I have a modest proposal to PC game publishers. Since I’m not sure if many PC game publishers visit this page, if some of you could do me the favor of propagating this piece or its URL as far as you can (click on the timestamp above to get a static link), I’d appreciate it.

It used to be that PC game publishers put their games out in a variety of boxes, all sizes and proportions. Then in 2001, Wal-Mart requested that publishers release versions of them in standard smaller sized boxes for shelves, since their shelf space in their electronics section is limited. Given that Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world, the PC game manufacturers agreed, and for a time you could go to Wal-Mart and see smaller versions of the same games you could get in larger boxes at other retailers.

Shortly thereafter, other retailers decided they liked this idea (since it would help their shelf space, too) and PC game publishers liked the idea of potentially selling more, so early in 2002, they all pretty much agreed on the smaller box sizes, and now all PC games ship in them.

Being conservative, I was of course objected to this at first. But then I decided the packaging was irrelevant, and who was I to say screw environmental and economic concerns for my aesthetic tastes? Still, this meant no more cool PC boxes (remember Gabriel Knight?).

But then the real problem surfaced – these smaller boxes meant less space for things like manuals and – more importantly – disc packaging. Many games have flimsy manuals (like twitchy FPS games), so this wasn’t a big loss. Neverwinter Nights however came with a largish spiral bound manual, and as a result the three CD’s the game ships on came in paper sleeves – the ones with large circular holes with clear plastic windows so you can see what disc it is. If the CD’s were merely vehicles for the game to be on my hard drive, I wouldn’t care. However, most games require the CD to be in the drive, so what I wind up having to do is install the game from the CD’s, place the non-required CD’s in the box, then keep the required disc and its sleeve in the gateway folding on the front of the game box (provided the game box does this).

It works, but it’s really not stylish. I mean, for starters it means you have to keep your game boxes around. And since they’re made of cardboard, they’re going to get pretty sad looking before too long. And of course if you pick them up the little CD falls out of the gateway fold. Even this isn’t so horrible, since I usually hold on to game boxes for an unusual amount of time, but most people want to pitch them. So either your games are held in cheap paper sleeves, or you put them in jewel cases you buy yourself, or keep them in one of those CD carrying folders. None of these solutions are what I like.

And the main reason I don’t like the most practical solution – that of putting the discs in empty jewel cases I buy myself – is because it’s ugly. Either you put them in those ultra slim cases or standard sized ones, and unless you’re ultra creative, any labelling solution is going to look pretty crappy – and you shouldn’t have to do that. So you’re left with tons of unlabeled games you have to pilfer through every time you want to play a game. It sucks.

And then I look at my DVD shelf. I like DVD cases, or “keep cases”. I even let my DVD collection and my PS2/GameCube collection sit on the same shelf. DVD cases are perfect – you can put a pretty decent manual in there, you can put numerous discs, the packaging is durable (except for those evil “snapper cases”), and it’s just a handsome way to display what you have, as well as being useful. Plus, whereas jewel cases have a habit of breaking through casual use, DVD cases are pretty solid, since they’re usually one piece.

So you see where this is headed, right? PC game publishers, this is my proposal – you went to the smaller boxes to save shelf space, so I’ll do you one better – go to DVD cases. DVD cases are even smaller, and I can guarantee more people will like them. Well OK, I can’t guarantee, but here’s some perks.

DVD cases can hold multiple discs, so 3-CD games won’t be a problem. Sure. it gets cramped in there after 2 discs, but “double-wide” DVD cases are available. You can even cram four discs in there if you want to. Look at how the Cleopatra DVD worked. If your game covers more than 4 CD’s in 2003, you may want to rethink your strategy (it’s called compression). Plus this is a concern destined to go away – within five years I predict that all games will ship on DVD anyway, since any PC worth playing it will have a DVD drive anyway. It might be like the 5.25″-to-3.5″ days for a while, but it’ll get there.

With a little finagling, manuals can fit in DVD cases. In the case of FPS games they’ll fit anyway, since those games never have long tomes anyway. However, since any manual Master of Orion 3 ships with is going to displease people anyway, trim it down and make the “real” manual either a separate book shrink-wrapped on the box, or available with a send-in coupon (hint – they’re like rebates: not everyone will send it in). Make it a PDF on the disc in any event.

The only “real” problem I can think of this is that of confusion. Namely that people might get the games confused with console games. I don’t think anyone’s going to pick up a $50 DVD case and think it’s a movie, so that’s not a problem. And I don’t see too much conflict since PC games are separate from console games anyway. Plus, how many people buy the wrong version of a cross-platform game? People have noticed the difference between the “GameCube”, “Xbox” and “PS2” logos (though the green Xbox cases help, too), so they’re smarter than people might realize. But of course the PC doesn’t have its own logo, so either the lack of a logo will have to suffice, or a simple agreed-upon logo will have to do (there may already be one). Perhaps when all games move to DVD some variant of the DVD logo with the word “PC GAME” in lieu of “VIDEO” will work.

I already see some PC titles doing this – like when Sid Meir released Anteitam at EB Games only, and the Mechwarrior 4 expansion pack. It would be easy to do, may wind up being cheaper and more profitable, and since everything is attuned to DVD sized cases these days anyway (I even saw a vending machine of them for movie DVD’s at a theater the other day), then the retailers are already ready.

Plus they would look cool as hell on a shelf.

Anyway, that’s my proposal. Any thoughts?