You can certainly find tourists who will be quite happy to pay a high price for an empty container, as the long history of such a market proves.
But that’s not exactly the case in the gaming world.
Many gamers find that air has become expensive. That it is taking up too much space on their shelves, in their backpack.
This air is the air contained in game boxes that are large enough to hold a phone book, but in which one only gets a thin deck of cards and a handful of tokens.
This is the boxed air phenomenon.
Boxed air never stops being mocked and criticized online. It is regarded as a form of overpackaging, a trend affecting many industries.
However, oversized boxes are mostly an issue with smaller games: card games, family or party games. Games having a small rule set, and no board. Most expansion boxes also suffer from obesity.
While with larger games, such as strategy or historical games, the opposite can be observed. Most players complain about the boxes being way too small.
Bigger is Better. The primary equation that is apparently ingrained in the deepest layers of our consumer brain is that a large box contains more value than a smaller one.
For the gamer, a big box equals more components, more quality, more game for his money.
Price point. A game having more expensive components, or IP license has to be sold at a higher price point even if it comes in a small box. But a high price on a tiny box will have an adverse effect on sales, while it is readily accepted on a larger box.
Production costs. Even if it costs more to ship and store, it might still be less expensive for a publisher to produce their games using a more standard, readily available box size, even if it is too large, than using custom sizes.
Expansions. It is well-known that many expansions are designed and developed along with the base game; often they’re even part of it. Because the publisher already knows, at publication time, that a game will have expansions, they sometimes decide to produce the base game with a larger box that will accommodate one or many upcoming expansions.
Shelf Presence. In an era where so many consumer goods are dematerialized, it requires more effort to see why box size is part of the marketing rhetoric arsenal. But board games are concrete, tangible objects. One could argue that when so much of our lives has become virtual, the very tactility of board games can explain why they are enjoying a real golden age. And they are mostly sold in shops and at conventions, where any game box barely larger than a pack of cards simply has no chance of competing for attention among hundreds of more standard-sized boxes (i.e. 30 x 30 x 8 cm).
Just think of the boxes in which commercial software was sold not so long ago. What did we find in those imposing boxes that looked a little like safes? A CD or two, a warranty sheet, a pre-addressed mail registration card (they had stopped printing user manuals years before). The only purpose of those boxes was advertisement. They were thrown away, never used to keep the product.
But when the packaging is part of the product, things are a bit more difficult.
The book has developed an interesting way of dealing with shelf presence. Have you ever compared a best-seller’s hardcover edition with its pocket edition? One simply looks like the user’s manual for the other. The hardcover has a higher quality binding, no doubt, but its main role is to grab the customer’s attention and not let it go until the cash register drawer closes. It is three times heavier, three times larger and three times more expensive. Why does it sell as well? You start reading now. You don’t have to wait for months for the pocket edition.
With that kind of two-step sales process, the book industry has found a way to use the cult of the new to its own advantage. The board game industry though, still too small, is still bullied by it. Oversized boxes will not disappear anytime soon.
And boxed air keeps selling quite well. Not only to tourists.
- Machi Koro’s Oversized Box: Explained, by PairOfDice Paradise
- W. Eric Martin on oversized boxes
- W. Eric Martin explaining oversized boxes
- Top 10 Game Boxes That Contain More Air Than Game – by Guyblin
- Kirill Rudenko’s Photography