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Why I Started Collecting Big Box PC Games

Over Christmas, I went to my parents’ place and finally sorted through all my boxes of crap that have spent years gathering dust in their garage. One of those boxes was filled with dozens of old PC games.

Holding Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (LucasArts, 1997) in my hands transported me back to Christmas 1997, when I hurried through lunch so I could go to my room and install it on my computer. As I flicked through the 260-page Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn manual, I could clearly remember the excitement of the purchase at my local game store almost 20 years earlier.

Digital distribution has forever changed gaming. While we can thank pioneers like Valve for making our lives easier, something has been lost in the experience of game purchases. The anticipation of the trip to the games store, the excitement of opening the box and reading through the manual, perhaps looking at an included map, that distinctive “creak” of removing a CD from its case for the first time, or the satisfying “clunk” of the first of eight floppy disks clicking into place as you prepared to install the game…

Prior to the 2000s, most PC games were sold in the “big box” format–large cardboard boxes roughly the size of a pack of A4 paper.

In the days before YouTube or widespread marketing of games, developers needed to capture the attention of potential buyers at the point of sale, so these boxes were often decorated with impressive artwork or designs (this site has a great collection). Some of my personal favorites include Fallout (Interplay Productions, 1997), The Secret of Monkey Island (LucasArts, 1990) and SimCity 2000 (Maxis, 1993).

Before widespread use of the internet, developers also needed to provide sufficient documentation to accompany their games, and these manuals and reference cards were frequently as beautiful as the boxes they came in. Not only that, this documentation was sometimes accompanied by maps, posters, or artwork. These were not deluxe editions that cost an additional $50. These were the standard (and only) versions of games that every gamer got when they paid their money.

As I sifted through my crate of old games, I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia for these golden days of PC gaming. Over the years, many of these old game boxes been lost or thrown out. So I decided to do what any mature adult does when they long for their youth – I started trying to relive it.

Fairly disappointing as far as midlife crises go, but a lot cheaper than a sports car – or so I thought.

I’ve since spent the past few months tracking down many of these old game boxes, and it seems like I’m not the only one. Depending on the condition, age, and rarity, some of these old games will set you back quite a lot of money. I recently witnessed a still shrink-wrapped copy of Sam & Max Hit the Road sell for over $150.

But if you know where to look, you can find some bargains. Here’s a few tips:

  • Thrift Shops: Thrift Shops (or Op Shops, as we call them down this side of the planet) will very occasionally have an old PC game in good condition, however, more often than not there will be something missing (such as the box). Still, make sure you check them every now and then, and you might get lucky, as the prices tend to be very cheap. I picked up Troika’s Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura for $3.
  • Facebook Marketplace: I’ve been blown away with how many great little tidbits of gaming history turn up in the Facebook Marketplace, but do some price-scouting first. Some people tend to overvalue their items, and you may find them cheaper elsewhere.
  • Online Classifieds: Sites like eBay or Gumtree are generally the go-to source for me, however, the prices tend to be higher and the competition tougher. I recently got into a bidding war for the original Diablo, which ended up selling for well over $70 (I lost…).
  • Ask around!: Friends or co-workers who gave up gaming years ago (why???) and might still have their old games lying around in a garage, just like I did. Ask around! I recently did exactly that at work and managed to get six games in great condition for only $10 each, including Eye of the Beholder II and System Shock.

Collecting big box PC games is incredibly addictive, and a reminder of a happier time when games were more that some digital files; they were an entire experience. It can seem overwhelming at first, but the best way to overcome this is to set goals – track down all the SCUMM engine games, or maybe all the SSI Gold Box RPGs.

Tell us about your favorite big box PC games in the comments section below.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed the article! If you’d like to see some related content, and support Exclusively Games in the process, click on our Amazon Affiliate links listed below to find related products. – EG Staff

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  1. Awesome collection and introductory article! I wish I’d kept the boxes and manually of all the video games I have, but over the years and changing priorities, I’ve ditched everything but the disks 🙁

  2. Josh Cruise on April 11, 2019 at 5:29 pm said

    Check out Lazy Game Reviews or LGR on youtube. That guy’s collection makes me so envious.

  3. Laserwulf on April 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm said

    I didn’t save any of the big cardboard boxes that my ’90s games came in, but I still have some relics of a lost art from that era: PC game manuals. Warcraft II and Starcraft had amazing art & background info. Sim City 2000 had an entire section of essays(!) and poetry(!!!) all about urban life. I never even owned SimEarth but I have the manual, since much of it isn’t even about playing the game, but rather Gaia Theory and planetary biology. Nowadays you’d just look that stuff up online, but there’s something to be said for a well-presented collection of high-quality content that you can hold, flip through years/decades after the company disappears… and read when there’s an internet outage.

  4. Thoraxe41 on April 12, 2019 at 8:23 am said

    Yeah good memories. Dispute being a mediocre game MOO 3’s manual was a fun read. It had basically a short novel of the plot spread throughout the book.

  5. Great group to big box shown and tell:
    Plus a marketplace for old boxed games:

  6. I absolutely loved so many of the SSI games!

  7. I used to love getting those because of the creative little bits of things you’d find inside. games like Return to Zork or Myst or Stonekeep had all kinds of interesting supplemental material in them. My kingdom for a cloth map!

  8. I love this article because it covers the hidden truth that having a physical copy was a very positive and enjoyable aspect of purchasing a game. Digital distribution is like taking the wrapping off of a present. Opening a PC game box to find an in-game item like an Ultima series game or a cloth map or the manual was a perk that doesn’t exist anymore.

    Also, if you’re in a situation living in the countryside without decent internet you probably lament the absolute lack of physical gaming markets which I used when I lived in the sticks.

  9. Love Big Box PC game Cases….They will never go out of style.

  10. otakukrill on May 7, 2019 at 6:48 pm said

    i just started building a collection of big box pc games about a year and so far i only have a 7 or 8. i’m trying to find then in the wild i find its more fun and means more to me rather then just getting them off ebay. i did get my hands on clive barker’s undying recently im looking forward to playing it.

    • I have to agree, while finding them “in the wild” is a much slower process, it is vastly more rewarding (and cheaper).

      I found Earth 2150 in a YMCA op shop over the weekend for only $5, in fantastic condition.

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