In a recent(ish) Vault of Regret post, I wrote about the time when I had a bulk clear-out of old games, shifting most of them as a job lot inside a massive cardboard box. Despite spending more time than is healthy on trying to find details of that eBay listing and what exactly was in that box, the full truth will never be uncovered.

However, I think I do still have a relatively good grasp of which old games I used to own but don’t. The games retained following that cull, particularly from the DOS era, are a fairly small sample of my previous collection, so by default anything that I remember owning that isn’t in that pile could have been in the box, and definitely was given away or sold at one point.

So I think The Big Cardboard Box will now have to be a metaphor for all of those games. And even though it’s unlikely to be of great interest to you, our vast readership, I’m going to start tagging all those games for my own interests as we cover them, as well as (possibly?) going back through old reviews to see what else might be included.

In the meantime, in an ongoing series of articles, I’m going to take a look inside that metaphorical big box and at the smaller game boxes within (that were almost certainly discarded in reality for reasons of space). It’s an opportunity to look back at the now almost-defunct world of games packaging: the cardboard boxes, the compilations, and the budget re-releases.

And it’s a budget label that we’ll start with here. The White Label was Virgin Interactive Entertainment’s budget range, and was fairly prominent in the UK in the mid-90s. My recollection is that it was one of the first budget lines to really focus on ‘prestige’ CD titles, many of which were exclusive to PC.

Many of their releases, particularly early on, were games that they had published themselves at full price: I remember Westwood’s Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos and The Legend of Kyrandia: Hand of Fate were among the very first releases, and later the likes of The 7th Guest, which was once considered a cutting-edge product, also secured a re-release at the £10-15 price range.

But for me The White Label was best remembered for re-issuing older LucasArts games, from the Star Wars titles to their range of point and click adventures. I definitely had The White Label release of Rebel Assault – as with The 7th Guest, the fact this once highly-prized (and priced) CD-ROM rarity suddenly became more affordable, in line with the equipment required to play it, earned the release some attention. I had the sequel, too, although not in the double pack that followed (Rebel Assault was also bundled with X-Wing at one point, too).

Those double packs, which came to be presented in red packaging, were later additions to the range. I recall Monkey Island 1/2, Sam and Max/Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle/The Dig combinations all being part of the family collection, although I think most of them belonged to my sister. In fact, I think one of us still has the discs, if not the boxes and manuals, although it’s hard to tell whether they were White Label or not, and whether single purchases or double packs, as the contents of The White Label boxes usually gave no indication of the budget branding and in most cases looked to be identical to the originals. (I say ‘usually’ – looking again at the available pictures of this range, it looks as if in general the material for the single game releases carried no branding, but the jewel cases for double-packs, if not the discs themselves, were at least different.)

What’s more, despite a name that implied no-frills presentation, The White Label was one of those unusual budget labels that actually had quite appealing box art which was vaguely classy and didn’t advertise to all and sundry that you had bought it at a reduced price with ‘value’ branding. The initial design featured a perhaps-slightly-naff pair of eyes at the top of the front cover, but that was soon replaced with a cleaner approach: a virtually plain white box and the original cover art appearing inside a postage stamp, with The White Label branding as a postmark. (I must admit that I didn’t quite register the envelope/postage aesthetic at the time, only that it was a lot more visually pleasing than the aforementioned ‘cheapo’ presentation employed by other brands).

That didn’t quite last into the era of DVD boxes: there were some further White Label releases in the early 00s, including Interplay titles such as Baldur’s Gate and Messiah, but by that point Virgin Interactive was itself not long for this world, and it had become just another budget brand.

The White Label name was dragged further into bargain bin territory when it was acquired by GSP (Global Software Publishing), prolific peddlers of cheap nonsense in the 00s. Ok, so there were still some good games (various entries in the Total War and Football Manager series, for example) among the dross but a basic disc-only, electronic manual approach did little to distinguish it from the likes of Xplosiv or $old Out (to which we will likely return later).

Anyway, to return to the matter at hand, I think I’ve actually kept a lot of the discs from my 90s White Label purchases, and in addition to the games mentioned above, the physical jewel cases for Dark Forces and Screamer 2 that are still knocking around somewhere were once housed in The White Label packaging. This probably speaks to a level of quality control for games in this range during the 90s, and the only ones I got rid of seem to have been the two Rebel Assault titles, which I can only put down to the general period of shaming that 90s FMV-based games were subjected to once the gaming world moved on.

Despite The Big Cardboard Box appearing in the Vault of Regret, as I mentioned then, I don’t really have any regrets about getting rid of my big box games: I didn’t really have any other option at the time, and I’ve no desire in general to start filling my house with them at significant personal expense. But I must admit to being drawn in again slightly by these stylish White Label boxes, and the associated 90s memories of being able to afford quality CD games with a couple of weeks’ pocket money.

(NB: All scans sourced from MobyGames).