When someone sees this cover, they should immediately think “80s” but not so much that it looks like they’ve stumbled across an actual artifact from the 80s. Typography will be a major factor in the winning entry. Think of how central typography is to Mr Robot, or Stranger Things, or Tron. It’s okay if additional font licensing is required, but please confirm!
This cover should look like it belongs alongside Ready Player One, dystopian, sci-fi, and LitRPG titles. It should represent a future world that developed advanced technology but regressed back to the 80s.
There may be hints of 8-bit or video game art (possibly including isometric and/or low poly figures) but it should not completely dominate the design. Perhaps something showing a blurring between the real world and an 8-bit in-game experience.
I am setting aside time during this contest to work with designers. Feel free to contact me and I’ll work with you to help your design win.
Update: the story’s main protagonist, should you wish to depict him, is a young man, early 20s. He wears hand-me-down clothes in the real world, but bright colorful pixelated outfits in the game world. He often has his friend, a woman of a similar age but with darker skin, and even less sense of fashion, in tow in the real world. This isn’t to say you MUST include the character(s) in the design, but if you do, it’s good to get them right.