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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

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I think high priced pdfs run a risk of encouraging piracy. Now, this is coming from me and I'm normally the one posting that piracy isn't really a factor to take account of in RPG pdfs. Why do I think it's different in this case?

Goodwill. When it comes to content that can be digitally copied, goodwill is your real copy protection. I'm not going to go into all my philosophy about consumer response and such, but I want to say that if people are looking at a digitally copiable product and the price point is high enough that it transcends the barrier from "not really worth it to me" to "Seriously? They're really trying to charge that amount?" they lose that goodwill protection.
 

Dire Bare

Hero
Supporter
I think high priced pdfs run a risk of encouraging piracy. Now, this is coming from me and I'm normally the one posting that piracy isn't really a factor to take account of in RPG pdfs. Why do I think it's different in this case?

Goodwill. When it comes to content that can be digitally copied, goodwill is your real copy protection. I'm not going to go into all my philosophy about consumer response and such, but I want to say that if people are looking at a digitally copiable product and the price point is high enough that it transcends the barrier from "not really worth it to me" to "Seriously? They're really trying to charge that amount?" they lose that goodwill protection.
Meh. Piracy is a factor when determining pricing, sure. But pirates are gonna pirate whether you give your stuff away for free or charge hundreds of dollars. Honest folks, not so much. Will a higher priced digital book encourage an increase in piracy of your book relative to the income sales generate? Kinda hard to quantify. It could certainly make the difference in the decision of some individual pirates, the ones who try and justify their piracy with flawed logic . . . but how many folks is that? Again, hard to quantify.
 

Darth Solo

Explorer
Looks like a dated thread with a user calling others cheap for not buying an overpriced rpg with so-so reviews.

The reviews were exactly why I didn't buy it: buying a bad rpg happens. We've all done it. Spending over $200 for a bad rpg is a huge mistake. I've yet to see positive comments from a group that played it, while seeing several positive comments from those who just have it.

Did I spend $300 for two Rules Cyclopedias in the last three years? Yep, and I'm having fun running the system right now with it.

You call my hobby "luxury", yet psychologists, military professionals and marketing analysts use rpgs of their own to solve problems. So, I see it as a form of "technical methodology" that crosses a variety of human experience as a useful tool.

Your idea of "luxury" is a poorly-conceived idea of cultural utility.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Meh. Piracy is a factor when determining pricing, sure. But pirates are gonna pirate whether you give your stuff away for free or charge hundreds of dollars. Honest folks, not so much. Will a higher priced digital book encourage an increase in piracy of your book relative to the income sales generate? Kinda hard to quantify. It could certainly make the difference in the decision of some individual pirates, the ones who try and justify their piracy with flawed logic . . . but how many folks is that? Again, hard to quantify.
Around 2/3rds of theft or loss from a business are by its own employees, according to the texts in business school. I know from seeing it done to RPG publishers, it looks to be done by disgruntled employees. That leaves the other 3rd to be done by customers, potential or not; for myself, I don't do it because I don't want anything I can't buy. Then again someone else's financial circumstances might not let them spend $200 on a game, I think they are luxuries, and of course for that much money one wants to get what they feel is valuable for their money. Though the terms of piracy can get nebulous, sharing with players at the table, virtual or not? Loaning a book isn't piracy. Plus people wanting to preview the game, advertising. Then the question of goodwill, which in itself is an intangible asset to a business, and which is often valued at sale of the business.
 

I don’t think it makes business sense to put out a product in one format at one price point and then another format at a drastically reduced price point.

It’s the reason digital comics cost the same as physical ones at the time of release. Or why audiobooks and e-books are comparable to the cost of a physical book upon release.

I feel like the cost of the PDFs for Invisible Sun and The Yellow King are in line with other PDF costs compared to the physical media, aren’t they?

If your physical game is $250, then the PDF has to be a certain percentage of that, doesn’t it?
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Pricing is complicated, with all sorts of formulas, and all that. Multiple classes have units on pricing in a retail environment.
 

How expensive is TOO expensive can only be determined by the individual consumer. However, the higher the cost you place on your product the more of a barrier to purchase it becomes. And consumers will shy away from really high-cost all-in-one packages, regardless of "bang for buck", because in order to find out if it's really worth their money they have to put SO much more up front. Would I enjoy Invisible Sun and find it to be worth the money? Maybe. But I'm not going to pay that much for a pig in a poke to find out.
 



Zardnaar

Legend
I'm not buying it at any price but it's fine.

It's a new product aimed at the deluxe end of things.

If 6E land tomorrow at a $200 price point would be F you though no matter what they did with it.

