How Expensive is Too Expensive?

A couple of years ago, Monte Cook Games began an experiment, kickstarting a project called Invisible Sun. The game itself has plenty of interesting ideas, and an amazing (although not unique) setting. But one thing that makes it stand out is the price. The core box set will set you back around $250, three or four times the price of most high end core books. However, one look inside the box made it clear you were getting what you paid for. Four lavishly illustrated hardback books, a ton of cards, maps, handouts and tokens, dice, character sheets, play aids and even a big statue of a hand. Invisible Sun was designed and conceived to be a luxury product, a game given every possible advantage to shine, with a price tag to match. The experiment posed a simple question, would it sell? Are enough gamers able and willing to part with that much cash for an RPG, even one as lush as Invisible Sun?

invisiblesun.jpg

The answer was a resounding yes. The kickstarter was very successful, and so MCG offered a second kickstarter project to give people another chance to get hold of it with a second print run. Obviously, such a complex project was not something they could offer as print on demand. The second kickstarter also hit its target and drew even more fans. However, the project also had its detractors. Some called MCG ‘elitist’ for making such a game only available in such an expensive form. In my case the first kickstarter coincided with my having had a very good week of overtime and I eagerly backed it. But I found it interesting that two of my friends, who regularly back huge, miniature laden board game kickstarters, declared that it looked nice but ‘they’d never pay that much money for a role playing game’.

Does this mean we don’t value role playing games in the same way? I wonder if this is the case. We’re used to board games being expensive, but given that you need the components there has never been the option to pirate a copy from a dodgy website. We still see people pirating PDFs of games and even trying to justify it as a reasonably necessity. I have known people say ‘I can’t afford them so I have to pirate them’. I have nothing but sympathy for anyone unable to afford to buy an RPG. But there are plenty of free games and quickstarts out there for all of us to play for free forever. The same pirates probably wouldn’t think of stealing something they actually need (like food and clothing) yet feel perfectly OK stealing from RPG creators.

When we look at RPGs today, it is a wonder they are as cheap as they are. The market is demanding more illustrations, graphics and content than it ever has. Thankfully, advances in printing have made such gorgeous books possible and affordable for creators. But all that art, layout, writing and graphic design (and the rest) all has to be paid for. Yet a game without such lush production values is often derided for looking cheap and tawdry, or just ignored. When I did some work on the Monte Cook Games stand at Gen Con, Invisible Sun had plenty of interest. While many people were taken back by the price tag, not a single person complained the product was overpriced when they saw what it contained. I wonder if those making calls of elitism would be so interested in an expensive game that wasn’t so well produced.

I would be very interested to see if Monte Cook Games produced a plainer version of Invisible Sun, whether it would sell. Monte himself has declared that the game is designed to be played as an experience, with all the tokens and components, and making a cheaper version takes too much from the game. But Invisible Sun is an awesome game in its own right, so, given its popularity, would it really be so bad to offer a lower cost version, if only to offer more people the chance to play it? But then, where do we stop? We again come back to ‘how much is too much?’ Should the industry make everything as cheap as possible or insist that to play their games, you (or a friend) will have to put your hand in your pocket? Sadly, the option of extremely cheap but lavish production values doesn’t exist.

Role playing games are a luxury market, much as we’d miss gaming, RPGs are not essential to life (hard to believe, but true!). So should the games continue to be prestige products, or do they need to be cheaper? To a certain extent, the market is the deciding factor. If people are buying them at this price, and there are plenty of cheaper options out there, why shouldn’t some games be more expensive than others? While we are used to limited editions alongside plainer standard ones, sometimes making a cheaper book isn’t always that much cheaper for producers. One company made a ‘cheap gamer edition’ of one of its rule books, a plain text print version without all the art and graphics. But not only did it not sell as well, it wasn’t that much cheaper. It still had to be printed, still needed writing and still needed layout and production.

John Wick addressed this issue very well in a youtube video, taking Call of Cthulhu as an example. It’s an especially good example as First Edition Cthulhu and Seventh Edition (John uses 6th but it was the latest edition at the time) bookend most of the history of gaming. While 1st edition is a nice boxed set, and a lot cheaper (even if you adjust for current values) it doesn’t even have a third of the page count of seventh. The two books in first edition add up to 128 pages; where seventh is a massive 488 pages, with far more illustrations and art throughout.

