Whatever Happened To Games in Boxes

I remember getting my first actual computer game when I was fairly young. My dad returned from Hong Kong, and he bought Diablo (1) with him. It‘s just been released. Early 1997, which would make me 13. It was the first “grownup”, “serious” game that I had.

Back then computers were still 386 / 486, maybe Pentium. We had magazines with CDs with them and they had a lot of games – all demos – on them. We would also unhook our 700mb hard drives, take it to our friends, hook it up, boot up their computer, and copy theirs on to our hard drives. Or use floppy disks. The ones that the save icon was modelled after.

And there was Diablo with its perfect box of full colour, embossed shiny red and black. I still have the box. It’s a few countries away in my old room in a cabinet on one of the top shelves. The box contained a nylon wrapped CD case with the CD in it, a fairly thick manual which doubled as an art book telling stories, and nothing else. Oh, the cardboard construct to hold everything in a relatively contained space so the content didn’t move much.

A while later I bought Starcraft (1). I had the Terran box, which was again embossed and shiny and colourful. The front flap opened up, it’s like the box had a cover page. It was lovely. Inside it had the same nylon wrapped CD with the manual. I remember using a knife to cut the nylon at the CD's hinge so it won’t scratch the clear plastic CD case. After of course having scratched a whole bunch of CD cases by carelessly sliding my knife over the nylon on the case itself.

I remember we had a copy of Transport Tycoon Deluxe as well. And A4 Networks. And... maybe World of Warcraft?

For a while they were also A4 sized. And then they got down to literally the size of a DVD case, which is close to A5.

But then memory begins to fade.

Alternative software distribution methods came to be.


Digital Downloads.


GoG, Humble Bundle, Blizzard Launcher, or just the game itself, like Elite: Dangerous.

Yes, people want things RIGHT NOW. Yes, broadband makes short work of downloading several DVDs worth of data a few minutes’ work while you go brush your teeth, or have your dinner. Yes, printing the boxes and packaging them up and producing the discs and printing the manuals is expensive. Yes, hurling a download link at future consumers literally costs 0.000004c.

It just takes the whole romance out of it. I’m no longer excited by getting a game, because it’s just so impersonal, distant, abstract.

Or maybe because I’m two decades older, and because I work for my money, it no longer feels special when anyone spends money on me.

I miss beautiful game boxes.