We’ve finally received the Nintendo Switch here at Ars’ Oribiting HQ, and while we’re embargoed from telling you anything about the hardware or software at this point, we are allowed to talk about the physical game cartridges and their retail packaging. And when you open your first Nintendo Switch box, one thing immediately stands out: there is a lot of empty space.
Of course, packaging for physical video games has always had a decent amount of empty space. Historically, that’s come partly out of a desire to include large instruction booklets and supporting material, and partly it’s out of a marketing desire to make the product stand out on the shelves (we’re looking at you, big box PC games).
That said, the Nintendo Switch packaging takes this trend to a ridiculous extreme. A Switch cartridge measures about 31mm x 21mm x 3mm, slightly smaller than a 35mm x 33mm x 4mm 3DS cartridge. That tiny Switch cartridge only takes up about 1 percent of the total volume of its game box (170mm x 104mm x 10mm).
What’s more, the box doesn’t include any instruction booklet, registration card, legal health warning, or other materials that might make use of some of that extra space (the original Nintendo DS boxes even used some of that empty space for optional Game Boy Advance cartridge storage). This won’t be true of all Switch games, though; The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth has promised to include a 20-page booklet inspired by that for the original NES Legend of Zelda with its Switch release.
This amount of wasted packaging space isn’t unprecedented in recent gaming history. A Nintendo 3DS cartridge takes up only about 2 percent of its more square-shaped box by volume. A 2mm thick Vita cartridge needed only about 0.8 percent of its packaging volume. Sega Genesis cartridges, on the other hand, took up about 20 percent of those famous hard plastic “clamshell” boxes from the late ’80s by volume.
Things look worse for the Switch box if you ignore the thickness of the cartridge/box and just look at the areas of their 2D footprints. Viewed from above, the Switch cartridge takes up just about 3.7 percent of the area of its box’s footprint, compared to 4.7 percent for the Vita, 6.9 percent for the 3DS, and a whopping 33.2 percent for the old Genesis cartridges. Disc-based console games, while thin, take up a substantial majority their box’s 2D footprints by necessity.
For a collector who wants to keep their Switch games organized and displayed nicely on a shelf, this extra padding is definitely a good thing (and the 10mm spine makes it easy to read game names from the side). The extra space allows for some fun experimental box art design, too—The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild box has a reversible insert showing a beautiful landscape of Link climbing a rocky wall, for instance.
The wasted space is mainly a concern if you’re worried about all those boxes taking up extra space in your house or eventually clogging a landfill. The shell is made of fully recyclable No. 5 plastic, though, which should be an environmental help if consumers are conscientious.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a huge issue (and trust us, we wish we could tell you more about the hardware and software itself without waiting for an embargo). We also realize there’s a limit to how small game packaging can get while still being an effective eye-catcher on brick-and-mortar retail shelves (though, when you pack a retail Switch game in an even bulkier Amazon shipping box, things get even more ridiculous).
Still, as game cartridges keep getting smaller and smaller, game boxes don’t seem to be shrinking at the same rate despite including less of the amazing supporting material that characterized games of yesteryear. At this rate, in 20 years, we’re going to see DVD-sized cases for fingernail-sized cartridges that you’ll have to be careful not to accidentally inhale. That’s if physical games even exist in 20 years, of course.