I’d offer that even the most expensive games offer more value for money than most other hobbies. A core book or box might set you back a chunk of cash, but given you can role play until doomsday with it, that’s still not a bad price. If you find the game you want to play is too expensive, get together with your group and buy it together. Even Invisible Sun isn’t that bad divided by 5 or 6. Failing that, given the variety of games out available, there is always a cheaper option. Can’t afford Invisible Sun? Take a look at Amber, Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, Itras By or Nobilis, to name but a few. Better yet, if you can afford to buy expensive games, run them for friends who can’t afford them and enjoy them together. Even the cheapest game isn’t much use without a gaming group.

Finally, when it comes to price, give games creators a break. Let them try new things, even if they come out expensive. Remember that few, if any, companies are trying to cheat you or bleed you for cash. In fact, most are doing the opposite and cutting their profit margins down considerably to offer an affordable game. In this way the industry develops and learns, and even the most expensive games end up in the second hand bin eventually.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
If we are honest if we are talking about meaningful publishing houses with dedicated staff that can reliably deliver product to game stores and book stores there aren't many publishers. Pretty much Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, and Fantasy Flight Games. If we are being generous maybe Modiphus and Evil Hat. That last one is really generous, but at least out here in Colorado they have their stuff in line.

Pretty much everybody is indie now. It's all about finding your market whatever that is, staying connected, and not overproducing.
 
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D

Deleted member 7015506

Guest
@ddaley

I see the point, that larger publishers reach a greater community by having better means to make their products public or better known to say (called marketing AFAIK), but not the point you mentioned. Generally higher prices for a product is in my understanding not mentioned in his posts. He is fine with the publication of premium products as I can see. If I overread something, please correct me here.

I also understand your points mentioned and can go along with them since a friend of mine owns a FLGS and he would never invest in such a product due to the obvious economical reasons.

But one thing I understood (or at least think I did), is that MCG made (perhaps) an experiment and it worked in one way or the other (depending on the initial reasons for doing it). To me their other products seem priced on a reasonable normal basis common to current trends for professional publishers. Again correct me if I am wrong.

And coming back to your reply, I would like to reply: How many people at the age of 18, 19 or so could afford buying an expensive luxury car, when their basic income is close to zero? they all would love to drive Ferraris, Mercedes and whatnot of those prestige objects, but can´t afford it (unless their parents are rich and get them for them). Publishing and offering a luxury/premium gaming product as we discuss here is definitely not aimed at the broad masses but towards a customer base that can afford it for whatever reasons (economical or otherwise) the publisher had in mind.

For a general demand of pricing games higher than current, we can delve into the pros and cons, arguments of economics, business management and similar related topics. Looking forward to that :).
 

Zardnaar

Legend
The Player's Handbook is $27 on Amazon. That's about what it costs to get dinner at most chain restaurants in Denver. It is substantially less than a night out drinking.

Can't get cheap Amazon everywhere due to shipping.

I can buy a phb or

3 dozen craft beer
4 dozen normal beer
2 bottles of spirits
11 cans of Baltika 9 (5.7 drinks per can)

No prep time required.

It's not that expensive in the grand scheme but here it's buy the three core books or have $200-$250 bucks ($120-$150 USD).

Not exactly cheap.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Can't get cheap Amazon everywhere due to shipping.

I can buy a phb or

3 dozen craft beer
4 dozen normal beer
2 bottles of spirits
11 cans of Baltika 9 (5.7 drinks per can)

No prep time required.

It's not that expensive in the grand scheme but here it's buy the three core books or have $200-$250 bucks ($120-$150 USD).

Not exactly cheap.

Where are you located? Stateside I have never been anywhere Amazon does not deliver. Even in my rural hometown in Michigan.

Here in Denver I can't get 3 six packs for $27.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I really don't know where this idea came from that we should be gaming for pennies an hour. It's baffling.

Because, as has been pointed out, nobody thinks in those terms (except maybe you). We don't amortize our gaming costs a session or session/hour at a time. We eat that $50-60 expense all at once whether or not we get much use out of the material we get in return and that's the calculus most of us, I dare say, are making.

