Computer, games, used to come in boxes. They still do. But they're not as magnificent, as they once were. They're smaller. Material, efficient. And. In an age of digital distribution. Often, entirely, absent. It's all very practical. Boxes, are supposed to fit their contents. Anything more is wasteful. And yet, there is a nostalgia. That surrounds, old games. Beyond the software, itself. In the cover art, the manuals. Copy protection. Even the disks. And the box. Binds, all these things, together. An encapsulation, of more than just zeros and ones, it's something deeply evocative. Of the golden, age of pc gaming. From doom to deus ex, spanning from the early 90s, to the start of the millennium. There's no doubt the pc was the place to be. So many innovations. So many classics. Many of which exclusive. One of the most obvious things you'll notice about games of this era, is the size of their boxes. They're much larger than anything you'd see today, apart from special editions. The most common size you'll find, is 185. Millimeters, across. 235. Millimeters, tall, and 40 millimeters, deep, oh there, abouts. This. Is the big box. The gold standard for collectors. And a particularly, nostalgic, memory, for pc gamers. Of a certain age. The vast majority of pc games from the 1990s. Were sold in this format. At least for their original release. Budget games and compilations, often cut packaging to save money, but the full price market, was almost universally. Full. Sized. What might be surprising, is that the big box was a natural convergence. Unlike the console market computer game retail. Wasn't regulated. Publishers, were free to put their games in whatever size boxes they desired. But despite this things were surprisingly. Uniform. Take my amiga collection for instance. It's, fairly modest, comprising, a couple of hundred box titles. And it spans from the amiga's launch in 1985.
To Its commercial, death around 1996.. Most of them are in big boxes. And most of them come from the time when the amiga was at peak popularity. Circa, 1991, to 1993. And declining, sharply after commodore's bankruptcy. In 1994. However, it's the earliest games that are most interesting. Not only because they're rare and expensive, as i've discovered. But also because, none of them are in big. Boxes. In fact the earlier you go. The weirder the packaging. And it seems there were a few attempts to standardize, computer game packaging. Before everything converged, on the big box. If we collect my collection by size. We can see exactly, when the big box emerged. The format constitutes, most releases in 1991. And by 1992. Is entirely, dominant. This would coincide, with the golden era of pc gaming, and thus matches our expectations. So far. But it doesn't reveal much about where or why the big box became the standard. To understand that we should examine the big box's emergence. The earliest example of a true, standard, big box i have, is the amiga release of maniac, mansion. It's one of the few lucasfilm, games that had a distinctive. Marble boarded box. Shared with loom, their finest hour, and the secret of monkey island, along with a few others. I should note that maniac mansion. Originally released in 1987. For the commodore 64. And apple ii. But neither, were in a conventional, big box. The amiga version released alongside, the atari, st, version, in july 1989. With revised, packaging. None of the games lucasfilm, released in 1987. Or 88. Came in a big box. Battle hawks 1942. For instance, has the distinctive, marble packaging. But in a smaller format. Pype mania known in the us's, pipe dream. Is interesting. The eu release came in a small box and was published by empire. But the american, release was published by lucasfilm, themselves. In a big box. This, was released in june 1989. Just one month before the 16-bit, maniac, mansion release. And i think this marks when lucasfilm, first adopted, the big box. Another early adopter was microprose. From around, 1990. M1 tank platoon, and f19, stealth fighter, both boast bigger boxes. F-19, was a remake of an 8-bit game called project, stealth fighter, released in 1987. And like most of micropro's. 8-bit games. It came in a smaller box. It wasn't until the transition, to purely, 16 big games, that we see larger boxes. F-19, stealth fighter. And f-15, strike eagle 2, seem to be the first. For simulators. A bigger box makes sense. There's often a lot of documentation. Required for these more complex, games, along with printed maps, keyboard overlays, and aircraft, recognition, charts. The big box gave these games room to. Breathe. Looking at the data, it's clear there's another, standard, size, that slightly, predates, the big box. It's around 150. Millimeters, across, by 180. Millimeters, tall. A fair bit smaller than its successor.
