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Bruce Whitehill on Legal Requirements for Game Packaging

I received an inquiry from a new game inventor, Jayne Kolesar, who was looking to market her own game and wondered what was legally required on the box. “What legal requirements must go on the outside of the box?…What about the CE mark?…UPC symbol?…Where it’s made?…Where it’s printed?…Batch numbers?….”

This made me curious. We’re all familiar with what you can find on a game box—what you should have on the box—but what is actually required by law? To find out, I spoke with Alan Kaufman, Senior Vice President for Technical Affairs for the Toy Industry Association in New York City. The information he provided covers the regulations for the United States (see footnote). However, a lot of the requirements – and certainly the other information provided below – will pertain to other countries as well.

This information is to be used as a guideline only, so you should check with a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns.

The idea of the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is so consumers can make value comparisons between products and understand exactly what it is they are buying, and the Act requires that all products come with information as to who consumers can get in touch with if they have an issue with the product.

The product box must have the name and address of the responsible party, i.e., the manufacturer, packer or distributor. City, state and zip code are required. No street address is necessary if the party or company can be found in city directory; otherwise, the package must show the street address.

You can have a toll-free number, a regular phone number and/or a website address, but you must still have a physical address.

The package must have a statement or specification of Identity of the commodity. This will be pretty obvious for a game.

You must also list the contents where the number of pieces is applicable. For example, a jigsaw puzzle should state how many pieces. And you must list any consumable parts, such as a game pad or score pad that the consumer might use up; you can word it, “Contains enough (material) for (number) of games.” You are also required to state if any material not included with the product is needed to build or operate the product, such as with batteries, e.g., “Requires 2 AA batteries.” This information should appear in the lower 30% of the front panel, especially for items with consumable parts.

If the game is battery-operated, it has to have a specific language on the labeling of the battery compartment regarding such things as avoiding the mixing of battery types, etc., since this could lead to leakage.

If assembly is required, the box must state so, e.g., “Some assembly required.”

If the product is not manufactured made entirely in the United States, U.S. customs requires the box to show the country of manufacture. Otherwise, it is advantageous in the United States to state, “Made in the USA” on the back of the box.

If there are small parts in the game and the game is intended for children, you must have a warning graphic (exclamation point in a triangle) and a “Small Parts Warning” on the box, such as, “WARNING! CHOKING HAZARD. Small Parts. Not for children under 3 years.” There are lots of other requirements if the game is for children, as the product must comply with the Child Safety Protection Act (CSPA).

Adrienne Appell, Senior Manager of Public Relations at the Toy Industry Association, adds, "Some of these requirements have type size and placement requirements; for instance the contents must be in the lower 30% of the principal display panel of the package and there are minimum type size requirements that are based upon the area of the principal display panel...(and the text) must be generally parallel with the surface on which the box rests when displayed."

The UPC (Universal Product Code or bar code) is probably not legally required, but it will be a requirement of almost all retailers.

A copyright date (©) and patent number (if there is one) is not required but should be used in order to assert the owner’s rights.

For games, recommended ages and number players are not legally required unless they are a key to understanding the product. However, I strongly advise all game authors to make sure “Age:” and “Number of Players:” is listed on the box.

Similarly, the name of the game inventor (also called “game designer” or “author”) is not legally required, BUT SHOULD BE LISTED ON EVERY GAME BOX AND IN EVERY SET OF GAME INSTRUCTIONS. This is common practice in Europe but still meets with some resistance from larger companies in the United States. The international Spiele-Autoren-Zunft (SAZ)—the Game Designers Association—has a campaign: “Auch Spiele Haben Autoren” / “Games Also Have Authors.” Click SAZ for more information,

Game designer Matt Nuccio adds that there may be other “manufacturing requirements that need to be on the game, such as batch codes” and suggests that “ages and number of players (be placed) on ALL panels. He warns that you should also concern yourself with “retailer requirements.”

Remember that you are selling your product with its front cover first, then the back cover. When one manufacturer was asked why he left the second line copy off the box cover, he said that it was on the back and people would see it there when they turned the box over. However, that extra line explained what the game was, and without it on the cover, fewer people would bother to turn that box over.

Also keep in mind that the apron (side panels) should have enough information so that consumers get a feeling for the game no matter which apron is facing front when the store clerk stacks the games.

For more information, click on the Board Game Designers Forum, visit their website.

Note: The legal information provided above comes from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act Regulations (primarily under section 4 of the Act, and Title 16CFR, part 500, “Commercial Practices”) and U.S. Customs regulations for materials imported into the U.S. (19CFR134).

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