Packaging Innovation
May 19, 2014

Video game packaging design in a digital world

The video game industry is growing rapidly, with gamers always on the look-out for games boasting more realistic graphics, more immersive gaming experiences and more complex gameplay. Despite the continuing global success of video games, fewer and fewer physical copies are actually sold at retailers, in favor of digital downloads. This begs the question: “Is video game packaging design about to disappear?”

In the 80’s and 90’s video games were traditionally associated with nerds and geeks, spending hours on end in front of the screen playing dull and mind-numbing games. However, as computers became more affordable for large audiences and technology evolved, so grew the number of gamers. This evolution, that started in the mid-90’s, has reached its climax, to the point where almost every Western household has a PC or home console to play videogames on.

Cassettes and floppy disks

In the early days video game packaging design was quite large, as most games required lengthy in-depth manuals explaining to the consumer how to play the game and how to set up your system for optimal user experience. Early consoles, such as the Commodore 64, were tape-based and had their games distributed on cassettes. As games became more complex and cartridges were replaced by floppy disks, video game packaging evolved as well.

CD jewel cases: a new start for video game packaging design

Large cardboard boxes became the standard for a long time with slight variations – such as smaller boxes for budget re-issues – hitting retail shelves every once in a while. Despite PC games migrating to CD’s in the mid-90’s, most games still came in cardboard boxes. It’s only with the introduction of popular home consoles, such as PlayStation and Xbox, that jewel cases became the standard.

Digital download and limited editions

Today, however, most consumers prefer a digital copy, rather than the physical game itself, obliterating the need for video game packaging design. As a reaction game publishers come up with limited editions and special editions of their products, offering bonus content for consumers willing to buy the physical game. Action figures, game maps, mugs and other items directly related to the game are included to entice players into buying the actual physical game. Of course, with all this extra content bigger packages are needed. Apart from cardboard boxes, some publishers nowadays offer limited edition metal casings of their games with prices ranging from $50 to well over $200.

Clearly, video game packaging design is far from dead; it just evolved.