But It's still large enough to fit a few discs, a copy protection wheel and a manual. It will even happily accommodate, the larger five and a quarter inch discs, as used by earlier pcs, and some maybe, systems. I call this format the mid box, as it lies somewhere between the smaller cases used by 8-bit games, and the later big box. It lasted a good three or four years on the amiga. Starting in 1988. Until replacement, by the big box in 1991. In the years between. It was the standard. If you bought an amiga or atari, st game, this was the former you could. Expect. The biggest hits of 1989. Simcity, and populous. Were both mid boxes. Yet their sequels. Came in a big box. Lotus esprit turbo challenge released in 1990. In a mid box. Its sequel, a year later in 1991. Came in a big box. It's clear there was a sudden, shift. The mid box was a secure, standard. But within the space of a year. Everyone, flogged to the larger format. If we go back further, there is another standard, quite like the mid box. But significantly. Taller. I call it the tall mid box. It's 150, millimeters, wide again. But 220. Millimeters, tall. Most of my amiga games from 1988. Come in this format. Including the original, xenon, and the attractive, blue boxes that came from rainbird. Such as for carrier command, and starglider. Take a look at this advert from a 1988. Issue of compute, magazine. It shows a selection of games in their packaging, from that era. Most of which are approximately, the same size. But they're far from uniform. We see different heights, different thicknesses. Some are two-part boxes, others, open from the top. This size of box can trace its heritage back to the ones used for atari vcs, cartridges. And a number of 8-bit publishers, adopted, a similar packaging, format. As a more prestigious, alternative, to the typical, dual cases. As far as the amiga is concerned though once you hit 1987. Things start to get weird. There's no standard at all. Publishers, were yet to find their feet with the new 16-bit, platforms. For instance. Electronic, arts were a relatively, big player at this time. Big enough to attempt to install their own packaging, format. Their releases from the mid-1980s. Resemble, gatefold, lps. Attractive, full-color, folios, with an internal pocket for the discs. Their first releases for the amiga such as deluxe, paint, and marble madness, were in this format, as well as some of their earlier 8-bit, games. Such was ea's, influence that a couple of other publishers, followed their lead. Micro, illusions, released the fairy tale adventure, in folio format. And the software tool works did the same with chess master 2000. Even activision, released a couple of gatefold, games, such as hakka, in 1986. It didn't last however. When the 16-bit, market failed to take off in the way ea hoped. They quietly retired, the gatefold, by the end of the 80s. Replacing, it with a more conventional, box. It was a near miss. A little too early to hit the mainstream, 16-bit, market. And impractical, for games with a heavier payload of disks, or documentation. But if this standard had taken hold. We might have had a collection of miniature, lp style games, instead of the big box. If ea drew inspiration, from music formats. Mindscape, were clearly thinking of the bookshelf, for some of their early releases. Games like deja, vu, and balance of power, were presented, as books. Perhaps, to emphasize, the importance, of reading the manual, or simply to blend in on the bookshelf. Practically, these suffer from the same shortfall as the gay faults. There was no accommodation, for games with physical accessories, or multiple discs. Although documentation. Was catered for. So eventually, they decided that a box was far more useful than a slim pocket glued to a, book. The box for uninvited. In 1987. Was of a reasonable, size, but not the standard to be. Squarer. Considerably, wider, and shorter, than the later big box. But certainly in the right, ballpark. There are in fact quite a few early boxes that were almost, aligned, to what would be the later standard. Cygnosis. Were one of the pioneers, of fancy packaging, on the amiga. And they had their own large-sized. Format, as early as 1987. With games like barbarian. And pteropods. These boxes, resemble, standard ones at first glance. But they're a little bit shorter, a little bit wider. And thinner than a standard big box. Still it's close. And cygnosis. Early releases will happily rub shoulders with later boxes, without too much upset.
They Stuck with their slim big box for quite some time. With 1991's. Lemmings, released in the format. There were some experiments. 1989. Shadow of the beast and its 1990. Sequel, came in a frankly outrageous. Double wide mid box. Clearly. Occupying, double the shelf space must mean it's double the game. Still. The free t-shirt was a nice bonus. By the time of lemmings 2 the retail, standards, had become strong enough. To force them to use conventional, size boxes. Some publishers. Were stubborn. Ssi. Opted for a slightly, smaller, box size. About 145. By 220, millimeters. In about 1984. A format that led to these so-called, gold box games. Starting in 1988. With pool of radiance. They stuck with this former until as late as 1994. Eventually switching to a conventional, big box. Which is why some of their later games such as eye of the beholder. Are dwarfed by their contemporaries. Sierra, also stuck first to their own format. But they were amongst the first publishers, to find a mass market for pc games. With their adventure games selling well even in the earliest days of the ibm pc. This afforded them an opportunity, to design their own packaging. And they opted for a size which is remarkably, close to the later standard. Just five millimeters, narrower. And 10 millimeters, shorter. They chose a larger box that was typical for the era to better serve the type of game they were making. Adventure, games often came on multiple discs. More than my fit a small box. And they wanted to be able to include physical things, maps, etc. As a way to add value to the package. And a tangible, dimension, to their game's world. Similar, in this regard. Is infocom. Best known for their text adventures such as zork. And their devotion, to filis. Physical, items included with their games. Including, maps. Coins. And scratch and sniff cards. They introduced, a gray box format in 1984. Which had ample accommodation. For all the included, goodies.
