Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Are your game manuals set to disappear?

Look at that......gorgeous, isn't it. That lovely, dribble-worthy Demon's souls collectors edition. If you concentrate, you can almost smell that newly opened scent.....beautiful.

The manuals and guides that you get with videogames can be a great addition to the game. The Demon's Souls edition i've used here probably isn't the best example for what i'm getting at with this post, but as manuals go it's a great companion piece to the game. However, the games companies look set to change all of this.

EA are starting to get rid of paper manuals. If you recently purchased Fight Night Champion you may have noticed there was no manual inside. Stolen? Nope.....apparently as of March 1st this year EA are no longer including a paper manual within the game case, opting instead for a digital manual. This follows the lead that Ubisoft set with the release of Shaun White Snowboarding, and one that it's going to continue with. These moves by two heavyweight publishers is sure to set a precedent, so you can bet your bottom dollar Activision and every other big name under the sun will follow their lead.

Citing "environmental issues" as the reason behind this change, you can maybe see the reason. According to Ubisoft, producing one ton of paper for a manual actually takes two tonnes of wood, taken from 13 trees, that produces tonnes of greenhouse gases that are dumped into the air and also produces over 15,000 gallons of waste water.

Now game manuals are a funny old thing. For me, there is nothing quite like opening up a new game, inhaling that "new game" smell and thumbing through the manual with all the excitement of a perve fumbling through the latest issue of Reader's wives. Some game manuals get it right, and some get it wrong. Take the manual for GTA IV for instance. It's a fantastic companion piece for the game. Filled with adverts for the in-game shops, restaurants and locations, it's almost like a tourist guide book for a fictional city. It gives weight to the world, it makes the manual an actual part of the game. With the added map, sitting down to play the game with the manual at hand, driving around takes on a new level, so you can attack the game from the point of view as a visitor to the game. Taking manuals in the context of GTA they are a great addition to an already brilliant package.

However, some games get lazy. The manual in Homefront has almost been phoned in. It tells you what you need to know and that's you lot. This is how you play, this is how you control the vehicles, and these are the multiplayer modes. That's it. It's like it was made by a design team that had a last task to do on a Friday afternoon before breaking up for the weekend. Lazy. For the fictional world that's represented in the game, it was an opportunity to make a fantastic manual. What form would it take? I don't fucking know....i'm just moaning. But just for a second, rather than the boring, by-the-numbers manual that's in the game, why not.....I dunno....make it into a diary. Turn it into a kind of notebook, written and handed down by members of the resistance, detailing how to drive vehicles, how the weapons and explosives work. Make it as good of a companion piece to the game as Rockstar did with the GTA games. It'll maybe take another couple of weeks to get done, but it will add to the game, rather than detract from it.

At least these days paper manuals that we get in the UK are printed only in English. I don't mean that in a Nick Griffin "don't want no foreign muck in MY game manual" way. I mean it as in a European way. Being in the UK and classed as being a part of Europe, we used to get manuals printed in 267 different languages, French, Spanish, German....yadda yadda yadda. Now I never really got the reason for this. Yes, we're a part of Europe, be we are an island, the predominant language here is English! I used to think it was a total waste of paper for us to get a manual the size of a table sized bible just because we're in Europe! Especially in the days of the SNES......in some games you would get the manual in English, and then another 8 smaller manuals in various languages......fucking dumb!

We have come a long way from the days of the Spectrum/C64, where game instructions would be printed on the inside of the cassette inlay, or scrawled onto a bit of paper if like me you just used to pirate your friends copy. Some manuals these days are great. The best obviously go to the collectors editions. These huge expensive packages come with manuals, maps, guides and art books so lovingly crafted they go into almost pornographic detail about the game that they represent. Some of the packages that Atlus created for some of their RPG games back in the PS1 era were absolutely stunning, and recently Demon's souls showed a gorgeous collectors edition, with an almost necessary guide for the game which was beautifully illustrated, fantastically written and which give the impression of a labour of love from the developers. I don't think that the news from EA and Ubi means we won't see any more collectors editions ever again, I just think it'll make them a bit more special to be honest.

But let's look at the news again. Specifically a statement from Ubisoft:

“Ubisoft is often recognized for making great games, but it’s a special privilege to be the industry leader at saving trees,” said Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft North America.

“Eco-friendly initiatives are important to the global community and introducing in-game digital manuals on Xbox 360 and PS3 is just the latest example of Ubisoft’s ongoing commitment to being a more environmentally conscious company.”

Now, being environmentally friendly is one thing. I'm all for saving some paper, or trees, or making sure Polar bears still have somewhere to shit.....count me in. But to come out with the message that getting rid of manuals is for the "benefit" of the world is full of crap. Seriously.

Look at a game like Call of Duty. It sells more copies a year than any other game. I dunno what the last one sold, let's say 6 million. Now of course 6 million game manuals is a shit load of paper, there are probably lost tribes now devoid of somewhere to live because of the amount of trees needed to make that many manuals. But let's say Activision opt to not make a paper manual for the next COD game. That's 6 million manuals that don't need to be made. 6 million manuals that won't have to be forked out for. It's a shed-load of cash saved for Activision.

So you think we'll see a few quid knocked off the price of the game? Will we fuck. You try and trade a game in without a manual at any game shop...you instantly get deducted a few quid off the value of the game. Some shops pass this on to the customers, so but a pre-owned game without a manual and you may save £3-4. Is that going to be the same for a new retail game? I think you know the answer to that one.

Most games retail for around the £40 mark. Now, if EA and Ubisoft were to say "look, we're making cuts on including a manual with the game, as we're aware that people have concerns about the environment. Because of this, we will pass that saving onto the consumer and your new game will cost you £35". If that were the case I think it would be met by little to no opposition from gamers everywhere. But for them to start blabbing on about the poor trees being hacked down to make game manuals, when the hundreds of thousands of pounds they will be saving will be going straight onto their books as profit stinks like a dead Skunk.

Gaming isn't the most environmentally friendly hobby as it is. Just think of all those fossil fuels burning away, just to power your console, your 50" Plasma TV and 5.1 surround sound system, as well as the power consumption of a small country going into the development of the very game that they won't be printing a manual for. Taking all that into account it's about as friendly to the environment as using a nuclear power station to charge your phone.

I'm sure it will be met with applause from tree-huggers everywhere. And i'm all in favour of game companies and publishers using economic means for packaging.....I was the first to applaud Microsoft's recent move of packaging MS points cards with recycled smaller packaging rather than the big green plastic boxes.....good move.

But in reality, this move by EA and Ubisoft, tree/water/carbon fucking footprint arguement aside, just means that for each new game made at reduced cost, means more profit for them, and more cash to spread out on that bed for them to roll around in. We, the gamer at the bottom of that ladder, won't see that saving passed down to us. We'll still be paying the same for our games, but getting ever so slightly less for that price. Gone will be the days where you open up that game case, inhale, and get that heady whiff of freshly printed ink and paper. Instead, you'll open up that box greeted with the cold look of a disc looking back at you.

So. Either give us our manuals, nice manuals mind, or make our games cheaper. Don't pretend you're on an environmental crusade when the technology needed to make the games is a problem itself. Just give us a recycled cardboard flap with the game in, stuck together with sustainable glue from um-bongo land and packed by the tribes-people of the Fair trade organisation of recycled world for all I fucking care.

Just pass those millions you're saving down to us.

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