Given the shift from physical product purchase to digital download it might seem unlikely that Sir Peter Blake would have created his masterpiece for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Back then the cover art on music albums mattered as a means of creating a buzz grabbing a shopper’s attention – with the shift to online buying and downloading it seems less so.
It’s a familiar theme with gaming – over the years gaming has spawned its own artwork that is as familiar to gamers as the cover to The Beatles’ eighth album is to music aficionados.
The box art on titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Final Fantasy became so distinctive that they successfully spawned an entire and distinctive games franchise, and an exhibition this week in Newcastle recognises the role of design and marketing in games. But given the change in the way that people buy games, is it just a retrospective on the power of box art and an occasion that should therefore be mourned?
Well yes and no – while the decline in sales of boxed games will surely lead to a corresponding decline in the importance of box art, the need for strong artwork and distinctive branding is as important as ever. Moreover the opportunity that digital presents in being able to extend the art beyond the simple packaging of the product and into a more immersive digital space is one that means that box arts future is very much assured.
For example, while the game title still needs to be identifiable on a console’s dashboard, the PS4 allows for the box art to be extended into the entire dashboard and entire operating system. Equally the Xbox allows gamers to add art from the game achievements to the dashboard background as well.
It’s a transformation that the film industry has also embraced. While we are unlikely to see those movie posters similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ or Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction’ achieve iconic status again, Netflix has embraced the opportunities that digital gives it with poster titles and pages I specific art styles dedicated to titles.
Mourning the death of games box art is premature – it’s not dead, just the boxes that held the game in the first place. The digital opportunity for box art is far greater than it was for just display purposes on physical media. It can also now extend beyond just the visual into sonic branding as well, replacing system sounds, and background music too. And this is something that I’m sure Blake would welcome.