Ugly Boxes Kill Good Games; Why Great Packaging Matters


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Kim Vandenbroucke, President of Brainy Chick (and she is), is an accomplished game inventor and critic.  Her newest game, Scattergories Categories is hitting the toy shelves now.  Kim’s blog, “The Game Aisle”, reviews new games.  We asked her to share her insights with Global Toy News readers. 

6a0133ec87bd6d970b0133f46c6c2a970b-320wi Once upon a time people bought lots of products from mail order companies like Montgomery Ward where there was only a catalog entry to entice them to purchase.  Products could, and often did, show up in boxes with little more than a name or product number to identify it and no one really cared.  Fast forward to today when the fight at point of sale is fierce.  What entices someone to stop and look at a product when they’re ten feet away?  What about three feet?  What about when they’re standing right in front of it; what makes them pick it up?  In all areas of consumer goods a product’s packaging strives to outshine the items around it and it’s not any different in the game aisle of the big box stores and mom and pop game shops.

In the game industry most products don’t fall under the umbrella of a well-known brand, so consumers often purchase based on look.  Yep, that’s right they’re buying a game by its cover.  Does it look fun?  Does it look too complex?  Is it similar to something I already own?  Games are not regular, repeat purchases like orange juice, bandages or toilet bowl cleaner, so unless a consumer has played the game somewhere else, there’s little previous product experience to drive the purchase.

As a game reviewer, I do a lot of playtesting and I find it extremely interesting to see which games people grab off the table and look at first.  It’s not usually the best game in the bunch, but it probably has the best looking packaging.  It’s also a fight for me to get testers excited to play games with ugly boxes because they just don’t look fun!  Now ask yourself, would you ever purchase for yourself or as a gift a game that doesn’t look fun?  No way!  So why then are there so many ugly boxes still being produced?

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I can only think of two real reasons.  First is money and time.  Larger companies sometimes don’t want to     admit that their design is bad or just don’t have time or budget to fix it.  If it is self-manufactured they may be going to their neighbor’s cousin because either they don’t know where else to go or they’re getting a really great price.  Seriously folks, this is not the place to skimp!  I’ve seen boxes that look like their kid did the artwork (this is NOT appealing) and I can’t count how many times I’ve seen images of people photoshopped together so it looks like there is a group playing the game but the lighting is coming from all different angles – one person even had someone else’s arm attached to them!  Spend the time and the money for a decent designer; it’s so much easier to get buyers and consumers interested in a pretty box.

The other reason is that some people (or companies) just don’t know better.  If you wander down the game aisle and pick out the games that look good they’re probably coming from a handful of companies who hit homeruns with their packaging 90% of the time.  Others just haven’t caught on and keep churning out ugly box after ugly box.  Another part of this is to be willing to update.  Maybe the product sold well at the beginning, but if that was 10 years ago it’s probably time to do a redesign.  The Balderdash box was recently redone and it has completely breathed new life into the product.  See for yourself:

Doesn’t the one on the right LOOK like fun?

As a game inventor, I wish that 100% of sales were based solely on whether or not the game inside the box was AWESOME, but that isn’t the case.  Look at Bananagrams, it’s a fun game but MULTIPLE similar iterations of this game have come out before, but the fabric banana package is what's made this item a superstar.  Don’t get me wrong, packaging can’t make an item – but it sure can kill it.  Just remember before anyone gets to the fun game goodness inside, they must buy the box.

14 thoughts

  1. Hi Kim,
    Loved your article. Generally spot on. I’m not sure any company has ever hit homeruns on packaging 90% of the time. If they did, the rest of us would be out of business.
    Back in the eighties and early nineties the art director for Western Publishing, George Propsom taught me a simple rule of thumb. Take a printout of your art, cut off the side panels and tape it to something then walk ten giant paces, turn and look. If you cannot easily both read the title and get some kind of idea what the game is, go back to the drawing boards, or, in today’s world, the adobe software.
    I’ve dubbed this the Propsom 25-foot Proposition. It helps but at the same time, you have to make yourself be objective. Never marry a packaging concept. Closeout warehouses are full of them.
    Again, thanks for the article. There are too many game industry muckidee mucks who don’t think it is necessary to spend time and money to make a package great.
    Steve

  2. Thanks for posting this Kim!
    Out of curiosity, what are some good games that have been killed by ugly boxes?
    I agree that a poorly designed package doesn’t help sell a game, but do question whether it really kills it. On the contrary, there seem to be a few successful games with package design that isn’t all that visually appealing, or dynamic but have been proven over time.
    Also, there seem to be a lot of boxes with well designed packaging, but contain weak games. That can carry a negative backlash, and will make gamers skeptical.
    In short, the game must be strong, and something people will want to play. Packaging is still secondary to the gameplay.

