An extremely interesting history of game packaging

Sega Master System - 1986

The SMS never really took off in the US, but if you’ve read your fair share of box art stories, surely you’ve seen how bare and uninteresting its packaging was. Here was a case of general similarity across all games, but man was it ever boring.

Above: Yep, most of the games looked this dull 

Why Sega went for the grid paper look is beyond us, but it’s a style the company would continue on its next, vastly more successful console.

Sega Genesis - 1989

Unlike Nintendo, which shipped games in paper/cardboard boxes, Sega sent its SMS and Genesis games out in hard plastic cases that acted much like today’s DVD cases. They’d hold the game as well as a few inserts, plus look real nice sitting on a shelf - almost like a bookcase of sturdy Sega offerings. However, just like Nintendo, Sega didn’t require third parties to stick to any kind of cohesive Genesis branding, opting instead to let ‘em run free.

Above: The classic Genesis grid, which featured the game name inside a piece of the grid that extended into the box art 

Above: Other grid games kept the logo completely outside of the box art. These are all Sega published games though…

Above: … whereas third party games, yet again, did whatever they wanted

Above: Years later, perhaps due to the SNES’ uniform packaging, Sega adopted a console-wide red band across all games. In the UK, it was blue (and also called Mega Drive, happy?)

Above: Sonic 1, 2 and 3 all shipped with different covers – 1 had a grid, 2 had a weird checkerboard background that was never repeated, and 3 came in the new red band cases

Above: Even later Genesis games ditched the plastic case in favor of a paper sleeve with a slide-out carton. BTW, I actually had to buy this game off eBay to get the damn picture – that’s officially my copy

Above: A quick note about EA’s Genesis boxes – they tended to be slightly thicker than typical cases, as shown here by Bill Walsh College Football

So, Sega started with a first-party-only grid, then adopted the red band as the Genesis neared its end. Near as I can tell, this would be the last time a major console allowed its third parties to do as they please. Maybe the stakes were getting too high, and mainstream attention growing too fast to continue with this “whatever floats your boat” approach to packaging?

Sega CD – 1992

You’d think a system as short-lived as the Sega CD couldn’t possibly have a great deal of variation – yet somehow in just a few short years, the packaging managed to change three times before settling on the final plastic cases that would eventually reappear on the Saturn and, believe it or not, the original PlayStation.

Above: The earliest games came inside paper CD cases. Yep, they sure did

Above: Pretty soon, they were shipping in tall paper cases that were unlike any other console box available at the time. Made stocking these things a pain

Above: Finally, these tall, clear plastic cases with a blue Sega CD band became the norm, and would later power Saturn and the PS1. The “cover” is actually the instruction manual showing through the plastic

Next – Game Boy, Super NES and the Sega Saturn


  • ackbarsoup - November 24, 2010 4:46 a.m.

    Great article! I swear I learn something new and interesting every time I come to Gamesradar :)
  • TheCakeIsaPie - November 22, 2010 2:15 p.m.

    Brett, you are my hero for making this.
  • zigs - November 22, 2010 10:57 a.m.

    100 comments and no one has pointed out the grievous error in this article!?! On the last page, the very last photo on the shelf of PS3 games, they appear in chronological order, but Ratchet and Clank is sandwiched between Soulcalibur IV and The Sims 3. AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A JOURNALIST?! THIS IS BULLSHIT! HOW MUCH DID MICROSOFT PAY YOU TO DO THAT!? WHERE'S YOUR INTEGRITY? (Loved the article though, I'm enough of a pedant that I did in fact find it extremely interesting!)
  • Darkhawk - November 21, 2010 2:40 p.m.

    What has always struck me about Gamecube cases is how, on the spine, the logo sits at the bottom. As a design choice, it also bugs me, because I would prefer more fluidity between PS2 logos to Xbox logos to Gamecube logos. On the Wii, it's back at the top again.
  • EsotericFerret - November 21, 2010 12:35 p.m.

    This was an awesome article, Brett. Definitely keep up this kind of material.
  • super0sonic - November 21, 2010 9:44 a.m.

    awww man been looking forward to this since it was mentioned on talkradar. It was very interesting and there was a few games with box are so interesting i had to goggle it like Capcoms Section-z and jaleco city connection.
  • tayls - November 20, 2010 10:35 p.m.

    Great article, and one that took me on a nostalgic journey. I obsessed over game packaging from the time I was a small child (maybe that's why I'm a graphic designer now?), and this is laid out beautifully. God, the first version of PS3 game packaging is bad. Just can't get over it to this day.
  • Backspacekilla - November 20, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    Awesome article! My fave is SNES's Super Metroid Box. By the way while were talking about cardboard lol. My favorite console box,unboxing ect,.. is the Japanese PS2 console box and unboxing soooo tech like and that new car smell. Mhmmm...
  • iFeastOnAntista - November 20, 2010 7:19 p.m.

    This is really incredible! How long did it take to write this article? I love this site. :D
  • dinoczar - November 20, 2010 5:51 p.m.

    outstanding article Brett, it is articles like this that keep bringing me back to this site. Very insightful and fun to read.
  • LaffPiranha - November 20, 2010 9:24 a.m.

    Much more interesting than I thought it would be. This article actually got me and my friend talking, in-depth, about the subject at hand. A great read.
  • Scotch - November 20, 2010 8:21 a.m.

    this was fucking awesome
  • WTeen8 - November 19, 2010 9:43 p.m.

    NSMBWii came in a red box, but otherwise.....
  • Asral - November 19, 2010 11:46 a.m.

    A very good and interesting article, but I think you largely left out the differences between boxes in different regions. For instance, in Europe, the PS1 boxes had the logo always on the bottom horizontally, and there were no ridges. There were also color differences between PS2 games, the older ones were in black cases while the newer ones were in blue ones. And the DS cases are also different, in Europe they are in white thick boxes unlike in US or Japan, one of the reasons why I usually buy my DS games from abroad
  • shnazzyone - November 19, 2010 8:49 a.m.

    wow, that was damned thorough. The earlyest examples are interesting. It's madness coming to order over time. It really makes today's gaming seem dull by comparison.
  • TeaserTuesday - November 19, 2010 4:14 a.m.

    Very glad he mentioned the color-specific sides for the N64 cases. Oh and that the first 2 Xbox examples are 2 of the best games ever.
  • Valntyne - November 19, 2010 2:57 a.m.

  • gunslinger19 - November 19, 2010 2:05 a.m.

    I still like the old PS3 cases better.
  • 8bitBaby - November 19, 2010 1:41 a.m.

    wh-what?! " So now half the games are white, and the other half are black. Looks quite a mess on a shelf unless you split them up" WHAT?! why they gotta be segregated maaaaan?! what's wrong with mixing a little... black and white cd cases living in mixed cd case harmony?! i don't think i like your racist game case world, Brett... NOT ONE BIT. XDD
  • CanadianBeaverHunter - November 19, 2010 12:18 a.m.

    That was much longer than I expected. Good work.

Showing 1-20 of 102 comments

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