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Discipline is not Tyranny: In Praise of the Word Count

April 14th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Me, Media

I recently submitted my Europa Universalis: Rome review, and I hope it will be online sometime in the next couple of days. A lot depends on my overworked and understaffed editors, but I’ll let you know when its up.

I’ll be honest and say that I’m happy with maybe half of what I wrote, primarily because I tried to keep the review to 1500 words or so. I could easily have gone on and on about what I liked, what I didn’t like and how hard it was to come to a final conclusion about how I felt. I could have easily spent 2500 words on it. It’s not a great game. It’s good, but…I’ll say more when the review is up.

All of which reminded me of the illusion that the internet gives you unlimited space. I started writing as if I could keep going and going and going. But then I sobered up, cut paragraphs, reorganized and dug out an illustrative anecdote to open things.

One of the great things about getting the chance to write for a print publication is that there’s no pussy footing around about scroll bars or adding another virtual page. My editor at Computer Games Magazine was certainly open to a plea for bumping a review from one word count category to the next, but you had to make the case.

There are two problems with internet games writing; it is either too short or its is too long.

First, there is a tendency to underestimate the reader and deliver everything in 200 word soundbites or news entries, since that allows the reader to get on with the commenting or, more importantly, to move on to the next story which means more hits and more ad impressions. This means that nuance is largely missing, and what nuance is there is often missed by an audience routed to the story by Digg.

Then there is the problem with the potential infinite canvas of being online. Even if most online reviews don’t top 1500 words, a lot of them could be shorter and most take forever to get to the point. Where the physical limitations of a page confer conceptual limitations on the writer, there is a great risk that the perception of unlimited room leads to unfocused and undisciplined writing.

This is where good editors come in, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with great editors in the past and to be working with very good editors at the moment. Not that I’m usually heavily edited; I have been but it’s not the normal course of thing. But the recognition that there are smarter people than me keeping an eye on my semicolons (I love semicolons) puts a brake on my most florid excesses.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave Long

    Man, I hate semicolons. Now I know the guy responsible for their proliferation throughout games writing!

    On topic, you’re absolutely right with this post. At CGM, those 300 word reviews were some of my favorites to write because there was no bullshit. No pussyfooting around. You get to the point fast because the review is already over if you don’t. It gets you to think about the most important aspects of a game and what makes it tick.

    When you get up to 1000 words or more, I think it’s all just details. Details that people probably would enjoy more if they found them out on their own. What’s nitpicky in the details to me might not be at all nitpicky to you. And calling those things out in a review tends to draw the reader’s attention away from that basic germination point for the game’s desirability or lack thereof.

    I’d be perfectly fine with all reviews falling in the 300-800 word range, but with the web it’s often all about page counts and the potential amount of time you spend looking at ads. Luckily Crispy Gamer seems to be on the low side of the word counts, and I like that.

  • Scott R. Krol

    “Then there is the problem with the potential infinite canvas of being online.”

    *cough* Bill Trotter. *cough*

    Seriously. A twenty-five page preview?

  • James Allen

    I just keep writing. My reviews of puzzle and arcade games are generally short, and my reviews of strategy and simulation games are generally long. I generally go into a lot of detail because I assume people who are reading my reviews are interested in specifics in addition to what I think about the game. My EU: Rome review was 2,000 words, while my Heist! review was 1,000 words (still pretty long, I guess). My good/not so good stuff is at the top for people who want a short review. Or something like that. I’m also a big fan of semicolons; they are fun.

  • Dave Long

    Twenty-five pages for a preview? Where? Link?!

  • Scott R. Krol

    Yeah, although it only ends up being ten Internet pages. Only. :)