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Best-Seller Strategy Guides 59

TasosF writes "The New York Times published a feature on the strategy guide publishing. Strategy guide sales reportedly generated about $90 million in 2004, with the guide to GTA San Andreas having sold 748,000 copies to date." From the article "'It's like writing a travel guide to a place that doesn't exist,' Mr. Hodgson said. 'Whereas Frommer's guides tell you what hotel to stay in, I tell you which hotel not to stay in because you're going to get dragged down by a gangster.' By most measures, strategy guides are not a huge business. They generated about $90 million in sales in 2004, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm; the figure dropped to $67 million in 2005, but that decline was expected as a cyclical moment, paralleling a transition in the industry to a new generation of advanced game consoles."
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Best-Seller Strategy Guides

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  • by Ayaress ( 662020 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:27PM (#14866907) Journal
    Not only free, but usually better. I have a Starcraft strategy guide. Not sure WHY I bought it, but I did. It's got a run of errors in it that are almost entertaining. It's fairly clear that the guide was made using a beta copy, since it mentions Queens and Science Vessels having non-energy-based attacks, Firebats attacking air units, and the guide for one Terran mission guide even helpfully suggests lifting off your Refinery and moving it to a new base.

    The guides on GameFAQs, when they fall THIS far out of date, either get updated, or replaced with newer and more accurate guides. You can always publish a new edition of a strategy guide, but that leaves the people who already bought one with a piece of garbage. GameFAQs, it's just a matter of going back and trying a different one.
  • Buying the guides. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stachybotris ( 936861 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:29PM (#14866923)
    Back when I was much younger (say, in my early teens), I'd buy the game and guide at the same time. I quickly learned that doing so completely ruined the fun of playing the game. Instead of learning what to do and exploring, I'd just flip to page 3, get the answer, and continue. It's like gaming on autopilot.

    Now I still get the occasional guide (or use GameFaqs, as has been mentioned to death already), but I never buy it/go there until after at least one playthrough. The guide serves as a tool for re-plays. That way I get the satisfaction of having thought and worked on the game without a hand-holding from someone else, but I still can say "yeah, I found all the goodies."
  • by ianscot ( 591483 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:47PM (#14867088)
    Yes yes, it's easy to find free FAQs to get you past that spot where you're stuck. I'm not sure how that even qualifies as a "strategy" guide. Those are walkthroughs broken into Q and A formats, basically. Most published strategy guides are a little better only because they include screen shots and maybe maps.

    But there are a couple of examples of strategy guides on my kids' shelf that blew me away.

    The conspicuous example was for one of the GameBoy Color Pokemon titles, believe it or not. Those games were superbly good, incidentally, and don't deserve begin cubbyholed as kids' titles. They're so open-ended that they can be tinkered around in long after someone's played through. Do you want to breed specific species of Pokemon? Collect a bunch of some artifact? Develop a whole new set of critters for use in a new setting, and then compare stables with your friends? Compete in beauty contests for your Pokemon? Win all sorts of different side trophies? They're very, very open-ended titles, and Nintendo produced some beautiful little guides for them.

    Let's just say this: As a way of displaying the relative strengths and weaknesses of different species, the Nintendo-produced guides included easily-read, well-laid-out spider graphs for the different traits. When was the last time you saw a spider graph (or really anything but a bar graph) in your local newspaper? The catalogs of all the Pokemon types in those early guides were lovely examples of solid technical writing. You'd be fortunate to encounter software manuals as well-composed, they were a pleasure to read, and in the case of stuff like those graphs they actually bordered on the educational for my kids.

    I'll pay $15 for that.

  • High Score? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doomstalk ( 629173 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:49PM (#14867107)
    From the article: After logging long hours trying various tactics, Mr. Hodgson said he asked the company whether he had explored them all, and which ones would help players rack up the highest scores.

    Why is it that whenever journalists or legislators talk about video games, the phrase "high score" (or some permutation there of) is always on the tip of their tongue? I haven't played any games where score is the sole point in ages. The assumption that games are all about score not only betrays the author's ignorance, but it demeans modern video games in general. Games have become much subtler- story and the challenge of survival have become their own ends. But the media can't seem to envision them ever moving past the "survive as long as you can to get the high score" quarter munchers they descended from.
  • Well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @01:17PM (#14867421) Homepage
    Since I haven't seen any +3 comments yet that mention this, I'll go ahead and be the one to say it...

