL series by demonstrating a clear connection to that game.
On the console side, a rigid line look also grants a special advantage to the first-party hardware manufacturer by letting it break free of the mold for special games and thus attract extra attention to such titles. On the PC, though, every title is attempting to “break the mold” and stand out, which is why the PC game sections of software stores look so frenetic. Sure, all PC software could come in neat jewel cases like console software, but since it doesn’t have to, publishers are generally willing to spend serious bucks on a big, empty box. Why? Because everyone else is, and if they want to be noticed on the shelf, they have to as well.
The most important aspect of good box design is creating a compelling central image. Image, after all, is everything at retail. Defining what constitutes a “compelling” image is daunting, and therein lies the art of great package design. Andrew Cawrse, senior digital artist at Studio Archetype, has created packaging for several Nintendo 64 games, including Shadows of the Empire, Cruis’n USA, and Mario Kart 64. He stresses that “all the images should represent the essence of the game and the characters or assets unique to
the game” and “should convey a high level of excitement and intensity with computer-rendered, 3D imagery.”
One important consideration when creating the central image for the cover is the audience the publisher is trying to hook. For Super Puzzle Fighter II from Capcom, the cover had to convey the light-hearted fun associated with the puzzle genre, but also capture the Street Fighter characters’ appeal to die-hard fans. Featured on the cover is an image of Ryu in a fighting pose, but Capcom went with a super-deformed image of its well-known character on a brightly colored background to further distinguish the game.
According to Anne Moellering, Director of Marketing for Sega, “Every game has to boil down to a reason for being.” In an industry that delivers countless racing, fighting, and shooting games every year, publishers use the cover image to convey what’s different about their game.
With Sega Rally PC for example, it was up to Sega to let consumers know that this was not a traditional racing game. To that end, the image on the cover is a rally car flying through the air over a dirt track. This single bold image distinguished the game from standard track racing games.
Another good example of targeting an audience is Sony’s Cool Boarders. While the industry standard for box art is computer generated (CG) art, Sony wanted to be sure that real snowboarders saw themselves, not an unrealistic CG image. So Sony used an image of a real snowboarder — complete with the hip wardrobe and attitude.
In the end, no hard and fast rules govern how to create a successful cover image. Each game has its own strengths, weaknesses, and subtleties that must be exploited. Sega’s Nights represented a challenge because the game’s lead character was testing very young in focus groups. To counter this sales-threatening skew, Sega went with a nighttime scene on the cover to give the game an older look.
In Japan, Final Fantasy VII was released with a plain white cover and featured only the game’s logo. This may not seem strange until you consider that the game’s strongest selling point is its incredible CG art. The most important sales point of Final Fantasy VII in Japan was not allure of its great graphics but rather the heritage of the series. Thus the name said more about the game than any piece of art could have. When the game comes to the U.S., of course, the packaging will be reconsidered because the graphics are far more important than the name in America.
When creating a game’s identity, a job that traditionally begins on the packaging, the logo must first be considered. With sequels becoming an ever more important part of the game industry, a logo developed today must be prepared to stand up to years of use, but that’s not its only job. Among casual gamers, titles are not traditionally sold on the reputation of the publisher or developer, and thus the name of the game becomes the sole brand name of the experience. In other words, very few people know to buy the latest Yu Suzuki game, but they will buy the latest Virtua Fighter game.
A good logo will be easy to read and recognizable. When asked about the responsibility of the logo, several publishers referenced the “six-foot rule” (of course some companies called it the 10-foot rule or the three-foot rule, but you get the picture). The idea is that from six feet away a logo should still be easy to read and stand out against the competition. There is no way around it — even the most important game is still going to find itself sitting on the shelf with hundreds of other games, and a well-designed logo will distinguish it from the pack.
A good logo also accurately conveys the attitude of a game. A grungy hand-written logo says this game is down and dirty, while a tall, thin, formal logo says class. Tomb Raider's
Indiana Jones-style logo, for instance, perfectly captures the style of the game. The psychological effect of a logo often defines a player’s attitude about the game even before it is played. Publishers use this to their advantage in further targeting the right market. There is both a science and an art to designing good logos. Ultimately, a good logo will distinguish a game from its competition and will represent the experience of the game itself.
