Earlier this week, Ubisoft announced that it will no longer make instruction manuals for it’s games, beginning as early as this fall. As someone who grew up in the 8-bit era, when instruction manuals were critical part of the experience, it kind of saddens me to know that this is probably the beginning of the end for paper instruction manuals. Back when I was younger, I used to love reading the instruction manuals on my brand new games as I was being driven home from the store. Some games were totally incomprehensible if you try and play them without reading the manual first. Also, as someone who used to trade in games a lot, keeping the original box and manual would always increase the value of your trade-in.
In the grand scheme of things though, the death of video game instruction manuals is probably well overdue.
Over the last decade or so, video games have done a much better job of teaching players how to play through in-game tutorials, training modes and a gradual introduction and explanation of gameplay elements. As much as I love to have them (and as annoyed as I am to not receive the manual when I buy a used game), they’re kind of useless at this point. I’m looking at my collection of current generation games right now, and out of 70 or so games, I’ve only needed to read the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom one in order to learn how to properly play the game.
Knowing this, video game companies have really cut down the quality of their manuals. Once upon a time, they were filled with a full write-up of the story, character descriptions, instructions on how to play and great full-colour art. Now many games come with bare-bones black-and-white pieces of junk. I know that a number of EA Sports games have terrible manuals, and that the Modern Warfare 2 manual is an absolute joke. It’s like five pages long and in black-and-white.
While Ubisoft is the only publisher to have announce that they will discontinue their production of instruction manuals, I think the entire medium of video game instruction manuals is on borrowed time. The eventual death of the manual will ultimately help the environment and save companies money while taking away something that the vast majority of gamers don’t care about at this point, anyway.