8 things I want to say about list features

To some games journalists, ‘list’ is a dirty word.

Much like some people feel puns are the worst things ever created by the human race (though I personally think they’re punderful), there are those who believe list features should be taken round the back and shot in the heart.

Fuck off with your clickbait, mate
Fuck off with your clickbait, mate

I can understand why some would feel this way. There was a time, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when a list feature in a games magazine felt like a special event, a lovely break from the usual ‘news, letters, previews, reviews, tips’ structure most mags followed.

These days, however, they’re considered too ‘easy’, with the likes of Buzzfeed milking them to saturation point and turning a once-loved article style into something loathed by many writers.

Not me, though. And to explain why, I’ve put together this list of eight things I want to say about list features.

You see what I’ve done there? I’ve made a list feature about list features. I’m so clever. Stephen Hawking actually has a restraining order out on me, in case I come within 500 yards of him and make him look like a big bloody idiot by comparison.

1) I love list features. Well, most of them

I always used to get excited when I’d turn the page of the magazine I was reading and find a big list staring at me. Look, I was easily pleased as a child.

I don’t know exactly what it is about them I like. Maybe it’s the fact that, instead of long flowing text, it’s loads of little nuggets presented to me in bite-sized form.

Or maybe I like the excitement (yes, I know) of seeing what makes the cut in a particular list and the inevitable ‘what aboutery’ that follows when Night Trap isn’t in there. Because no matter how obscure the link, Night Trap should always be in there.

I love Night Trap, is what I’m saying.

Can you blame me? I haven't seen that much action since I was assaulted in Vietnam by a shark
Can you blame me? I haven’t seen that much action since I was punched in Vietnam by a shark

2) Some list features are pure SEO bait

Google “best Xbox 360 games”, “best Wii U games” or the like and chances are, nestled near the top of the results will be the usual website suspects: IGN, Kotaku, Gamespot, etc.

That’s because most big websites will have lists that have mainly been created for SEO (search engine optimisation) purposes.

Chances are, when you see a fairly generic list like this, the main reason for the list isn’t really because they’re desperate to tell their readers what the best Xbox 360 games are: it’s to attract people who may not normally be regular readers of their site.

Picture the scene: Freddy McFakeperson buys himself a shiny new Nintendo 3DS, possibly after reading my needlessly detailed review of it (that’s another way of strengthening your SEO – crosslinking to other pages on your site bumps it further up Google).

However, now Mr McFakeperson needs games for his new handheld, so he pops on Google and searches for “best 3DS games”. There, at the top of the list, will be links to IGN’s Top 25 3DS Games, Trusted Reviews’ 10 Best 3DS Games To Play In 2015, GamesRadar’s 25 Best 3DS Games, and so forth.

Clicking any of these will lead him to a list feature, informing him of the best games, as promised. However, crucially, this has as many benefits for the site as it does my imaginary new 3DS owner.

I'll save you the time, mate: get fired into this beautiful bastard
I’ll save you the time, mate: get fired into this beautiful bastard

Naturally, there’s a chance Mr McFakeperson has never been to that site before and now, grateful for the advice given to him, he may be likely to consciously choose to visit that site again for continued coverage on 3DS games.

As well as this, often these lists will offer links to full reviews for each game on the site. Not only does this get extra page views, remember what I said about crosslinking: the more readers follow these links to read the reviews, the higher those reviews get pushed up Google when people search for those specific game names.

Sometimes they’ll also include affiliate links to the likes of Amazon or Play.com, so you’ll be encouraged to buy the game after reading the glowing words about it, thereby earning the site some cash in the process.

Finally, lists like this which put a strict limit on the number of entries also usefully encourage active debate among readers.

There are far more than 25 great games on the 3DS, so inevitably this will lead to “what about this game” arguments in the article’s comment section, adding further to the page views and encouraging users to sign up as members to have their own say.

What’s my point, then? Am I saying these lists are evil? Nope, not really. They’re unimaginative, but not evil. They’re useful for readers looking for a starting point, and equally useful for websites looking to gain extra advertising revenue from ‘evergreen’ features that will continue to rack up page views over time with very little extra maintenance. It’s a win-win situation.

