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


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Alphastream

Adventurer
I wrote about the cost of the D&D Tomb of Annihilation hardback here. When I polled people, the $49.95 price was deemed too high by 36% of respondents. That $50 book ended up costing each of us a total of 3 cents an hour! RPGs are stupidly cheap. Sure, many of us have or have had problems affording material. Life on a budget is hard, always. But, there is a ton of free and low-priced material out there for every game, including Numenera. For all that we claim to be huge RPG fans, we spend more on snacks than on RPGs. Meanwhile, every famous creator ends up with a GoFundMe for their health and insurance plan.

RPGs should cost a lot more. The idea of raising the cost and selling to the group is excellent. We need more ideas like that. MCG is one of the few small companies providing decent salaries and benefits. We've seen a few companies, such as Matt Colville's MCDM, start to offer better word rates for authors, but most of the industry still offers a wage that isn't close to livable. Our industry, to survive, must take care of its creators.

Part of the problem is the lack of education. Most fans don't understand the low profit a company receives, even from regular distribution. They think WotC sells a $50 book and keeps $40. The gaming store keeps $25, the distribution company keeps $12.50, and WotC gets $12.50 with which to cover all of its costs. Take a look at the amount of art, each of which is more than $100. Take a look at the layout, the editing, the multiple writers and developers and other staff. Those are expensive books. Then look at the Amazon price and redo the math on how bad that is for any company. For many companies, an Amazon sale is more like advertising, because they don't make any real money on the sale.

For a small company, even selling direct can be difficult for a small product with a decent $200 cover image (it can easily cost much more for a cover). If the budget overall were $500, and the product price is $2, just breaking even is hard... selling direct. Sell through a place like DriveThru and a $2 price likely never gets you there. This is a brutal industry and prices need to come up. $2 for a 4-6 hour experience for 4-6 people is untenable.
 

Von Ether

Legend
Is there a hobby out there that's as cheap as RPG gaming? I'm serious. RPG gaming is ludicrously cheap on a per person per hour basis. Figure, what, 100 bucks for the core books, another 30 for an AP and you're good for about 100 hours of gaming with very little work. Good grief, I've spent a heck of a lot more than 130 dollars for dinner for five or six people. Gaming works out to about 20 cents per person per hour. That's it.

It's a ridiculously cheap hobby.

Even cheaper when you're determined to show up with just a character sheet in hand and make demands of the DM. No offer to share the burden either financially or for in-kind - like bringing snacks.

Some players are super tight fisted to the point they claim Amazon is the "real" price and that game shops are "gouging" the customers by charging actual retail. And then see no disconnect when the buy a video game for full price.

So yeah, TTRPGs occupy this weird passive agressive head space where many gamers expect a friend to shoulder money and hours of time to entertain everyone else and then get snippy if asked to bring over some chips sometime.

As for me, I completely lost interest after hearing the price (said, that's not for me and no one I know would chip in to help and moved on), I have spent that much money on lots of other TTRPGs since then.

I am also still going through a huge back catalog of video games I bought super cheap via Steam sales and Humble. All of them are years old, past their prime days of demanding a$60 price tag.

I know where my priorities lie.
 

dytrrnikl

Explorer
The only premium/collector's set I have ever considered purchasing was Modiphious' Star Trek Adventures: Borg Cube Box Set, currently selling for $247 US, with a collector's version going for $400. After I got past the WOW! of what was included, I came to the same conclusion I always come to, none of the added "value" for the price would increase my enjoyment of the game. They always fall into the "Cool to have, but unnecessary".
 

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I'm one of two people who always buy the games at my game table (and both myself and the other guy also regularly GM). One of my players gets his books through me as hand-me-downs. The other (my wife) buys just the books we play. The rest of the table does not appear to be invested in the ownership side of the equation (they play what we buy, but don't buy themselves) but interestingly will seem to pay for online services that offer character generators and such.

That said....even I balked at buying Invisible Sun until after I had thoroughly read a lot of reviews and comments on it (and I am a diehard Cypher System fan) because spending that much on a single initial purchase requires a certain risk that you may not get any play time out of the game.....you have to accept you may be buying a fun vanity read with no utility beyond ownership, ultimately. In my case that's how it's worked out so far, though not for lack of interest in playing it, but rather because my time is limited and I am not very good at playing games with loads of props and pieces (I do not purchase or play boardgames, for example). That said: if any game will get me to try it out with all these pieces it will be Invisible Sun, even if I have to wait until I'm retired to find the time to make it work.

