Names and Packaging

There is an outstanding GBA games series called Bit Generations. It is a series of very small games with very minimalistic styling. The series also has some amazing packaging.

Isn’t it strange? Everybody, who bought the game loves the packaging for its stylishness. Yet, from a economic standpoint, this is much cheaper then the kind of packaging we are used from most games. No special artworks, no super duper stickers, no witty texts, just a plain white box with the logo of the game. A typical example of the “less is more” rule?

But it is complicated then that. We have to consider the function of a package.

Apart from containing the product during transport, many packages are designed to actually sell the product to the customer. This is the idea behind the noisy, cluttered packages. The super duper stickers and witty texts are supposed to catch clueless customers who never heard anything about the product and stumble upon it in the shop. If you consider the iPod packaging spoof above, Apple can only get away with such obscure packaging because

  • Nowadays everybody knows what an iPod is
  • Ipods are sold in special Apple stores (or store-in-store areas) where other means are used to inform the customers

So if you imagine somebody from the past who would find a box of iPod in a bargain bin, he would be absolutely CLUELESS what the device is even supposed to do.

But Packaging has other functions as well. What happens after somebody bought it? By then, informing the customer or drawing attention is not necessary anymore. A cluttered packaging becomes superfluous or even a burden for the customer and will be quickly discarded or a least tucked away where it won’t be seen. However, if the packaging is simple and pleasant to look at, customers will display them proudly at their home and it will contribute to customer satisfaction and improve word of mouth (”What’s that on your shelf?” “Oh that? Yeah, I just recently bought an iPod, wanna see”).

So there is a balance to strike there, I guess. It really depends on how and to whom you sell the poduct. How much will people know about your product before the see it on the shelf? Games so far have often chosen to err on the cluttered side. Sales more important then customer satisfaction and image. Games, which are targeted at Hard Core gamers COULD get away with more obscure packages but then again: Hard Core gamers will buy them no matter what the packaging is. It is nice to see things like Bit Generations for a change.

Working on my recent Project Illucinated I realized that games could allow to use packages designed for customer satisfaction and image if one thing would change: the names. More often then not, a game’s name is TOTALLY incomprehensible to a Person, who never heard about a game. The worst are single-word titles like “Halo”, “Metroid” , “Riven” or “Tetris”. The meaning of those names is revealed only after the player has bought the game and even then it remains pretty obscure. No wonder cluttered Packages are needed to explain what the game is about. If games had different names, they COULD get away with less clutter.

I like to mention Book and Film titles as an example of titles, which really give a hint about the content: “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow”, “Veronika Decides to Die”, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” etc. Generally, especially books will have longer titles, which already give some hints for customers to speculate about their contents. Thus, books can have simpler, more pleasent covers, which look well if you store them in your bookcase at home (if you don’t know what I mean, look at German books).

Of course, there are also excellent films and books with obscure Titles (”Seven”, “Moby Dick”…) but I think games are especially bad at titles and I think it shows in the packaging. Regardless if your games will be sold in one package or another, you might try to come up with more meaningful titles. With meaningful I mean not meaningful for the players but meaningful for people, who didn’t play the game yet.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

6 responses to “Names and Packaging”

  1. aart hilal


    I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He’s the first best-selling
    author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

    Have a nice day!


  2. daniel / sirleto

    the microsoft spoof video is great, one can learn so much from it.

    and of course, the bit generations packaging is exactly what i like and instantly would buy / would have bought – if it was or were available here!

    and the best thing is the spam (above) – the publishing house for paulo coelhos books in germany is (mainly, AFAIK) diogenes – and a lot of their book covers (if not all) feature quite a big amount of white on them (take a look at amazon if you like).

    they are “cheap” to make, but have a unique stile and are easy to recognize when looking arround in a bookstore.

  3. Krystian Majewski

    Well, I find the video funny too but you must admit that it is pretty unfair. As I’ve said – Apple follows a completely different retail strategy on how they distribute their products and inform their customers about them. The Microsoft boxes may be ugly but they do their job in the environment they are sold in. If Microsoft changed the packaging, they would have to change their whole distribution and marketing model. Therefore, I estimate the amount you can learn from that video as quite low. Read by blog instead ;-) .

    As for the aart hilal post – it might be spam but it might be also a genuine human being fond of Coelho who found this blog because I’me mentioned this. Anyway, I heard that Paulo offers some of his books for free and I like it. They say this kind of strategy actually improves sales.

  4. Yu-Chung Chen

    looks like someone is learning for the competition… (sorry couldn’t to a hot image link).

    I also think that this kind of “minimal” box art style only works since those “traditional”, bloated boxes are the norm, so a monochrome box stick out. So I guess every hero needs a villain? ;)

  5. Yu-Chung Chen

    of course I mean “from” the competition… why can’t I edit comments, dangit!?

  6. Krystian Majewski

    I agree but I don’t think it is ONLY a relative thing. I believe there are also good reasons to choose either of the two strategies independent of how popular that particular choice is. I’m talking about things like product semantics. I might post some more about it soon.

    (and yeah, not being to edit sucks big time)


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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