Are Online Wikis a Threat to Print Strategy Guides?

In the last year or so, friends have been sending me numerous notifications of this site and that site now offering online wikis or strategy guides for video games. The notification is usually accompanied with a question about the state of print strategy guides, whether these wikis will make my “job” of reviewing guides more difficult, or whether I’ll have this “job” at all in the future. I think the most recent news was from Steam, which now has user-created guides available.

While online guides may be for the most part free, and while they can be easily amended and/or corrected unlike books, I don’t see online strategy guides or even the new trend of online wikis really posing a viable threat to print strategy guides.

Print strategy guides are available the day of game release.

This fact is possibly the biggest advocate for print strategy guides. When a publisher secures the rights to develop a strategy guide, they give their writing team a copy of the game as soon as is humanly possible so they can work their fingers to the bone playing the game in its entirety in a matter of days. Most often with online guides, the contributors have to wait until the game’s release before they can even start to work on them. As such, if a gamer gets stuck or has a question within a day or so of the game’s release, that person cannot go to the Internet for an answer quite yet. Sometimes quick walkthroughs surface within the first couple of weeks of a game’s release, but most often, you will have to wait about a month for a complete guide to publish online.

IGN used to be able to produce online guides the day a game released, as they used to have dedicated strategy guide writers working on them. Now that they’ve moved to the wiki format, they may open up the wiki for contribution as soon as a game is announced, but the wiki itself is rarely complete for two weeks after the game hits store shelves.

I’m not saying this is always the case, as I’m sure anyone can throw out an exception to the rule, but this is what I found when IGN moved to the wiki format. I used to review IGN’s online guides because they were so thorough and so complete the day a game launched, and I hoped to continue that when they became wikis, but my job was impossible. When it became a sea of contributors that could constantly change a single preposition on a whim, I had to stop trying to review them. When they stopped being complete as soon as I got a game in my hands, I no longer saw a point. What makes this any better than what GameFAQs has to offer, other than the possibility of more screenshots?

Print strategy guides are proofread.

With the anyone-can-contribute scheme that IGN wikis, GameFAQs, and even Steam has, proper editing, much less proofreading, is thrown out the window. Some online strategy guides are incredibly hard to follow due to poor spelling, poor grammar, poor sentence structure, etc. etc. etc. I have, on occasion, when using an online guide, rewritten the paragraph so I could understand where this writer was trying to lead me. Sometimes this requires me reading it out loud. If I’m already lost, the last thing I need is a guide getting me more lost.

With the wikis, I believe anyone can edit another’s work, but the point is, these contributors aren’t always professional copy editors. With print guides, a professional copy editor gives the content a once-over to make sure there are no run-on sentences, the punctuation is correct, the terminology is consistent, the paragraphs are well structured, etc.

This fact may not be important to some people, but as someone who does make a living as a copy editor, this is incredibly important to me.

There’s just something about physical media over e-books.

I use both print strategy guides and online guides when gaming, as sometimes, sadly, there isn’t a printed guide for the game that I’m playing. Every time I use an online guide, whether I’m using on from IGN, GameFAQs, or even elsewhere (it depends on which website has the most thorough guide at the time I’m needing one), I find that I have a harder time looking for what I need than I do with print strategy guides. With print guides, I use at least two bookmarks–one for where I am in the walkthrough and one for the collectibles, if not yet another for a side quest section. If I use an online guide, I’m constantly using the search function on my laptop or tablet, which does not make for easy “flipping back and forth” between points.

Also, with print guides, I can check off which collectibles I’ve already picked up so I can avoid confusion in the future. One reason why I love Prima’s LEGO strategy guides so much is because each book has a massive checklist in the back for all collectibles. You have no idea how handy that has become. When I had to use an online guide for the LEGO Harry Potter games, I often printed the collectibles lists so I could mark off which ones I already had. I would have rather paid for a book than used my printer paper and ink.

While we’re undoubtedly in an era where e-books and e-readers are becoming far more appealing than owning physical books, for many people, holding an actual book is more aesthetically pleasing than using an e-book or reading a website. If there comes a day when all print media becomes officially dead and all strategy guides are in a digital format, I may change my thoughts.

But for now, I’m still finding print strategy guides to have an edge over their online counterparts.

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