I’ve never played any of the Final Fantasy games series – I was a very late adopter of console games in general.
But I was enthralled by this recounting of the worst game strategy guide ever offered for sale:
You see it, yeah? The main text, on the left, gives you brief descriptions about what to see and do, while those blue boxes on the right tell you all about how much MORE there is to see and do… if you go visit PlayOnline.
Again, every page looked like this. Instead of walking players through the game and giving them strategies—like, you know, a strategy guide—this FFIX guide spat up vague descriptions for everything—bosses, sidequests, secret weapons—and commanded readers to go to PlayOnline for the rest. Those abominable blue boxes covered every margin of the book, endlessly reminding FFIX players that the guide was incomplete. Today, this would be annoying; in 2000, when dial-up still ruled the realm and you needed to hog up the phone lines to get on the web, it was infuriating.
It’s undeniably horrible. But honestly, as a gamer and a comms nerd, my immediate reaction wasn’t sympathy for the poor suckers who spent US$20 (in 2000s money!) on a literal paperweight; it was “Oh my god, the poor writers.”
Because that cannot have been an easy job: writing text for dozens if not hundreds of little blue boxes which all, essentially, say “Would you like to know more? Visit the website!”
There are multiple boxes on each page. You can’t get away with copy-pasting the exact same text into every one of them. I’ve done some brain-hurting comms work in my career – finding slightly different ways to say the same thing so you can emphasise a point without sounding like a robot with limited vocalisation options – but imagine the whiteboarding.
“Um, so we’ve got “go to PlayOnline” and “check out PlayOnline” already. Is there another way of saying that?”
“Login to PlayOnline. Visit PlayOnline. Ask PlayOnline to prom.”
“Good, good. Now three different ways to ask the question “How do I get this item?””
“Where do I find this? What is this item’s secret? Why do I want this item? Why am I even here?”
“Brilliant. Six ways to say “this is exclusive website content so for the love of god visit the website”.”
“Um … Have we tried explaining to the boss that putting multiple roughly-identical textboxes down the margin of every page is terrible communications practice?”
“Yes. But the website marketing team said they need it.”
“God help us.”
“No one can help us now.”
I salute the poor lost comms souls who sacrificed who knows how many hours of their lives to the FFIX strategy guide.