If you played any sort of console or handheld device between 1990 and 2010-ish you are probably aware of the fact that video game packaging has GREATLY changed over the years. For Handheld games the packaging is still similar, but back in the 90’s when you purchased a game; they were held in a hard case, with an instruction manual (that often had artwork uniquely made for the manual) and sometimes a full in-game map or other extra things that could help an enhance your gaming experience. What changed to make video game packaging so different? Where have the extra’s gone?
For a little bit of extra back-story, instruction manuals usually gave in depth information on game mechanics, controls, and other useful story/gameplay information. They also had ads on the back (or on the last page) for upcoming video games by the same developer, and occasionally games would also come with demo discs that contained an early build of a upcoming video game for people to try before they bought the real thing. Nowadays most extra content comes from pre-ordering a game or in the case of games that are crowd-funded, participating in the Kickstarter campaigns (or similar crowdfunding endeavors.) I personally think that the real reason that we do not see instruction manuals or extra things included in video game packaging comes down to cost.
It should be noted here that there ARE still video games that come with instruction manuals or extra things like soundtracks and art booklets. However these things are rare and I have only seen a few of these in the past few years that weren’t included in a pre-order option. For example, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (and a few other Atlus games, now that I think about it) released special box art for the first few runs of the game, which also contained free tarot cards and an instructional booklet on the video game. This was tied to an interesting sort of cross buy gimmick in which people who bought Persona 4: Dancing all Night got the rest of the tarot deck, themed after the Persona series’ social link mechanic.
Nippon Ichi Software (or NIS America in the states) is no stranger to this sort of packaging either, as recently Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (Which released in 2013) came in a box that had special artwork, and contained a soundtrack bundled within its video game packaging, another great example is The Witcher 3, which included a game map, manual, soundtrack, and even a thank you note from the developers, thank you too CD Project Red!
When video gaming became more digitally based (such as purchases on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live) game developers started to notice that it was cheaper to offer digital manuals on the disc, instead of providing a paper copy. Additionally, many players began to use the internet as a way to uncover information on their favorite games, so paper manuals started to become less necessary, and offered a way for video game developers to cut down on production costs by limiting how much went into a single copy of each game.
This also coincided with the gaming industry beginning to offer more tutorials in game, providing in depth explanation in the first few levels or environments on the video game’s mechanics. This explained how players could utilize the game’s mechanics effectively and added another reason for developers to not require an in-depth paper instruction booklet in the video game packaging.
I truly believe that by cutting the costs of producing quality instruction manuals and extras for video game packaging, they have limited the collectable nature of video games. Where games from the 90’s and early 2000’s are highly collectible, there may not be many current gen games that have that same “Vintage” feel in 20 years. With pre-order incentives and collectors editions though, the collectable nature of video games has shifted with the developing market.
It’s a highly debatable topic, but times are changing and it seems like the packaging and contents of the packaging have changed with the games themselves.