Steam games are digital. They exist entirely on your PC or servers. But they don't always have to.
Steam Game Covers is a site dedicated to the creation and hosting of templates people can use to make their own physical cases for Steam games. Just back up your game on a disc, print out a cover, put it in a CD jewel case or DVD case or what have you, and boom: you've got something you can put on a shelf or next to your desk or in an attic. If you were born after the year 1478, you're probably wondering why anybody would ever want to do this. Site head Mark Del Rio explained how it all came about:
"I come from an age of physical backups," he told me via email. "When Steam first came out I never thought it would succeed. But those Summer Sales sure did prove me wrong, and because of that my Steam library has grown to over 500 and counting."
"Sure, you can also make backups to portable hard drives, but having a custom printed disc with full case art is just fantastic. For a lot of people like me, there's a joy in having a game sitting on a nearby shelf as a reminder that says, 'Yeah, I own that game!' Hey, if console gamers can proudly display their game collections on a shelf then why can't we PC gamers do the same?"
A Half-Life 2 cover by SGC user alek.
The site began as a class project back in 2009 with Del Rio as its sole proprietor. Now it has over 2,000 covers created and downloaded by hundreds of people. Del Rio makes a small sum off site ads and donations, but he says he puts it all back into site server fees and things of that nature. All covers are free, and anyone can fire up Photoshop and contribute. You can't post anything lewd or use non-official artwork that doesn't belong to you, but otherwise you're (probably) golden.
Del Rio told me about his own approach to making covers:
"Each cover is different," he said. "I've put together simple covers in as little as an hour or two. Some of my more complex ones have taken me days to create — especially if it's completely custom and original. Those are the fun ones."
"If there's already a retail box art available, I might search for a high quality scan of it and overlay our template straight on it. If the scan isn't very good I might recreate it from scratch. It all depends upon how I feel that day."
A Never Alone cover by SGC user LaRusoe.
These days, Del Rio doesn't have a ton of time to make his own covers, but the community has picked up the slack. He told me that some weeks don't bring any new covers at all while sometimes, a single day might bring 30. It's a boom and bust cycle, but the message is clear: people care about this stuff. Even PC gamers like having physical mementos of their favourite games — pieces of the past they can touch or display. It's an idea that might seem at odds with our sexy modern CyberLives, but Del Rio doesn't think it has to be.
"I think services like iTunes, and Steam have changed our perceptions of what music/movie/game collections can be," he said. "What people don't realise is that one day these services will go out. What will we have left then? On the flip side to that argument, physical media can get damaged or lost and will one day deteriorate. As far as which is better physical or digital, I say, 'to each his own.' I love my physical collection. I also love those Steam sales. This way I get to own the best of both worlds. My PC collection looks complete and I don't have to wait hours on end for a game to download if I want to play it again in the future."
Top image provided by Mark Del Rio.