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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?

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

jasper

Rotten DM
Have you paid all your bills, got gas in the car to last to next paycheck, and the pantry is full. Then spend what you want. Should you have a budget on what you spend? Yes. When I was recovering from bankruptcy, it was recommended I don't spend more than 2% of my take home for entertainment which hobbies fall into. So far this year I under than. But DragonCon is coming.
 

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eyeheartawk

Works 60% of the time, every time
A $100 PDF is exclusionary for no real purpose. It's being charged because he can.

At least with the physical bits and bobbles you could point at and go "See these lavishly produced items require the price". Look at the Yellow King PDF, also very extensive including many PDF files and soundtrack CDs etc for virtually half the price. This doesn't even compete with lavishly produced physical books/packages in the marketplace on price.

So, on this May Day, I find it only appropriate that this comes back up. Remember, as some German beardo once said, " The history of all hitherto existing RPG pricing is the history of nerd class struggles."
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
But DragonCon is coming.
OMG. DragonCon. Pure bliss.

Now there is an example of how I spend to much money on my hobbies. My cosplay costumes usually cost me way more money than all my RPGs combined (and that's just on the Worbla!!!)! LOL.
 

There’s a balancing act for stuff like this, I think. The PDF price has to be relative to the physical price.

Ultimately, if people will pay that much for a game, then that’s what they should charge. I’ve been just intrigued enough by Invisible Sun to remain aware of it, but I personally am not going to spend that much on a game I’m not even sure my group would enjoy. But there are plenty of folks who will and who have.

It’s not a scam in any way to have the equivalent of a luxury item. If it’s too expensive, don’t buy it. Pretty simple. If you feel you really have to have it, maybe get the whole group to contribute. Or save up over time.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
A $100 PDF is exclusionary for no real purpose. It's being charged because he can.
Do remember that the price of a product is not just based on the media the product comes in. The price includes all work for that product. So, (pulling numbers out of the air) if Monte does a normal PDF product in two months by himself, and this one took six months, and three other people he doesn't normally work with, that's all going to be in the cost.

If this pdf is bigger, better, includes more resources for the GM to use than a standard pdf, then it should cost more than a lesser pdf.
 


Dire Bare

Hero
Supporter
Do remember that the price of a product is not just based on the media the product comes in. The price includes all work for that product. So, (pulling numbers out of the air) if Monte does a normal PDF product in two months by himself, and this one took six months, and three other people he doesn't normally work with, that's all going to be in the cost.

If this pdf is bigger, better, includes more resources for the GM to use than a standard pdf, then it should cost more than a lesser pdf.
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.
 

Stormonu

Hero
I think the most I (over)payed for a RPG item was for Throne of Bloodstone ($100), before the days it was available as a PDF. Ptoltus may have been the most expensive I paid retail price for. I had considered buying Invisible Sun, but the opportunity slipped me by and I don't think I'd have gotten anyone in my play group to give it a go.

It's nice if a product falls into your budget, but I don't begrudge a publisher for putting whatever price they feel on their product. I can always refuse to buy it at that price (and laugh at the price - I'm looking at you, GW), and there's enough variety of existing games that my enjoyment don't hinge on any specific product. Can't afford the (new) Aliens RPG? You can make a good go of it with a tweaked Savage Worlds, GURPS or even Call of Cthulhu if you can find it cheaper/already have the system. Or even make up your own - that's what I did back in the 80's.
 

eyeheartawk

Works 60% of the time, every time
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.
So, this exists. By comparison I would say it's overpriced. The price exists to be exclusionary. This is by design. Invisble Sun is a $250 luxury product. Luxury products by design engender exclusivity by exclusion, this is done by price. This is why the perceived value of something like a Mercedes, say, is higher than that of Ford. Since this is true of the physical version if the PDF were priced at a more reasonable level it would lessen that exclusive, luxury image of the physical product. Not to mention that then nobody would likely buy the needlessly excessive bits and bobbles of the physical copy, which I'm sure ties up quite a bit of capital if it remains unsold.

