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Manual Free Future?

As far as I can remember, video games have always been a part of my childhood. Other than playing the game itself, there’s nothing more satisfying than opening that fresh new NES game when I was 6 or 7 years old. I would immediately pop in the game to see what it looks like and then do what most kids would do, read the manual.

These days, it’s pretty easy to figure out how the game is usually played. If you pop in any 360 game, I can almost guarantee you that theres a tutorial game play before you start out your adventure. The manual sits inside the case unless it came off while opening it. Nowadays, it’s hardly ever used (thanks to the internet) and it’s almost as if its become rather useless over the years. But yet, when you bring your games to a store without a manual for trade or even if you sell the games on eBay, the value would be alot less compared to a complete copy.

The reason why I’m bringing this up is because back in late April of this year, Ubisoft announced that they will start ditching the manuals for their upcoming holiday lineup. Although there were no word as to whether they’ll start doing them on other platforms, it still made a pretty big impact in the industry. When game companies decided to use the eco box, you know those really thin almost-ready-to-crumble 360 cases with the recycle holes in the middle, pretty much everyone jumped in including Nintendo (late as usual I know – and another reason why I wrote this is because I saw the case for Metroid Other M which uses the eco friendly case). Kyle Sheppard of Viva Group (creator of the eco box) said that “Wal-Mart even introduced a packaging scorecard with certain criteria that must be met, including reducing all packaging by 5% by 2013.” Without the manual, it would be even lighter to produce and ship, saving both the manufacturing companies and the publishers some money. Even with all the cost cutting moves they make, they’ll still manage to sell the games at their full retail prices eventually leaving you with less and more for them..

Eventually, more companies will see that this manual-free games a smarter, more economical just like the eco box cases.

I’d like to ask the collecting community and our readers. Is it fair to do this?

14 Comments

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  1. If scrapping manuals is any indication of the future of game packaging how long will it be before games come in just a cardboard sleeve and nothing more?

    Digital distribution is the future so it’s really not going to matter anyway. Eventually there will be a generation of kids who won’t experience the ‘new game smell’ much less endlessly pouring over the manual the very next day at school. How depressing.

  2. As said before digital distribution will kill the collector. I associate previous generation game collecting to record collecting. In comparison to cassettes and CDs the album has more significance (better sound quality, album cover, liner notes).
    We may currently be in the early ipod years where CD sales are being offset by DD channels.
    Perhaps in the DD future there will be a revival and companies will put out special edition box copies with worthwhile contents.

  3. I find it funny that when Ubi says they are going to nuke the manuals, that people get up in arms, but when EA started to reduce their manuals down to 6 page b&w wastes of paper years ago, no one says a thing. Even for the games that have 43 button layouts that chage (the sports games) the manuals became a waste.

    EA made this move because they realized that a huge portion of the playing public don’t even touch them,so why waste the resources on them. Devs have moved to the in game first level tutorial often as a story introduction and player familarity event.

  4. It’s unfortunate for the collectors, but all that information is available online.

    It would be nice if developers would publish a “digital manual” that could be printed if people would like.

  5. I predict 80% of gaming media will be DLC only by 2015. As collectors we can still collect the older stuff.

    It really makes sense for everyone except the consumer. We are getting less for the same price and our digital downloads will work for how long?

    Not that I sell many games, but those who like to play through a game and sell it off or trade it in loses that ability too. That’s something the game industry is extremely happy to kill off since they don’t make more money on a used sale. I saw Jaffe bitching about that. What he doesn’t realize is that some of us factor that into the $60+ sale to begin with.

    If you are going to kill off physical games and force DLC on it at least pass the 15 – 20% savings onto the consumers.

  6. Great article – I’m actually surprised they weren’t removed when the PS3 and XBOX360 launched. They could have easily created virtual/pdf like books you viewed on your system.

  7. @MortalMonday,

    Seems like you’re leaving something out there. Of course it makes “fiscal sense” for companies to cut down their products while still charging full price. It would make even more sense from a purely fiscal perspective to start selling discs protected only by a thin plastic film, but people would totally have a right to be angry about it. I’m still very much ticked about the so-called eco friendly cases, which are not only flimsy and cheap-feeling, but horribly designed, with chunks of plastic removed from the area covering the surface of the disc instead of the less important space around it.

    That said, considering most games these days have all the necessary instructions on the disc itself, and most game manuals have become downright crummy, I realize the case for keeping them has really been weakened.

  8. I’m not a hard-core collector by any means, but I’d like to point out something – no manual makes it easier to find complete and minty games. And face it – no one cares about the manuals.

    Now, the crappy recycle cases… I *hate* them. Short of Digital Distribution, the best idea I have would be thin-pak, DVD-style cases that are 2/3rds height (Jewel Case/DS case height). I picture the case being made out of clear plastic, with the insert being double sided. Behind the disc, you’d have your basic health & safety warnings and on the inside front cover, you’d have basic instructions.

    When you start the game for the first time, the system prompts something about “Would you like to read the manual”. Selecting No (or after you select yes and flip through the manual), you’ll get a message reminding you that you can read the manual at any time by pressing the home key. Then, a flag will be marked in the save file and you’ll never see the prompt again for that same game.

    So, you’d cut down on the paper waste (no manual). You’d cut down on plastic waste (thin-pak jewel-case sized DVD cases use less plastic than even the so-called eco-cases). Less weight (no manual, less plastic in case). Bonus: Since the cases are smaller, you can actually fit about 6 cases in the same volume you fit 2 of the normal-sized cases.

    Best of all, it doesn’t leave giant gaping holes where my disc is supposed to be protected.

  9. A manual-less future seems to make a lot of practical sense, but at some point in the distant future when the media itself is inert, and no longer useable, it’s a shame that the many little books wont be around to illustrate what games the old farts were playing. 🙁

    (dont forget manuals also often contain game “art” and illustrations, which in a minor way can add the the experience of gameplay)

    oh well.

  10. Yeah, why is there not a %5 price reduction then? If they are lowering costs then why is that savings not passed back on to the consumer?

    • Actually, we seem to have a lot more budget titles released now than before. Also, some SNES/N64 games were released at $70-$80. Then, look at some of the budgets some of these new games have – we’re talking blockbuster-movie-style budgets. Next, look at the crazy sales on new releases ($20 Gift Card with purchase) – retailers eat some of that, yes… but often publishers have to take some of that hit. Finally, look at how fast new releases tend to drop in price. Modern Warfare 2, a great seller, is already $50 new at most places. Hell, anymore, the only thing I pay full retail for is first party Nintendo games – and that’s because they rarely drop in price… even then, I got $20 Gift Cards with Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M.

  11. I think the future of gaming is digital distribution, but I hope games will become cheaper digitally or have some fair way to trade between players. Steam already has gifting, but I’m hoping you’ll one day be able to trade your Steam-powered games.

  12. I’m still not 100% clear about what I own when I buy a DLC game.

    For example, with PS3 PSN downloads, will these continue to work beyond the life of the PS3? Will I be able to download them again for free on, say, a PS4 or do all of my DLC purchased games die with the console?

    Sure, many people probably won’t care about these details. I’d like to think when I buy something, even digitally, I will own it forever.

    I think the days of playing a game you purchased 20-30 years ago is over.

    Now I must go and play some Yar’s Revenge on my 2600! 😛

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