The future of retail game packaging

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posted 6/28/2012 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
Platforms: Multiple
A lot of people seem to think that with the move to digital distribution, systems that retail game sales will completely dry up and disappear overnight.  That when we no longer need physical discs and that Best Buy, Wal Mart, and Target will just convert their gaming areas into extensions of their TV department.

As much as I’d like to see games go completely digital, it’s foolish to think that just because you can download games straight to your console, retail game sales are going to disappear.  Even if we go completely discless with the next generation of consoles, retail stores will continue to play an important part of the gaming ecosystem.

Why you ask?  Well because there are at two major factors that I think plays an important role in keeping the retailers in the game.

The first is that retailers aren’t just going to let Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo create a new ecosystem where they don’t get a cut of the pie.  Retailers are important because console makers need a place to sell their hardware and accessories.  Given the small margin on hardware, they are going to leverage the various console makers into providing at least some mechanism for people to buy games at retail.

The second reason is because older consumers need a place to go to when they are in search of a game. While most core gamers will buy their games digitally, there is still the over 50 crowd that has no clue how to buy them that way for their children and grandchildren.  Sure that market is going to get smaller and smaller over time, but it still makes up a good portion of the game buying public that will need to be served for the next five to ten years.

Given those two facts, I started to wonder what a discless game packaging would look like and drew up a few base wireframes which I handed over to Travis Huinker, our excellent in house designer.

The basic size of the packaging is going to be the same as retailers aren’t going to want to re-tool their existing shelves.  From a tactile perspective, the new packaging would use the same cardstock as Microsoft and others already use for their point cards.  It’s fairly cheap, rigid and most of all it’s a property that’s known to be able to safely protect game codes, which is key as that’s what this new packaging is all about.


Here’s the front of the packaging.  As you can see, nothing really changes except for noting that the game in question is for download via Xbox Live and not actually in the box.  You still want to have the same familiar shape and size that consumers have been used to seeing since we moved to disc based games back in the 1990’s.

 



The back of the package is where the real magic happens. As with points cards,  the back will contain a code that users can enter into their console, or via the web,  to authenticate that they have purchased a license to the game.  Optionally, users will be able to use a built camera to scan a QR code like glyph, which will automatically allow the system to recognize the game and queue it for download, saving customers the hassle of having to enter a large number via their game controllers.

Once authenticated, the console can begin downloading the game to the system. For games that haven’t been released yet but are being pre-sold, this can also lead to initializing a pre-download to the console much like what Steam does for PCs today.  This will allow users to play the game on launch day without having to wait for the game to download and could even be setup to help users navigate around bandwidth usage caps.  The publisher could even load any day zero patches, further speeding up the time to gaming.

In time we’ll all be buying games digitally from our sofas, but between now and then there has to be something that people buy in stores and that’s where I think this concept comes into play.  Sure digital is going to wipe out the used game market, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to kill retail side completely as people still want something they can own and hold in their hands, even if it is just a piece of cardboard.
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