Why Bother with Print Strategy Guides?

zelda-unboxingThe following tweet entered my Twitter stream today:

The poor strategy guide business. Not only are they all online and free now, but games barely need them anymore. Games are easy now.

Yeah, I was instantly enraged. First of all, this person is basically saying I suck, and anyone who uses strategy guides suck, as a gamer because “games are easy” now. I beg to differ. I’d like to argue that games come more easily to some people than they do others. And while many modern games hold the hands of the players with lengthy tutorials, quick-time events, and linear progression, it is possible to be completely stumped as to what to do next. Or how to beat a certain difficult boss. Or what about those who are completionists and just have to find every single collectible?

For these people, games aren’t exactly “easy.” Sure, if you want to just burn through a game as fast as you can, collectibles be damned, you can put a game on the lowest difficulty setting and have a grand ol’ time. I’m sure several people do just that instead of trying to unearth everything a game can offer. With how many top games release in a single month, many just don’t have the time to spend combing every inch of a game.

And there’s people like me who don’t have the time to spend but want to do anyway as efficiently as possible. Hence the need for a strategy guide.

So what about the first part of this person’s tweet–“not only are they all online and free now…”?

Saying that all games are online is not entirely correct to begin with. For example, The Wonderful 101 has been out since September, as I got stumped yesterday during a boss fight, I had to search through four different online strategy guide sites before I found one that had a complete walkthrough. A few Vita games still don’t have online strategy guides. Since IGN has left doing the strategy guides themselves and turned them into wikis, you can’t even count on information being up and available on day one of the game’s release. If you need that free info, you have to wait at least a week or two.

While many online strategy guides are free, you have to remember that you get what you pay for. If you use GameFAQs, you will never, never get a map of anything. IGN’s wikis will only have maps if a user takes his or her time to create one. Print strategy guides however, have maps right there, with the collectibles clearly marked (if it’s a good guide).

Even if a map is found online, it’s so much easier to look at a printed map than it is a digital one, even if I use my iPad, which I have done in the past. There’s just something about holding physical print in your hands when looking up information to help you out in a game that’s easier (so far) than finding the information online. Many online resources don’t have a way for you to search exactly what you’re looking for, unless you use GameFAQs and are willing to deal with the poor writing, lack of maps, and lack of screenshots. IGN, for example, has everything segregated like a book’s table of contents, but it’s not half as easy to flip through an IGN wiki as it is a print book.

Prima Games has started to offer free digital copies of their strategy guides with the print versions, and that’s mainly to accommodate those who prefer digital to print or those who want to watch quick videos of the strategies. Future Press has always offered free access to their gameplay videos if you buy the guide (for those who may need a little extra help in pulling off a particular strategy).

So yes, when something is online and free, it may seem silly to bother paying for a print strategy guide. However, you get what you pay for, and using a free, online guide requires waiting for extra time for the information, often badly written information, and zero maps. With a print guide, you get it right away, you get maps, you get better writers (usually), and you get a nice physical collector’s item for your video game as well. As anyone who has gotten a print strategy guide in the last couple of years can tell you, they’ve become gorgeous art books, something you definitely can’t get for free or online.

I probably shouldn’t take offense to the comment that games are easy now. I know I suck at games and have very little patience when it comes to figuring some aspects out.

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.

Print v. Online Strategy Guides – Vanquish

Vanquish IGN guideOnce I discovered that Future Press‘s Vanquish strategy guide had codes for movies to watch online, I’ve really been curious as to what IGN Guides would offer. Their guides are often great for assisting screenshots and videos, so I thought we would have a real battle here with Print v. Online. Instead, I found that IGN offered one aspect that is really more useful than the print guide and the rest of their guide is unfinished.

I understand that maybe Vanquish isn’t one of the top games on their priority list, especially since Fable III released soon afterward and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood released last week. But to not have a completed guide for a game that takes eight hours to play a month after game release? That’s a little ridiculous. [Read more…]

Print vs. Online Strategy Guides – Super Scribblenauts

IGN Super Scribblenauts Strategy GuideIGN finally posted their online strategy guide last week for Super Scribblenauts. Considering how fast the game is and how long ago it released, that’s one major ding against it. Of course, I guess you could also say that I should be dinged for how long it takes me to get through a strategy guide review. So let’s give it a chance, shall we? [Read more…]

Print v. Online Strategy Guides: Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep IGN GuideI keep waffling about doing comparisons between print guides and online guides, but something that IGN Guides guru Colin Moriarty said on the PlayStation Beyond podcast about print guides swiftly changed my mind. He commented that no one wants to pay for print guides anymore when online guides are free. While I think that Mr. Moriarty has a valid point, I also think that print guides have a far higher value than online ones, and it goes beyond the fact that it’s easier to look at a book than a computer screen while playing a game.

So let’s take a look at IGN’s guide for Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, shall we? [Read more…]