By 190x230. Millimeters. A very similar size to sierras. Richard garriott of ultima fame, worked with sierra, until 1983. At which point he set up his own company, origin, systems. He was initially drawn to sierra due to their willingness to present his games in the manner he desired. And of course, the big boxes and cloth maps continued, under the origin system's label. Another aspect we haven't yet explored, is more serious, software. Remember the pc wasn't primarily, a gaming platform. It was a land of spreadsheets, and databases. And while there's little to no standardization. Of productivity, software packaging. It's possible there may be some influence on games. Serious software came with a serious, price tag. And often required substantial, documentation. So large packages, were not uncommon. However, there does exist a space, between. Application. And entertainment. And certain publishers, wedged themselves into this space. Focusing, on edutainment. And heavyweight, simulation. Broderbund, were one such publisher. Famed for their early hits such as loadrunner. Karateka. And prince of persia. All of these came in smaller boxes, as was standard for the time. Once they started to target 16-bit, hardware however, the packaging, size made a significant. Leap. Where in the world is calm in san diego. And the ancient art of war series, both came in larger than standard boxes. Publishers in a similar edutainment, space took note, such as the software tool works. Mavis beacon teaches typing. And the hunt for red october. Were both big box clad. So now we've plotted some points in the history of the big box. We can assemble a timeline of its emergence. The big box had an international. Presence. But looking at its origin, it's clear that it started with american, software. Principally, with the adventure. Rpg. And simulation, genres. This means it's likely the format was designed around imperial, measurements. Rather than metric. So the standard exterior, size is seven and a quarter, by nine and a quarter inches then. Likely designed to accommodate, seven by nine inch material, inside, with a quarter inch tolerance. This is a similar aspect ratio to us letter size paper. The big box is totemic, to pc games of the 1990s. But it was in gestation. For most of the 1980s. It seems one recurring trend is the adoption of the big box to mark a transition, to 16-bit, software. But this didn't happen all at once. There are three distinct, waves. The first were the early adopters. These adopted the big box for purely, practical, concern. Either because they wanted the space inside. Or they wanted to present their games in a certain way. In the earliest days. Computer games didn't come in boxes at all, you'd get a ziploc, bag with a photocopied, manual. It's not hard to see why someone proud of their work, might want to put out something more professional. Perhaps the earliest, big boxes, were those used by avalon, hill. They were a long-standing, publisher of strategic, board games. And in 1980. They started to publish computer games as well. The boxes they used were huge. Partly to accommodate, the playing instructions, and maps used for the games. But also to sit alongside. Their board games on the shelf. Perhaps, more influential, worse sierra. Their games resemble, the later big box standard much more closely. And given the massive success that the king's quest series had. It's likely that they established, a packaging, template, for future publishers, to follow. The second wave were more commercially, minded. These were publishers, drawn to the emerging, 16-bit, market. They adopted the big box to position, their games, as a higher value product. Glossier. And more prestigious. Than cheaper 8-bit, fare. It's important to remember that even towards the end of the 1980s.
The Market for 16-bit, games was quite limited. Where cheap and cheerful 8-bit games could sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Even the biggest selling 16-bit, games, would be lucky to break five figures. Not only that, but 16 bit games, were more expensive, to make. So to recoup costs. They had to be priced substantially. Higher. 30, or 40 dollars for a new release. Often more. In order to justify, that extra cost, publishers, included, secondary, elements. Free gifts, posters. And the prestige, of a big box. Publishers, like broderbund. The software toolworks. Cygnosis. Lucasfilm. And microprose. Established, themselves early in the 16-bit, life cycle. And did much to shape consumers, expectations. For the. Future. The final wave is the mass adoption, of the big box format. This happened around 1991. Coinciding, with a rapid growth in computer game retail. A converging. International, video game market. And declining, 8-bit, sales, making way for a new generation. Publishers, adopted the big box because, everyone else was doing the same thing, if they hadn't already. And nobody wanted to offer an inferior. Product. Conversely, a grossly, oversized, box would also prove harmful. More expensive to manufacture, and ship. And potentially, too large for shops to stock normally. So, a balance was struck, between attention-grabbing. Covers. And retailer, shelving space. A natural convergence, shaped by retail force. And just in time for the golden age of pc. Gaming. The 90s. Were good times. But by the start of the new millennium. Things, weren't looking so good for pc game retail. They had already been pushed to the back of the store. And the bean counters. Were starting to realize. That the big boxes were delivering a poor yield per square foot of shelving. Questions were being asked. How can we improve, pc retail. Profitability. Meanwhile the playstation, 2 ran riot. With its games selling millions. Kept in bijou, dvd, cases, that were easier to ship, and could populate shelves more densely. And so, the big box was sacrificed, in the name of profitability. Replaced by a dvd-sized. Cardboard box around 2001. Before switching to standard plastic, cases later. Meanwhile, steam, launched in 2003. Slowly ramping in popularity. Until digital distribution, became a standard way to acquire pc games. It makes sense. It's the most efficient, way. If my entire steam library were in boxes. I'd be in, trouble. But i like, the big box. And here's why. Think of the various packaging, types we've seen. Dual cases. Belong to audio cassettes. And compact. Discs. Clam shells belong to vhs.
And Key cases, belong to dvds. Even the ill-fated, gatefold, format, as championed by ea. Was essentially, just like an. Lp. But big boxes. Belong, to computer games. Nothing else can claim ownership. So there's a real sense that these boxes, are, of that formative, time. Redolent, of an exciting, frontier. Of cd-rom. Windows 95. The early world wide web. And the first 3d accelerator, cards. Obviously, their useful time has passed. Boxes, hold their contents. And anything more is wasted space. But maybe there's value in the box itself. Perhaps not the cardboard, but at least the box signified, ownership. Actual, ownership, rather than a rental agreement that none of us read. But then things used to be simpler. Computer games used to come in. Boxes. Thank you very much for watching, and until next time. Farewell. You.