Browsing Gamasutra on this fine Monday morning, I came across a post written by Katherine Cross titled ‘Instruction Manuals Are Game Mechanics.’ Certainly an interesting opinion, it made me nostalgic for the days when games actually shipped with an instruction manual. I’m not talking about a small, few-page manual either; I’m talking about manuals that were longer than most novels.
There was something exciting about seeing a 500 – 1000-page manual sitting in the box, ready to be read over and over again. Cross points out that many of the best instruction manuals (when instruction manuals were mandatory) not only taught the player how to play the game, but also explored lore, told stories, and made the game seem much more rich and vibrant in its history before players even jumped into the game. Containing maps (she points out Morrowind’s beautifully detailed map), character history, and so much more, instruction manuals used to be an extension to the overall game.
Nowadays, instructional manuals are a thing of the past – but can they still be relevant today? Can including an extensive instruction manual (available via your studio’s website or a platform such as Steam) with your indie game still benefit your indie game, or is the instruction manual truly nothing more than an artifact of gaming past?
My two-cents? It’s both.
There’s still a time and place for instruction manuals – but it entirely depends on your indie game. For example, an indie game that’s so simple to play that players immediately know what to do (e.g. Flappy Bird) certainly doesn’t need an instruction manual, but an indie epic such as Gone Home or the upcoming No Man’s Sky? There is so much lore that can be explained before the player even begins that it could certainly benefit from an instruction manual.
Do you have an indie game that is going to be lore-heavy? Here’s a few ways you can publish your instruction manual to bring out the best in your indie game and ensure that players are able to enjoy it even more.
Write a wiki
It should go without saying that the days of physical copies of instruction manuals are pretty much over (especially for indie developers). Players want to be able to immediately find and read the information they need in your manual, so consider creating a wiki that is easily searchable. Categorize your instruction manual by how to play, lore, tips, tricks, etc., and continue to contribute to the wiki as your game grows.
Want to get your players involved? Consider creating a section of the wiki made primarily for player-submitted tips so players can add their own protips to your manual.
Selling on Steam?
If selling your indie game on Steam, you will find a section where you can include your own guides on your game’s store page. It’s a perfect opportunity to write and publish a guide that sets up the tale of your indie game for future players, while also providing them with tips/tricks on how to play the game properly. Consider doing this in addition to writing the wiki above, and you have a winning combination.
Entice them to read
However you choose to publish your instruction manual, you need to let players know that your manual is something they cannot miss. As you know from playing games yourself, most people never look at a manual before playing. Entice them to read by including information in the guide that will benefit them in-game. For example, you could hide the answer to a riddle somewhere in the lore section of the instruction manual that will unlock a secret weapon or extra health near the beginning of the game. Let your player know, and they’ll be more inclined to search – and in the process, they will learn exactly what you want to teach them.
Help players out while introducing them to the world you have created before they even jump into the game with an instruction manual! It will elevate your overall game, and your players will enjoy the short ride before they jump feet first into your game. Give it a shot with your next project, and fill us in on the experience!