You can judge a book by its cover, if you have enough experience with books. A book’s cover says everything about what the book is like, from what kind of person wrote it to the company that has been producing and publishing it. Once you know what elements goes into designing what sort of vistas in what manner, and how certain elements play with each other, you are able to determine large amounts of elements about the overall book that applies only to you yourself.
This can be easily contested, of course, and that’s partially the point. When you consume enough certain kind of media, you slowly accumulate experience on that product or genre to make decisions based on minimal information. Your expertise on the topic comes from personal experience.
Perhaps the most relevant example is with video and computer games. You can see the production values on the box just fine as well as what sort of game it is. Using the traditional movie poster and book cover techniques and ideas, game covers don’t tend to innovate how they depict their games. Nowadays you would never see a game like Ultima VII on the store shelves, that is just a literal black box with the title of the game.
Outside these special cases, you are able to tell loads about the production values just by glancing how the covers are made. Again, it’s all about looking at the chosen elements and what they depict, how certain fonts and typefaces are used and set, how images are laid and how the descriptions are written. All these come together to give a certain view about that game. It’s not just about the cover, but pretty much everything about it. You have that feeling in your stomach, that hunch whispering in the back of your head or that tickle on your bum that tells you how a game is for you.
If you ever happen to watch a stream where a game’s first footage is shown, you will see people lamenting the lack of play footage. FMV and other readily made sequences, as well a planned play footage that doesn’t depict the actual game, is easy PR material for fringes of the general mass who have less experience, and for the hardcore fans who couldn’t care either way. Video sequences are a nice placeholder before any play footage is revealed, and even then its usually during a specific stream from the developers and their PR staff under controlled circumstances rather as a major part of a trailer. The reason of course is the same we don’t really have demos for games any more; they impact sales negatively.
Gaming industry now has consumers who have been playing video and computer games since their childhood to the point of some of them never having lived in a world where electronic home gaming wasn’t a thing. You have generations that first played consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation 3, who are savvy with their games and devices. The generation that is closing to 40 and 50 years in age however have even more experience and far more background on the evolution of the industry and what has been produced. That personal experience gives insights on certain elements how a game plays just from the footage without needing to touch a controller. Everything from the speed of the characters to what sort of animation has been implemented tells how the game plays. It’s a subconscious instinct based on experience that says how a game plays. At some point you make connections between what’s happening with the controller and what’s happening on the screen, and end up lamenting how certain elements just become are. This is very evident with games that are based on animation management, where the core play doesn’t allow the player to cancel from an action that’s already enabled. Be it Monster Hunter or Dark Souls, the base concept of limiting player actions with a gauge and disallowing animation cancelling ultimately yields a very similar style of core play. The rest of the game of course change how the game overall plays, but that doesn’t change how similar games play similarly and share elements across the board.
The game industry is no slouch when it comes to mimicry. Each developer sees another doing something interesting and picks up what looks interesting or profitable and follow suit. Sometimes multiple companies follow one source to be inspired by. Much with movies and music, video and computer games have certain fashion eras, where games are clearly trying to one up each other. On the other hand, you also have loads of games that simply stand apart with no real amount of competition. For every Monster Hunter, you have a God Eater, a game that is on the surface painfully similar but does its hardest to stand apart and be more unique.
All this is personal in the end, serving as for what any individual prefers to a large extent. Professionals of any field develop this internal experience by being able to tell at a glance than most, though at the same time it should be mentioned that overspecialisation also breeds weaknesses in them. If you’re only consuming media or specialising in certain kind of objects and topics, you grow blind to the surroundings and experience will fail you at times, like it would with the box of Ultima VII. By learning bits and bobs around, learning and experiencing events and matters that would support your expertise.
With video and computer games the experience comes almost forced. You are acting, after all. Pressing the buttons, seeing the actions, making decisions. Gaming requires active participation, hence the player has to think each action even if it was to be just a split-second decision. Only when you’ve gained enough experience you can go automated with games and have little to no active thinking, as that experience and muscle memory is taking over. Getting to that level, however, takes time. Passive media doesn’t require participation and you can more often than not hang your brains and just go for the ride. They require the conscious decision to engage with the work and analyse why things are as they are, breaking their elements down to their building blocks. With video and computer games, you naturally have to do that to understand the rules of the play, through which you can begin to tell whether or not the game has built well enough to support those rules. In other words, you may think you didn’t notice it, but your brains sure did.