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  • For over two dozen years,

  • PC games were primarily distributed in boxes

  • for retail distribution worldwide.

  • They came in all shapes and sizes too,

  • with extravagant box art and unique package designs.

  • But in the early 2000s,

  • they rapidly started disappearing from store shelves,

  • and by 2004 these retroactively named big box PC games

  • were almost completely extinct

  • and replaced with smaller uniform packaging.

  • What happened?

  • This is LGR Tech Tales,

  • where we take a look at noteworthy stories of technological inspiration, failure,

  • and everything in between.

  • This episode tells the tale

  • of big box PC games

  • and their seemingly sudden demise from store shelves.

  • Retail computer game packaging

  • traces its origins back to the late 1970s

  • and the dawn of the microcomputer.

  • Machines like the TRS-80, Apple II and Commodore PET

  • were at the forefront of this new craze,

  • especially in North America.

  • And it was here that some of the first

  • third-party computer games were being developed

  • with the intent to sell them in stores,

  • rather than simply being copied

  • and passed around computer clubs and user groups.

  • This was usually done by entrepreneurial hobbyists

  • writing their own games to cassette tape or floppy disk,

  • photocopying some typed-up instructions,

  • and then placing it in a plastic bag

  • to be sold in local retailers.

  • A well-known example of this

  • is Richard Garriott's Akalabeth from 1979,

  • a predecessor to his later Ultima series

  • which was first sold in a Ziploc bag in Texas ComputerLand shops.

  • But as personal computers steadily gained popularity

  • and Ziploc bag games like this

  • began shifting hundreds or even thousands of units,

  • it wasn't long before new businesses formed around them.

  • While it's difficult to pin down the very first computer game

  • sold in a cardboard box,

  • a great example is Wheeler Dealers for the Apple II from 1978.

  • The reason this was distributed in a box instead of a plastic bag

  • is because it came with a unique controller

  • that let four players play the game at once.

  • It only sold around 50 copies, though,

  • leading to games like Computer Bismark from Strategic Simulations, Inc. in 1980

  • being a more well-known title with early boxed commercial distribution.

  • This was a computerized war game,

  • so it's little wonder that the package was inspired by tabletop wargame publishing,

  • like the products from Avalon Hill Games.

  • At the time, Avalon Hill distributed many of their tabletop games in a box

  • that was meant to stand upright on a shelf,

  • referred to by them as "bookcase games."

  • They not only looked impressive on display

  • but their bulky size was a requirement

  • due to the sheer number of items inside the box needed to play it.

  • And perhaps influenced by someone else getting there first,

  • Avalon Hill soon brought the bookcase game package design

  • over to the world of computers

  • with their newly formed Microcomputer Games division.

  • And the era of boxed computer games was thoroughly underway.

  • Note that I didn't say "big box" computer games,

  • as that was a term that didn't really exist until the mid-2000s.

  • Originally, there was no need for a size distinction.

  • They were simply computer game boxes

  • and the packaging could vary wildly from one publisher to the next.

  • Electronic Arts was one company to distinguish itself in the early 1980s

  • with their gatefold LP-style boxes known as folios.

  • Considering themselves electronic artists,

  • EA wanted to treat their developers like rockstars,

  • giving their games colorful cover art and packaging that resembled a vinyl record.

  • On the flip-side, companies like IBM

  • often took the straightforward approach you would expect

  • for their business-focused PC products,

  • packing games in functional but ultimately drab sleeves.

  • Then you had publishers like Infocom

  • taking computer game boxes to the next level.

  • They primarily made interactive fiction games,

  • known as text adventures,

  • which lacked in-game graphics and instead relied on the player's imagination.

  • Perhaps to compensate for this,

  • Infocom packaging greeted you with colorful and creative artwork,

  • both on the box itself and inside,

  • with comic books and colorfully illustrated manuals.

  • They took it even further by including what they called "feelies."

  • These were physical items like patches, brochures,

  • buttons, scratch-and-sniff cards,

  • glasses, invisible space fleets,

  • and other collectibles to help suck players into their virtual worlds.

  • But feelies weren't the only reason computer game boxes

  • often were so big.

  • It was frequently a physical necessity

  • due to the technology and expectations of computer games in the '80s.

  • Software came on cassette tapes or floppy disks,

  • sometimes several at once,

  • so you needed a box big enough to hold them.

  • Not only that but documentation

  • was a big factor in why boxes got so big.

  • As games grew increasingly complex,

  • they needed more instructions,

  • which resulted in bigger manuals.

  • And you couldn't just stick all the documentation

  • within the game itself like you can today,

  • since there was only so much space available per disk.

  • Manuals also frequently served double duty

  • as a form of copy protection

  • where you'd reach a point in the game

  • where it asked for a certain keyword

  • or phrase from the manual before moving on.

