I was reading the manual from the free copy of Fallout I got from GoG.com (you guys are great!). Upon reading this I found that it was teaching me how nuclear bombs work on a scientific level. I also learned how fallout works, radiation, and everything in between. I learned more about this from a game manual than I have from other media in my entire life. This was 1998 when publishers still cared about gamers. The manual is over 100 pages with details on how to even play the game via a tutorial. I was impressed, and then realized I was in 2012. Manuals back then taught us stuff while nowadays they have 5 pages on how to turn your console on and how to not have seizures. The depression slowly sank in.
I then proceeded to look through game manuals from the mid-’90s, early 2000s, mid-2000s, late 2000’s, and 2010 and beyond. I say a pattern that I never really noticed before and it kind of scared me.
Manuals through the 90’s
I picked out some PlayStation manuals and realized they were pretty much all the same. Ranging from 10-15 pages with black and white screenshots. They all told about the story, had a character dossier, then guided you through the menus, HUD, and controls. The only ones that went beyond this were JRPGs and deeply involved games like Metal Gear Solid. PC game manuals were mostly long-winded with tutorials, keyboard reference cards, and info on every single item in the game. This added a good amount of weight to the case and felt like you got your money’s worth. Even 16-bit games came with decent manuals that were on simple black and white pages, a few were even in full color.
Manuals through the 2000’s
After a while when shuffling through Xbox, PS2, and PC games made in the 2000’s I noticed a pattern change. They tended to cut out all that detailed information in the mid to late 2000s. The only ones that still held the 90’s manual traditions were games from Japan, but RPG manuals were cut down from 25-30 pages down to 10-20. When the internet started getting huge in the early 2000’s big publishers like EA and Nintendo were adding website information and ways to register your games.
The problem with this is that most of the links and codes don’t work anymore and sites like EA don’t even have those games on their site like they never existed. It seemed console games were taking manuals in a new direction while PC manuals kind of stayed the same for a while. During the late 2000s, manuals started becoming so bare that you wondered why publishers bothered. Games like Call of Duty and other shooters only contained a few pages, but now most manuals are less than 5 pages. Then around 2009 something called digital manuals started cropping up.
Manuals 2010 and beyond
I opened Rayman Origins for Vita and was shocked to see nothing but a game card. No physical manuals at all? Really? How could this be! It’s a tradition! Vita manuals are now digital and embedded on the game card, while PC games now do the same or don’t have one at all. Physical manuals are so bare, that some are just folded pieces of paper with legal info on them, while Nintendo has a 20-page pamphlet on how to take care of yourself and to sign-up for stupid clubs. Almost every PC game has no manual, while even physical PC games are slowly not being printed anymore.
What are we to do now but slowly watch one of gaming’s most traditional items, manuals, slowly die away. It’s bad enough we’re either spammed when we open the cases or see nothing but the disc/cartridge. Even the games themselves are slowly finding their ways in cyberspace only, but what will happen to manuals? They will eventually be obsolete by 2020, and I see physical games being completely digital. Eventually, game consoles won’t have disc drives anymore, and this will mean physical media will no longer be needed, thus game manuals. Games are so advanced these days that you don’t really need them due to in-game tutorials. All I know is that I love my game manuals, and so do you.