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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 Anonymous Coward
    1) Eat dots
    2) Avoid ghosts (note: see 3)
    3) Eat big dots to make ghosts blue. Ghosts are okay to touch when they are blue.

    I can't wait. This is gonna make me rich!!!
  • Internet Anyone? (Score:4, Informative)

    by therage96 ( 912259 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:06PM (#14866736)
    I hardly play games anymore, but when I did, I found strategy guides to be a waste of money when I have my computer 2 feet away from me when I played console games. All I needed was [] and I pretty much had everything I needed to know, and thats not even mentioning all of the sites out there dedicated to individual games.

    To each his own I suppose.
    • 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      The guides on GameFAQs, when they fall THIS far out of date, either get updated, or replaced with newer and more accurate guides.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.
    • Ever wanted to have a map or a guide on your lap instead of open in another window on your computer?

      There are at least a few games where I preferred getting the strat guide to printing out something off the internet. (but I HAVE done both)
  • GamesFaq (Score:2, Informative)

    by mabba18 ( 897753 )
    As far as I understand these guides are the Gamestop equivalent to an extended warranty. They push them on anybody buying a game which has a guide.

    I just use GamesFaq, and get the same answers for free.
    • Re:GamesFaq (Score:2, Informative)

      by Thrymm ( 662097 )
      Exactly, when I worked at EB 10 years ago while in college we were drilled to put the strat guides into the customer's head to buy em. I hardly ever would though, even in 96 one could go online and find the hints you needed. Such a sham these things are and even in some cases (the Prima ones especially), dont really help at all. Basically a big commercial inside the strategy guides for the games themselves.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      StrategyWiki [] is an interesting approach to strategy guides in contrast to the non-collaborative GameFAQs. It can often be hard to find the right guide on GameFAQs sometimes, because so many of them are poorly written and there are always too many [] guides written for each game. StrategyWiki's policy is to only have a single guide per game. Other issues that StrategyWiki solves is markup/image support and open licensing: StrategyWiki is licensed under the GFDL, whereas GameFAQs authors tend to be very restric
      • The one good thing about multiple guides for a game is that they can offer different strategies, and differently worded directions that may be more helpful.

        Although a well written single guide could cover all these bases. And the examples you provide seem to look very nice. The screenshots of OoT, are especially fine.
  • by jshackles ( 957031 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:12PM (#14866780)
    I like strategy guides, actually, I love them. The internet is nice and a good way to find your information, but a strategy guide will give you that same information, and will be filled with maps (a very big advantage over text only FAQs) and the guides are also filled with art from the game.

    I may not want to play through Xenosaga again in the near future, but I can still enjoy flipping through the pages of the strategy guide and remember the various parts of the game and how I felt when I played this part, etc...

    Call me silly, but I'm probably the only person still around that enjoys the strategy guides nearly as much as the games themselves.

    • Glad to hear there's someone else around who doesn't just laugh at strategy guides and think people who buy them are dumbasses. I think guides for some genres like FPS or sandbox games like The Sims are a bit pointless, but for sprawling RPGs their often invaluable.

      I have to admit to being a bit of a fanboy for Piggyback's guides ( d ex.php? []), which I've watched grow in variety since I first got their Final Fantasy VIII guide years back. I've since bought thei
    • I find internet guides much more useful because they include exploits and strategies found after the game was released and will update to include changes that may have happened in later versions (patches, re-releases, etc). I've encountered enough strategy guides that delivered information that was simply incorrect (e.g. the Diablo 2 guide claiming all set bonuses are random).

      While an official guide has nice pictures and all an average internet guide will include information that is much more likely to be c
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:15PM (#14866807) Homepage Journal
    I used to have an insane collection of strategy guides back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, which was of course before anything in those books could be found on the Internet. Nowadays, I do still dig the printed book with foldout maps, charts, and such more than looking up a gamefaq, but only for a few titles I collect and immerse myself in like the sad fanboy I am. In those cases I'm also likely to pick up action figures, soundtracks, and junk, so the tie-in aspect is just as much of a selling point for me as the strategic value.

    Also appreciated are the sometimes-included DVD-extra style additions to the guide, with the odd interview, concept art, or other behind-the-scenes geek-fodder that make the book more than just a fancy gamefaq.
  • I got a free strategy Guide with Civ 2 by sid meir and it was brillian. Even included information on modding and customising the game.

