Where’s All the Cool Game Packaging Gone?

Where’s All the Cool Game Packaging Gone?

There was a time when you really got your money’s worth when you paid for a game (also, men were men, etc.). This was especially true for old PC games like Star Control II, which packed a novel-thick manual with its discs. The manual contained an extensive backstory for the game, as well as alien profiles, which gave you a good idea of why it was a bad idea to ask about the fate of the vanished Androsynth race in the presence of the Orz. Legendary text adventure pioneer Infocom was also well-known for raising the bar with its portfolio of titles from Deadline to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which pushed boundaries in terms of package shapes, sizes and lavish extras.

Console games were no slouch in the bonuses department, either. Working Designs, a company that localized several Sega CD RPGs (a bit too liberally, some fans argue) were known for including embossed instruction book covers, collectible disc art, and other tidbits for anyone who picked up games like Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue. Nintendo used to be especially accommodating, as it would occasionally include whole players’ guides for free with a release. One of the most coveted examples of a pack-in guide is Earthbound, which, packed together with the game, can fetch $500.00 or more on eBay.

It’s hard to pinpoint the year when developers started phoning in pack-in bonuses, but the 32-bit era is a good estimate. Boxes gave way to jewel cases at retail, which made it difficult to include bonus material. And even when a company opted to do players a favor (as Working Designs did with Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the PlayStation), irregularly-shaped boxes would sometimes end up on a dusty, higher shelf at a retail outlet because it didn’t slide in snugly alongside the typical PlayStation jewel cases. But the deterioration of pack-in materials went one further when developers started shipping games with wafer-thin instruction booklets that offered low-res artwork in exciting shades of black and white. Even typos were distressingly common.

O, what has happened to the glorious age of pack-in materials, when opening a game was every bit as exciting as plugging it in to your console or PC? Simply and sadly put, pack-in bonuses are not worth the money and effort developers need to expend to include them. Nowadays, your average game will come with an instruction book (or maybe just a pamphlet) that reminds you to push right to “make your character go right, you idiot.” And that’s all games really need. When you pick up a game, chances are good that you already know what it’s about. The Internet’s game news sites, communities, and press releases have already seen to that. If you get stuck, you don’t need a player’s guide to walk you through. You can simply ask for help on a chat, a forum, or fire up GameFAQs. Needless to say, outside of grandiose collector’s editions – which let companies charge tens of dollars extra for cloth maps, pewter figurines and other assorted gew-gaws which cost a fraction to make – no one’s spending the extra money.

Does the death of collectable video game awesomeness suck? It sure does. But it’s also 100% understandable. Cost-cutting is a sad fact of life. Of course, plenty of developers are still offering some great bonuses, but you’re usually restricted to pre-ordering through The Machine (a.k.a. GameStop), or else you have to cough up extra dosh for a “Special” or “Limited Edition” collector’s set. Sound all right to you? Then go for it. Just don’t waste your energy pining for the days of free stuff. They’re long gone in an era where retailers themselves don’t know how to package and present oddly-shaped or -dimensioned boxes, publishers are doing everything they can to slash expenditures and only the hardest of the hardcore will pay $20 extra for a chintzy action figure anyway.

Pity, really – we rather liked the way those old boxes (see: Suspended’s cryogenic death mask) popped off the shelf.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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