When Untitled Goose Game finally sees a physical release later this year (after a highly successful digital launch last year), it will also see the debut of a new line of “eco-packaging” that publisher iam8bit says it “hope[s] leads an entire industry into the future.”
Iam8bit’s so-called “Lovely Edition” release of the game will be the first PS4 title to eschew the standard plastic Blu-ray DVD case in favor of a cardboard box made with “100% post-consumer, recycled material with heavy duty 20-pt stock and no harmful inks.” The packaging also makes use of a biodegradable plastic shrinkwrap called biolefin, which breaks down into biomass after just one to three years, instead of the usual 300 to 600, according to its manufacturer.
The eco-friendly decisions extend to what comes inside the game box, as well. A booklet and foldout poster included in the package get their paper from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring the wood “comes from only the most well-managed and environmentally responsible forests,” as iam8bit puts it. And the included “No Goose” sticker is made from sugar cane waste, which the company assures us is fully biodegradable but not as delicious as it sounds.
A year in the making
Creating a paper box that was up to the standards of collectible-conscious gamers was a challenge that took a year of iteration, according to iam8bit. “For it to be accepted by consumers, it wasn’t enough for it to be a kinder approach to our planet,” iam8bit co-owner Jon Gibson told Ars. “The packaging had to stack up against what everyone is used to—it couldn’t seem cheap or flimsy. It had to feel premium and elegant and, most of all, substantial.”
That was harder than you might expect, Gibson said, because “most recycled and sustainably sourced raw materials tend to be a littler weaker.” To ensure quality, iam8bit put prototype boxes through what it calls a handheld “squeeze test,” to make sure “it not only feels structurally sound, but if you apply pressure, it doesn’t collapse. It holds sturdy and strong.”
Because of supply chain limitations, Gibson said sourcing those high-quality recycled materials in an eco-friendly way “isn’t as simple as ordering some reams of paper from Amazon Prime for next-day delivery.” The limited number of factories that make eco-compliant papers and inks are currently “only located in certain regions and have limited production capacities,” he said.
“It’s counterintuitive to be freighting raw materials around the world if you’re trying to be eco-conscious, because one of the other goals here is to minimize the carbon footprint of production, and in a best case scenario, to make production carbon neutral.”
Controlling costs and leading by example
The decision to be environmentally conscious isn’t cost-free. The PS4 version of iam8bit’s eco-friendly “Lovely Edition” sells for $35, or $5 more than a version with standard packaging from Skybound Games.
Iam8bit co-owner Amanda White said the specific manufacturing cost of this new type of packaging is heavily dependent on the size of the production run. For a small 10,000 unit order, the total packaging cost is about twice as high as normal. For a bigger run, though, costs could increase as little as 10 to 20 percent from the baseline, she said.
That’s part of why iam8bit hopes its packaging efforts will serve as a statement that leads to a “domino effect of change” throughout the industry. White said iam8bit’s smaller size lets it take nimble risks that can let the company serve “as a guiding light for [console makers], who due to their nature and size simply can’t move as quickly (which we completely understand).”
For this kind of change to spread further, consumers are probably going to have to make noise and vote with their wallets. “While humans may mean well, commerce can unfortunately be as loud as community voices,” Gibson said. “So the trick is to show the world that customers don’t just think that eco-friendly packaging is a good idea, they actually favor it in their buying habits… If there is enough demand, supply will increase, [then] we’ve reached a tipping point where eco-friendly materials are actually cheaper than the polluting ones.”
“Right now, the imbalance is that making something eco-friendly is akin to eating vegan, it’s simply more expensive,” he continued. “But eventually, as is happening with veganism, the more people that adopt that lifestyle, the more cost-effective it becomes, and we all benefit from that.”
Economic costs aside, though, right now “the cost savings at the level of one’s conscience is immeasurable,” White said. “Companies can pivot to making the investment in eco-friendly packaging elements (or the entirety of packaging) on all physically produced titles going forward. Let’s make the eco-approach to physical games the norm, rather than the exception. Those who can, should!”