    I think the strategy guides, with the exception of a few shining examples (the Pokemon and Final Fantasy guides immediately come to mind), have been nothing but a lightly veiled attempt at milking as much money as possible from the gamer.

    I remember the day when the best strategy guides were the thick books that CAME WITH THE DAMN GAME! And if I sound like an old fart...keep in mind that I'm only 22. This has been a recent trend to put as little information in with the game as possible. Sometimes games only include a controller layout quicksheet and nothing else aside from a few lose ad flyers floating around in the box. I wonder how much of a cut the publisher gets from the strategy guide companies to do that?

    I haven't purchased a strategy guide since I got on the internet, and sites like gamefaqs are making them fast obsolete. But give me the good ol days of nicely produced minibooklets over a $20, mostly fluff strategy guide any day. I mean hell, for games like Diablo, half the info in the guide was obsolete come the first patch. And don't even get me started on some of the "Tips and Strategies" they give in some FPS guides...."Crouch to increase your accuracy!", "Grab health packs to replenish your health!"...Really? No shit Sherlock.

  • by Aero ( 98829 ) < minus punct> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @01:21PM (#14867468)
    Back in the day, a strategy guide wouldn't come out until weeks or even months after the game did. It was written by people who had played the gold version of the game to death, without any sort of hard deadline, and it contained useful and relevant information. Some of them even could say "this is an issue, but it'll be fixed with an upcoming patch". One of my favorites was the Civ I guide written by the then-editors of Computer Gaming World, and in keeping with the department, the FFIII/VI guides were also very good.

    But now Brady and Prima and the like are insistent on putting out guides that get released at the same time as the games themselves do, all in the name of having something to bundle along with the game. These don't work well for a number of reasons.

    1) Particularly for Sony and Nintendo console games, many games get released in Japan first, and people are already attacking the Japanese releases for months before they hit American/European shores. I haven't gone to the Kingdom Hearts II section of GameFAQs yet (don't want to see anything resembling a spoiler, any more than I already have), but I bet there's at least 6 full walkthroughs and twice as many specialized topic FAQs already up there. If I'm the sort of gamer who wants to power my way through the game on the first pass, why plunk down the $20 for the paper guide when the material's already been out and is easy to find? (Incidentally, I'm not that kind of gamer -- I'll only hit FAQs on the first pass if it looks like I wouldn't want to play through again to uncover things.)

    2) These days, wireless Internet and laptops aren't a novelty, and in many cases aren't even extravagant. (Especially if you've got clueless neighbors, and if you aren't above "hitching a ride".) If you had to run back and forth between your living room and your computer room to consult an Internet strategy guide for your console game, or if you only had one computer for a computer game, having a paper guide on hand made a bit more sense. But I can carry my wireless laptop with me all over the house and pull up a strategy guide for games either on the PS2 or on my desktop computer, any time I want.

    3) Most damning, getting the guide out at the same time as the game hits shelves means that it has to go to press when the game goes gold, pretty much. So the guys writing the guide are playing on beta builds, with some features either broken or missing. In some cases, the guide's picture of parts of the game may have nothing in common with the released version. (And "The Guide is definitive -- reality is frequently inaccurate" doesn't apply here.) Writing strategy guides as a job may sound like fun, but it's about as much fun as most of the grunt-level jobs at a games developer.

    Case in point, my girlfriend has an on-again/off-again contract with one of the major publishers to do freelance work. Most recently, she did the bulk of the editing on the guide for an XB360 title that's due out very soon (not saying which in case there's some NDA that I'd be violating on her behalf). She would've done all of it, except that a bugfix build that ran late in January delayed the playtester/writer of the guide for a week, and the book had to go to press regardless. As such, the publisher had to put out an all-call to their in-house staff to get the last few chapters edited. Meanwhile, my gf is keeping a tally of the number of times that the writer has included notes like "feature not implemented yet", "include maps at press time" (in other words, the man is making references in his text to a map which he hasn't seen), and "broken now, should be fixed by release". The final average came out to about 2-3 of those per mission/level.

    She's not the gamer that I am, but she enjoys watching me play games that she won't play herself, and she understands what separates good games from bad ones. Based on what she saw in this guide, it looks like the game has the potential to be good and possibly even entertaining -- but it's more likely to suck the business end of an MP-5. And that's assuming that the guide accurately reflects the finished product. The game may be spectacular, and the guide as written won't do justice to it. So why print the guide at all?

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard