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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dragoner

solisrpg.com
Sorry, but, how cheap do you think it should be? Figure that the game is being played by 5 people, even for 20 hours. That's still a dollar an hour per person. Show me a cheaper hobby.

Gamers really, really need to loosen their purse strings. Or, at least not get bent out of shape when someone charges what the game is actually worth, rather than the pittance that some gamers seem to think it should cost.

Pretty sure a lot of people just read RPG's like books, and then just talk about them, so I can understand their wanting to keep it cheap. On the other hand, companies should price their product according to it's actual value, and not some arbitrary value.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Sorry, but, how cheap do you think it should be? Figure that the game is being played by 5 people, even for 20 hours. That's still a dollar an hour per person. Show me a cheaper hobby.

I agree with you. I also note, however, that rare indeed is the group that structures the financial support of the game in that manner. While the game is cheap entertainment, per person, it is not paid for per person.

Gamers really, really need to loosen their purse strings.

The 40+ year old gamers, with well established, well paying careers, and no kids, sure.

The purchase of games is done within an economic context. Wages have been kinda stagnant, if you haven't heard. When you have student debt, kids, and arent' getting raises, that "you gotta loosen your purse strings" is not an admonition folks deserve.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
Sorry, but, how cheap do you think it should be? Figure that the game is being played by 5 people, even for 20 hours. That's still a dollar an hour per person. Show me a cheaper hobby.

Gamers really, really need to loosen their purse strings. Or, at least not get bent out of shape when someone charges what the game is actually worth, rather than the pittance that some gamers seem to think it should cost.

That's not the discussion. You're moving goalposts.

The fact that this game only exists in physical form as a very expensive (by RPG standards) $250 box is the issue. This is the version of the game the article is about and most of the discussion has taken place around.

The fact that the game exists in a completely different digital only form for $100 isn't a "standard" version of the game. Not to mention the fact that a $100 PDF puts it in the upper echelons of gaming PDF prices in the same way that the physical box does at $250. I therefore wouldn't call it a concession on price.

Also, I thought the reason only the premium physical version exists was because Monte Cook wanted to preserve it as "an experience"? If that is so why offer a PDF at all, wouldn't that compromise this "experience"? The existence of the PDF version undercuts the reason for the $250 box set's necessity in the first place.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I like how people think its an "issue" that some products are premium priced. Like they are entitled to a copy of it. Then again this is the age of entitlement. You can't afford it? Well there are a lot of other games out there. Or have your group all pitch in.

Personally I'd never spend that much but no issue with a 250 dollar product. 250 could be spent in much better ways for me.

Gamers are over the top cheap. Powerfully cheap.
 

DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
Also, I thought the reason only the premium physical version exists was because Monte Cook wanted to preserve it as "an experience"? If that is so why offer a PDF at all, wouldn't that compromise this "experience"? The existence of the PDF version undercuts the reason for the $250 box set's necessity in the first place.

You know, we can just quote Monte Cook Games on that:

"But there are thousands of gamers for whom the physical Black Cube is simply not a practical option, and even for owners of the Black Cube there’s a benefit to having hyperlinked PDFs of all of the books, printable files for the props, and many of the other digital elements. For all of these great reasons, the PDF is now available!"

They released it because people asked for a cheaper version.

Compromise = meeting market desires. You know, the making money and not going out of business thing.
 

mythago

Adventurer
I'm a little puzzled because the thread's author seems to be asking not 'what, for you, is too expensive?' or 'does Invisible Sun live up to its cost' or 'is there a market for these things', but the ultimately unanswerable and flame-baity 'which approach should the industry as a whole take - making games cheap and low-quality or making them pretty and pricey?'

Ultimately people are going to have different metrics for what they see as appropriate for their wanting to buy an RPG. Some are going to look just at the value - people have already posted that they see an expensive game as well worth it given the number of hours of enjoyment they get out of it. Others, less myopic about their end of the hobby than the thread author's boardgaming pals, will consider whether expensive bits add anything to the game experience. And then there's the question of whether the game designer is appropriately compensated for their efforts.

That there are 'premium' versions of games as well as free games and 'free for your players, the GM can buy the big book' games shows there's an enormous range, and puts the hobby a little beyond X-or-not-X Internet debates, I would think.

(re Invisible Sun specifically, having played it once, there really is a function for the fiddly bits and goodies in the context of that game, so in that sense it is more like a big boardgame set; whether it's therefore worth buying for any given person is a separate issue.)
 


aco175

Legend
I cannot say anything since I will go out and spend 400.00 on a new golf club. It is a hobby that people put a value on and spend on based on how much enjoyment you get out of it. I have lots of old D&D books that are no longer used and still could work fine, like my old golf clubs, but the newer ones are promised to be better than the old junk you bought just a few years ago.
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
You know, we can just quote Monte Cook Games on that:

"But there are thousands of gamers for whom the physical Black Cube is simply not a practical option, and even for owners of the Black Cube there’s a benefit to having hyperlinked PDFs of all of the books, printable files for the props, and many of the other digital elements. For all of these great reasons, the PDF is now available!"

