Game Packaging

Until a few years ago, Packaging for PC Games was very wasteful: In a big cardboard box, you usually found the manual and the game CD itself, along with some advertising and filler material, but overall, the box was 80% empty. But it looked damn nice, with the big artwork that you could proudly display on your shelf, kind of like Vinyl looks better than CDs because the size of the cover.

PC GamesBut as storage space in stores becomes more and more valuable, and as those cardboard boxes were rather expensive to manufacture and generally a big waste,  the industry switched to DVD Cases. While the cover artwork is still there, a DVD case just does not look as nice as a big box if you want to proudly display your taste on a shelf. Of course, boxes are not entirely gone, but they are mainly used for limited collectors editions nowadays.

I remember the uproar among gamers when this change first happened. About european gamers upset about being cheated on the Black & White game packaging (the US Version had a two-sided cardboard box, whereas the EU Version came in a DVD case - at least the cover was changable from black to white). Generally, the feeling was that you would get less for your money. In retrospective, these concerns seem somewhat silly. Sure, there were some games that packed a lot into the box, like artwork books, comics or keychains. But the majority of games still came with only the cd and the manual. So there was no real loss. But there was a big gain: Shelf space! Previously, I had to throw away some of the boxes because I simply did not have enough space. As a real gamer, it did hurt to throw away some of those boxes, but if you can't safely walk around your room anymore, you know that you have to change something.PS2 DVDs

Ikea has those nice Benno Shelves, which allow me to freely separate them to create compartments for CDs or for DVDs or for anything else. With the DVD Cases, this allows me to put dozens of games in the shelf without having to throw away stuff. So I believe that the move from Cardboard Boxes to DVD Cases was one of the best decissions the industry took in the last few years. Interestingly, the Computer Games industry was pretty much the only gaming industry that used non-standard packaging. If you look at the console games, you will notice that they had a common packaging since the early days. Every SNES Game came in a standard sized cardboard box that was not too big to waste too much space. Every Playstation Game came in a CD-sized casing - unfortunately, the default case was a bit taller that CD Cases, which means that they don't fit well in standard CD shelves, and that they look somewhat deplaced when places next to Playstation games that came in 4-CD Cases. Luckily, Sony learned when making the Playstation 2 and used standard DVD cases since then. Nintendo and Nintendo DS and PSOne GamesMicrosoft also started to use DVD cases beginning with the Gamecube and Xbox. Also, Nintendo DS Games come in a case that has the same height as a CD, so they fit perfectly within a CD compartment in the Benno shelf 🙂

I don't know if it's a coincidence that the packaging was standardized for console games since the beginning. Maybe it was due to some rule enforced by Nintendo and Sega? Maybe it was due to the wish of the retailers to make the best use of storage space? I really don't know, but I do not think that the console world lost anything by making sure all the boxes had the same size and shape.

The packaging that is used nowadays is also nice for protecting the media. With PC games, usually you had a jewel casGameBoy Advance Casese. But I also had games that came in a paper sleeve - not very impressive if you just paid quite a bit of money only to see it in a loveless packaging. Game Boy Advance games also came without any case, they were only covered in a bit of plastic wrap - the DS Packaging is a major step forward as you can keep the game in the case that can be properly opened and closed multiple tiems without danger to damage it. Also, the manual now has a proper place.  There is however onemajor drawback: As the GBA boxes were pretty much useless after unpacking them, you could use some poster strips to put them on the wall. With the reusable DS Cases, this is not really possible anymore.

This was a bit more elaborate that I first intended it to be, but if you think about packaging and look how games came to you in the past 25 years, it's a somewhat interesting subject to look at. How will packaging look like in 5, 10, 15 years? Some people say that games will not physically exist anymore in 10 years and that everything will be distributed digitally, something that services like Steam (finally) provide mostly flawless. Current generation game consoles (Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360) provide means to download games to the console, and broadband gets more and more common. Will we really see the end of physical products in the next years?

I don't know. I don't believe so. I like the advantages that Steam brings, but as a gamer and collector, not owning a physical product is not a nice thought. Also, imagine how many possible conversations would be lost if there were no physical cases to put on your shelf. How often did someone notice that you had game X on your shelf and started to talk about it? What would you put on your walls if it weren't for those nice GBA boxes?

The industry believes that the future of gaming lies online, and in this point I hope that they are wrong. Sure, Xbox live and Steam are two strong assets in that argument chain, but as long as companies like Nintendo prove that some of the best games are either single player (Super Mario Galaxy) or best played with a bunch of people in your living room (Mario Party, WarioWare), I still have hope that gaming will stay something physical.