While the above is broadly true of any "market" is that what we want our little corner of a hobby to be? To me, and I would wager many others, the beauty of RPGs is that you could with nothing more than a ratty hand me down rulebook and some $4 dice, play forever without any more investment than some paper and pencils. This is an egalitarian virtue, in my eyes, and seeing such blatant, soulless pumping of margins for the above outlined reasons, which excludes the less economically advantaged just because and purposefully bothers me.

Is it a minor deal all things considered? Sure. Are there many alternatives on the market that are sensibly priced and even free? Yeah, sure. Can we comment on the similarities seen between this and how our society broadly conducts itself vis-a-vis the economy and the social effects this has? Yeah, bruh. Does that mean we can't whinge and comment broadly about the negatives aspect of this development? Naw.

Also dude, your eye condition sounds serious. Get that checked out quick. My eyes rolled out of my head once from rolling too hard and I couldn't find them for awhile. It was a whole Keystone Cops thing.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
While the above is broadly true of any "market" is that what we want our little corner of a hobby to be?
Sure. Sounds fine to me. Because, as you mention, there are lots of RPGs that fall within lots of different price ranges. So it bothers me not one iota that there are expensive RPG products as long as there remains inexpensive RPG products.

It's sorta like archery, which is one of my other hobbies. I'd love a really expensive bow and other equipment. I bought a less expensive one and, guess what, I'm still having fun... (and I'm a better shot than a lot of those who bought the expensive stuff, but that's another story. :) ). I do not begrudge the more expensive equipment because I can still do what I like, just not with the fancy toys.

To me, and I would wager many others, the beauty of RPGs is that you could with nothing more than a ratty hand me down rulebook and some $4 dice, play forever without any more investment than some paper and pencils.
And expensive RPG products such as this do nothing to stop that. You just can't do it with this one particular RPG.

This is an egalitarian virtue, in my eyes, and seeing such blatant, soulless pumping of margins for the above outlined reasons, which excludes the less economically advantaged just because and purposefully bothers me.
This is not food, medicine or shelter. It's a game. A game! And I will not tell a creator of a game and/or fiction what they must charge. The marketplace will do that all by itself. But to classify making a game expensive as blatant, soulless pumping of margins makes me wonder for more about the complainer than the producer.

I mean, do people really need this game? Is there not something else they could play and have fun with? What harm does not being able to afford this one, particular game do? Answer: probably none beyond hurting feelings.
 



TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
While the above is broadly true of any "market" is that what we want our little corner of a hobby to be? To me, and I would wager many others, the beauty of RPGs is that you could with nothing more than a ratty hand me down rulebook and some $4 dice, play forever without any more investment than some paper and pencils. This is an egalitarian virtue, in my eyes, and seeing such blatant, soulless pumping of margins for the above outlined reasons, which excludes the less economically advantaged just because and purposefully bothers me.
I mean, sure, but then you're arguing against the necessity of luxury items and consumptive consumerism in general. That's a discussion worth having, but it's a far bigger topic than what any one producer is doing.

I don't think there's anything about RPGs that would morally obligate them to be more egalitarian than any other consumer product.
 

ddaley

Explorer
Do remember that the price of a product is not just based on the media the product comes in. The price includes all work for that product. So, (pulling numbers out of the air) if Monte does a normal PDF product in two months by himself, and this one took six months, and three other people he doesn't normally work with, that's all going to be in the cost.

If this pdf is bigger, better, includes more resources for the GM to use than a standard pdf, then it should cost more than a lesser pdf.
I am not sure that argument really works with PDFs. Once the PDF has been created, then it costs them virtually zero to "produce" more and send it out... assuming they are selling it through their own site. If they were to charge $50 instead of $100, they may get 5x as many sales (guestimate on my part)... actually making more money. My point is, that by lowering the price, they could actually make more than by setting an artificially high price.

It seems the are trying to make their product a "status" type RPG.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I am not sure that argument really works with PDFs. Once the PDF has been created, then it costs them virtually zero to "produce" more and send it out... assuming they are selling it through their own site. If they were to charge $50 instead of $100, they may get 5x as many sales (guestimate on my part)... actually making more money. My point is, that by lowering the price, they could actually make more than by setting an artificially high price.