The back cover
But just getting the consumer to pick up the box won’t guarantee a sale. Since most consumers only buy one game at a time, they’re likely to pick up several boxes before finally deciding which one to purchase. This is when the back of the box goes to work.
Once a well-designed cover gets a potential buyer to pick up a game box, the publisher has the consumer’s attention. This is when the hard sell is set in motion. The number one priority for most publishers at this point is to give potential buyers a look at the game.
Despite what we’d like to think, most consumers are suckers for a game with good graphics. Successful publishers know that this is their opportunity to take advantage of that. The important point to remember is that when looking at the back of the box, in most cases, a consumer has to take the publisher at its word. Whether this means buying into the overblown prose or believing that the CG-rendered images on the box are actual gameplay, rarely can a potential buyer actually try the game before purchasing the game, and package designers exploit this weakness in the system to the fullest, as anyone who has bought a game that looks great in the store but disappoints at home can attest.
The easiest way to sell a game is by making it look good on the box. According to Bob Schonfisch, director of creative services at Sega, “Research shows over and over again that the first thing the consumer looks at is the screenshots.” The best way for a publisher to use this is, of course, to make a great-looking game and then display it, but this is unfortunately not the only way. A popular trick is to run scenes from rendered intro sequences on the box. Though most veteran gamers are familiar with this trick, less savvy consumers are likely to fall prey to this tactic over and over again and end up with games that simply don’t deliver on the promises made in the store.
According to Scott Steinberg, VP of marketing for Crystal Dynamics, “Screenshots are the aesthetic reality check for consumers.” But without sufficient experience in buying games, consumers often let certain screens give them an unrealistic impression.
To really get the most from the screenshots on the back of a box, a smart publisher will use images that carefully show all the important features in the game. If a game has a two-player, split-screen mode, a screenshot depicting this feature is far more important than a line of text that reads, “This game has a really great two-player, split-screen mode.” Videogames are a visual experience, and gamers like to let the visuals do the talking. A well-designed box also features screenshots that depict the very pinnacle of excitement in the game. Product managers may sort through hundreds of screenshots just to arrive at four or five for the final box. Why? Because a single screenshot can convey several important messages about the game’s features.
Why is this so important? Because many consumers are still buying games based solely on their impression of the screenshots. Germaine Gioia of THQ makes this extremely clear: “If you combine the circulation of all the game magazines and assumed that there was no overlapping whatsoever, you still wouldn’t come close to the total number of game buyers in the market.” This ignores the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of the purchases are made by the top 20% of consumers (the ones who read magazines like Next Generation), but she does have a valid point. Much of the credit for a sale belongs to package design and screenshot quality.
After the potential buyer has seen the screenshots, it’s time to read about the game’s special features. Here, the publisher needs to differentiate its game from the competition. “You should have a single point that differentiates your game and then follow it up with sub-points,” suggests Schonfisch. If it’s a racing game, it’s important to make it clear that it’s not just like every other racing game released in the past five years.
Gamers want to believe they’re getting a new experience, so publishers try to convince consumers that their product delivers that important missing piece. This is a great opportunity for PC publishers to stress multiplayer features and online service support. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to pull out the sales-talk thesaurus and find terms such as: “hair-raising enemies,” “flaming debris,” and “32,768 mind-melting colors.” Screenshots combined with the box copy are the 1-2 combination of retail sales. If the exciting graphics don’t grab you, the flowery language will. That’s what the publishers are hoping anyway.
Following closely in the steps of the motion-picture industry, game publishers are depending more on press quotes to sell their games than ever before. As the industry and gamers continue to mature, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sell bad games to unsuspecting consumers (a feat that used to be no more difficult than slapping a high profile movie license on the product). The reason for this change is that savvy consumers have become familiar with the tricks of the trade, such as posing CG images as game shots or using five seconds of Rob Lowe FMV footage to sell games.
