An extremely interesting history of game packaging

PlayStation - 1995

Today, most of us remember original PlayStation games in CD-standard jewel cases. Did you know there were actually three different boxes before jewel case, each weirder than the last?

Above: The launch-era games came in the same tall plastic cases as Sega CD and Saturn – possibly the first time rival consoles used the exact same packaging. The inside was pretty bare, and only housed the disc and the manual

Above: Just a couple of months later, the cases switched to black plastic, with ridges along the spine and even artwork in the case interior. Resident Evil, for example, has art of a busted-up lab

Above: Next came one of the worst cases ever – still tall, but cardboard and plastic mixed together and nothing on the inside to keep the manual from flopping around. The interior art was also missing, and they were a huge pain in the ass to keep open

Above: Furthermore, the new cases replaced the spine ridges with pictures of spine ridges. Resident Evil (bottom) has the actual ridges, while Street Fighter Alpha shipped in the new, bafflingly ugly and useless new case

Above: Finally, about a year after release, Sony dropped all the weird packaging and moved to jewel cases, including thicker multi-disc cases for RPGs like FFVII

The PSX was the last console to drastically alter its packaging. In one year Sony had four types of boxes on the shelf, which had to be a nightmare for retailers and us at home trying to keep all this shit organized – but hey, at least they all kept the PlayStation logo in the same place, as was done with Sega CD and Saturn.

Nintendo 64 - 1996

Rather than switch to CDs, Nintendo opted to stick with expensive cartridges as the N64’s medium. Naturally this led to higher prices, but it also meant we’d get one more wave of paper boxes with a plastic cart inside. And as with the SNES, Nintendo generally kept strict control of its N64 packaging.

Above: All N64 games had a red stripe along the right. Sometimes it was transparent, others it was solid or advertising a new feature (like say the Rumble Pak)

Above: Did you notice each side of the N64 box was a different color? Purple was always on top, green on the bottom, red on the right and yellow in the left

And thankfully that’s all the N64 had to offer. Even special edition packages like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask still had the red bar along the right, though they’d omit the other colors from the side.

Sega Dreamcast – 1999

We’ve mourned the Dreamcast enough – for a full week last year, even. But one thing we can be proud of to this day is Sega’s immediate, consistent look for Dreamcast cases. No more tall Saturn crap – now they were in PlayStation-style jewel cases with a sleek standard white on each new game. For once, Sega’s games looked really slick on the shelf, instead of all different sizes and colors, or in the case of the Saturn, a tad too vertical for our tastes.

Above: The first year or so looked like this – very clean, nice white on each and every game

Above: What the? Just about a year after launch, Sega switched to black cases that said “Dreamcast” instead of “Sega Dreamcast”

Above: 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

Sega probably has an official stance on why it changed the Dreamcast brand from white to black, but the truth is it was trying to combat the launch of the PS2, which was already chewing up Dreamcast’s sales. The switch was a valiant effort to drum up renewed interest, but it wasn’t near enough. Sega would drop out of the console race in 2001, and to this day remains a software developer. Though one guy does want to make the Dreamcast 2.

Next page – the PS2, Xbox and GameCube, aka things actually made in the last 10 years

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  • 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.