They released it because people asked for a cheaper version.

Compromise = meeting market desires. You know, the making money and not going out of business thing.

Well then, I stand corrected on that point. Monte just straight up owned the fact that he compromised his all important game experience by offering a PDF version. At least he's honest.

Wait a minute

Did the $250 box set not already include PDF files? Did owners have to pay $100 on top of that?
 

Auraword

Explorer
Although there were no plans for a PDF at the time of the original Kickstarter, Monte Cook Games (to their great credit) gave all of the backers complementary links to the PDFs.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
How expensive is too expensive? Well if it doesn't sell then it was probably too expensive. The market will decide that. Apparently the market will support this product so its not too expensive.

In business school, there are entire units on pricing, using various formulas. I went back to school to get my financial management certificate, and in a lot of ways my earlier engineering degree helped, because in macro-econ, one gets into a lot of specific formulas.
 

Rhianni32

Adventurer
I don't get the hate over expensive premium products. This is a hobby. Its not a social issue like healthcare, living space, or food where the debate is on necessities or you will die.

We have tons of options for RPGs and all the bells and whistles or lack thereof that come with it. So yes invisible sun is expensive we have how many dozen(s) other games out there available to us?
And to some, $150 for the 3 core D&D books is elitist because that is not in their own budgets.
 

AngryTiger

Explorer
Anything over 40€ is too expensive for me. I have around 50€ to spend per month after mandatory expenses, and there is plenty of other stuff i could spend that money on than RPGs that i might not even get to play because i can't get a group together. Video games, books, movies, streaming services, fast food, board games, etc. are all competing for my meager disposable income.
RPGs are pretty good value for money, at least for the first core book purchase. Anything after that has diminishing returns. Supplements, deluxe editions, premium materials, third party material and so on all have additional cost and don't necessary make games more enjoyable or long lasting.
That's why i'm trying to spend as little money as possible on RPGs so i have money left over to buy some other forms of entertainment too.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
I'm actually all for creators trying new things and seeing if they can get people with money to give that money to them. Great! That's how artists and entertainers have historically been able to operate - find rich people who have money to spare and convince them to pay you to entertain them or create art for them. So if MCG can find enough folks who want to give them a chunk of change to produce a gorgeous looking game with lots of components and bits to it, more power to them.

I can't though. My entertainment dollar has to spread across all of my entertainment for a month and I only get so much entertainment out of a game I'm never going to play. And I wouldn't play Invisible Sun because I don't have a group that would have time to play it or want to play it over other things if they did and no prospects of finding a group that would want to play it. So if I bought it it would be purely to read as an exercise in analyzing game design and enjoyment of a weird setting. And I have stacks and stacks of much cheaper books that are sitting in my "to read" pile that I haven't had time to get around to.
 

"Seriously, though, watch out for the dice. My gaming arsenal looks like a jewel factory. I have two bags of premium dice, seventy-five separate d20s for rolling "lucky", five special d12s, a large salt shaker full of d6s for fireballin', and a whole galaxy of multi-colored skullsplitters, gamesciences, chessexes, forged metals. . . and also some Q Workshops for warding off Cthulhu, several pounds of Wiz dice to hurl at the players, a case of old miscellaneous dice that came in various sets, a few dozen vortex, opaques, marble, and steampunks . . . Not that I need all that to play, but once you get locked into a serious dice collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. "

The only thing that really worries me are the solid metal dice. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of a fireball casting metal dice binge. And I know we'll get into those table wreckers pretty soon. Probably at the next game session.
 

Andy Warhol was a genius and had such a way with words. Years ago I lived just up the street from his childhood home.

That's definitely one of the things that makes D&D so awesome - you can't buy your way into being a better DM or player. No matter how much you were to spend on a mini, that red dragon won't look any more awesome than what's brought to life with words and imagination.

As for premium gaming products, I've splurged on some fancy dice, bought the silver edition of Sinister Secrets of Saltmarsh. But I've also got a mortgage and adult responsibilities. I agree with others that have said that premium products are fine when there's also a more reasonable tier.

Now, Kickstarters are their own beast. The more stuff and tchotchkes, the more suspicious I get that a project will fulfill on-time or at all.

"A coke is a coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

Andy Warhol
 


John Dallman

Adventurer
I hadn't heard of Invisible Sun when it first came out. After a bit of research, while I could buy it, it's not compelling. I don't really value premium production, and all the extra components look more like stuff I'd mislay than things that would enhance a game played in the imagination. I'd also have to convince my regular group to try it, and we don't switch games or systems at all often.
 

Vicente

Explorer
I passed on invisible sun because its price was high to what I personally value from a RPG product. But I can respect it.

Then we get artifically limited products like kingdom death monster that ruffle my feathers quite a bit.

You can buy Kingdom Death Monster right now if you want. It's available in their store (and has been available for a while). Why is it artificially limited?
 

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