An extremely interesting history of game packaging

PlayStation 2

Besides being Sony’s successor to the immensely popular PlayStation, the PS2 was also a Trojan Horse for the DVD medium. And with DVD sales rapidly growing, Sony saw fit to ship its games in DVD cases, a move that stealthily served to further legitimize games as mainstream entertainment. Games had always been in their own propriety cases instead of some kind of mass market box – now, games were in a universally recognized package.

Above: Pretty much the way PS2 games looked from 2000 to today

Above: Hold up – the first few months of PS2 games didn’t include a memory card slot!

Above: Ah, much better – the way it should be

Other than special edition boxes (FFXII, Dragon Quest VIII) and massive bundle backs (Guitar Hero, Rock Band), the PS2 package remained largely unchanged for 10 years. Logo always in the same place, always a black bar, plus shipped in an industry-wide, easily produced DVD case. Brilliant move.

GameCube - 2001

After three cartridge-based consoles (and a sobering loss to the CD-powered PlayStation), Nintendo saw fit to produce its first disc system. But even then it didn’t use standard DVDs, instead utilizing weird miniature discs (no, not MiniDiscs) that held less data and essentially prevented the GameCube from playing DVDs or even music CDs. However, Nintendo did ship these discs in DVD-style cases, perhaps taking cues from Sony’s already impressive head start with PS2.

Above: Typical GameCube cases, which always had the brand and logo along the top

Above: But did you notice some games have holes on the right side of the case? Early GC titles didn’t have the holes, but they appeared within the first year

Why were there holes at all? I’ve always head it was for rental chains like Blockbuster – the hole made it easier to install security devices that would prevent someone from opening the case and taking the game as it sat out on a shelf. And as far as I can tell, that’s the only thing that changed during the Cube’s run. Still, that’s pretty weird and awfully specific, and something Nintendo didn’t repeat on Wii.

Xbox - 2001

Like PS2 and GameCube, Xbox went to retail with standard DVD cases. But, unlike its competitors, Microsoft avoided black cases and went with a bright green that has since become the color most associated with the entire Xbox brand.

Above: From beginning to end, Xbox games came in the same green case, with logos and such along the top

Above: There were also a handful of Steelbook cases for special editions like Doom 3 and Halo 2. It proved popular enough that even Black Ops’ Prestige Edition comes in a Steelbook

Above: Greatest Hits/Player’s Choice/Platinum Hits re-branding has become standard among the big three game companies – Xbox actually changed the case to “platinum” color rather than just slap on a badge

See how there’s less to say as we get to the modern generation? Games became too expensive and too important to allow third parties total freedom – everything must be identical, differing only in the case of bundles or more-expensive special editions.

That said, don’t think your 360 or PS3 boxes haven’t changed since launch…


  • 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.

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