A deluxe version made out of leather/ gold/whatever though is fine. Price gouging to me is cranking the price on something that is normally cheaper. If it's expensive right from the get go so be it.
 

MGibster

Hero
I determine whether I wish to purchase an RPG based on three criteria.

  1. Will I actually play this game?
  2. Do I want this game taking up shelf space in my home?
  3. Am I willing to pay the asking price?
It's amazing to me how few times #3 is actually the problem. My FLGS has two massive sales throughout the year, and in December 2019 the Conan RPG and many supplemental books were on their list of items to be rid of. I spent a total of around $60 for the main book, the player's book, and two supplements and really agonized over whether or not I'd be able to play it. (It's slated to be the first campaign I run after we stop all this social distancing.) With Warhammer Fantasy 3rd edition I balked a little bit at the $100 price tag, but, based on my failure to get anyone to play 2nd edition, I passed on the game.

But I'm at the point in my life where the cost of RPGs is pretty much negligible. If I choose not to buy one it's probably not because of the price. If I was interested in Invisible Sun and thought I could get my players into it I'd buy it.
 

icedrake

Explorer
Having read through the books and the PDFs and all the artifacts that are bundled together, its honestly a good price point for the amount of content. You're buying the whole black cube for that price. However, after playing the game? I'm not a huge fan of the many subsystems embedded within the game. MCGs recently put out a book / pdf that compiled all the spells, rituals and subsystems into one book, but that has been a long time coming. This book should have been created and updated from the very start of the game and not an afterthought.

My playgroup created digital aids and character sheets to track our powers and spells, and even with those aids, its a PAIN to play a character in this system. There's just so much to a single character that you need to track and remember that it just gets in the way of playing the game, and adding poorly written rules on top of that just adds to the pain of playing. I can't wait for my group to move on from this system.
 


I have Invisible Sun. I've run Invisible Sun. The game itself is okay. It's not as cutting edge as they like to think and a lot of the content is just unweildly (like cards for every spell and every item rather than just a book of them). I'm divided on whether or not it's worth the price. There is a lot of content but the system just doesn't work as well as they think and the supporters tend towards the rabid and don't want to hear about failings in the system.

Just don't buy into the Directed Campaign. That's a POS bait and switch, 100%
 



Something consistently overlooked here is a fact that you might not realize without owning a copy (physical or otherwise) already: Invisible Sun is actually a four book set. If these were individually packaged at $25 apiece then we would not be having this discussion because the cost would be clear and unambiguous relative to other similar products, many of which actually cost more for their digital editions.

The $100 price point for Invisible Sun is chiefly discouraging, but really for exactly one unique reason: it forces the consumer to evaluate the total cost of the product as a set rather than individual and therefore cheaper single purchases. As a result, for most of us we can't just buy "The Key"* and decide if we like the character generation system in Invisible Sun or not, then proceed to get the next book in line; instead we must consider all four books as a single purchase.

A comparable product is Unknown Armies, which is normally $30 apiece for the three books you need to complete the game.....$90, and I believe roughly the same page count (note: in checking I do see that they're on sale right now, something IS has not done yet, so there is that).

The point here, of course, is that some of the contention about this product is about comparing a four book set to other products which are a fraction of the size and content, leading to the broad, existential deliberation here about the merits of handing over hard currency for ephemera. And for many, who mainly use PDFs as a reference while valuing hard copies as the "real" game, or maybe as bait to lure in players who can't or won't spend money.....PDFs have a very specific and narrow sort of value, which traditionally falls way outside of $100, at least on the surface.


*Edit: apparently we can, for $18.99 for the core player book.
 
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I don't mind paying money for quality. I do mind paying money for sub-par or mediocre material.
Agreed. But the issue here is that it can be difficult to parse of where Invisible Sun falls without being able to expose yourself to it. I held off for the longest time for this reason before taking the plunge on the Black Cube. I ended up being very happy with a product that was right up my gaming group's wheelhouse, really one of the best such games I've bought since Unknown Armies....but I had to be willing to burn $250ish dollars and take the plunge blind which was not ideal; I mainly gambled I could move it on Ebay to no loss if I turned out to have made a mistake. Luckily I love the surrealistic take on magic and the occult (it's like a friendlier version of the Kult universe) but I had to trust that since I owned every other MCG product that they wouldn't suddenly steer me wrong here, too, and that paid off (luckily). They do have lots of free preview content on books, I have noticed.

Also, my earlier post said you can't check out The Key. I am wrong, it's available separately now as a PDF for only $18.99. Maybe they will cave at some point and break out the other three books individually, and the card sets and props in whatever downloadable format as well.
 

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