No, friends, there’s a far more irritating trend taking place in list features, and chances are you know what I’m talking about. To find out more, go to page 2.

Nah, only joking.

3) Multi-page lists can die in a fire

Due to their often lengthy nature, list features can sometimes take up numerous pages in a magazine. I’ve written some epic lists for Official Nintendo Magazine that sometimes took up eight or ten pages.

One of the wonderful things about the internet and web browsers, however, is scrolling. Have a look at your mouse. There’s a reasonable chance it’s got a little wheel on it. Failing that, slide your finger down the right hand side of your laptop’s touchpad. Or just use your finger and swipe up on your tablet’s screen.

Here I've helpfully indicated the reason website articles don't need to be on multiple pages
Here I’ve helpfully indicated the reason website articles don’t need to be on multiple pages

Brilliant, isn’t it? No more need to turn the page: it’s all there on one endless scroll, like a Star Wars intro only not in space. Technology, eh, isn’t it brilliant how it makes things easier?

Right then, now that you’ve been made aware of scrolling, could you please do me a massive favour and bloody tell some websites about it?

An increasingly infuriating habit that you’ve no doubt noticed is websites splitting list features over multiple pages. Here’s a fun fact: they don’t need to. Remember when I mentioned scrolling? Well, that.

Instead, and I’m probably telling you something you already know here, those page breaks are purely in there to multiply the number of page views you give them when you read their article.

Say there was a list called The 15 Best Traps In Video Games. Of which, naturally, number 1 would be the ones in Night Trap.

Let’s say 2000 people read the article. The result: 2000 page views.

Now let’s say this list was split into a fucking annoying slideshow-like gallery feature, with each entry given its own page.

As a result, in a best case scenario, we’re now talking 30,000 page views.

Of course, this best case scenario will never be reached. Of those 2000 readers, only a fraction will be bothered to make it to the end to see what number one was, because clicking 14 times to reach the end of an article is just flat-out irritating.

Here's a stock image illustrating that, because sometimes list features add stock images for comedic effect
Here’s a stock image illustrating that, because sometimes list features add stock images for comedic effect

But here’s another fun fact: some sites don’t really care if you don’t make it to number one. As long as you stay interested enough to click through a few pages before giving up, you’ve justified their decision to go multi-page.

Now, I’ll be honest: I’ve done this in the past. When I was the Online Editor of Nintendo Gamer and I was given page targets to hit every week, I found it much easier to do so if I split my list articles into pages. Not one for every entry like a bloody file cabinet, mind you, but roughly two or three pages per article. I felt bad doing it, but that’s how it works these days.

It’s getting silly now, though. While some sites do the same as I did and use page breaks sparingly – Cracked is a good example of this, as nearly all of its lists are split over just two pages – there are some sites (not naming any names) that have list articles that stretch to over one hundred fucking pages. Not an exaggeration.

With more and more people reading articles on tablets and phones these days, it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to tap on a small ‘next page’ icon once, let alone 102 times just to get to the end of an article, especially if every time you do you have to deal with intrusive ads.

When it gets to that stage, it simply can’t be argued that the site has the reader’s best interests at heart: it’s got traffic figures and advertising money at heart first and foremost.

In short, fuck list articles that are more than, say, three pages long: and even then, that’s only acceptable if they’re notably lengthy.

4) Arbitrary lists are shite

In my opinion, a list feature doesn’t suddenly become interesting just because it’s presented like a list.

For a list feature to interest me it needs to actually serve a purpose and not feel like a random gathering of things brought together with a tenuous link they all happen to have in common.

68757_frontThat’s why there isn’t a single person alive who would be genuinely enthusiastic about something like 30 Games That Have The Word ‘Night’ In The Title. Even though Night Trap would be in it.

For the most part a ‘top’ or ‘best’ list avoids this rule because even if the link is tenuous you’re still introducing an interesting element: people may still be curious to know which games with ‘Night’ in the title you’ve decided are better than others. Number one apart, of course.

