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

Comments

Zardnaar

Hero
Sorry @Zardnaar, I have no idea what you just said. "more than a weeks went for say a student"?

A week's rent? maybe?

You're in New Zealand right? I'm looking at Amazon New Zealand and the core set is 95 NZD with box and DM's Screen. So, I'm really not sure what you're on about.
It's the postage that kills it. I meant rent. Postage is around $20 a book afaik we don't have an Amazon centre here

Last time they did postage free here I bought 13 books. They haven't done that for a while afaik.
 

Hussar

Legend
But, that's a problem with shipping, not with the price of books... IOW, that is something that the game producer has zero control over. What's your point?
 

Zardnaar

Hero
But, that's a problem with shipping, not with the price of books... IOW, that is something that the game producer has zero control over. What's your point?
It means cheap Amazon isn't an option in a few countries. I buy regardless but some of my new players don't have phb IDK why. Being honest I haven't checked we're only three sessions in.

Main point is some people might get salty at premium and luxury expensive game materials. Have you not noticed current events around the world about things like the 1%? It bleeds over.
 

AndersH

Villager
Invisible Sun is an outlier project with regards to price/quality/volume of content, but there is also issues with the pricing of regular 300+ page hardcover RPG-books.

Especially for customers in non-USA markets. Shipping and VAT is added to the base prices from the USA. Shipping costs goes up with hardcover books and VAT is a multiplier of the base price.

My case in point is from Denmark. We are a fairly small, very well organized market with a VAT of 25%. All other expenses are fairly high (expensive rent in stores + decent wages for staff).

This price comparison is based on the prices in physical shops.

WOTCs suggested retail price for D&D Dungeon Masters Guide is US$49.99 [1]

In my local friendly roleplaying store Faraos, the non-discounted price of the DMG is US$74,14 (Danish Kr. 499,-) [2]

So the price-difference is US$24,15 (equivalent to an increase of 48%).

With this type of price-modifier, the Invisible Sun would cost US$371.

Designers can't do anything about this price-hike, but it is relevant to take it into account, when you develop products.

Anders

[1] Dungeon Master's Guide | Dungeons & Dragons
[2] Dungeon Master's Guide - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition | Faraos Cigarer
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Invisible Sun is an outlier project with regards to price/quality/volume of content, but there is also issues with the pricing of regular 300+ page hardcover RPG-books.

Especially for customers in non-USA markets. Shipping and VAT is added to the base prices from the USA. Shipping costs goes up with hardcover books and VAT is a multiplier of the base price.

My case in point is from Denmark. We are a fairly small, very well organized market with a VAT of 25%. All other expenses are fairly high (expensive rent in stores + decent wages for staff).

This price comparison is based on the prices in physical shops.

WOTCs suggested retail price for D&D Dungeon Masters Guide is US$49.99 [1]

In my local friendly roleplaying store Faraos, the non-discounted price of the DMG is US$74,14 (Danish Kr. 499,-) [2]

So the price-difference is US$24,15 (equivalent to an increase of 48%).

With this type of price-modifier, the Invisible Sun would cost US$371.

Designers can't do anything about this price-hike, but it is relevant to take it into account, when you develop products.

Anders

[1] Dungeon Master's Guide | Dungeons & Dragons
[2] Dungeon Master's Guide - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition | Faraos Cigarer
Damn thought we had it rough.
 
@ Hussar

I have to contradict your statement regarding the control of producers towards shipment.
After working 14 years as a dispatcher and transport manager for a large german parcel service I can wholeheartedly say, that your statement is not correct.
The prices for shipping a parcel from A to B, even internationally depends on factors like how many you ship a day, the size/weight, customs handling, the destination and to a great extend of the carrier (just to name a few).
While national shipping is more or less the same prize by every parcel service, on an international basis this changes drastically. Here the chosen carrier demands a very differing price and from my experience it is not always the best option to rely on the local mail service. Other well known companies offer often better service at a lower price or at least comparable price.
The problem with many producers is, that they rely solely on one carrier, since when they calculate the different shipping wages for different destinations in accordance with the amount of parcels shipped, the average net result points most often to just one carrier for them. This might be a good choice when you think about handling of service/shipment problems, since you have only one company to talk to. But it also means, that certain destinations are experiencing higher shipment costs, which is felt by the individual customer. And shipment costs are added to the taxes the customer pays.
So instead of choosing different carriers for different destinations, producers are lazy to a certain degree and ship with just one carrier. In sum, they have a certain control about shipping prices (especially the very large online sellers, who more or less dictate the price for shipment to a certain degree).
Producers and small sellers alike have a control over shipment and may it only be marginal, but it exists.
If you have the time, then start asking different parcel carriers for an offer of their national/international shipping prices. I make a bet, that there are great differences to be observed.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
Cost me over $300 bucks to get Tome of Beasts, Midgard Worldbook, and Midgard Heroes to NZ. It around $200 USD I think.

