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Is there any point in including manuals with games today? It seems like most manuals are more for background story or art than any actual help. Additionally, it seems like most games are including "help" inside of their games in the means of tutorials or similar means. Do enough users actually look at their manuals to make them worthwhile to include?

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What is the average age of your audience and how complex is your game about controls, functionality and is it real time battle or so or can the user pause it at any time he wishs ? – Prix Jul 30 '10 at 18:47
I would say include a digital manual! Don't forget digital distributions of games account for a large amount of sales. – David Young Jul 30 '10 at 19:02
Digital manuals are ok but i still belive you should take into account what kinda of game it is ... before getting to weather you need a out-of-game manual or not... – Prix Jul 30 '10 at 19:06
I like reading manuals while the computer starts! – small_duck Aug 1 '10 at 11:29
I used to like reading the manuals, but many years of crappy printed game manuals have taught me to no longer bother reading them. – edA-qa mort-ora-y Aug 24 '12 at 15:32

14 Answers 14

up vote 18 down vote accepted

You could just as easily ask the broader question: should ANY software include a manual?

Amusingly, there's an article on JoelOnSoftware about designing software so that the users don't need the manual:

While it doesn't answer the question, it hints at it: "Users do just-in-time manual reading, on a strictly need-to-know basis."

I would say that is one reason why the game manual is important. It's a physical, tangible object that can be used as reference if the player gets stuck or forgets how certain commands work. (Yes, you can and should include this information within your in-game help system as well, but players don't always like to use that. For one, they might not be able to find it, in which case the physical manual is a suitable backup. For another, a lot of help systems require going through loading screens which seem slow to some players, so it feels faster to look it up in the printed manual.)

The other reason is that some players DO prefer to read the manual before playing. Yes, you can include an online document on the disc, but it's easier to read a printout than a computer screen. For the sake of saving a couple bucks, are you going to take some nontrivial portion of your players and make sure their first experience with your game is frustration at not having a manual?

There are other psychological reasons. A manual adds perceived value; you didn't just buy this disk with data on it, you also got this pretty book absolutely free! More to the point, manuals are so ubiquitous in games that if there isn't a manual in there, the player might assume this was a manufacturing error, and you can expect to be taking a lot of tech support calls (and handling a lot of returns) when players assume something was supposed to be there and was missing.

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+1, especially the "value added" part. We do kids games a lot; pretty pictures go quite well alongside instructions. =) – leander Jul 30 '10 at 20:49
A guy that I shared a apartment with, only bought original games when they had manuals and boxes (he has like thousands of pirated games... but also he spent thousand dollars in original games, the only ones being purely digital being Audiosurf and World of Goo, because they were extra-cheap anyway when he bought in those wierd steam promos...) He read all manuals, and carefully he packs all his games back and put them in a shelf (and he proudly displays his shelf of original games to all visitors) – speeder Jul 31 '10 at 6:13
Yes, definitely the added value of buying a boxed game. The games I felt best about buying are those with well-written booklets. Especially when they don't only contain instructions, but content like background stories and mood-setting texts. – Staffan E Aug 3 '10 at 7:36

Manuals, like loading screens, are a great place to show off concept art and backstory that couldn't be fit into the game for whatever reason. If you're making a match-three game, you probably don't need a manual (or loading screens). If you're making a flight sim, or a train sim, or SimLife (which came with not just a manual but a lab notebook), you'd better have some reference I can use at the same time as playing the game.

If you're distributing on console platforms, the TCRs may demand a manual. Some games, like No More Heroes (Japanese Wii) or Contact (North America DS) use this opportunity to make some extremely clever designs.

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Starcraft 2 comes with a "Quickstart Guide".

  • 4 pages of troubleshooting
  • 9 pages of backstory fiction
  • 6 pages of EULA
  • 7 pages of art
  • One paragraph of installation instructions, which is basically "put it in your drive and doubleclick it"

There is not a single word about gameplay.

I honestly feel like if Blizzard isn't bothering, you probably shouldn't bother either, unless you've got a game that is actually more complicated than Starcraft 2. Like a flight sim, and basically nothing else.

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6 pages of EULA... wow... that is getting overboard. – speeder Jul 31 '10 at 6:10
I don't think you can (or should) generalize from one game and one company to all games. There are games, like flight sims as already mentioned, that certainly benefit from a manual while others, like Starcraft II, don't need one as they have pretty good tutorials or are self-explanatory. – Michael Barth Aug 1 '10 at 19:32
@Michael, I agree that you can't generalize one game to all games. However, on the list of things that could use a manual, Starcraft 2 is really only a step or two below flight sims. If SC2 doesn't need a manual, then I don't think anything less "simmy" does either - you certainly wouldn't need a manual for any shooter, puzzle game, roleplaying game, etc. – ZorbaTHut Aug 1 '10 at 22:54
Glad to hear you agree. If you would revise your answer to take into consideration that there might be games more complex than SC2 that may need a manual, then I can undo my downvote and agree to your overall statement. :) – Michael Barth Aug 2 '10 at 11:15
@Michael, sure, done :) – ZorbaTHut Aug 3 '10 at 14:11

For a F-15 flying simulator. Yes.

For anything else I'm not sure, probably can get away with it but a small handbook probably wouldn't hurt. Specially if it includes how the basic game mechanics work in many languages.

