ASCII by Jason Scott

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Thinking Out of the Box —

Well, my recent post about the death of the container for ethereal goods got some people stopping by with ice picks, and they knocked a few chunks of additional ideas out of my Brain Iceberg, so let’s go over that.

First, let me be clear in saying that I wasn’t going “bwa ha ha, goodbye packaging and good riddance”. If you can make something worthwhile that deserves packaging and which contains things that are nice to have, it makes sense. But if you’re going to just drop in a DVD with a single-color label and an amray case with a dropped-in color-duped paper, then what the heck? In the case of a lot of the products out there, especially the poorly-maintained “classics” I alluded to, the packaging is doing almost nothing relative to the product. If, however, the package is contributing to the overall usefulness of the product (say, a DVD combined with a book combined with something else), then it makes total sense to sell the package form. (An example of this that comes to mind is Guitar Hero II, which has the game and a guitar controller and some stickers.) I myself intend to do this, so yes, I totally see doing packaging as a worthwhile venture.

Additionally, I’m not ruling out the possibility of ARCADE coming out in a box. If I do in fact release it in a box, it’s also going to be a really nice box. It will also possibly be as much as 4 DVDs, plus who knows what else collected inside.

All I was saying was that I have the opinion that by 2010 a “box” in a “store” or “mailed to you” might not be the best methodology for distributing whatever the final work is. If it is, then of course I’ll do it. Trends, however, make me feel like there’s going to be a better way in force by that time. And that’s what I felt walking through the store.

Flack made the assertion that I was probably thinking more along the lines of consoles, where the “vertical integration” is now in such a locked turbo mode that you may not be able to buy your console games any other way. There’s a good point there, and I think that games on consoles could likely become these open-ended new-content-everyday sorts of games where you have this initial insane download that goes to the machine followed by daily or weekly updates of stuff, so you suddenly find out there’s a new track or a new level and your account was just debited by $5. In these cases, boxes won’t be around.

Robb Sherwin points out that the downloads inevitably come encumbered with restrictions and are often tied to the continued operation of machines that are not your own, meaning that if they die, your stuff dies. While it’s possible to go and play Mario from a cartridge 20 years old and have it work, once the Nintendo Wii service goes away some day, that’s it for all the “channels” you bought. Good point for him, too. Obviously, just like I don’t put out crippled DVDs with Macrovision and region encoding, I wouldn’t put out anything that “phoned home” or otherwise demanded it “be” somewhere to function, so you can watch it on your holo-headphones or whatever with impunity, forever.

The thing I didn’t bring up in the previous entry is how much of a long-shot bet boxes are.

Bear in mind that for the BBS Documentary, there was a $27,000 bill associated with the packaging and duplication. That’s just duplicating DVDs and the cardboard case and putting it together and getting it sent to me. The rest of the documentary budget had already been spent and this nearly doubled the most obvious expenses for the project. GET LAMP will have a similar bill, I’m sure, possibly worse because of some of the tricky stuff I’m already in negotiations with that’s being worked out. That’s some scary money, and it scares me to even idly think of it now. This was the driving force behind aggressively pre-selling the documentary the last time, because I can’t just blow out that kind of cash out of my mad money. I made that money back, make no mistake, but that’s the inherent risk. (You can also, perhaps, see why making the whole thing Creative Commons seemed a bit of an additional insane risk as well, although it ended up becoming a selling point.)

I still hold that the shift will be gradual but distinct; a heavier and heavier reliance on a network component to recieve new “stuff”, until not getting “stuff” that way is the exception. I have no problem being the exception, if it makes sense to be.

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One Comment

  1. I agree with your premonition, but wow, I just realized this is going to suck verily. For a pack-rat like me who feels compelled to retain stuff for future generations to gawk at, there won’t be anything to collect anymore, and the corollary is there will therefore be no hobbies in the future trading over-valued tangible, visceral packaging and associated adjuncts on eBay.

    Fuck trees! I want packaging and a plastic substrate with physically encoded data, dammit!

    VCF East 4.0 in the house!