That said, even this has limits. The 30 Most Offensive Lines Of Dialogue In Gaming is clearly going to gather more interest than The 20 Best Doors In Gaming, despite number one in the latter obviously being the cupboard door at the left-hand side of the bathroom in Night Trap.

It must be magical or something: it's just a cupboard, so where did that guy come from?
It must be magical or something: it’s just a cupboard, so where did that guy come from?

So what sort of lists do I like, then? Well, I’m glad you asked. Or rather, I’m glad I put the question in your mouth.

5) Informative or comprehensive lists are enjoyable

The main reason the aforementioned made-up 30 Games That Have The Word ‘Night’ In The Title list would be rubbish is because it wouldn’t be informing you of anything.

People read games publications to increase their gaming knowledge, and your knowledge stands absolutely nothing to gain from knowing that some games have ‘Night’ as part of their name.

That’s why the best lists, in my opinion, are ones that actually teach you something and fill in potential gaps in your knowledge. A feature on the oddest religious games would be worth reading because you may not be aware of the slew of mental Christian titles that were released on the NES and SNES back in the day by unlicensed publisher Wisdom Tree.

If anyone's interested, I can write up such a list: Super Noah's Ark 3D is a highlight
If anyone’s interested, I can write up such a list: Super Noah’s Ark 3D is a highlight

Similarly, I enjoy reading lists that aren’t just selective, but actually complete. For example, I once wrote a list feature on CVG called The Illustrated History Of Batman Games, which many found useful because it gave a full account of every game released and almost acted like a checklist.

Had this list instead been 10 Games With Batman In Them, that’s you entering random, arbitrary territory again. Everyone knows there have been games with Batman in them: by offering a complete, definitive list, you’re actually teaching something (in this case, exactly how many there were and what they each offered).

6) If a list is just funny, that’s fine too

There’s one exception to my ‘list features are only good when they’re informative’ rule, and that’s when they’re really funny. After all, sometimes you just want a good laugh.

Humour is naturally subjective but my favourite comedy list features are the ones that just get really bizarre.

I direct you, therefore, to some of my recent favourites, to serve as examples. Here is the amazing Jon Blyth with a list feature explaining how to fix Far Cry 4, in which he somehow manages to use the phrase “fingerbanging in the background of Rayman Legends”. Read it to find out how.

And here’s the similarly wonderful Steve Hogarty with 17 things he thought Valve would announce at the Game Developers Conference. Though obviously he didn’t really think they would, he was being funny and that.

Finally, for something hot off the press, here’s one my lovely friend Joe Skrebels did in which he took a bizarre objective from Xbox One game D4 and showed how it would look in other articles. Yes, it’s a fucking annoying slideshow, but I promise you that’s not Joe’s fault.

7) No, they didn’t “miss out” or “forget” anything

Just a quick one before I wind up: there is nothing more irritating than putting together a list feature only for some arsehole in the comments to reply with “you forgot <game>” or “you missed out <game>”.

Now, if this article was a complete list (like the aforementioned History Of Batman Games one), then yes, it’s wise to inform the writer of anything they’ve missed out, so they can correct their error, retrospectively add it in and make it truly complete.

The ultimate dilemma: do you count Revenge Of Shinobi in a list of Batman games, even though his appearance as a boss was unofficial? These are the sort of things that keep me up at night, you know
The ultimate dilemma: do you count Revenge Of Shinobi in a list of Batman games, even though his appearance as a boss was unofficial? These are the sort of things that keep me up at night, you know

If, however, it’s anything else – like a ’20 best’ or ‘the weirdest’ article, then please don’t tell the writer they forgot something, as if by not including it they were wrong.

Unless specifically stated, these articles are opinions, and as such the reason they didn’t put The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct in the 20 Best Zombie Games isn’t because they “forgot” it, it’s because they chose not to include it… probably because it’s gigantic balls.

Sometimes I get the feeling people who do this are just trying to be smart-arses, because often the game they’re so eager to point out as “forgotten” is something really obscure that hardly anyone’s heard of.

“What’s that? You’ve written a list feature on the best dogs in gaming and you’ve forgotten the one in Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun on the Neo Geo Pocket Color? You fucking ignorant knob.”

