5 Trends In Video Game Cover Art

Get the low down on video game art right here.
Get the low down on video game art right here.

By Dale Bridges

In marketing a video game, there’s nothing more important than the cover design. Sure, there are potential customers who will research reviews and view trailers before buying, but the gaming industry isn’t quite like film or TV. That is to say, trailers aren’t as big a part of the process (at least for most games), and what we see on the shelves, or in online store environments, matters a great deal more. A lot of gamers are more likely to give a title a chance if they like the basic look of it.

Because of this, game developers have put a great deal of effort into cover art over the years. We’re always seeing inventive new ways of presenting covers – some simple, some elaborate, and all designed to make a game more appealing to a prospective player. In the process, we’ve seen some pretty distinctive trends emerge in cover design art in the past several years.

Bold, Spooky Eyes

The trend of bold, spooky eyes on game covers is one of the most noticeable ones out there, and actually made a list of the 10 worst trends in gaming cover art. That’s not the most desirable distinction, but be that as it may some of the games exhibiting the trend have done exceptionally well. Diablo III is the most prominent example, but others like StarCraft and Killzone 2 have featured almost identical covers featuring close-ups of characters with sinister, red eyes. We’ve also seen an emphasis on lit-up and colorful eyes in a number of popular app games released lately, from Badlands 2 to Gods Of Rome. Basically, the design seems to be useful in fostering a sense of character intrigue in games that might otherwise sound generic or dull due to their names.

                                                       Weapons At The Ready

This is another trend that made the previously cited list, though they simply called it “Weapons Up, Punk,” and it’s another that’s been particularly striking on the cover of some major titles. The clearest examples are in the Assassin’s Creed series, where it’s become fairly traditional for protagonists wielding weaponry to be in threatening poses on the covers. But just this year we’ve seen a range of other options on some of the most popular console gaming releases. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt shows a character drawing a sword; Call Of Duty: Black Ops III shows a soldier with guns drawn; and Rise Of The Tomb Raider shows Lara Croft peering into a cave armed to the teeth. Needless to say, this style of cover art emphasizes action, and tends to leave little doubt as to what gameplay will entail.

                                                 Prominent Popular Characters
This sounds like an obvious point, but when you compare games featuring popular fictional characters to those that are simply original video games, the artistic distinction is clear. For instance, you may recall the cover to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim featuring only words and a symbol. The aforementioned Call Of Duty: Black Ops III shows an anonymous soldier. Now imagine one of the Batman games from the Arkham series taking the same route: symbols and words, or a shadowy figure who may or may not be Batman. It would never happen. Instead, we see games featuring cinematic heroes and comic book characters featuring these characters front and center on cover art. And the same is true beyond console games as well. Among the slots at Betfair, users can find a lot of options featuring these types of characters, primarily from the Marvel comics and films. This actually illustrates the idea of this cover art quite well, as the games themselves are mostly generic casino arcades – but the placement of popular characters on the covers draws players to them.

                                                                   Drawn Art

There’s so much focus on 3D impressions and exceptional artistic capability in modern gaming that every now and then doing something different can help a developer stand out. Perhaps it’s with this in mind that a number of games that have been produced in recent years with covers that replicate a hand-drawn artistic approach. Sometimes, games that fall into this category are basically classics, simply doing what they’ve always done: Street Fighter V and Doom for instance. But some newer titles are embracing the concept as well. An article at Polygon actually took a pretty in-depth look at some gaming cover designs and showed a sort of step-by-step drawing process for Sunset Overdrive that speaks to the idea of some pretty exceptional art going into a design made to look more like an animation than a 3D representation of reality. It tends to create an impressive picture that gamers will stop to look at.

These are only a few of many different concepts that are employed by video game cover artists. But they’re some of the most striking ones once you learn to recognize them, and given the titles that fall into each category, they’re also some of the most effective.