In 1995 PHB plus DMG was one weeks rent on a 3 bedroom house. Back then I saw adds for D&D material in the USA and wanted to cry. $18 PHB iirc.
 

Ulfgeir

Explorer
Yes, it is expensive, but too expensive, maybe. That depends on your preferences, and the amount of stuff you get.

For example, I spent SEK 2300 (about USD 250] on the kickstarter for the Swedish verison of Call of Cthulhu 7e. And £200 for the John Carter Kickstarter. Also spent ASU$ 120 on a Jane-Austen rpg that I will most likely never get to play (unless I play it on a convention)

Would I have spent USD$ 250 on this project? Most likely not. Depends on whether or not I would have been interested in the product as such. And the only effect the name of the author has on me in case, is that yes, Monte Cook has done a number of games before. Do I think they are masterpieces, nope, but I do know that he can deliver a product.

edit: And then add shipping and customs-fees and VAT's to the prise of a game, and it will quickly be very expensive. This is the reason that Evil Hat for example will no longer sell physical products directly to any person outside of the US.
 
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Zardnaar

Hero
Some people can't afford premium products, it's understandable some people might be less than happy. I spend a lot less than I used to. I don't want to guess how much I've spent on D&D but it's approaching a deposit on a house over 25 years.
 
For me the price I am willing to pay for an RPG is directly related to how much I will play it. A game I will never play but I might be able to use with other systems might be worth a few bucks, but it is certainly not worth my game budget for the whole year. I went all in on GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, while it is a good game, it was not worth $250 for everything, I would have been just as happy with the $50 pledge. When The Fantasy Trip kickstarter opened, I stuck to the base $60 and was very happy with what I received.
 

ddaley

Explorer
Some people can't afford premium products, it's understandable some people might be less than happy. I spend a lot less than I used to. I don't want to guess how much I've spent on D&D but it's approaching a deposit on a house over 25 years.
I have also spent a lot on D&D over the years... mostly in the last 15, though I began playing around 1980. I bought a fair amount of material in the 80s as well. But, lately, I have spent a lot on kickstarter projects. I like investing in the projects and have backed some at higher levels. I just don't want to see more expensive books becoming the norm.

My son just started playing with a group of kids from his high school. They are all new to D&D (except for my son). Groups like that would disappear if books were more expensive.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
For me the price I am willing to pay for an RPG is directly related to how much I will play it.
I haven't always been that way with regards to RPG purchases (and am not completely) but yeah, in general, that's the way to slant it, especially when budget and/or space is limited.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
For me the price I am willing to pay for an RPG is directly related to how much I will play it. A game I will never play but I might be able to use with other systems might be worth a few bucks, but it is certainly not worth my game budget for the whole year.
I get that - but I think sometimes that doesn't always play out. I may plan or want to play it more at the time I buy it than actually happens and am left holding the bag. There are purchases I've decided, long after the transaction, that were more expensive than the use I got out it.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
b) The price of a mainstream RPG is not dictated by you, veteran gamer with dependable group and a firm grasp of "opportunity cost" . It is determined by the ability of a teenager with uncertain gaming prospects to gamble on an uncertain proposition, and often to convince their parents of that value proposition. I bought my first set of D&D books at a yard sale somewhere around 22 years ago and I have probably spent only a couple of hundred hours in a face to face group in all that time. It is actually kinda sad when I put the numbers that way, :\ . Of course I have put in a lot more time here on the boards and in chat based games and PbP to an extent but I could not tell you what the "value" is there.
No.

The price of an RPG product is most certainly NOT dictated by the perceived ability of a teenager to afford it. Teenagers are most certainly part of the gaming community and a demographic that can grow the gaming community, but they are not the only demographic targeted by various RPG games. In fact, I would argue that the most mainstream game of all, D&D, does not see teenagers as the metric by which prices are set. D&D is targeted towards adults while remaining friendly to teenagers. In years past D&D certainly was heavily marketed towards teenagers, but not today.

And of course there are plenty of games out there that don't even take teenagers into account at all. Not for pricing, content, or anything. I'm sure Monte Cook Games wouldn't mind if teenagers end up playing Invisible Sun, but I highly doubt they designed any aspect of the game to appeal specifically to that demographic.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
b) The price of a mainstream RPG is not dictated by you, veteran gamer with dependable group and a firm grasp of "opportunity cost" . It is determined by the ability of a teenager with uncertain gaming prospects to gamble on an uncertain proposition, and often to convince their parents of that value proposition.
I think you're over-generalizing from your own experience, or at least likely quite out of date experience if it wasn't your own. That may have been true quite some time ago (though I doubt that), but now, I really doubt it. The purchasers that drive the market are adults buying for themselves and their own groups.
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
I have also spent a lot on D&D over the years... mostly in the last 15, though I began playing around 1980. I bought a fair amount of material in the 80s as well. But, lately, I have spent a lot on kickstarter projects. I like investing in the projects and have backed some at higher levels. I just don't want to see more expensive books becoming the norm.

