Review of The Walkthrough by Doug Walsh

This is a book that I didn’t know I needed! I was never a big fan of strategy guides when I was growing up. I wanted to figure out the game for myself, or I would play with my friends, and we would work through things together.

The only strategy guides I can remember were in Nintendo Power. Now, I have a small collection of strategy guides. I also have the internet, which is full of guides to any game that you might need help with.

Doug’s book answers a question I had when I first saw the stacks of strategy guides in GameStop and Funcoland.

How Doug got his start

The first two sections tell the story of how Doug got his start. He mentions that it all started with a bike crash which let him rediscover video games. After all, there isn’t much else you can do when you’re recovering from an injury.

He went to a game store, saw an advertisement for a job, and took a chance. It sounds strange nowadays, but I remember seeing things like this when I was buying games in the early 2000s. Now, I wish I had taken a chance as Doug did. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job.

We’re also told that when Doug was a kid, he wanted to write for Nintendo Power. I wonder how many kids thought the same thing. I had a friend who wanted to work for Nintendo when he was little. That dream seemed to fade as we got older, or he stopped talking about it.

Doug started working as a subcontractor for various websites, Gamespy and IGN, and Brady Games. He explains that there were a bunch of smaller websites in the early 2000s that would pay for gaming content. This was around the time that the dot com bubble burst.

He would move on to working with Brady Games as a strategy guide writer. Three big publishing companies were working on strategy guides at the time. Brady, Prima, and Nintendo were publishing guides. Development studios would also license the rights to making strategy guides.

Stories of writing strategy guides

My favorite part of this book is when Doug starts talking about his challenges while writing strategy guides. He talks about having access to the game, getting the right equipment, and some of the problems with his co-authors. Hearing about this and seeing how things have changed over the last 20 years has been very interesting.

Doug brings up something I found very interesting and quite relatable while talking about writing guides. It was about adjusting to a freelance contractor job from a more structured job. This hit home for me as I moved into something similar to this.

While reading this part, I kept thinking about my first interview for a freelance writing job. I was all dressed up in my suit, and when the interview started, the person on the other end of the call was wearing a hoodie. I quickly removed my tie and relaxed a bit.

 Let’s move on to some examples from Doug’s book. We get a few stories about how the process can go smoothly and how it can go sideways. I found some common themes in these examples.

The first is how much cooperation you get from the developer/publisher. If you get plenty of access to the different builds of the game, information on what is in the game, and plenty of time to play the different modes, then things went well.

Doug explains how his studio contact gave him no help in one example. It seems odd to me that this would happen. They hired Brady Games to write a guide but didn’t give them the tools to write an effective guide.

Censorship is also brought up. It comes in the form of what the developers are willing to let the writer put into the guide and how the writer dances around spoiling major plot points. Especially with spoilers, I wouldn’t have thought of some of these things.

The Strategy Guide Business

I had a few questions about the strategy guide business when I started reading this. I think Doug answered them throughout his book.

The first question I had was an older one. It had to do with the number of strategy guides made for games that either didn’t need them or weren’t all that popular and probably didn’t warrant the time and money it takes to make a book.

When I was younger, I used to see all of the guides for Madden and the other sports games. This always seemed odd to me, but it made more sense after reading Doug’s book. He talks about how Brady Games would get a license for a big franchise and have to take on a bunch of smaller books that weren’t going to sell well.

Looking back at it now, this makes sense that the business would be run this way. It also explains how the strategy guide industry went out of business. They were making books that no one was going to buy, and they couldn’t compete with the internet.

Doug talks about how they tried to add value to the books. This happened when Prima and Brady Games were merged. They were fighting a losing battle, and Doug explains that the business was being poorly run at that point.

The other big question I had was workflow and how the assignments were handed out. This is in the book; it’s just spread out. I also concluded that each book is different depending on the company you’re working with and the people helping you.

You might have a game with many multiplayer modes, or you might have a company that blows you off. It’s also possible that the people working with you on the guide leave you hanging. There are a lot of factors that go into writing a guide.

Doug also brings up how the guides he wrote wouldn’t represent the games after a few years. He gives us Diablo III as an example. When Doug wrote the guide in 2012, it was a very different game. Now, it is very different after all the patches, expansion packs, and other fixes. It made the guide in 2012 obsolete.

This is part of why a strategy guide didn’t work too well for modern games. Having a bunch of versions of a book isn’t as helpful as having a few videos or a digital guide. It’s easier to update those than it is with a book that would force you to buy a new version of a guide.

End of Physical Strategy Guides

There is a story in here about Doug wanting to get a raise. At least, that was how I read it. While talking about the projects he would be taking on, his boss mentioned how the strategy guide business might not be around much longer. This was in the mid-2010s.

YouTube, Twitch, and other websites did the same thing as the books. The big difference is that the online sources were free and often brought more value than the physical books.

I mentioned earlier that it was harder to update one of the books. I think that had a part in the books not being profitable. Brady Games and Prima would be printing several versions of the same guide and hoping that customers would want to repurchase them.

The last thing that Doug talks about is the closure of Brady Games. They had merged with Prima, and they seemed to have a clash of cultures as parts of the two companies were at odds. The Prima management was in charge, and they wanted to control the business.

Reading about it, I felt that management and marketing were trying to run the business into the ground. This is one part where I would have liked to hear more from the other people at the company. This is Doug’s story, so I understand why he didn’t go into it more.

Final Thoughts

The Walkthrough is one of those unique books covering a part of the video game industry that is largely overlooked. It feels like most of the books I’ve read have been from developers and historians. While I like those books, I think topics like these are very special.

Doug has a fascinating story that I think is important to covering video game history. Strategy guides are important to talk about as they were huge in the pre-internet days of video games.

I’m looking forward to seeing if there are more books about strategy guides. I would like to know more about either Prima or Nintendo Player’s Guides. There are also some other companies that Doug mentions that I would like to learn more about.

There is more to say on this subject and this industry. I’m looking forward to seeing if there is more information on this subject. Check this book out if you get the chance.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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