Your game’s packaging may not matter too much in online sales or Kickstarter, but if you want to distribute to game stores, you need to be smart about it. It makes sense: Your box’s the first thing people see in a game store, and possibly the only thing they’ll look at to learn what your game is about before they buy it.
At the GAMA Trade Show 2014 in March, Jessica Blair from Roll to Market shared tips on the anatomy of a good game package design: what makes people pick it up, what compels them to buy, and blunders even big companies don’t consider sometimes:
Designing your box
- Good cover art is essential. Get a good illustrator and really make it shine so that people want to pick it up and turn it over for more information!
- Have a big title treatment and snappy tagline and name of the designer, but don’t include much more text than this. The job of the front is not to completely explain the game, but to get your customers curious about what’s inside and pull it off the shelf.
- Number of players, age range, and time to play icons are standard on all good box designs, but if they detract from the art too much, they can go on the sides.
- If you have a game with cool or unusual components, consider a window to show them off. Sometimes, people will just buy a game for the shiny bits alone, and planning a window can be as little as 3 cents extra per box.
- The name of the game should be on all panels, so the game store owner can arrange it in a way that fits best on his shelves.
- Number of players, age range, and time to play icons are good for the side panels, too.
- Keep it simple, uncluttered, and easy to read in a bookended-lineup.
- Show all the pieces of your game in action so that a person can explain how to play it from the back of the box.
- Explain your game in concise language that’s fun and hits your key selling points. Avoid big blocks of text by breaking it up into bullets.
- If you’re talking about a player’s actions, phrase it in the second-person (“You are a zombie-killing farmer”) rather than third-person (“Players are zombie-killing farmers”) for a more powerful experience
- Format your UPC code properly! Some larger retailers have specific guidelines for your UPC format.
- If you have translations for your game and want to reach out to multiple languages, don’t try to squeeze them all onto the box! Put them on a website and create a QR code for the translations, then put flag icons next to it for the appropriate countries.
- That said, be careful with QR codes. They’re great for demo videos and other explanations, but retailers can get angry if it directs you to a cheaper place to buy the game online. So add a bit of text to tell folks where the QR code leads!
Note: This is not legal advice. ALWAYS check with your manufacturer and/or legal professionals to ensure your game complies with the proper standards before including symbols on your box design.
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Planning your box
So you’ve got a great handle on how to design your box, but what size should you use? Plan your box carefully to optimize where it’s placed and how it’s sold:
- Plan the depth of your game box carefully! Boxes that are too thin or tall will faceplant off the shelves, making for a bad buying experience.
- Size your game box to a similar size as other games that fit within your theme, because guess what? Retailers like to shelve similar-sized things together to economize space! If your game is a party game, a big square Apples-to-Apples box might work great, but if your game is a 4-hour strategy game, you might want to go more Battlestar Galactica size.
- Retailers expressed a strong dislike for small tuck boxes for a few reasons reasons: The only place they typically have in their stores for tuck boxes is with their standard playing cards, so you’re forcing the store owner to put it together with games it might not be similar to. Also, smaller boxes are easy to shoplift in a coat pocket. Consider a Munchkin-sized box or larger for card games.
- Shrink wrap seams are placed along the edges by default, but if you ask for the seam to be 1mm above the bottom edge of the box, it can help prevent box faceplanting without ruining the look.
Having a smartly-designed box can mean big sales, and it’s worth it to learn how it’s done and look around at how other companies handle it. What game packaging has caught your eye in your last visit to your local game store?
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14 Readers CommentedJoin discussion
Such a great post Christina! I wish I had something like this when I was finishing the box final touches for What the Food?!
I wanted to second the notion that side of the box is critical to get right. I had a very small logo of my game on the side (because the logo is a splat, circular shaped), but then I noticed at my FLGS that every box not on an endcap is sideways. Almost all the boxes have GIANT LETTERS of the TITLE on the side. So I broke out my logo and created a horizontal version. Don’t forget to always mention what game it is!
One other interesting point that Gavan Brown did for our game, Train of Thought – for the sides of the box, he made one side legible if the boxes were stacked on top of each other – but the other side was legible if it was stood on its end. I thought that was pretty clever and helps make it stand out when it’s on the shelf!
Nice! I think if it works with the design, that’s definitely something cool you can do, but kind of like books, I wouldn’t try to force a “vertical read” if the depth of your box won’t support it. Now I’ve gotta hunt down Train of Thought cause I’m curious how he handled it!
Thanks for the post! I hadn’t ever thought about the shrink-wrapping tip–that’s clever.
Thanks for reading, Jamey! For some games, they’re heavy enough where the shrink wrap tip won’t make a big difference, but for lighter games or things that might get top-heavy, having a more stable surface without that seam on the bottom can really help!
These are definitely some great tips (the most crucial being the purpose of the box is to be picked up by customers) but my ultimate tip would be to pay a graphic designer to do a professional design. I really love Kickstarter and the proliferation of tabletop gaming is fantastic, but it seems like a lot of project creators think they can do it all. I see lots of designs that skip over the basics (covered here) with creators doing their own design and being deceived by their own biases. Just because something looks nice at first glance, doesn’t mean it’s good design. I particularly remember a packaging design being floated around the forums recently with a company logo on it that many people commented that it looked like an LCG logo. This wasn’t the only problem, but it was one of the problems he refused to fixed.
Seconding, Peter’s comment, the side of the box is super important, as it will often be the actual face. A big title is often not enough, you’ll need to have some art to get your game concept across as well.
Thanks for your comment; really good point about not getting biased toward something “pretty”. You’re definitely right about getting a graphic designer on board; designers have experience to make your illustrations pop, give your information the proper hierarchy, and take care of formatting for the printer. I hope this can serve as a resource for freelance designers like me who take on package design projects for games, because there’s a lot of stuff about designing for the tabletop game industry to learn!
Hi Christina, I was directed to look into this site by a Mentors programmer. I have a game that really needs tweeking for packaging purposes. How do I purchase program of graphics for my computer so I can get my game idea patent ready? I have everything done but it is by hand and it looks very big. I need to downsize the pictures and instructions for packaging. What graphic program would you suggest? I would appreciate any help. I may be over-reacting to using someone else’s prototype program to sign up on. I’d rather have it on my own computer to adjust the packaging and getting it ready. How would I do so? Thanks for any knowledge towards my idea.
In addition to affecting a game’s sales, it also directly impacts how often it will hit the table: most board gamers have more games than they can play, and have store-like shelves to store them. When somebody asks “what do we play” and people start exploring the games, the exact same process takes place.
I say this because I’d be interested in what the ratio of online vs in-store sales is for board games. I personally only shop games online, because of the price, and also because I’m lazy. And I don’t need to go to a store because of all the information I can get online. But in the end, even then, I get mad at boxes that misrepresent their product, because we play them less. Box size is often seen as a representation of complexity/length, and when it gets late, people start looking for small boxes, which means games like Castle Dice (which is simple and short, but in an enormous box) barely ever come out.
Can you tell me your thoughts on using a mailing tube as the game box – the tube will be wrapped with the cover sheet. What special care should be taken in using this sort of packaging?
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My son has come up with a game in which he has made a prototype for a local kids business opportunity. He wants to be able to produce it and sell it at their annual kids business expo. With the tips you have given we can produce it ourselves but it definitely won’t be professional. Where can we go to get it manufactured?
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Hi Christina, I would love to connect and potentially have you help me with my card game box design.