To battle this new cynicism (a condition for which publishers of bad games are directly responsible), publishers have turned to the one place gamers still feel that they can get an honest opinion, the independent game press. By reprinting a quote from a gaming magazine directly on the box, the publisher can use the credibility of the magazine to bolster the image of their product. Here again, the game industry mirrors the movie industry: reprinted publicity quotes are often more than little snippets taken out of context which grossly misrepresent original editorial intent.
System requirements and peripheral support
One final must-have element on game packaging is an outline of peripheral support and system requirements. Gamers with Sega’s 3D Control Pad or Nintendo’s Rumble Pack are going to be instantly interested in games that announce added peripheral value. When considering PC games, the same rules apply. For example, if a game supports the new force-feedback joystick from CH Products, consumers interested in this technology are more likely to be automatically interested in the game no matter how good it may be.
Unique to the PC world is the need to list system requirements on the box. But even within these cold facts and figures, subtle techniques are available to smart publishers to use to their advantage. For example, it’s not at all uncommon to see the Windows logo on the actual cover of the box, and then to go searching for the rest of the system requirements. The strategy behind this approach is to let the familiar Windows logo attract the casual or beginning user while not scaring them off with a confusing list of technical requirements. They know Windows, but they might not have any idea what the hell a “PCI Video Card w/ Direct X support” is. For hard-core gamers who know their machines, the system requirements will not only tell them whether or not the game will run on their systems, but also how it might perform. The difference is that hard-core gamers don’t mind having to search out information on the box.
Inside the box
Another technique used to sway the consumer at the retail outlet is through the promise of something extra in the box. This is where companies using bigger boxes for their games maintain a potential advantage over a company such as Sony that uses the standard jewel cases. Traditional items used to promote sales have been deluxe strategy guides, art books,
and posters. While some publishers see this a way to increase the value of their product and thus create new sales opportunities, many of the companies NG talked with all but dismissed the inclusion of bonus items as an unnecessary bother. But bonus items are not the only way to take advantage of the space inside the box.
Publishers have learned to take advantage of the extra room inside their boxes by using a technique called cross-selling. By promoting other games on the back of a manual or as a special insert, a publisher can reach a very specific audience, an audience that has already proven that they are willing to buy games.
While this strategy may sound a little opportunistic, it’s uncommon to find a gamer that doesn’t at least to some degree appreciate this extra little bit of promotion. After all, if a game delivers a rewarding experience, most consumers will be eager to know what other games that company is responsible for. Since game companies are often unable to take advantage of mainstream advertising avenues, cross-selling is one important way to efficiently promote an entire library.
It’s all about added value. What goes in the box is an important aspect of retail marketing.
Tricks of the trade
There are a number of tricks savvy — and sometimes unscrupulous — marketers use to sell their products. Amazingly enough, the game industry has managed to largely steer clear of the old “sex sells” strategy. This is not to suggest that a few companies haven’t made an attempt to garner attention with a sexy silicon model on the cover of their boxes. What’s left for companies trying desperately to get a consumer’s attention amid countless other games?
Probably the most important marketing question of the 32- and 64-bit generation is how to express the 3D nature of the games. It’s difficult, in fact, to find a game box or promotional item that doesn’t have the 3D badge of honor stamped on it somewhere, but this is far from the only way to cash in on 3D. Probably the most obvious method is through the use of 3D-modeled art of a character on the cover. “The arrival of 3D modeling has revolutionized package design in both the PC and console markets,” says Steinberg. Though 99% of the time the model on the front is far more sophisticated than anything in the game, 3D models are an easy and efficient way to brand the game.
Another common, but slightly more subtle, method is to position a character or car or spaceship or whatever so that it appears as though it’s jumping off the cover and into the consumer’s face (note the position of Crash Bandicoot’s lead foot stepping out of the background). This implies that the game is not played on a flat 2D screen but rather in a completely three-dimensional environment where a car really can leap right out of the screen. There are also more elaborate methods to achieve this effect with die-cuts or embossed boxes (found mostly in the PC market) which actually raise an image from the flat surface of the box to give it a true 3D effect. Some companies even create a custom box with multiple layers to convey a convincing 3D space.