  3. Hello Kim,
    Great article but I think it also depends on the audience you are trying to reach (mass or niche market).
    As a puzzle lover I do not really care about the packaging but more about the challenge and the quality of the puzzle.
    For example, the orange storage bag of puzzle game Roadside Rescue by Binary Arts ( http://www.passionforpuzzles.com/puzzles/roadside-rescue.php ) is of poor quality, but the puzzle game is great.
    Do I care? No, although I think I paid to much money for bad quality packaging but as long as I like the puzzle game I am happy.
    Happy Puzzling, Marcel

  4. Kim,
    Couldn’t agree more, Love that You’ve been Sentenced! in the red Pentagon box with the wickedly handsome man on back. Always wish we had used a more interesting fish on Twisted Fish.
    Always remember, in the buying decision, only one thing bigger than price, AGE, Ages that can play is the starting point and stopping point of the overwhelming majority of consumers. This is why Target has the best set up of any mass retiailer – sorted by age…

  5. On more than one occasion, I have seen gamers look at a box or the components in it and declare without any knowledge of the game mechanics that they wanted to own the game. Some people will respond well to beautiful, evocative packaging, but I have also seen people turned off by something that looked too glitzy (assuming the contents were shallow), customers drawn to the mystery of a large box and a title and no information on the front about the intended audience, and prospective customers reading reviews before buying a game. Certainly now in the Internet age, it is possible to hear about a game first online and decide to play or buy it before ever seeing the packaging.
    I agree with your approach, Michelle. I did the same thing with Strategic Space, releasing small runs with just basic informative packaging to get a sense of how the audience received the games before deciding on a new format for the components and/or packaging. In some cases, like The Climbers, everything was fine, and it sold fast, and we’re only doing some rule clarifications in the new run. In other cases, like 4th Corner, we found that customers liked the portability, but retailers said it got lost on the shelf. We also heard from advanced gamers that they wanted more decisions to make, so we are keeping the original edition as is and dropping the price to $9.95 for the non-toy retailers and releasing a larger and more colorful box with new rules and components for advanced play, and a small carrying case inside that will allow customers to discard the big box once they bring it home.

  6. Here, here Kim! What you’ve written is so true! At ThinkFun we agonize over our packaging because it does make all the difference! What is your game package going to look like on a large game wall full of games? Will it stand out? You have about 10 sec to entice a consumer to pick it up. What’s going to do this? And then there’s, once they pick it up, turn it over, then what needs to be said!
    It’s a real “game” to figure this out and companies like ours put a lot of time and energy into it!
    BTW, I think the 3D effect of the Balderdash box is great too!

  7. Well said, Kim. Being a package design consultant for the food and toy industries, I can vouch for everything you’ve stated in your article. Poor planning, a lack of marketing data, insufficient budgets, and designers who don’t understand packaging are all contributors to the problem.
    As Michelle Spelman’s comment outlines, it’s best to do your homework and take the time to do things right the first time. If the product matches the expectations fostered by the packaging, brand equity is achieved. Take your time and don’t cut corners. Bad packaging costs most in the long run.

  8. As a former Art Director for a toy company I can say that many toy industry sales people have said that the package is 80% of the sale.
    A package refresh I did not too long ago directly lead to a 50% increase in sales and the addition of 2 new items on shelf at a major retailer simply because, as you said, it brought new life to the item.
    As a Freelance Designer/Illustrator I’d love to get back into toys and games, Please look at my web page and see if I can ever be of assistance to you.
    Best Regards,
    Scott

  9. I designed the original Blurt! game box in 1994. It sold well, but not because of the packaging. Educational Insights redesigned the box last year for the new edition of Blurt! and I can honestly say that it is WAY better than what I came up with 15 years ago. And honestly, the game is selling faster than it ever did before. Packaging matters.
    You hit it on the head when you wrote, “I’ve seen boxes that look like their kid did the artwork (this is NOT appealing).” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that argument in defense of a bad package. The defenders of this art will say, “It’s a product for kids so we wanted the artwork to be kid-like. There’s a HUGE difference between “kid-like” and “like a kid drew it.”

  10. As a newcomer to the industry, one of the things we spent the most time doing before launching our game, Jukem Football, was study both the specialty and mass retail game aisles to discern benchmark best practices in packaging.
    Then, we spent a lot of time talking to retailers, asking THEM what packaging features and trends were most valuable and helpful to them at the point of purchase.
    As we studied, we realized that a lot of good games in the aisle miss opportunities to sell themselves with their packaging.
    We learned the four most important things a game’s packaging MUST communicate are:
    –That it’s FUN!
    –What it is
    –Who it’s intended for
    –How to play
    We launched our first game with very simple packaging – to just get it out there to test the market and see if people would like playing it. Once we had traction that confirmed we had something people wanted, we ran back to the drawing board, expanded the game to implement all the awesome feedback we got from users and retailers, and hired top notch creative pros to help us strategically design a colorful new brand identity and package. Every component of our package design is deliberate and has a specific purpose. There is nothing random about it.
    We’ve been told by retailers that our design and packaging is so good “we could teach some of the big boys a thing or two.” (you can see for yourself who said it right here!) http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=271267412123
    And you know what else? I’m proud to say the packaging for Jukem Football is a true reflection of the game experience inside.
    🙂
    Thanks for a great post! I look forward to sharing it with my network.
    Michelle Spelman
    Co-Founder, Jukem Football
    Our Award-winning game is Made in USA!
    http://www.jukemfootball.com

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