Strategy Guides: Essential or Erroneous?
Ah, the 90′s. I have fond memories of running towards my mailbox, eagerly awaiting the next issue of my favorite gaming magazine. What I remember most, were the advertisements for the Nintendo “Game Masters”. For a nominal fee, you could call the folks at Nintendo, where a real live “Game Master” would guide you through some difficult portion of a game you had not yet beaten.
What was so intriguing about this service was how mysterious Nintendo made it all sound. “Game Master” was a job I think every kid would die for, as we imagined that somewhere out there was a person so good at Mario 3, he was deemed a “master”. While I never was able to speak to such a person, (my parents would have thought paying for such a thing ludicrous) it was probably for the best. Better to let the childhood fantasy live on, untainted by the harshness of reality.
So what happened to these “Game Masters”? What can the past show us about the current decline of the strategy guide market?
So, that’s how it has been for the last 17 years. Our imaginations filled with images of an office full of “Game Masters”, solving the problems of gamers all day long. Who can say how good they really were, as we may never know the true realities of those years. While Nintendo still provides the service, the “Game Masters” have been replaced with automated voice systems, blathering on about obvious solutions to various game titles.
It is safe to say, that the abundance of “Strategy Guides” are not even close to the levels that they used be. Back in those days, every single game you could imagine was supported by a guide. (Sometimes with multiple versions) Currently, you are basically faced with the “Official” guide, and then whatever information you can drag up on the internet.
While some current titles show glimpses of printed support, (Pokemon for example) the vast majority of new titles are ignored. Why? Does this mean that games are not as challenging as they once were? I don’t think so, if anything they have become more complex. Does the availability of free information on the internet cut too heavily into a strategy guide publisher’s profit margins?
Yet, even with the lack of current “tips and tricks” for recent games, some gamers swear by the strategy guide. They use them on titles like Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, and Metal Gear Solid. All of them conquered using picture layouts and diagrams of the levels. Does this degrade the gaming experience? I’m not sure. How does running around blindly add to the “fun” of the experience? Wouldn’t step-by-step instructions allow you to worry less about running around in meaningless circles? It’s hard to say.
So who are these people who still use strategy guides? What do they feel about the current decline of their system? That’s a question best left for them to answer.