To: The Game Industry
From: Gen Katz, Editor
Topic: Downsized
Date: Dec 2007

I remember the big disputes over packaging – when games were packaged in large 8x10 boxes and Tomb Raider came in a truncated triangular construction. When Wal-Mart deemed that only 5x7 boxes would have room on their shelves, industry complained – but managed. That was a good and welcomed reduction of wasteful packaging. But, what went along with that was the reduction of information to the user.

What used to be called “User Manual” decreased in content when the name was changed to “Instruction Booklet”. It is part of the stingy, parsimonious, penny pinching going on in the industry. Never mind that they are not in color, black on grey seems to be the new standard. The basic boilerplate, license agreements, warnings about epilepsy and caution about using the wrist strap can take up half of the space. And why is it with the next-gen machines, the Wii provides the sparsest of the instructions?

Even the Xbox360 and the PS3, whose new controllers are not that different from earlier ones show diagrams. The DS has been pretty good in telling you how much use you will be making of the touch screen. Even PC info booklets remind players of WSAD. True, GBA kids don’t read - games are resold without the baggage of box or booklet. And then there are the PDF info pages which are about as user friendly as the current crop of airlines.

Instruction and diagrams for the Wii are often almost totally lacking. Some booklets mention just the button signature. No image and no indications as to whether it is the Wiimote or Nunchuk being used: A, A, B, B, - + and then Z with never as much as a by your leave that we are onto another controller. Producers should not presume that every user on the Wii has internalized the controls. One of the grand exceptions was Microsoft Studios booklet for Viva Piñata for Windows – full page color for the Xbox 360 controller for Windows plus a two page inside spread of the keyboard.

Call-outs accompanying the diagrams should be in as large a type as the caution warnings about seizures and motion sickness. And while I am at it – white letters on white isn’t much better than black on black for visibility. Even my little pink DS uses white to highlight the letters.

In the olden days some games came with coloring books for the kids, information about the game for the parents. So, how about a little less economy and a little bit more of pandering to your client – who, yes I know, has already bought the game. I mean – it’s not as though producers aren’t getting a good price for their games.

Ok, enough - maybe it's because I have written manuals of instruction and know how it can ease the introduction to something new, prevent frustration and establish contact with the user.