$100 for the PDF is too much for me, however. Not because I wouldn't like (or benefit from) having it on hand, but I am an old school gamer and the PDF is purely a complimentary product purchased for utility. I have never and will never run a game just using a PDF; I need hard print books on the table for that to happen. I will, however, use a PDF as an easy reference when designing a scenario, especially if I want to do so while at the coffee shop or a friend's house without hauling around a forty pound cube. The accessibility of the PDF is well worth it.....but purely as an accessory to the real product. If I'd been able to purchase the Cube and gotten a key for a PDF I would have been quite happy.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I wrote about the cost of the D&D Tomb of Annihilation hardback here. When I polled people, the $49.95 price was deemed too high by 36% of respondents. That $50 book ended up costing each of us a total of 3 cents an hour! RPGs are stupidly cheap. Sure, many of us have or have had problems affording material. Life on a budget is hard, always. But, there is a ton of free and low-priced material out there for every game, including Numenera. For all that we claim to be huge RPG fans, we spend more on snacks than on RPGs. Meanwhile, every famous creator ends up with a GoFundMe for their health and insurance plan.

RPGs should cost a lot more. The idea of raising the cost and selling to the group is excellent. We need more ideas like that. MCG is one of the few small companies providing decent salaries and benefits. We've seen a few companies, such as Matt Colville's MCDM, start to offer better word rates for authors, but most of the industry still offers a wage that isn't close to livable. Our industry, to survive, must take care of its creators.

Part of the problem is the lack of education. Most fans don't understand the low profit a company receives, even from regular distribution. They think WotC sells a $50 book and keeps $40. The gaming store keeps $25, the distribution company keeps $12.50, and WotC gets $12.50 with which to cover all of its costs. Take a look at the amount of art, each of which is more than $100. Take a look at the layout, the editing, the multiple writers and developers and other staff. Those are expensive books. Then look at the Amazon price and redo the math on how bad that is for any company. For many companies, an Amazon sale is more like advertising, because they don't make any real money on the sale.

For a small company, even selling direct can be difficult for a small product with a decent $200 cover image (it can easily cost much more for a cover). If the budget overall were $500, and the product price is $2, just breaking even is hard... selling direct. Sell through a place like DriveThru and a $2 price likely never gets you there. This is a brutal industry and prices need to come up. $2 for a 4-6 hour experience for 4-6 people is untenable.

Though that will drive down sales. Will the increased pricing make up is the question. While I'm calling out the cheapness in gamers I know I do have a limit on what I'll spend on a book. And 250 is far above it. 60 bucks I think is around what I'll spend for a rule book, but this product was more than that. For me it wouldn't offer me much extra with the doodads. But most of my group won't spend that much. They want to buy one book, well they want someone else to buy one book, and then use it for eternity.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I bought the 50 dollar PDF of Rappan Athuck for S&W because it much more user friendly than the 100 dollar hardcover. Still kind of shocked I spent that much on a PDF...
 

So as an example, I have now bought five hardcover books foe Starfinder, and it's entirely possible I got them just to read and will never run a campaign long enough to justify an expense of around $200. However, that expense felt acceptable because I was able to buy them over time. Invisible Sun isn't just expensive. Its a large, up front expense. I got out of both M:tG and WH40K due to the high costs. I love that the hobby is diversifying and creating premium products, but they will always be the lavish exceptions for a niche of our already niche audience. Fingers crossed that someone runs Invisible Sun at a Con I attend. Otherwise, I dont expect to ever experience it, no matter how good it is.
 

D

Deleted member 7015506

Guest
:ROFLMAO:
NOT TRUE!

If I just get another set of really cool dice, I will be a better DM.

Really. This time it will happen. They are such pretty dice ....

Good one, made my day thanks.

Edit: added comment for clarification.
 

Abbasax

Explorer
I've spent that much money on an RPG product before, I just wouldn't for that one. I'm not sure how to explain it, but something about the Kickstarter made it kinda feel to me like the game was designed to inflate the cost of the physical product, rather than the cost evolving naturally from the game design, if that makes sense....
 

D

Deleted member 7015506

Guest
Is it considered elitist when somebody can spend hundreds of buckos for a sinhle game? Perhaps. But I bet not everybody pulls those greens out of the machine without cutting on other things.

Me hating premium products? Not a single moment. If you have the cash or urge to get it, well then do it. Give the body what makes him happy.

Is it overprized? Depending on everyones personal subjective view, the answer differs a lot as we already see in this discussion.

Does a premium limited product hinder its sales/spreading? Yes definitely. People might be interested, but the price might drive them off. So basically a problem for the publisher in making more money on a probable fine product. Personally for some it might be a problem, since they want to have it, but don´t buy it for whatever personal reasons there are.