  • And the inclusion of code wheels

  • and multiple other copy protection devices

  • were another reason boxes needed to grow to a certain size,

  • even if their inclusion was more of a symptom and not the root cause.

  • And finally, it's worth noting that

  • there were plenty of computer games

  • that didn't come in big boxes at all in the '80s and '90s.

  • There were no standards for computer game packaging,

  • unlike console games where the size was determined

  • by a first-party company like Sega or Nintendo.

  • Nope, with computer games box design was a free-for-all.

  • Sometimes they were huge or weird-looking.

  • Other times they could fit in the palm of your hand.

  • The latter is especially true outside the US

  • where budget releases cut costs any way possible,

  • only going as big as needed

  • to fit the media and maybe a simple manual.

  • But in territories where massive retailers were prevalent,

  • a computer game with a small box was often seen as inferior.

  • So even the cheapest budget title would probably get a big box.

  • And yet the tides were starting to turn.

  • By the beginning of the new millennium in the USA,

  • console games were becoming more popular than ever

  • and computer game growth was slowing.

  • They were far from dying out

  • but the fact was that console game sales were up 18%

  • while PC and Mac combined were only up 6%.

  • Plus, by the end of 2001,

  • there were going to be 4 major video game systems on the market,

  • not including handhelds.

  • This required a ton of retail floor space.

  • Yet computer games could take up

  • just as much space while being less profitable.

  • Additionally, there was little practical reason for PC games

  • to have such big boxes anymore.

  • It wasn't unusual to open up a package and find nothing

  • but a single CD and a jewel case booklet inside of it.

  • Sure, there was still the occasional Falcon 4.0 situation

  • where it was so complex you truly needed this gigantic manual,

  • but the vast majority of PC games could do without.

  • In fact, the UK and parts of Europe

  • had already adopted the DVD keep case

  • for many PC game releases starting in the late '90s.

  • To solve this problem,

  • enter the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, or IEMA.

  • They were an American nonprofit organization

  • that existed to serve the business interests of software retailers

  • and later expanded to include movies and music

  • when becoming the Entertainment Merchants Association.

  • The IEMA held an executive summit from July 18th to the 21st in 2000

  • where the dilemma of PC game packaging was discussed among retailers

  • representing 70% of domestic game sales.

  • A consensus was reached for a standard box design

  • measuring 5-3/8 by 7-1/4 by 1-1/4

  • or 2-1/2 inches in order to hold multiple discs and documentation.

  • This became known as the IEMA mini-box or small box,

  • and began showing up on store shelves around 2001.

  • For a while, games were still sold in both box sizes,

  • depending on the desires of the specific retailer.

  • And it was around this point that collectors started making the distinction

  • between big box and small box releases.

  • But by 2004, the vast majority of North American PC games

  • were sold in small boxes only

  • and then in standard DVD cases

  • once the need for manuals and extra discs diminished.

  • There were some notable exceptions, though.

  • Stores like Costco and Sam's Club

  • continued to sell their own exclusive big box PC games through 2005

  • before switching to the IEMA's mini-box.

  • And of course, special editions

  • sometimes still come in larger boxes today,

  • but PC game collectors will distinguish

  • between these and traditional big box releases.

  • And finally, countries like Germany and Russia

  • continued selling certain PC games

  • in bigger boxes for years

  • after the United States and most other countries discontinued them.

  • And as for the current state of things,

  • it has only grown increasingly uncommon

  • to find PC games boxed at all.

  • With the rise of digital distribution platforms

  • like Steam and GOG taking off in the late 2000s,

  • there are fewer customers than ever for boxed PC games.

  • There's also less incentive to buy a boxed game at retail in the first place

  • since many don't come with anything inside the case

  • beyond a code to activate the game online

  • and maybe an installer on DVD.

  • On the other hand, there's still a passionate number of collectors

  • that long for physical media,

  • with companies like Indiebox, Gamer's Edition,

  • and crowdfunding projects filling in that gap.

  • But even without the occasional niche boxed release,

  • there are still over two decades of classic boxes

  • for collectors to collect and enjoy,

  • and seemingly never enough shelf space to store them.

  • And allow me to give a shout out

  • to Jim Leonard, Brenda Romero,

  • and the folks over at the Big Box PC Game Collectors Facebook group,

  • all for helping me fact check and make this video

  • more accurate and awesome.

  • As well as a huge thank you to the LGR Patrons

  • for keeping this show and other ones going on this channel.

  • And as always, thank you very much for watching.

For over two dozen years,

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ビッグPCゲームボックスはなぜ消えたのか [LGR Tech Tales] (Why Big PC Game Boxes Disappeared [LGR Tech Tales])

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    林宜悉 に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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