So, my helpful advice – and that’s all it is – is this. If there’s a game you genuinely feel should have been on a list and you want to mention it in the comments, please don’t start with “you forgot…”.

Instead, present it as your own opinion, rather than the writer’s mistake. “I would have added…” or “another candidate is…” works so much better than “u prik u forgot…”.

8) My plan for list features on Tired Old Hack

What this all boils down to is that yes, I do plan to write list features on Tired Old Hack because, although some think they’re a load of shite these days, I still think there’s a lot of value in them when done properly.

Based on the above rules, I hereby pledge that all my list features:

• Will either be comprehensive or at least informational to some degree.

• Will not be random stuff I’ve just pulled out of my arse that you could find in two seconds on Wikipedia, like “seven games with Waluigi in them”.

• Will, where possible, be humorous (or at least will attempt to be!).

• Will always, no matter what, be on one. Bastarding. Page.

In other words, there'll be no '37 Random Ground Textures From PC Games'
In other words, there’ll be no ’37 Random Ground Textures From PC Games’

I should warn you in advance though: at certain points throughout this blog’s early days I will indeed be resorting to those annoying SEO-baiting articles listing my favourite games on a certain format.

I promise you, however, that the reasons for this aren’t quite so sneaky: after all, I think it’s safe to assume if I did an article on the best 3DS games, anyone searching for that on Google would probably find my site on roughly the 4300th page.

Instead, I’ve never really had an outlet to list my own definitive favourite games. Any time we did a ‘best games’ list on ONM or CVG it was a collaborative effort: as such, some games I loved were voted out and some games I never liked were voted in.

These lists, then, will be the first time I’ve ever listed my own definitive favourite games on each format. So, I know you’ve read that sort of thing a hundred times before, but when you see me posting one please just sigh, humour me and move on because I promise I’ll be bringing more original stuff too.

Right, I’m done for now. I really need to get out of the habit of writing obscenely long articles. Maybe if I split them up over 40 pages…

17 thoughts on “8 things I want to say about list features

  1. Blinder, Chris. As an ex-CVG-er, I’m sure you’ll remember the picture galleries that had one page per picture, or the “vote for your favourite games” articles that, for a long time, required you to hit “skip this” to get through the majority of the games – unless you’re a mindless fanboy who will gladly downvote any game you haven’t played.

    Hm. Wonder why CVG went down the tubes in the end?

    Like

    1. I won’t go into why CVG was closed down since I’m not really sure I’m allowed to, but the sad fact is those vote articles and picture galleries, much as we’re sure the readers hated them (and we hated doing them), still got us massive page views (for the reasons I listed above). Arguably, they kept us going a little longer as a result.

      Like

  2. I”ve always liked list articles. Admittedly, it’s sometimes really easy to fall back on them if I’m struggling to think of my next opinion article, but like you said they can be informative or just rather silly and fun to read.

    BTW, I don’t know if you received my email regarding that review I wrote. I apologise if you have and just haven’t had the chance to look at it or provide the feedback but I just wanted to check if whether I needed to send it again or not. Again, apologies if it sounds like I’m being annoying; I just wound’t mind hearing feedback from an actual games journalist who has done actual games journalism.

    Anyway, good read and looking forward to more, especially the lists (such as the inevitable ’30 Reasons Why You Should Play Night Trap’)

    Like

    1. No need to send it again, I did get it, have had a lot on this week though. Will have a gander and get back to you tonight. Sorry for the delay!

      And yes, a Night Trap article is clearly on the cards. 🙂

      Like

  3. List features can be enjoyable as long as they’re done properly (i.e. they add value), don’t just come across as an excuse to put something – ANYTHING – up on a site, and if they stick to a maximum of 2-3 pages. Seriously, if I see a list that’s divided into 10+ pages (especially one that’s mostly images and a sentence of text), I’m just not going to bother. :-/

    And I second Mabeckwith’s call for a “Night Trap” list. Must be done. ^_^

    Like

  4. A clear, concise list is good, however some drag on in a whole page on that one entry, I just can’t approve of such things.

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