Another popular trick is to use foil or metallic finishes. In a sea of black and red cover concepts, a shiny metallic finish makes itself known as something special and often attracts the attention of the browser before anything else on the shelf. Metallic colors, beyond just standing out in a crowd, are traditionally associated with prizes; thus a game in a shiny metal package is unconsciously registered as a cut above. A similar case could be made for the use of fluorescent colors or brightly colored stickers that highlight a game’s cover design. Essentially anything that grabs a consumer’s attention is a good thing, and in an environment of a game shop where the walls already look like a Technicolor explosion, this attention-getting takes an inventive touch.
Finally, celebrity endorsements still carry some cachet. A celebrity’s name does more than just make it more noticeable on a retail shelf (a certain amount of credibility is lent to a product with a respected individual’s endorsement) — it makes the product stand out in a sea of unfamiliar and often outlandish images. These and other more subtle techniques come down to little more than just getting a product noticed. Once that’s happened, the rest of the attack plan goes to work. And of course, these same rules and tricks apply to POP items such as countertop displays or standees as well as to game boxes. These effects may be subtle, but every bit at retail counts for marketers.
Putting the retailer to work
A less obvious method for ensuring better retail performance is to put the retail employee to work for your company. A retailer ultimately wants to sell games. Since profit margins are generally the same across the board, it doesn’t typically matter much to store managers whose product gets sold. It’s in the publisher’s best interest to make sure that the retailer is eager to sell its particular product, and the methods for ensuring this kind of support range from copies of free software for store employees to free hardware for every x-number sold. Rumors of much bigger pay-offs circulate as well, but no one is willing to speak on the record about those.
Whether it’s quarterly mailings (including free games and other good stuff) to buyers and store managers or personal visits, smart publishers are doing everything they can to make sure that the retailer is aware of their product and ready to sell for them. Though most publishers were not too eager to talk about their relationships with retailers, it’s fairly obvious that pretty much everything in the retail outlet is for sale. Extra shelf space, stacks of games in the aisle, and a little extra push from the store manager are all available to the company willing to pay for them.
Alternative retail marketing
Traditionally reserved for bigger companies (console manufacturers and wildly successful PC companies), most retailers encourage special promotional items to help sell big titles. Perhaps the most successful method is the playable kiosk. It’s the old “try-before-you-buy” adage at work. If potential customers can actually get their hands on a game before laying out $50, they are going to feel much more confident about their purchase and more likely to buy a game they know first-hand.
This is where companies such as Sony, Sega, and Nintendo have a special advantage over all others. While the best a third-party publisher can really hope for is maybe a rolling demo played on a retailer’s mounted videoscreen, first-party publishers can actually provide the consumer with a unit and a copy of the game to try out. Even the PC market with all its successful shareware and demo business models can’t provide that kind of experience right beside the cash register.
Contests are another way that any publisher, big or small, can create an advantage for itself. Through the use of a countertop standee and a few entry forms (provided that the retailer is willing to display it), a publisher can dramatically increase the potential value of its product. If a game promises a cash prize or a trip to Hawaii, potential buyers just might be swayed at the last second to give it a try. It’s doubtful that any contest will lure customers to buy a game they don’t want, but if a particular game was one among many they were considering, it could just make the difference. Now that the strategies and tricks are revealed, how are we supposed to feel about being targeted this way? Well, unless you prefer some alternative to modern capitalism (and we’re not here to tell you that you can’t), we’re pretty much forced to submit to the methods employed by game companies with a big capitalistic smile on our faces.
Compared to some other industries, the game industry is a relatively clean and friendly sort, and we should be thankful that we at least maintain the right to pick and choose our game purchases on the basis of nothing more than the quality of the product.
In the end, with the near countless choices in the game industry, no retail marketing technique beats a good old-fashioned word-of-mouth campaign (it’s called the Internet, and it scares the hell out of every publisher in the business). In fact, most companies we talked to suggested their primary goal in marketing games is to reach the hard-core audience first and let them spread the word to the more casual audience. Think about this: while most hard-core gamers learn about the best games before they come out, a good retail marketing campaign (game package, in-store promotion, playable kiosks) is often the sole reason excellent games get the attention they deserve.
