I started volunteering at the International Center for the History of Electronic Games® (ICHEG) at The Strong Museum of Play. ICHEG collects, studies, and interprets video games, other electronic games, and related materials and the ways in which electronic games are changing how people play, learn, and connect with each other. I am assisting in their archiving process and during this process I come across various objects and questions that I research and explore. And I am passing on what I find to everyone reading this. I volunteer weekly and I hope to have something new to talk about towards the end of every week.
Week 1 – Sega Mark III packaging
This week I worked on scanning cover art for old Japanese Sega Games. Mark III games to be more exact. For those who may not remember, the Mark III was released in Japan in 1985 and then was redesigned and renamed to the Sega Master System for its North American release in 1986. The Mark III was the direct competition to the Nintendo Entertainment System and used a different kind of cartridge called the Sega Card, which was branded as Sega My Card. The Sega Card is the basis for this weeks research.
The original Japanese Sega Cards released in 1985 came in a small red package that you can see to the left. The package is very minimal and honestly quite nice in my opinion, you get to see the name of the game, the console, the publisher, the actual game and on the back you had a the marketing text about the game with some pictures. The boxes were significantly smaller than other console boxes and seemed perfect for storage, but in 1986 this box seemed to have suddenly changed.
In 1986 Sega introduced the Gold Cartridge (pictured on the right). On first glance we thought it was a special edition cartridge, its what I would expect it to be. A gold box, with what seems to be some special messaging (2M). Games cartridges such as the Gold Zelda NES cartridge or special edition games usually break the norm of how game boxes are represented, which in this case is the red box from before. But after some digging around and talking to a old Sega Game Collector named Omar Cornut, we have figured out what these cartridges mean and we try to break it down.
What we found was that it was a simple rebrand of the Sega Card in 1986. As someone who works in advertising I can only speculate why the packaging was updated, so lets do just that. In my professional opinion this rebrand was to help market the less powerful cartridge (comparing to the NES Cartridge) and to give a feel of luxury or owning a special collectors item. The box color changed to a gold color which really makes the game feel like a collectors edition. The box also got much larger than the original red box. The box size became more similar in size to the NES cartridge box, leaning on the larger side. Making the game feel like a collectors edition can create more sales because who knows if you will see another, especially when you see so many games using the red box.
The box also became a completely enclosed box, which I think is a good decision for a number of reasons, including the protection of the game itself and the ability to add artwork to the box. Box art can play a rather large role in a purchase. Yes the cartridge has art but its small compared to what a full box art can show. Having this larger and full box gave Sega more opportunities to add marketing images and text.
The last thing that changed with the package was they added more messaging about the cartridge itself, which again was not as popular as the NES cartridge. The 2M on the box shown above talks about how many megabits the cartridge has. So the cartridge shown above is a 2 megabit cartridge which is 256 kilobytes or .25 megabytes. Cartridges could have been 1, 2 or 4 megabit cartridges meaning that a cartridge could have held up to .5 megabytes of data. The largest NES cartridge held 1 megabyte of data. Also on the bottom right of the box there is a banner that says memory backup. It really seems like Sega wanted to really push the message of how large their cartridge is.
The change in packaging for the Mark III was interesting to see and rather sudden. I really love the original packaging because it was functional and to the point, and even though the Gold Cartridge packaging is not very functional it does provoke a certain emotion for collectors with its design choices.
Which box do you like more? Let us know in the comments below and please let us know if there is anything you would be interested in seeing from ICHEG.