Death of the Video Game Instruction Manual


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.

3 thoughts on “Death of the Video Game Instruction Manual

  1. gideond September 10, 2010 / 8:57 AM

    I have to say that for the most part I no longer bother reading the manuals at all. I prefer and in game tutorial where I can actually do what it is teaching me. Reading it and remembering what you need to know at the correct time isn’t as easy to pick up IMO.

    Still I do recall my old manuals with fondness, especially when the had good artwork. I use to look at my Zelda manuals all the time.

  2. brianiangoodman October 8, 2010 / 2:22 PM

    I think instruction manuals shouldn’t disappear entirely, though the paper one should be gotten rid of to protect the environment. In-game tutorials still should be used, but instruction manuals should be available for reference in case you forgot how to do something and you already completed the tutorials long ago. Have the manual as a reference is a good idea and saves you the pain of having to replay the tutorials. One idea is to make the manual a pdf file that is available on the cd the game came on. The other way is to actually have the manual be in-game as part of the user interface. This way you can refer to it when you need it without leaving the game. This is the preferable method because the sense of emergence is not lost when reading the instructions.

    Example games that have an in-game manual:
    Dungeon Siege 1 & 2
    Titan’s Quest
    Many MMORPG’s
    etc…

  3. xenososullivan October 8, 2012 / 3:44 PM

    As a nostalgic gamer, this saddens me to no end.

    Yeah, a lot of the games out there now have the ingame tutorial. That’s great, games are more complex than an 8-Direction controller with A B C buttons, yeah? It’s harder than “Go Right, Jump, Collect Rings…”

    However, that was never the SOLE point of the manual-back when games had that crossing over control scheme (A for action, B for alternate/jump, Left moves left, etc.), the manuals were chock-full of goodness about the game UNIVERSE.

    Yeah, the story was often cheesy-how many people knew Gain Ground was about an arcade game developed to slake The Human Race’s desire to make war going rogue and capturing people? How many other people know Knuckles the Echidna’s favorite food?

    The manual was an extension of the gaming experience… Back when RPGs came with cloth maps, character cards, bestiaries… It was never about teaching you to play-not really-contrariwise, actually. It was about IMMERSION. And I tell ya what, they did just that.

    They were a way to get you psyched up about the game before you got home. They were a way to tide you over while your siblings tore into THEIR gifts. They helped keep you sane on the rest of the car ride when your Gameboy/Nomad/Game Gear batteries died.

    Fallout 3 had a killer manual. It was LOADED with the same style humor that’s in the game, BEAUTIFUL artwork, and more on the story.

    And this bit about “Better for the Environment,” pah… I don’t buy that line ONE BIT. It’s about saving money.

    Yeah, you say it’s long over due-and you’re just going to roll over and take it. How long before they start saying “Pay $10 or Enter the Code that came with the original copy to play”?

    It sickens me, mate. And it should ALL of you.

    It’s the next string being cut…

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