I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For Them

I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For Them

I opened up my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD yesterday and aside from the game disc it was depressingly empty, which describes exactly how I feel every time I pick up tellingly lightweight retail game. I miss instruction booklets something fierce.

There was a time when retail games where solid, meaty things. First they were cartridges with sleeves and booklets packed with extra pages for notes. Then they were hard plastic CD cases with square manuals, extra thick due to compact dimensions. Those gave way to DVD cases with lighter plastic but a more satisfying snap upon opening and closing and epic instructions secured via plastic tabs.

As we move further and further towards digital download domination (PC gaming is already lost) we’re losing the tactile sensation of purchasing a new game, but in many cases (pun intended) we’ve already lost one of the most important parts. The smell of freshly-printed paper mingling with new plastic. The rush of excitement upon cracking open a new game for the first time.

Ubisoft started the trend of replacing physical manuals with digital equivalents back in 2010. Other publishers started following suit. Combined with the practice of cutting holes in game cases to conserve plastic, retail games have gotten a great deal lighter.

I understand the ecological reasons behind leaving print media behind. In fact these days I tend to lean towards digital purchase rather than physical, if only to ensure I don’t get rid of a game before seeing it all the way through.

But in the process I’ve several rituals that used to make buying a retail game a special occasion for me.

I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For ThemMoney.


Going to the game store used to be an event. I’d browse for around an hour, make my selections and pay. Then I’d stop at a restaurant on the way home, crack open the cases and read over the manuals. Character bios, controls, game mechanics; by the time I finished eating I’d committed these things to memory. Then I’d go home and play.

I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For ThemThis was an important part of Xenogears to me.

This was an important part of Xenogears to me.

And let’s not forget the importance of having something to read in the bathroom during breaks from gaming. There was a time that my bathroom book rack was filled with gaming instruction manuals. I’d read through them over and over again, sometimes in the same sitting.

I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For ThemSome instruction booklets I love more than the actual games, Unlimited Saga.

Some instruction booklets I love more than the actual games, Unlimited Saga.

Digital instruction booklets are nice. They get the job done. But they don’t extend the gaming experience beyond the screen. They aren’t extensions of digital entertainment in the physical world. They lack that freshly printed smell.

There are still publishers who are bucking the manual ditching trend. I’m not talking about companies that place a printed leaflet in the case. Quick reference cards do not count. I’m taking about companies like Marvellous, whose recently-released Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairy Tale comes with a nice thick manual filled with cast intros, maps, tips and even staff credits. I’ve not gotten a chance to play the game yet, but damn if it doesn’t smell wonderful.

I Miss Game Manuals So Much I’d Pay Extra For ThemBig inhale here.

Big inhale here.

Yesterday I nearly spent $US30 (minute 20 per cent for reasons) on a collector’s edition strategy guide for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. I know how to play the game. I am familiar with the characters. It’s just my yearning for some sort of physical reading accompaniment was so strong I was almost willing to spend half of the game’s price for it.

I would certainly pay an extra five or possibly even ten dollars for some sort of official (or officially sanctioned) instruction booklet/strategy guide that fit inside this flimsy blue game case.

I could print my own manuals, but it’s not the same. The paper is different. The ink doesn’t have the same scent. It wouldn’t marry with the case plastic in the same way.

But if game publishers wanted to maybe forgo the massive officially licensed strategy guides or collector’s edition art books and just give me the option of paying extra for a game with a manual, I’d be down. Or if the strategy guide folks started printing mini-guides that fit inside game cases, that would work as well.

Physical video game releases are losing more ground to digital downloads every year. As much as I’d love to say there will always be a place for retail releases, I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore. Over the past decade game cases have become increasingly weaker and more frail. If they’re going to die, I say we let them die with dignity, full of grace, knowledge and that new video game manual smell.


  • id go back to buying physical copies if we actual game manuals back. it was always awesome to to have a small paragraph next to artwork of each enemy, weapon, unit that you find in game. The Warcraft manuals were the best being about 50-70 pages long with 10 pages explaining set-up, audio and video configuration, starting an MP game, and then the rest of manual was story and cool artwork

    • the rest of manual was story and cool artwork

      I have my Starcraft1 manual in my bookshelf for that reason.

  • I still have my old MegaMan manual.

    It spells names wrong, it lies about the backstory, it has pretty pictures, and it’s cool.

  • Totally agree. I’d be happy to pay a few bucks extra to have proper instruction books again. Street Fighter V was a pain for me, having to pause the game every few seconds and go into the menus to inspect my character’s special moves. That game really needs a physical manual.

  • These manuals were a really important part of buying video games as a kid for me. As a kid i lived over an hour away from the closest store selling video games and we only went that way to do a big shopping trip every so often. I used to read the manual cover several times over just to contain the impatience of having to wait several hours to get home and start playing. I still open up game cases to this day on the way home but it is just disappointing these days

    • Yeah, the only computer stores were more than 4 hours away for us, so we only bought games when visiting my Grandmother. We would read and re-read the manuals for days until we could finally get home to play the game.
      Man, I used to love th Infocom manuals and pack-ins.

  • “I’d like to pay extra for something that was included in the standard price please”

  • I grabbed the PS4 edition of Dishonoured the other day and it didn’t even have the one sheet legelese warnings. Sad future indeed.

    Diablo manuals were always the best.