    Antone remember silent service 2 from waaaayyyy back (1990?) the manual was excellent. Had a huge historical section, a section on how to play the game and then a strategy section. Which was a bit like a seperate strategy guide except it came with the game.
  • Bah, it has to do with people realizing it's stupid to pay $15 for a "strategy guide" when:

    1. You can get all the same content for free on the internet and gain the ability to do full-text-search on it (, among others)

    2. The content of the game is updated by bugfixes and patches

    3. The strategy guides contain twelve pages of ads for other strategy guides from the same publisher

    4. The strategy guide authors put key game info in the back of the book in a sealed section to prevent "spoilers" -- why
  • by voice_of_all_reason ( 926702 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:23PM (#14866880)
    What the game industry doesn't realize however, is that a big change is looming on the horizon. It will mean a great deal of money for both the video game and strategy guide publishers, but they'll both have to...

    View the rest of this post by visiting PlayOnline!
    • I was just telling people about the FFIX guide the other day, what a horrible mess that was. My copy now has a bunch of pages in the back which I printed out from the website.
    • Is it just me, or is PlayOnline really just a terrible platform for nearly anything?

      I bought the computer version of FFXI a while back and after I finished installing all four CDs, it took me another half hour just to put in all the different keycodes and make two different accounts, one for FFXI and one for PlayOnline. Plus it's this terrible GUI that's a PITA to navigate to get to the game.

      I decided that I would put FFXI on the backburner after the free month and cancelled my FFXI account, but apparentl
  • 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."
    • I've bought two strategy guides, World of Warcraft and Homeworld. And I think my copy of the Diablo Battle Chest came with a free Diablo II guide, but I didn't buy it for the guide.

      Anyway, the Homeworld one was invaluable as any first-time Homeworld player can tell you. The WOW one I barely ever looked at... the only page I had bookmarked was the one showing the Griffon routes, and even that one got outdated via patches very quickly.
  • 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.

    • There are two categories of strategy guide, in my opinion. There are the magazine-type guides, reminiscant of the Ninetendo Guide era. These are pretty worthless, but are high profit-margin for retailers. They only contain maps, frivolous tips, and walkthroughs that would ruin the game if you read them in advance, and which you can find anyhwere on the interweb anyway. They also cost half as much as the game does!

      Then there are the old school, actual strategy guides. These are as thick as textbooks and co

  • 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.
    • Xbox Live is kind of bringing the score competitions back with their "accomplishments" system and the fact that many games are ranked on Live by... score. (For instance, I was playing Survival mode on Dead or Alive 4 for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised that the game automatically uploaded my score to Live and showed me my ranking.)
      • True enough. But I doubt "The Godfather" keeps track of any score based on how you kill someone. The point is, the author either doesn't have a clue about games, or is willing to grossly simplify things for the lowest common denominator. Either way, it's not good journalism.
    • Some special interest group published a press release recently, blasting Grand Theft Auto for promoting violence against prostitutes, because raping and/or murdering prostitutes ingame racked up points (according to their press release).

      Which is complete bullshit, on every single count.

      There are no points in GTA. Period.
      There is no raping in GTA. Period.
      You get nothing special for attacking a prostitute. In fact, the hookers usually start shooting at you and the police start chasing you if do attack a hooke
  • by MBraynard ( 653724 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @12:52PM (#14867137) Journal
    1) They are nearly all written before the game is gold. Frequently enough, the guide has information that reflects a beta version of the game and is inaccurate as it pertains to the release version. If the guides didn't have to ship with the game and instead came out maybe a week or so later, they would be more valuable.

    2) They are not written by the people who should be writing them - the designers. Once the designers are done with a game, the last thing they want to do is hang around and write a guide. They are either working on a patch or taking a vacation. They typically give almost no support to the people who actually write the guide whom, aside from writing ability, are no better gamers than the kid who picks the game off the retail shelf, resulting in a whole lot of fluff to fill pages.

    3) These guides use to be called 'instruction manuals.' Guides back in the day use to come out well after the game and had actual tips and tricks that were truly valuable and could not be determined on the players own - or they included really good versions of maps. Now this role has been supplanted by the Internet - including the maps.