It seems the are trying to make their product a "status" type RPG.
Probably not. Pricing PDFs is a bit more complex that pricing physical units. If you print 1000 copies of something, you set the priced by dividing up the cost of the printing and the other production costs over that 1000 copies (or whatever % of that you expect will be final sales vs losses due to shipping damage, etc).

With PDFs, it's true that you don't have to worry about printing costs - but you're at more of a quandary about how much of the production cost each of the PDFs must bear in its price. That doesn't mean there aren't ways to make some estimates. I'm sure Monte Cook Games has pretty good data on PDF sales of their other products and can use that as a measure of their likely ceiling for Invisible Sun sales if given a similar price. And if Invisible Sun cost more to produce than any of those products, then they know they have to set the price higher to recoup the production cost... which, in turn, probably means fewer sales, driving the realistic expectation of units sold down.

That said, we do know that MCG was setting out to make this a fairly lavish production. And one of the ways you do that is to not sell it for peanuts, no matter how many you expect to sell. I think he is trying to build a market of luxury game materials. It's a market I have no interest in, personally, because I don't have the money to burn if my players aren't interested. I just don't see the value of participating in a luxury product beyond a certain level (I do prefer a better hotel to a fleabag one - but super luxurious is just gilding the lily). And Invisible Sun, for me, is well past that level.

But a con? No, I don't think so.
 

ddaley

Explorer
...I think he is trying to build a market of luxury game materials....
I think we are saying the same thing. This is what I meant by saying that they are trying to create a "status" RPG. I don't think their price point was set where it was in order to make more money.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I am not sure that argument really works with PDFs. Once the PDF has been created, then it costs them virtually zero to "produce" more and send it out... assuming they are selling it through their own site. If they were to charge $50 instead of $100, they may get 5x as many sales (guestimate on my part)... actually making more money. My point is, that by lowering the price, they could actually make more than by setting an artificially high price.

It seems the are trying to make their product a "status" type RPG.
It depends how much it costs you to create it and how long it will take to profit on it. Distribution is just one cost.

I have PDF products on sale which are years old which haven’t made a profit yet.

It’s really not as simple as the distribution cost.
 

ddaley

Explorer
It depends how much it costs you to create it and how long it will take to profit on it. Distribution is just one cost.

I have PDF products on sale which are years old which haven’t made a profit yet.

It’s really not as simple as the distribution cost.
Admittedly, I have not produced a PDF and attempted to sell it... but, from the consumer point of view, I am saying that my likelihood of buying a product is non-linear. If I am interested in something, I am probably (more than) 5x likely to buy a PDF for $50 as I am to buy it at $100. Based on my own buying habits, I am extrapolating to say that they can probably reach a profit more quickly by charging half as much... because, they will get way more than twice the number of sales to make up for the lower price.

I have purchased a LOT of RPG material over the years, but I don't think I have ever come close to spending $100 on a PDF (and likely never will).
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Based on my own buying habits, I am extrapolating to say that they can probably reach a profit more quickly by charging half as much... because, they will get way more than twice the number of sales to make up for the lower price.
Sure, there's a graph, but it's not that basic. I mean, they use all the data they have and pitch the price point where they feel it will make the most profit. I'm sure Ferrari would sell a million Ferraris if they sold them for $1000 each, but... well, you know where this is going.

Clearly they don't believe that they will get way more than twice the number of sales at half the price. Maybe you know better, maybe you don't. But that's the strategy they've decided on.
 

ddaley

Explorer
...I'm sure Ferrari would sell a million Ferraris if they sold them for $1000 each, but... well, you know where this is going.
But, we are talking PDF versions here. They would obviously be taking a loss on each sale.

Clearly they don't believe that they will get way more than twice the number of sales at half the price. Maybe you know better, maybe you don't. But that's the strategy they've decided on.
And, I would be quite surprised if they didn't get more than twice the sales at half the price. I certainly don't know anyone who would drop $100 on the PDF.

I have 10,684 files under my RPG folder (and that doesn't include what I have purchased on D&D Beyond or Fantasy Grounds). I guarantee that none of those were over $50.
 

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