Listen, I already know the answer to that question and I understand why (money) but I like to subscribe to the idea that even though you can do something, it doesn’t mean necessarily that you should. I am going to single out the videogame industry in this rant but this isn’t the only industry that is now foregoing the inclusion of a written or even electronic version of a user’s manual. When the original Nintendo first hit store shelves in the states back in 1985 – 86, the system itself, as well as all games, included a beautifully illustrated user’s manual that explained just about everything that you needed to know to operate the system or to play the game. In the case of games, you also got info on the backstory, histories on a few of the characters that you would meet as well as tips and tricks for getting past the more difficult areas of the game.
It became a sort of ritual to get a new game, read the back of the box and then head straight into the packaging to briefly look at the label on the game cartridge and then grab the instruction manual and read it from cover to cover before even booting up the game for the first time. There were times where I would take the manual with me when I knew I would have to wait, like at the barbershop waiting to get a haircut, sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus to come to take me to the movie theater or to the neighborhood comic shop or even at the doctor’s office. Having that extra bit of information about the game really helped to immerse myself into the game and I just felt like I was getting a little something extra for the price of the game. However, little did I know at the time that aspect of gaming wouldn’t really last that long as game companies looked for ways to make as much money as possible off of every unit sold.
The trend to not include a physical, paper instruction manual in games started in the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii console generation as a way to cut costs at a time when the economy wasn’t doing too well and unit sales were down overall. While game companies stopped including a manual in the game, many would offer the manual as a .pdf download that you could print out yourself if you wanted to. In addition, some developers would include that manual on the disc where you could access if from the main menu of the game. If that wasn’t offered, there would sometimes even be a link to the website of the developer that you could go to (again from inside the game) that you could read or flip through if you needed some info. Even some Wii U games offered links to a .pdf manual and that console can’t be considered anything but a failure for Nintendo.
To prove my point, I am going to pick on Nintendo for this post only because I have been playing the shit out of my Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since its launch on Mar 3, 2017. To be clear, Nintendo is not the only videogame company that has started doing this and isn’t even the only ‘company,’ period, that has chosen to not include a manual with their product. Anyway, my issue is with the fact that there is no manual for the Switch console that explains the features, how it works and how the controllers should normally interact with the unit. People have been complaining that their Switch has been malfunctioning and Nintendo has released a statement saying that there are no mechanical issues happening with the console so maybe there isn’t.
Maybe we are all using the console in the wrong way simply because we don’t know how to operate it since there was no physical instruction manual included. Instead, there is a section on the box that the console came in that gives instructions on how to connect it to your TV and that’s it. For example, people have been reporting that the JoyCon controllers don’t immediately sync with the console when you turn it on and will de-sync when playing. When I turn on my Switch, only the right JoyCon immediately turns on and syncs and after the home screen comes up, the console tells me to press the left shoulder button on the left JoyCon to turn it on. If that is the normal operation of the console, give us something that tells us as much. For heaven’s sake, Nintendo even provided a digital version of the user’s manual for the Wii U.
In the case of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there is a lot going on in this game yet there is scant information in the game about how the world works save for a diagram of the game’s controls. This is the largest Zelda game to date that features a robust item creation system, an awesome combat mechanic and a weapons system that is new to the series in which you will find hundreds of differently leveled weapons that will deteriorate and fail after using it for a certain number of hits. However, the game comes with no physical instruction manual and after searching the Nintendo website, apparently there isn’t one in .pdf format that can be downloaded either. And I wasn’t the only one, as was trying to find one as well.
This game is a perfect example of the fact that some kind of instruction manual should have been included with the game in one form or another. If you poke around in the menu system of the game, you really get almost nothing in terms of information that explains why certain systems are set up the way that they are. You do get access to an explanation of eight of your abilities, however, you can only see the explanation if you have come to the point in the game where you are introduced to it for the first time. Otherwise, they are grayed out and not accessible. Yeah, that makes no sense to me either.
If publishers and developers choose to not include a manual with their games then there is not a lot that us consumers can do about it. Let’s face it; I’m not going to not buy my favorite games just because there isn’t an instruction manual included. I guess I will just do without it but I often end up buying the strategy guide that goes along with the game but that just turns a $65 purchase into a nearly $100 purchase depending on when and where you buy that strategy guide. I ended up purchasing the Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide for TLOZ:BOTW but maybe that was their plan the whole time. I don’t know how the business end of the strategy guide market works, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers get a cut of the sales of those guides on the front and back-end of the deal.
Not including a physical manual for games and consoles obviously isn’t a deal breaker for me or for anyone else. Just look at the sales numbers since the industry has stopped including them and you can see the evidence for yourself. I think that if they would start to include these again, it would go a long way towards eliminating some of the frustration that gamers feel when they get a new game or console and have to rely solely on other sources to find out the information that they need to play. Reading the game manual is a part of gaming that I actually really miss and wish that it would come back. There are a few developers that still include a physical manual with their games and my hat is off to those that do and they should know that it is truly appreciated.