Have traditional, paper-based ‘official strategy guides’ for video games become obsolete?

Jack Bromley on official strategy guides: 'why waste time and resources on crafting a lacklustre guide for a game that doesn’t at all benefit from one?'

Game Guides

It’s a rare occasion when I purchase a game guide, and it often only comes due to a special offer or price reduction. Wikipedia pages are popping up for any and all games, containing thoroughly detailed guides and tips. So what’s the need for a paper guide when we have the ever expanding internet? Are these traditional, unconventional, hefty books a dying trend, or do they still have a future?

Prima Games, and Brady Games are the two leading producers of videogame guides, coupling a  guide with almost every release. From the popular like Gears of War 3, and Fable III, to the lesser known, like Cars 2, and RUSE. You can expect to find one for nearly any game on the market, but not all are as content-packed as gamers would like.

The most recent guide I purchased was for Skyrim, produced by Prima Games. RPGs, like Skyrim, are one of the few genres that I deem worthy of indulging in a guide for. Their expansive worlds can be a little tricky to wrap yourselves around, their unending mix of quests can cause intense frustration, and not knowing where to find the exact location you’re looking for can be a real pain. Whereas guides for first person shooters like the Call of Duty series really don’t have much to warrant a purchase, in my opinion. I own Brady Game’s guide for Call of Duty: Black Ops, which came free with the game itself (as if I’d buy it alone). The guide was bursting with detail, so much so that it had a mere 150 pages and had been reduced to half the size of the average (A5). Compared to Skyrim’s 650+ paged A4 goliath, it’s actually quite pathetic.

The Skyrim guide in all its thick glory.

I ask, why? Why waste time and resources on crafting a lacklustre guide for a game that doesn’t at all benefit from one?

Over the past few years, most of the remaining guide producers have disappeared from the market without an article in existence to report their demise. Piggyback have produced three guides in all of 2011, for Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Uncharted 3, and Dragon Age II. Clearly Piggyback value sales over quality or quantity, choosing to produce guides for three of 2011’s biggest games. They’re on the right track; sort of. But still, lack of production could be a sign…

Prima Games, on the other hand, have produced fourteen guides in 2011. But these are for a rather ‘mixed bag’ of titles. From the high-profile Saints Row 3, to the, frankly inappropriate, Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo. It’s clear that Prima can uninspirationally pump out guides, but they’re not always ‘worth it’, in my opinion.

Moshi Monsters

What!?

That arises yet another problem with the guide ‘choosing’ process. Children’s games. Children’s games simply don’t need guides. Moshi Monsters is targeted at “7 – 12” year olds, and nearly half of those won’t likely have patience or attention span to sit and read through a guide, and parents certainly aren’t going to want to. Ultimately, these type of guides simply won’t sell, so again, wasted resources, wasted time, and wasted enjoyment of Prima’s staff.

Aside from the irrelevant guides, the high-profile games, depending on their genre, can be just as bad. Take Prima’s Assassin’s Creed Revelations guide for example: Assassin’s Creed, for those who don’t know, is a third person action game, centred in Italy. Because of its critical upstanding, guides for the Assassin’s Creed series have, and will, sell well. But, do they actual contain a decent level of content and information? No. They can’t. Beyond a map, a list of collectables and their locations, and a list of weapons, what can a guide to the Assassin’s Creed series actually offer? It’s these piss-poor, ‘empty’ guides that tarnish the videogame guide industry. It’s an almost deceiving method, tricking people into accompanying their popular purchase with a guide that will ‘help’.

Then, everyone’s favourite friend ‘Mr. World Wide Web’ comes into the equation. The internet is infinite, housing ever morsel of information you could ever need. That applies to game guides too. More and more games are getting their own dedicated Wikia’s, broadcasting every little piece of a game’s information to anyone who wants it. Surely this makes physical guides obsolete? Wrong. But again, the internet suffers the same problem as its older friend.

Guides

Unwanted? Maybe not just yet.

Popular but basic games always have their guides readily available online, but RPGs and ‘big’ games take time, and careful consideration. The Elder Scrolls’ most popular, and arguably most useful wiki ‘UESP’ is still consistently updated, more things discovered even five years after the game’s release. Gamers will take time out of their gameplay to research guides like Oblivion’s, but why stop playing to read up on Assassin’s Creed, or Call of Duty, when everything you could need is in the game. Explanations are unnecessary and few. So the benefit to buying physical guides over using the internet? Bigger games, like Skyrim, requires time to slowly develop a thorough wiki, but a physical guide will hold all the needed information, in its full detail, deep in its glossy pages. No waiting required, no internet required, full depth in hand.

Overall, videogame guides are quickly becoming obsolete, and it’s inevitable that their demise will arrive sooner rather than later if they carry on the way they are. Companies like Prima and Brady Games need to focus on games more worthy of their wisdom, and Skyrim’s thick ‘bible’ should set a shining example. So don’t waste your money on helpless guides, don’t listen to the cashier when he says: “Would you like a guide for that game? It’ll help you a lot!”, think, and think hard; could you cope without the guide? Will it actually benefit you beyond collectables? If the answer’s no, then yours should be too.