Magic Systems

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Are Magic Systems a Distraction?
"Some of the greatest fantasy novels don’t have defined magic systems. Neither Harry Potter nor The Lord of the Rings have anything resembling a “system,” yet these stories are classics of the genre. In fact, one could even argue that the lack of a system makes these stories feel even more magical.
Conversely, when a story features a magic system, the results aren't always positive. A complicated system (which is what geeks love) can actually erect a barrier between the reader and the story. It takes some work to learn the intricacies of a system, and this can put off many potential readers."
I spent a lot of time developing my magic system, but that's because magic is a major character in my Merging Worlds Series. I can see how doing this can be distracting. We could spend so much time developing our magic system that we neglect to write an actual story. Or, we create our system and love it so much we get detail happy in the story and bore the reader.

A magic system is like a road map. You wouldn't want a character to do something that contradicts what they said or how they use magic. The "system" could be how one character uses magic. It doesn't have to be big or elaborate. It ensures magic use makes sense.

On the other hand, in the comment section of that article, people said they cared about the story and the world more than the magic system, which is true--in most cases. There might be a hole in your system, but if you weave a good story, readers won't notice it or they'll forgive it. Thinking about it, I don't develop a magic system for my short stories or novellas even though characters use their powers often. For shorter works, I do the developing in my head.

What do you think? Is developing a magic system important? Does it depend on the story's length?