  • I dunno.. I’m kind of happy to go without. I feel like all the instruction you need should be laid out thoughtfully and subtly within the game (and it’s menus). Also it massively cuts back on paper usage. Maybe I’m just a hippy… crap

    • I feel like all the instruction you need should be laid out thoughtfully and subtly within the game

      Except the majority of the time it doesn’t, or you’re forced to play through a tutorial that explains everything including “Press W to walk forward and S to move back. Do that now.”

      • Agreed. More effort should be put into how instructions are communicated, as often games can be a bit in your face about it, interrupting you every 5 steps. But I don’t think I need a paper manual to explain the game to me.

        People have been mentioning physical maps, art and lore books. I definitely think these are still great uses of hard copy materials; but an instruction manual for every game? Nah.

  • I miss game manuals so much 🙁
    The WoW manual was a ripper – 4 disc install and all the time in the world to get you excited by reading the manual. GT’s

    • i didnt like the WoW that much for one simple reason, it was too small size wise compared to the manuals for Warcraft 1,2,,BTDP,3 ,TFT and Starcraft 1 and Broodwars and D1,2 and LOD. those were School Book size while WoW was pocket book sized

  • XCOM 2 had a manual 🙂 Right click on the game in your steam library then click on “View Player Manual”.

  • Ah, the fond memories as a kid reading manuals on the way home from the store. Nothing could get you more hyped to play a game.

    Plug the 100% drip fed nostalgia into my veins.

  • I question whether any of the savings by not printing manuals has been passed on to us at all, so wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to pay extra for the manual. But yes I want my god damn manuals back. And while you’re at it, stop putting holes in the game cases.

  • I opened up my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD yesterday and aside from the game disc it was depressingly empty
    Funny, that’s how I feel about most Ubisoft titles.

    In seriousness though the point is right on the money, I miss game manuals, I miss stuff in the box. I miss opening the game in the car on the way home and reading about my purchase. Everyone who owned Baldur’s Gate II will remember the box, will remember the fold out map. The character bios in manuals for older squaresoft titles.

    The most disappointed I have been opening a game box recently was the collectors edition of child of light, it didn’t even have a disc in it, merely a download code and a keychain (granted I am using the keychain but still).

  • I wouldn’t pay extra. It used to always be included – part of the package. That said though, with us already paying extra to get special editions with the art books or for thick guidebooks, it’s already the way of things.

      • I wasn’t spending that kind of money on them. We only get to have this argument now, as they take things away. How much things were back then is irrelevant, after all: nobody was arguing that games were worth $80 back then because they had a manual.

  • Remember when pc standard editions came with more than current collectors editions?

  • Opening my PS4 copy of the Witcher 3 put a huge smile on my face. That case was heavy!

    • Yeah not everyday the devs actually put a “thank you for buying our game”, in the case 🙂

  • That’s the main reason why I don’t buy physical copies anymore- old snes, PS1 and N64 games had manuals that were almost like mini art books & as a kid it was great to read the story/character bios when you were going home after buying it. I forget what website it was but I have a bunch of PDF’s of old n64 scanned manuals that I still randomly look at because of how well done they were. I really doubt it would cost that much to make proper manuals again- although all that pre-order shit most games tack on makes it doubtful game companies would go back 2 manuals.

  • The thing I hate about not having a manual is those times you leave a game for a few months and come back to it. You may be 3/4 of the way through and those complex controller combos that were explained in the first couple of hours are but a distant memory.

  • Just opened up my original big box for Civ 2. A nice big manual, a fold out poster of the tech trees. It’s beautiful.

  • One of the most disappointing things in gaming at the moment… Mostly miss the Nintendo manuals, really want one for Zelda, splatoon, toad etc…cases just feels so empty now…

  • I agree, the reasons for getting physical copies of games are disappearing fast, and I was also a bit disappointed when I opened my Twilight Princess case to find that emptiness.

    Now days I get physical copies of games at launch if they are significantly cheaper than the digital copies (mainly on consoles) and then when there is a great digital sale, if its a game I want to keep playing I will often trade the disc into EB/JB and get digital currency and get the cheap digital copy. I did this with MGSV of ps4, got it at launch for $78, hammered the hell out of it for two weeks, traded it back at $40 worth of digital currency and got it for $34 when it was on sale. I only keep the physical copies of games that have something special about them.

  • Tech tree posters and the like – absolutely.
    Lore books – hell yeah.
    Instructions – meh. Like someone else said, games should be intuitive, or you go to settings – controls and make it what you want.

  • I still have my baldurs gate 2 manual/novel. Quite a read and really added something extra for me.

  • matrix games offers an upgrade that gives you the manual for some of their games. one i picked up was a stunning hard cover 300page book that was full cover.

    check the forum though as some of the others are a 5 chapter extract rather than the full thing

  • A few games still have them but very few. Metal Gear Solid had awesome manuals. Little comic strips, in character references to teaching you the game and otacon’s blurbs on each page.

    I am still a devout supporter of physical game copies. Umtil someone thinks of a way to make digital games 5gb instead of 50gb, on merely 500gb sized hard drives, I’ll stick by that. Not to mention that games look nice on the shelf 🙂

  • I certainly won’t miss them ruining surprises by listing every obtainable party member/ability, or even throwing spoilers about like Condemned 2.

  • I think the manual is the only reason I haven’t sold my physical copy of the Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall. And DAMN is it huge. Almost any game that would normally have a large manual though, these days, is empty (like Fallout 4). Makes me really sad, even as a kid I read the hell out of every manual in every case, you just had to look at my Spyro 2 manual to see that. One day, maybe, someone will realise why physical manuals are amazing. One day…

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