07 September 2010

Why are games SO DAMN LONG?

During a post on Enworld, I caught myself writing this interesting snippet:

As a side note, now I really prefer my games to be short. After producing my own little miniature projects, it's astounding how much you can fit in a few short pages when you don't over-explain every minute detail with irrelevant cruft that gets ignored as soon as it hits my table. As a good example, I wrote the Aremorican Addendum, a book that essentially replaces every class and magic system in B/X or BECMI D&D, and it took less than thirty pages, including an introduction and a good dozen charts. If you can't express a full game to me in less than fifty pages, you're wasting your time. This doesn't count advice, of course, since the more written there, the better. 

The big revelation for me was when I realized that the entirety of the rules for my favored version of D&D, if you don't count the enormous appendices that are the spell listings, monster catalogues, and magic item lists, was no more than maybe twenty pages that covers character creation, how to do things, random s
tocking of dungeons, everything. What happened to valuing that economy of words?

Something that continues to irk me is that games will frequently be in the excess of 200 pages for a single book. Seriously? What are you taking so long to write, exactly?

Brevity is the soul of wit, as they say, and I find that the more games I look at and read, the more I realize that there's absolutely no reason for an incomprehensible morass of rules strewn across a hundred pages, with a hundred more pages of crap, cruft, and fluff filling the gaps. Is there intentional filler to "pad out" the book, or is it really that hard to cut to the gist of what one's trying to say?

Now before somebody calls out this blog in particular for meandering thoughts and unclear writing (which I'll freely admit I suffer from), this is a blog, not a professional product. I'm not trying to sell you anything. I'm not pretending to be anything other than what I am, which is a dude writing about what he loves as he thinks of it. Admission is free, after all, how picky can you be?

But before I digress heavily, let me pose a couple of questions.

Why are those damn books so long?
What purpose does it serve? Is it to make the book look "better" by making it longer?
Is it to make it seem "more comprehensive?"
Do they really have that much crap to say?


  1. Authors get paid per word? Small books are either indie games or for kids, or both?

  2. @Alex: The paid per word bit I can understand, considering that the "big press" guys might just work like that. I have no idea.

    But the "small games are indie or for kids" is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It certainly wasn't always true, but people seem to equate big company productions with fat rulebooks- but why? Does having a bigger book attract a different market, or is it truly just the perception of lesser quality?

  3. I think what's missing is the economic context. When OD&D was published printing was super expensive and companies super small. Ergo the made small books. But as soon as they had the means to make bigger books, they did. And they added supplements as sson as they could, too. Any newcomers also started small and this is how customers learnt to recognize the amateurs, the indies, the niche products. They were smaller than the established players. And established players kept on pushing to maintain this gap eith more pages, more art, more colors, etc. In think there's nothing wrong in this little ratchet. Customers just need to learn to discern what they like and buy the appropriate book. It's why I like Labyrinth Lord. ;)

  4. Wow, the number of typos is amazing. :(

  5. That is, actually, an extraordinary insight and one thing I didn't think of at all. Bravo, sir. :)

    But here's the thing: I can understand more art, and supplements, and better quality pages. But why the trend towards longer page count? It's not something I really understand. Is there something wrong with being "rules-light?" Is it as simple as "people want games with rules covering every situation?" Probably, I'm over-analyzing what may be a very incidental thing.

  6. I think that is an effect of printing economics. Assuming book A was 64 pages and cost $5 and book B was 256 pages and cost $20 we might choose the book matching our preferences, ie the shorter one in our case. But if there is a fixed sum of $10 to be paid per book irrespective of size, the book A might cost $12.50 and book B might still cost $20... Now many people will be asking themselves if they're getting a bad deal with the shorter, apparently overpriced book. After all the higher price is not due to the author spending more time making it shorter and polishing it. Those $10 are shelf space, postage, envelopes, margins for distributors, marketing, and so on.

  7. I'm not sure what to say about that other than I hadn't really considered the economic side of it all.

    It still seems backwards to me to look at page count as an indication of quality, as though spending 20 bucks on 500 pages of crap was worth more than 20 bucks for a 60 page masterpeice, but I can see where you're going.

    "This book is half as long as the other one, and it's only two dollars less? What a rip off, I want the one with the extra thousand pages!"

  8. The thing is that they don't know if it's pages of crap or pages of genius, however many pages it is, until they get it home and read it. And they have to buy it to do that.

    There's also gold mine thinking going on - "there's so many pages, even if it's mostly slag, there'll be some gold in there..."

  9. You've got a point, especially if you aren't looking at it in the comforts of a cozy bookstore, where nobody minds if you sit down and read all of it before you take it home :P

    I think I'll agree with what Alex said, and simply try to match my desires with the book, regardless of length. It's simply not my style to like rules-heavy games, but some people are likely to say "oh, cool, it's got a rule for everything, see how long it is?" and that sort of thing.

    Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

  10. It is a matter of economics - not only print economics. It is cheaper to print long and colourful books today, and they are as expensive as the old AD&D hardback was back in 82.
    But today's publishers sell a lot less of those than in the heyday of the hobby.

    A few years ago I looked into publishing game books myself. I talked to business insiders, and one publisher told me: "Don't bother doing small, inexpensive booklets or pamphlets. Go big and expensive - colour, hardcover. You will only sell so many copies of your product regardless of size and price - make each sale count."

  11. I really ought to make another post about this subject. After I sorted through my thoughts, I came to realize it's not sheer length that gets me, it's generally the length of the "basic rules" portion as opposed to "fluff" or "extraneous rules."

    As a good example, the Dark Heresy book's rules are fairly short and to the point: They detail character creation with a heaping helping of fluff put in there. But the basics of the system essentially boil down to "roll underneath your attribute plus a small bonus to succeed." Everything else is added wrinkles and extra cool stuff that you can use or not use. It's largely inspirational material to help you game in the 41st Millennium.

    And that's cool. I don't mind it, since the portion of the game you actually use on a day to day basis is fairly small and compact.

    I still have a soft spot in my heart for bare-bones systems and games, of course. I pin for the little flimsy BECMI softcover books, but then again, they came in boxed sets unless I'm mistaken.