My son just started playing with a group of kids from his high school. They are all new to D&D (except for my son). Groups like that would disappear if books were more expensive.
WotC most certainly accounts for this by offering the D&D basic rules as a free PDF and also with the inexpensive Starter Set and Essentials Set. But the core books remain relatively pricey, but probably underpriced still for their value. Any game publisher has to balance many factors when setting pricing, and making sure their product sells at a price their target market is willing (and able) to pay is ONE factor.

But how does a luxury game such as Invisible Sun change the availability of D&D and other games for those with limited budgets (teenagers, others)? How does the option to purchase a fancy game for $250 keep kids from getting into a different game that has a much lower entry point cost? You could argue that the success of games like Invisible Sun encourages more luxury products to be marketed to the gaming community, perhaps like the Beadle & Grimm's accessory kits for recent D&D adventures. But still, how does more options in quality and price prevent or limit the low-end of pricing from continuing? Is D&D in danger of going "full luxury", doing away with the free basic rules and cheap starter sets? Or mid-priced core books and adventures? In favor of Beadle & Grimm's for everybody? I'm not worried in the slightest. WotC is doing a good job with their partners at offering D&D to a variety of people with different tastes and budgets, and they are reaping the success of that strategy without sacrificing "the kids" or "the poors" in the process.

Will those scrappy teenagers miss out on playing Invisible Sun? Probably. I'm not losing any sleep over it, as there are plenty of other games they can easily afford to play. Like D&D (best game ever).
 

Dire Bare

Adventurer
Especially for customers in non-USA markets. Shipping and VAT is added to the base prices from the USA. Shipping costs goes up with hardcover books and VAT is a multiplier of the base price.

My case in point is from Denmark. We are a fairly small, very well organized market with a VAT of 25%. All other expenses are fairly high (expensive rent in stores + decent wages for staff).
Nobody likes to pay taxes. But without them, society could not function. Those in countries with high VAT or other taxes certainly pay more for their D&D books than others, but you pay those higher taxes on almost everything, not just D&D books. And you get (ideally, at least) a lot back in return in government provided social services.

A game company that is aggressively marketing world-wide certainly does need to take into account how taxes can inflate the prices of their products, but most RPG companies really don't do this. World-wide sales are nice and to be desired, but are an afterthought and not the core market. WotC is an US company focused on sales to US gamers. They have only recently started their efforts in selling D&D in foreign markets, and there are a lot of challenges in this area, including translations and pricing.

Ultimately, when purchasing a product from another country, expect to pay more (even before taxes). It's how things work. I live in the states, and when I purchase something from another country I expect to pay more than the sticker price with currency conversion, shipping, taxes, tariffs, and etc. A lot of these added costs are also fluid and constantly changing. I've picked up some super cool "not-Warhammer" miniatures from Eastern European companies, and the total price (taxes, shipping, etc) was a part of my decision making process, but I also didn't begrudge or blame the company selling me the miniatures. The inflated price was simply a cost of doing business. Certainly I don't buy foreign products all the time for that main reason. Should those small miniature studios take all of this into account before setting prices? Sure, but it shouldn't and won't be the major factor.

If WotC wants to seriously grow D&D in foreign countries, should they up their efforts to find ways around these problems? Sure, but they can't sell things at such a low price their own profits are endangered, despite whatever taxes are involved.

Does that have any impact on luxury gaming products like Invisible Sun? Only if the gaming publisher has a strong desire to market outside their home country. And again, due to the challenges, most don't.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
With regard to premium or ‘luxury’ games, I’m fine with them. People like Monte aren’t selling bread or a life-sustaining drug - they’re selling a game - of which there are hundreds of choices. I can’t afford a Lexus, but I don’t need a Lexus in order to have a car. (Once you get into the issue of affordabilities of necessities such as food and transportation, that’s a totally different argument beyond the scope of this discussion.) But starting to begrudge the existence or right of premium products to exist, as suggested some do from the original article, just because there isn’t a bargain-priced version of same, or because it’s not in a pirate-able form, to me is like complaining that the $1 hamburger is not as tasty as the $10 hamburger, and saying the restaurant should offer a $4 burger with the same quality. If they say “no”, then so be it.
 

DragonBelow

Explorer
Monte Cook is no stranger to extremely high production values (See Ptolus, Numenera, and etc). This product obviously fits the bill too, I would say exceeds it even, but that alone is not enough to draw my interest.
 

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