An interview with Paul Baldwin
The vice President of Marketing for Eidos interactive reveals some of the secret tactics of retail marketing
NG: What is the first thing Eidos does to get the retail marketing ball rolling?
PB: Creating awareness at retail is something we start several months prior to the product going on the shelf. This means targeting the store managers and buyers. Typically we, and other companies, create a sell sheet, a flyer, and a box comp, we then send them out to buyers. We hit them weekly or monthly depending on what the budget of the product is.
One thing Eidos does is send out monthly mailings to over 2,000 store managers. These mailings consist of a newsletter, sell sheet, and always some kind of neat little "wow" thing. Sometimes it's a poster or a free copy of the game, it could be free games for a year.
NG: What can creating awareness at retail do for a publisher?
PB: what we're trying to do is enlist the store managers — particularly at the smaller specialty stores where they have the same consumers coming in weekly saying, "Hey Joe, what's the hot game this week?" So we try to build awareness of the Eidos product line so that when the consumer comes in and actually asks the store manager about the hot game, he or she knows to recommend Conquest Earth or Flying Nightmares 2. [Point is] store employees are thinking about Eidos products, we find this works best at the smaller; specialty shops where a consumer can actually go find the store manager.
NG: What are some other methods for reaching store managers?
PB: One of the popular specialty chains has two groups of store managers that act as the epicenter for disseminating information about games. There are 12 members on the console side and, I believe, eight for the PC. They are a great source. What you do is send them the information on a product. They read through it, and then because they have the trust of the buyers and top brass, they can get on the horn and tell store managers, "Hey, Flying Nightmares 2 is going to be great and it's something you might want to keep extra space open for and push a little harder because it's going to be a top title." We really target them aggressively. Other companies do it quarterly, but we do it monthly. Those store managers are your best friends.
NG: What techniques do you use to stress the Eidos products at retail?
PB: There's a whole a gamut of things you can do in terms of POP: shelf talkers (something that attaches to the shelf and protrudes several inches out into the aisle) and standees are good. At computer superstores, you can use an end cap. An end cap is when you essentially buy a big space on the floor for them to stack a mound of your games. Also, to further highlight
the Eidos brand, we've designed a specific box shape (the pyramid shape used with Tomb Raider PC).
NG: Is this kind of special treatment (end caps, extra shelf space, and so on) for sale?
PB: Yes. That's something that the sales guys take care of, but you can buy it. A retailer isn't going to sell you an end cap for a bad title. These are reserved for strong titles. Everyone used to be able to do this. You'd hear a PC publisher say that they shipped out 200,000 copies of their game, well, maybe they did but they probably paid for it all and then they all came back.
NG: Was the Lara Croft image for the Tomb Raider cover image really made intentionally sexy?
PB: It was definitely intentional how we positioned Lara Croft on the cover, it's not unlike the approach that Sony has for Crash or Sega has for Sonic, we did this because it's a character-based game and it sets it up for sequels and peripheral markets like action figures and comic books. What we did by featuring Lara Croft on the box was one, explain the game and two, open it up for pushing the Lara Croft franchise down the line. It wasn't done by accident, in terms of impact for consumers, yeah I think some people stopped and were struck by what a strong, striking figure Lara Croft was. However, ultimately if the game isn't any good it's going to come right back (to the store). A lot of companies I know are making sexy female characters, and the reality is that they've always been around especially in fighting games. And so everyone is coming out with sexy characters but at the end of the day it comes down to how good the game is. The success of Tomb Raider was not because Lara Croft had big breasts, it was because it was a solid game.
NG: What's it like to work on different formats? Do you feel stifled by the size of the PlayStation boxes as opposed to the larger PC format?