Should the industry make games cheaper? One thing a couple of people mentioned in different ways, but had a consensus: Gaming as we do, no matter what type (board, RPG, CCG, etc.) is luxury per se. The luxury comes from things like having the funds, time and general circumstances to be able to do so.

Does a premium/limited game have more gaming value? Again a personal decision, similar to the type/genre of game you play/prefer.

What I miss in this discussion is a bit the problem, that nowadays people want high glossy shiny products/games, that don´t cost a dime. And wuality of a game is not measured only by eye candy, but in its substance = personal value a gamer draws out of it.

We are used to buy stuff cheap, in all walks of life, expect excellent customer service and don´t pay the real value for the goods. And the point of real value is not only measured in the costs for something, but also the personal value somebody draws out of purchasing that product. Think about soft factors like inner satisfaction for finally getting something special and having something the neighbours kids don´t have. All human and normal things.

So I stick with Frederick the Great. "Live and let live".
 

I'm all for companies putting out premium versions of their products to upsell the hardcore fans. What was disappointing with Invisible Sun is that there was no "standard" version of the game available. I would have paid $60 for a core rulebook - like every other RPG has - and was moderately annoyed/mystified that that was not an option.
 


Rhianni32

Adventurer
I'm all for companies putting out premium versions of their products to upsell the hardcore fans. What was disappointing with Invisible Sun is that there was no "standard" version of the game available. I would have paid $60 for a core rulebook - like every other RPG has - and was moderately annoyed/mystified that that was not an option.

You know that is fair. ONLY have an premium exclusive can be disappointing,.
 

icedrake

Explorer
As someone who's playing in a game of Invisible Sun right now, it's not the cost for our group that's offputting. It's everything else associated with MCG and the game system itself that's been disappointing.

The game system has a ton of subsystems, and the rules arent always consistent or coherent.

The rules themselves are spread over three books, rather than consolidated. It makes trying to track what's going on with your character confusing and annoying.

Until a couple of months ago, MCG did not have pdf copies of all the rule books available for purchase, you had to review physical copies of the books. This has been changed, but it took a long time for them to do it when it should have been there at release.

MCG has multiple kickstarter projects being worked on concurrently, from invisible sun, to Numenera to the 5e Numenera project, in various states of fulfillment. With so much going on, delivery of the IS supplements has been delayed.

Edit - on top of the product delays, MCG support takes weeks or months to answer inquiries made by my GM on when he will get his kickstarter rewards or the next stage of the directed campaign. I really think MCG is biting off more than it can handle as a company.

I'm hateplaying this game for the sake of my group, and look forward to when we move on to another game setting / system.
 

icedrake

Explorer
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?
Anyone who was an original backer of the first kickstarter product got pdfs for free as an additional reward. I'm not sure about kickstarter 2 for the reprint or people who preordered the box.
 

I have nothing against a premium product, but the problem with RPGs is that you have no idea whether a game is playable until after you've read it.

I passed on Invisible Sun, primarily based on disappointment regarding Numenera. A premium product is not worth gambling on, when the odds are stacked against you to such a degree.
 

ddaley

Explorer
...
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.

I have backed quite a few Troll Lord Games kickstarters... but, I haven't backed their last couple because the entry point for the physical book was $60... So, they can raise their prices, but fewer people are going to buy. I, like others have mentioned, buy most of the material with the expectation that we'll never get around to playing it. So, at some point (apparently around $60 for a hard cover), I say "no thanks"
 

Same. Though, I would also add that an additional factor for me was that they were consistently late, and would start schilling for their next Kickstarter while the previous one was a good number of months behind in delivery.

I have backed quite a few Troll Lord Games kickstarters... but, I haven't backed their last couple because the entry point for the physical book was $60... So, they can raise their prices, but fewer people are going to buy. I, like others have mentioned, buy most of the material with the expectation that we'll never get around to playing it. So, at some point (apparently around $60 for a hard cover), I say "no thanks"
 

Sunsword

Adventurer
Invisible Sun ended my interest in Monte Cook Games. I used to back all of their Kickstarters, but the idea of such an expensive product that originally had no digital counterpart in place of the physical product, and props just turned me completely off. I've lived through games with their own lexicons and "immersion" and I'm past that point in life. I respect that MCG needs to follow their own muse, and I doubt my lack of contribution will hurt them.
For me role playing with my group is simply about hanging out, blowing off steam, and rolling some dice and Invisible Sun didn't seem to be aimed at that type of group with what they revealed.

Lastly, as the buyer of 2 gaming stores in KY, I knew it was too expensive for our shelves and had no one express interest in either print run.

But that is merely my markets.
 

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