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

Zardnaar

Legend
"Role playing games are a luxury market"

This is the fallacy of the entire arguement. RPGs are NOT a luxury market, they are a mass market commodity in direct competition for buyer's $$ with novels, movies, computer games and other entertainment. The complaints about RPG costs are usually because the complainer is comparing against what they may be paying for other forms of durable entertainment such as a book. And yes, book page counts/$, video game complexity, and movie special effects have all been forced to raise just as the columnist points out that production values have been forced to increase. This isn't unreasonable, it's normal market forces in action. I've seen articles and arguments for years that RPGs are "cheap", but in reality most of those arguments amount to the person putting forth the argument decrying that the pricing power is in the hands of the consumer.

Personally I won't pay more than $20 for a PDF, and even above $10, I'm more likely to put the product on a wish list and wait for a sale. More and more of my gaming budget is going to Bundle of Holding and Humble Bundle because they provide an amazing value, which is to the creator's benefit as I wouldn't have bought otherwise.

They're a luxury item in terms of you don't need to buy them say compared to food, a roof over your head, electricity etc (hard core you don't really need electricity either but you kinda do for a modern lifestyle).

They're not exactly cheap hence why its mostly a white middle class game. Thats changing a bit because they have put a lot of price points of entry into the game (free PDFs, cheap starter set, more expensive books).

When I started I had the choice of a D&D book or a new pair of shoes. I can get drunk 3 or 4 weekends in a row or buy a PHB. Its cheap overall if you use it, the initial buy in in't cheap relative to a cup of coffee, a few beers, going to the movies etc.
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
A $100 PDF isn't exactly a concession to the mass market. Nor is a humble bundle that may or may not ever exist.

Why should Monte Cook Games provide a "concession" to the hobby? Your point of view puzzles me. The main version of the game is very expensive, but also is packed with high quality components. This was never meant to appeal to all gamers, but that is not the same thing as MCG being "elitist" or condescending to the "poors". Not everything has to be made for the mass market, and that's okay.

If you don't feel the value personally, that's fine. But why crap on somebody else's sandwich? How does the existence of this luxury gaming product hurt you, your gaming group, or the larger hobby? (Hint: It's doesn't)

I didn't purchase the game personally as the price was a bit high for me, and I wasn't enamored of the genre/setting. But the basic idea of creating luxury products aimed at only a portion of the gaming audience I think is fine. If MCG or another company produces a luxury product that is more inline with my tastes, I might scrimp & save to pick up a copy. And roll my eyes at the "poors" whining about elitism.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Why should Monte Cook Games provide a "concession" to the hobby? Your point of view puzzles me. The main version of the game is very expensive, but also is packed with high quality components. This was never meant to appeal to all gamers, but that is not the same thing as MCG being "elitist" or condescending to the "poors". Not everything has to be made for the mass market, and that's okay.

If you don't feel the value personally, that's fine. But why crap on somebody else's sandwich? How does the existence of this luxury gaming product hurt you, your gaming group, or the larger hobby? (Hint: It's doesn't)

I didn't purchase the game personally as the price was a bit high for me, and I wasn't enamored of the genre/setting. But the basic idea of creating luxury products aimed at only a portion of the gaming audience I think is fine. If MCG or another company produces a luxury product that is more inline with my tastes, I might scrimp & save to pick up a copy. And roll my eyes at the "poors" whining about elitism.


There is a bit of a backlash against certain things atm. $100 is a lot for a PDF, its exactly what it is a high end $100 PDF.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
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.

If you were not interested in Invisible Sun, why would that turn you off from future MCG kickstarters that don't follow that model? Like the next Numenera kickstarter for example? How does the existence of Invisible Sun take away from MCG's other games?
 

Dire Bare

Legend
RPGs need enough people to purchase the books in order to have a thriving gaming community. If you charge too much, your audience, and hence community will be smaller. It'll be difficult to support 3rd party publishers... again because the community is smaller.

No, you don't really need a sizeable "thriving gaming community" to enjoy a game. Luxury or free fan-game. Our hobby is littered with awesome RPGs of all sorts that have very small communities. The many, many OSR games out there are a great example. All you really need is a handful of friends willing to play with you, that's it! If there is a larger community out there, that's a bonus, but it doesn't have to be huge to be a community. Communities of merely several hundred folks or even less get together all the time both online and IRL to celebrate all sorts of things.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
If you were not interested in Invisible Sun, why would that turn you off from future MCG kickstarters that don't follow that model? Like the next Numenera kickstarter for example? How does the existence of Invisible Sun take away from MCG's other games?

Consumer goods are also emotional, MCG priced someone out of a product hence they don't like it. Understandable IMHO.
 

stargazera5

Explorer
They're a luxury item in terms of you don't need to buy them say compared to food, a roof over your head, electricity etc (hard core you don't really need electricity either but you kinda do for a modern lifestyle).
While it is true that that is the classic definition of luxury, it really doesn't work well in the modern world of mass market commoditization. In the western world, much of what even the poor buy falls into that category of "luxury" without having to go anywhere near things like electricity. Luxury products, at least in the more modern view, implies the ability for the seller to charge a premium for the product as they are considered more desirable. As RPGs manifestly not only cannot charge a premium (the complaint in the column), but, outside of niche individual products, never will be able to charge a premium due to competition from other mass market entertainment options, they can't be considered a true luxury item.
 

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.
I mean...soccer just needs a ball and can entertain between 2 and like 20 players at a time. Think it's the most popular sport in the world by accident?
 

WanderingMystic

Adventurer
So I collect high end dogs. My shelves are lined with leather bound edditions of the games I love. With all that bwing said I was still taken back by the sticker price of Invisible Sun. Once Monte added the PDF to all kickstarter backers and all pre orders I buckled and bought the black cube. The production values of the box is worth the 250+ price tag. I would have prefered all of the spells being in a book for easier refrence than all just cards and at times the lay out is not as intuitive as I would like. If all of the information had just been in two 300 pg books for about 100-150 total I think more people would buy the game and like it. Buying the black cube is like backing an rpg game and an artist pet project all in one. While it could have been put in a different formatw that is les expensive to me it is more about experincing he artist vision.

On a side note I have always recived call backa from Montecookgames in a few hours on any problems I have had. I own all Numenera books and have always been happy with them.
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

They're not exactly cheap hence why its mostly a white middle class game.

/snip

Wow.

Umm, no. It's a mostly suburban game because those who live in city proper have other options and those who live in the country face a very difficult task of getting a group together.

It's a mostly white game for a lot of reasons. Price isn't one of them.

When I started I had the choice of a D&D book or a new pair of shoes. I can get drunk 3 or 4 weekends in a row or buy a PHB. Its cheap overall if you use it, the initial buy in in't cheap relative to a cup of coffee, a few beers, going to the movies etc.

What? When I started, a PHB was about 20 bucks. If you're drinking for 3 or 4 weekends for 20 bucks, that's pretty cheap. And, let's compare it to today shall we? Going to the movies for 4 people puts a very, very large dent in a hundred dollars. Easy. And it's not hard to spend more.

Again, this gets back to the point that so many gamers are unbelievably tight fisted - not contributing to the DM to buy new supplements, for example. Or the idea of paying the DM as being laughable in most circles.

I really don't know where this idea came from that we should be gaming for pennies an hour. It's baffling.
 

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