But hey, you go on accusing gamers of being cheap when they complain about high prices without knowing what kind of disposable income they have, how much they have to spend on medication copays, rent/mortgage, day care, or groceries. After all, it's so much easier to ascribe bad motivations to people than actually find out anything about them.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Where are you located? Stateside I have never been anywhere Amazon does not deliver. Even in my rural hometown in Michigan.

Here in Denver I can't get 3 six packs for $27.

New Zealand, shipping costs make the books marginally cheaper than the FLGS that charges $65-$75 for 5E stuff.

A phb at $65 is about the same price as 3 dozen decent beers.

So the upfront cost is quite steep. A lot of students here and rent is expensive so you can buy 2-3 books or pay your rent for the week.

Not expensive as such and cheap compared to some other hobbies but a few people don't have any hobbies that cost money.

You can take a good guess at a few players backgrounds by the way they're dressed or what tablet they're carrying aka what mummy and daddy bought them.

Hence an earlier comment about it's mostly a white middle class game here. FLGS might have 30 people playing, but yeah guess who's playing it. Each group might have 1-3 women in it which is new but it's 90-100% white mostly students and the local uni is heavily middle class and well off.

Not saying it's right or wrong but a phb is more like $45 USD, your $27 Amazon phb will have around $14 postage on it.
 
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Aaron L

Hero
I would just like boxed sets to become common again. I got an original Dark Sun Boxed Set in pristine condition for $60 on eBay last year, and it made me seriously miss the feeling of opening a box and pulling out all the various books, maps, posters, catalogues, and flyers (seeing the 1991 Fall/Winter TSR catalogue and RPGA membership form was a kick!) And I know it wasn't just pure nostalgia, it was because having an actual physical map of the game world and other physical doodads to interact with makes the experience more real.

We're all nerds here and we all love books, but having all those other things which you can only include in a boxed set just makes the experience better. However, I would never want to see the price for them reach ridiculous levels because I would never be able to afford them; $250 for an RPG? Nope, I would never be able to afford that, even if I tried to save up for it. $100 for a PDF? Nope, not even remotely physically possible. Companies could still make boxed sets, just including cheaper doodads and whatsits.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I would just like boxed sets to become common again. I got an original Dark Sun Boxed Set in pristine condition for $60 on eBay last year, and it made me seriously miss the feeling of opening a box and pulling out all the various books, maps, posters, catalogues, and flyers (seeing the 1991 Fall/Winter TSR catalogue and RPGA membership form was a kick!) And I know it wasn't just pure nostalgia, it was because having an actual physical map of the game world and other physical doodads to interact with makes the experience more real.

We're all nerds here and we all love books, but having all those other things which you can only include in a boxed set just makes the experience better. However, I would never want to see the price for them reach ridiculous levels because I would never be able to afford them; $250 for an RPG? Nope, I would never be able to afford that, even if I tried to save up for it. $100 for a PDF? Nope, not even remotely physically possible. Companies could still make boxed sets, just including cheaper doodads and whatsits.

Boxed sets like TSR used to make were underpriced.

They would be around the $100 mark probably more.
 

Aaron L

Hero
Boxed sets like TSR used to make were underpriced.

They would be around the $100 mark probably more.
I know, which is why I said they could use cheaper doodads. Black and white maps and the like; everything doesn't need to be full color glossy to be cool. And I could probably swing $100 every once in a while for a box full of books and cool stuff.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
So I have mixed opinions on this. Generally I think it is important for a game that is intended to be an entry point to the hobby to be more affordable to get started in and to have less expensive to ramp up costs for transitioning into the wider game.

However I have no real issues with Boutique Games being a thing. If a game is not trying to be the entry point to gaming and is worth the cost I am all for promoting it as a luxury item. I know that prices some people out of the game, but if you are aiming for a smaller audience or have designed a game that is intended for a more niche, deeper invested market I am all for it. Some designs will require this approach to stay profitable. I would rather companies that are not the market leader design the games they want to and find a price that works for them and their audience.

This is particularly true for companies like Onyx Path who lack the resources to do traditional print runs. Exalted 3rd Edition as designed would not be feasible at a much lower price point. Print On Demand will never have accessible price points with a game that very much requires quality graphic design to live up to its promise. I feel the sacrifices they would have to make for the game to be more accessible would mean it is not the game that creatively want to put out.
 

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