    Game Guides will likely continue to see steep declines in sales as free fan created, internet based guides are becoming increasingly better written and presented. This 75% decrease this past year is not 'cyclical' in any way.

    • 2) They are not written by the people who should be writing them - the designers. Once the designers are done with a game, the last thing they want to do is hang around and write a guide. They are either working on a patch or taking a vacation. They typically give almost no support to the people who actually write the guide whom, aside from writing ability, are no better gamers than the kid who picks the game off the retail shelf, resulting in a whole lot of fluff to fill pages.

      That's not always true. Th

  • I am a big addict of age of conquerors and I really liked the strategies which are explained through saved or sample games often posted on the AOC sites. Reading a strategy is boring and difficult to follow. Watching saved games and seeing the way strategies are implemented is a real fun.
  • I purchased this game used and it actually had the strategy guide in the box. :) I've replayed the game at least 2 or 3 times and I still find the guide to be useful. Hints, tips, and best of all, maps.
  • Like a travel guide to a place that never existed? Sounds like my favorite strategy guide of all-time.
    "Sid Meier's Civilization or Rome on 640k a Day"
    That guide broke down the math to all units, improvements, wonders, governments, etc. AND did it in an entertaining way.
  • When I first purchased Suikoden 2, back in the PS1 days, I loved the game. Unfortunatly, I sold the game to EBGAMES along with almost all the other PS1 games I had for 4 PS2 games.

    Now that I look at it, the game is worth well over $100 bux on E-bay.

    Also the strategy guide is worth a ton of money too. A lot of people collect the guides, and they serve as a base for introductory players to a game.

    Think of it as a class in school, you learn the material, but in this case, it is the game you learn.
  • The problem with strategy guides is they don't offer any new strategies. Long gone are the days when one could actually learn insider secrets on a game from reading the guide. I look back to the days of Mortal Kombat. How the hell were we ever supposed to guess those nonsensical finishing moves ? The game designers were involved with the guide publishers and magazines such as GamePro and EGM.

    Any chump can play a game and write what he learns from that first playthrough, and they post it on Gamefaqs. Wh
  • 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.

    • Yup. I miss the nice fat manuals myself, and I don't see the sharp increase in use of 3D as much of a replacement.
      Add this to the fact that you're quite right about most guides - they stink.

      Remember Master of Magic? Had a nice, fat handbook full of details. A bit later I bought a guid - a FAT handbook full of lovely details, hints, tips, How Tos...

      Oh, well. Not buying guides anymore saves me some money. Nearly exclusively playing shareware games these days also does.
  • by Aero ( 98829 ) <erwin71m@gmail. c o m> 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?
  • A strategy guide for a skill/twitch based game is usually useless, but I know that my wife is really into the Sims 2, and knew a LOT, and then I got her the strategy guide and was surprised that there was quite a bit in there that she didn't know about.

    So I think it depends on the game and the quality of the author.
  • The X-Wing Strategy Guide was a thick book that provided a narrative example of a rebel pilot as he attempted each mission in the X-Wing game. It read like a reasonably interesting novel written from the perspective of the pilot, and contained his detailed mission analysis complete with detailed maps and screenshots. After each mission he'd reflect on what worked and what didn't, and what he would have done differently (alternate strategies). It was very well done - I'd love to see this concept applied t
  • In my opinion, the best strategy guides are the ones that go with strategy games. A few easy examples come to mind: Master of Orion 1 (written by Alan Emrich, who I maintain doesn't deserve the blame for MoO3), Alpha Centauri (probably the best strategy guide I've ever had) and Civilization: Call to Power.
  • Back in the day, they were hint books, had no maps, and were in the form of Q A1, A2, A3, and you had to use a chemical marker to unhide the actual answers.

    The hint book for Kings Quest was awesome.

    That, and the Final Fantasy 1 strategy guide.
  • but that decline was expected as a cyclical moment, paralleling a transition in the industry to a new generation of advanced game consoles.

    This is the real news here. Instead of going crazy and blaming everything in sight for the decrease in sales, they recognize that sometimes sales just slow down.

    It's sad that this is surprising to see. :(

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.