PB: l don't think that stifled is the right word, but we certainly are limited as to what we can do. That's why it's so important to have one striking image on the cover of a game. It doesn't affect us too much because we try to come up with one central image that we use on all the boxes. In that way, the box is like the end result of the overall marketing process. We try to use the same image on our online ads, our print ads, and strategy guides so we're hitting people with the same image. It's amazing how other companies are using three or four different images for the same game. So when people get to the store they may be looking for a skull image (that they've seen elsewhere), but there's no skull because in the store it's a sword. And when you're dealing with maybe three or four seconds of a consumer's attention (in a retail environment), this just doesn't make any sense.
The Five Greatest Game Packages of all Time
Legend of Zelda (NES) (Nintendo) — An extremely inventive package that helped define the image of the game, Legend of Zelda came with a gold cartridge (a feature which was revealed through the die-cut hole on the front cover). The game also came with a full-color manual and fold-out map. This kind of deluxe treatment was almost unheard of at this point in history.
Wishbringer (Apple II) (Infocom) — Wishbringer's original packaging was a standard box (unlike earlier, more elaborate attempts, like the flying saucer packaging of Suspended), but it came with map fragments, an actual sealed letter, and a purple glow-in-the-dark stone. All the Infocom packaging, in fact, contained a good bit of support material — from ID cards to comic books. It was a high-brow attempt to thwart piracy — Infocom’s disks may have been easy to copy, but to get the full experience of the game you would need all the extras.
id Anthology (PC) (id) — This special collector’s edition included every id game ever created as well as a stylish black T-shirt, an id anthology book, id dog-tags, a pewter cyber-demon, and a nice poster to boot. The oversized box boasts a convincing weathered look and successfully conveys the attitude of id’s game library.
Jane’s Combat Simulations (PC) - state of the art in efficiency, the fold-out flap in Jane’s Combat Simulations takes full advantage of valuable real estate by giving in-depth descriptions of the real technology represented in the game. The back of the box is no less useful with plenty of screenshots and feature listings. This is a no nonsense box, which may not work when trying to target arcade gamers, but it hits the hard-core combat sim fan perfectly.
Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation, Japan) (Square) — One of the cleanest covers of all time, Final Fantasy VII says more with a plain white cover and a bold classy logo that any image could ever match. This is especially impressive since the game itself is so well known for its dazzling graphics.
Packaging: from concept to cover
A game's packaging and support POP materials can be designed any number of ways, but the following explanation represents the start-to-finish process of one product manager, Ami Blaire at Sony Computer Entertainment America, working with some of Sony's most important upcoming releases
Step one: the creative brief
A creative brief is a concise summary of game's strengths and specific characteristics. The point of the creative brief is to help focus the positioning, strategy, and overall objective of a product in creating this documentation for the game, the entire marketing commitment, ideally, is able to start on the same page and collectively work toward a clearly defined goal.
Step two: concept art
The next step in designing a game's packaging is to get the creative service department working with the design staff (either in-house or out) to create some preliminary concept sketches. These sketches are usually nothing more than rough pencil drawings that attempt to capture the essence of the game outlined in the creative brief. At this point in the process plenty of room is allowed for experimentation, and numerous possible avenues are explored. The object of this stage is not to create the finished cover, but rather to establish a few viable options.
Step three: creating comps
After the original concept sketches have been done and considered, the design firm works to firm up the sketches that show the most promise. From here, the next step is to create several "comps" (a mocked-up version of what the cover would actually look like) depicting the different directions created in step two. Once this is done, its time to narrow the directions to just a couple of selections.
Step four: consumer tests
Once the selection of possible concepts has been narrowed to two or three, it's time to do internal and consumer testing. Focus groups have long been used by the industry to gage how closely its ideas are lining up with what the consumer is really thinking. Once all the opinions are in it's time to pick a final concept and set out to finalize the image.
Step five: finalizing the cover
Once the final image has been chosen and properly rendered and colored (or whatever special treatment the cover may be receiving) it's time for one last check to make sure that it delivers on all its promise. Provided that it does and everyone is happy with it, the game now has a cover. According to Blaire, "We want the cover to be compelling enough to stop people in their tracks." And looking at the finished design for the upcoming release of Spawn, they just may have done it.
/NEXT GENERATION, vol.3 32, August 1997/