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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?


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


Dire Bare

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.

If D&D is considered "complete" with the PHB, DMG, and MM . . . that's $150 right there at MSRP without considering dice or any other accessories.

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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.
Good point relevant to the particular focus product.

(I still think the general principles that were discussed are worth considering.)

I find it curious no one has brought up the Platinum Editions from Beadle and Grimm.
$500 per set, for very limited new content, and custom props.
While custom coins and props are cool, cheaper, (frankly much cheaper) alternatives can be found.

Just not this🙂: D&D Idol Ring

I received the DragonHeist Platinum box as a gift. The set is cool, but not worth double the Black Cube cost of Invisible Sun. Sorry Beadle and Grimm 😢

MCG Kickstarters often have very generous rewards. I felt like I was still getting rewards from the Black Cube, a year after release.

aramis erak

All true. There are other factors that go into pricing digital media also. Pretty sure it's all been covered in this necro-thread pages ago.

Like any product, a digital book (PDF format or otherwise) can be overpriced. Fans and reviewers can critique price and argue why it is set too high. However, I have not seen any arguments in this thread or elsewhere that have convinced me that the Invisible Sun game, print and/or digital, is overpriced. None. The only things the "too high" arguments here get me to do is roll my eyes so hard I'm making an optometrist appointment.
Most of us who might find evidence cannot afford to find out whether or not it's any good. And, no, at the point you've made this claim, several factors have not... like the point of sale costs, and comparisons to other authorial efforts. Typical authors get pennies per word as an advance, and little more in residuals. The best get dimes per word in advance, and significant residuals.

Given the claims of many that they buy RPGs for reading, pricing of novel authorship is directly relevant. as it's a direct competitor in that subset of the RPG market. From what I've heard, RPG work actually pays better per word, but is more work per word.

Now, as for the average player? Well, what I'm seeing at my FLGS is mostly 1 to 1.2x minimum wage workers, and teens living in low income housing. The college students run the full spectrum - local kids whose parents are on public assistance of some form, through upper middle class.

I'm not seeing the suburban bias. I'm actually seeing an urban bias. Same was true in Anchorage as is true in Corvallis - there's a wide range in players, but most are urban, most are under 30, and most have limited free income. Most also claim to spend too much on RPGs...
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