Judging by its Cover

I had to run an errand a little while ago, and decided that while I was out there I’d take in a short shopping run, hitting stores that I hadn’t hit in a long time for things that I had only been buying from Amazon.  So I hit a bookstore, the video game store, and a store to look for DVDs.  Now, as it turns out I wasn’t really in the mood for shopping, and so only ended up getting one thing, which was the one thing that I pretty much knew that I was going to get, which was a copy of “Persona 5:  Strikers”.  Of course, I have no idea when I’ll actually play it, but it’s a Persona game so of course I was going to buy it at some point when I didn’t have to drag someone to unlock a case to get it out for me.

Anyway, despite my not actually buying much the browsing was pretty revealing.

So I started at the book store, and was browsing around in the science fiction and especially in the history sections.  What I’d do is look at the cover of a book whose title and cover image appealed to me, and then pick it up and look at the back cover for a description of what the book was about to see if I would be interested in it.  There were a couple of books — especially in the history section — where I was somewhat interested in them but wasn’t interested enough in them for the price I’d have to pay.  But in general I could get a good idea what the book was about from reading the back cover (or sometimes the inner flap).  So the pretty pictures and interesting titles of the books were drawing me in and the back cover was giving me enough information to see if I really wanted to buy it or not.

Contrast that to the video game store.  I was browsing the Switch and Playstation 4 sections, and especially in the Playstation 4 section there were a number of games where the title and cover seemed interesting, and I’d go and look at the back cover and … end up having no idea whatsoever of what the game was actually about.  I might get a few short sentences talking about the plot, and a few blurbs highlight the wonderful things it does, but I had no idea what the gameplay was even like (ie whether it was turn-based or real-time combat, for example) or what the story was about.  This was despite the fact that the base price for console games is much, much higher than that for books.  They start above the price I was rejected the books at.  I noted to myself that in order to actually feel comfortable buying one of them, I’d have to go away and do research first to get an idea of what the game was like.  That can’t really be what they’d want because if I leave a store, even if I remember which of them was interesting and look them up later, I’m not that likely to go back to the store to buy it immediately, and am not likely to remember which of them I liked when I finally do manage to get back to the store.  The point of the cool covers and titles on a store shelf is to draw the interest and tap into a desire to buy the game then and there.  If there isn’t enough information on the back cover to fan that desire into the flame of purchase, then that cover is itself utterly wasted.

Things didn’t used to be like that.  You used to be able to look at the back cover of a game — even a console game — and get a general idea of what the gameplay was like so you could decide if it was a game you wanted to play and therefore was a game you wanted to buy.  While the information was often not as detailed as you’d get on a book or DVD, you’d still get enough information to make a purcahse most of the time.  The way things are now, covers are pretty much sabotaging the storefronts, because unless you know what you want to buy you can’t find out enough information while browsing to buy anything, but if you know what you want to buy you might as well buy it online.  This doesn’t seem ideal.

(As a final aside, I did buy “Conception II” from a storefront after doing research on it in-store.  But there was enough information on the cover to get me thinking that it was a Persona-style game, and I had to do the research because of the information it gave me, as I wanted to find out what the combat was like since it advertised it as a kind of turn-based/real-time hybrid and I wasn’t sure I’d like it).

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