When the Playstation 2 was released, gaming saw an unexpected, but seemingly logical shift in packaging. CD jewel cases were replaced with the taller, sturdier cases used for DVD videos. Considering the PS2 used DVDs, this made a lot of sense, and everyone appreciated having a case that wouldn’t break apart so easily. It also helped video games look like a much more legitimate entertainment option. A Playstation 1 game would sit indiscriminately amongst your CDs. A PS2 game, on the other hand, would stand nicely on your movie shelf. This line of thought was somewhat damaged by the tacky green colors of Xbox cases, but you get the point. Not since the days of the Genesis had games been so easy to keep and collect without resorting to extraordinary means of preservation.
That might change yet again, thanks to a new mandate by Walmart, AKA the industry’s biggest customer. In an effort to reduce the costs of shipping, the retailer has told the entertainment world to cut down on packaging. By doing this, Walmart gets to cut cost, while tricking most of their consumer base into believing this to be an attempt at being more eco friendly. And the world of business turns as usual.
But just what does this packaging change entail? From now on, all of your games will still come in DVD style cases. They’ll just be missing some plastic. If you look at most PS3 and 360 games releases since mid November, you will notice that circular wedges of plastic have been cut out on both sides of the case. When closed, they look like they always have, and indeed it is tough to say that this is a change that will affect gamers in any meaningful way. But there is an air of doubt that has left many collector oriented players in a frenzy.
Their argument comes from two angles. The first is that the new cases will be less sturdy than before, so that a strong impact will shatter the plastic that was not cut out. While this is certainly possible, millions of these new cases have already shipped, and no major issues have been reported. Considering that our hobby will cry foul over any console with a minuscule failure rate, I imagine that something would have been said about broken cases if it was an issue of grave importance (even if we were busy with the holidays).
The other argument is more complicated, but in my opinion more plausible. As time goes on, and a case is attacked by moisture and temperature, the paper surrounding it will warp and change. Gamers are afraid that ten years from now, a game that is not stored in a cool, dry location will end up having wedge shaped indentations in the paper sleeve that will be readily apparent from the outside. This future problem brings us to the true topic of debate in this issue – should we care so much about game packaging?
Just as in the days of flimsy cardboard boxes, there is a contingent of gamers who still don’t care about game cases. Back then, they’d throw away the cardboard and store the game elsewhere. With disc based media, they throw the case into storage and slip the disc itself into a binder. For these people, the change to DVD cases (or even jewel cases) was not an improvement, but a detriment. They have a piece of packaging they do not need, but cannot get rid of without tossing it out, which is far more of a waste issue than tossing out cardboard. And if there was still cardboard today, there is a much better chance that they could recycle it.
For the collector, the DVD case is a blessing. Their games will look good, stay protected, and they don’t have to worry about throwing anything away or having to buy more plastic as an alternate storage solution. The case is the first and only solution needed for a game.
So from an ecological standpoint, this is a tricky subject (though I suppose that someone with a hardline stance would say that there’s no argument that cardboard is better). And while I myself am a collector, I can’t say that people who have no care for packaging are in the wrong. It all comes down to personal preference really. As is typical, I find myself in the middle of a debate with no strong feelings for either side. Still, I feel the need to take some sort of stance, and so I will say that these new cases are a bad idea for the simple fact that it is symptomatic of the bad decisions we see every day. This kind of change is a quick, short term solution that won’t resolve the long term issues of environmental impact, shelf space and cost savings. Companies want to capitalize on the current ‘green’ craze for as long as it lasts, and this is a perfect way to do so while potentially screwing us over. We know that can boxes could be smaller, recycling has improved, and with the arrival of Blu Ray discs, the old ‘standard’ of DVD cases no longer applies. A bigger change can be made, I don’t think anyone on the producer or consumer side is interested in figuring out what it could be.