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I really like a good manual. Something I can look at when my computer is turned off. Garden, loo, whatever..

A manual can contain background stories, images, concept art, etc.

A good printed manual adds good value to a game.

Doesn't have to be a huge manual, though - Civilization II anyone?

A small, well designed one will do.

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+1 Civilization II – Tobias Kienzler Aug 2 '10 at 10:20

Well, i for one enjoy reading a manual, often there are some tips included which you do not see in the game directly.

But setting that aside, I am convinced that games should be designed in such a manner that manuals are not neccessary in order to play the game ( so if we look at the pure use of a manual considering it's original purpose, no it is not worthwhile).

Now, for the huge but; As I already mentioned there are people who simply enjoy a well written and illustrated manual, not just backstory. But stuff you can read on. For example, if I order some version of a game titled with "Game XX Gold/Deluxe/Whatever" I at least simply expect a nice manual in there. It's like with the game boxes, etc.

So, yes, if we look at it from this perspective, manuals are worth to be included ( also they usually are not pirated or anything, so you give your audience another reason to actually buy your game).

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In general you want the game to teach players how to play through a fictionally integrated tutorial. Few players ever bother to even look at the manual, much less read it before diving into the game.

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This really depends on your market. The internet is littered with complaints of dungeon crawl and JRPG players frustrated at how long it takes to get past tutorials in the game, and how much of the tutorial is just a repeat of the manual. – user744 Jul 30 '10 at 19:14
There are plenty of badly designed and integrated tutorials, but a complaint about such a tutorial is not necessarily a demand for a manual to replace it. – wkerslake Jul 30 '10 at 20:07

For both of the games we have released in my time here, the manual was out of date before it even hit the printer. With an online game you are tweaking until about an hour before release, so almost anything you write about UI or controls will probably be wrong (remember that manuals have to be ready about 3-4 months before launch). Having a guide on your website is downright required though.

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Also remember that manuals, unlike websites, cannot contain clickable buttons... ;) – user744 Jul 30 '10 at 19:15
+1 That's a good point here. But it depends on the game, online games may change a lot during their existence, while a good offline game should be well-designed enough such that the readme.txt will not contain many changes from the manual – Tobias Kienzler Aug 2 '10 at 10:23

It depends on your game. If it is rather simple to comprehend or includes a well-done tutorial, a manual is not needed. For complicated games where the player might want to pause and have a look at a rather lengthy explanation, it shouldn't have to be read from screen and therefore be in a printed manual.

Ideally IMHO, a game is designed in a way such that a manual is not required, but still provided with one including some additional contents like background stories etc. to reward those who still RTFM (read the friendly manual). For example, Homeworld could be played without reading the manual thanks to a good tutorial, but reading it would provide additional background on what pre-dates the game story.

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I just found this game that is "manual-ware." It's an interesting model...

The game is free, but you can support it by buying a manual:

The 12-page, full-color printed manual for Sanctuary 17 includes basic information on playing the game, a rundown of all the enemies and items you’ll encounter, helpful strategy tips, and even some behind-the-scenes secrets. If you enjoy the game, please consider buying a copy! Your contributions will help support future games and will most likely result in a warm and fuzzy feeling from supporting indie gaming as a whole. Plus, in these days of downloadable content and PDF manuals, who can resist the allure of an actual, physical, bound bundle of papers you can leaf through at your leisure? This is a win-win situation here.

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that's a nice idea. Although it sounds more like an advanced cheat sheet... – Tobias Kienzler Aug 3 '10 at 7:45

While providing an in-game tutorial is necessary, I think including a manual is also a good idea even if unused for most cases. Sometimes, you'll play a game for a while and then stop playing it for a long time. When you come back to playing the game again, it is helpful to be able to refer to a manual as a quick reference on how the game worked rather than having to boot up the game and navigate through the game menus. While this would only affect the small amount of players who would use it in this way, it is still worth it to put it in as an extra touch which would make your game feel much more complete in its boxed package.

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I think it's a marketing decision. Do we want to include the concept art? Do we want to jack up the price by including 50 pages of instructions and back-story. I don't know where I'd be without my Final Fantasy manuals! Sure, you don't realy need them but they're part of the game; part of the package that you buy.

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Cases where manuals can be helpful:

  1. I think it's good to have manuals especially if your game has data that is semi-vital and a whole lot of work to memorize. Examples of which are Pokemon's resistance tables and Shin Megami Tensei's fusion charts.

  2. In the old days manuals were also used to hint at hidden or secret stuff (but I guess we have gamefaqs now). I.e. Dragon Spirit wrote the secret gold dragon trick on the manual, Goonies also had the inventory trick on the manual.

  3. Technical stuff (like installation as other's mentioned)

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The purpose of a manual is to teach the player about your game. The more ways you have to teach the player, the more likely they are to understand/absorb what you are trying to tell them.

Take the example of the school classroom.

Early teaching methods included: lectures, books, sample problems, discussion, exams.
Technology has brought new methods of teaching to the classroom: videos, web-conferencing, online resources.

Despite the presence of these new teaching methods, the older methods still work - and are still used. Different people favour different styles of learning.

If a user doesn't understand your game, they are less likely to play it. So, why not give them every opportunity to understand it?

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