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?


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



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.

Context I live in a student city. Most players at the FLGS are students. 90% of them are from middle class or upper class back grounds.

Alot of people on welfare can't afford it, my mother couldn't although I did get a book for Christmas.

I bought it with my own money via my own job aged 14/15. If I have a long term player I know is hard up I'll funnel them an old phb or something.

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just the books and none of the other bulk would be nice, but i am a strict D&D fan and only buy those things that are compatible.

aramis erak

For me, I took one look, saw $250 as the entry point, and said, "No <expletive gerund> way in <expletive gerund> hell."

It would have to be a designer I appreciate the work of deeply to even cross $100 for a core. Mr. Cook is not one of such folk.

What I've seen of Mr Cook's work is solid, but it's all been Class & Level... if it turns up on Bundle of Holding or Humble Bundle, maybe $20...


Slumbering in Tsar
I do like the fact that MCG takes big swings at products. Ptolus was fantastic, IMO. Invisible Sun is one of those swings. I wish more publishers took chances like these (and with crowdfunding like Kickstarter, they even have a safety net).


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.

There is likely a reason that we don't see game publishers using your model... it just isn't realistic.

Dire Bare

There is likely a reason that we don't see game publishers using your model... it just isn't realistic.

But we do. As I said, there are a lot of RPG games with small communities. They exist. Publishers continue to publish new ones and supplements to existing ones. Certainly, the "bigger" the publisher, the larger the community they target, but there are plenty of small publishers making small games.


Deleted member 7015506

There is likely a reason that we don't see game publishers using your model... it just isn't realistic.
I may be wrong, but Dire Bare is right: For a good game you just need some rules to play by (many good games are for free or sold for very low money!) and folks willing to play it.

And if game publishing would be only about making money, which is a valid reason, then we wouldn´t have OSR, PWYW, Print-and-Play, etc. etc. And from a personal point of view those small independant publishers and folks involved in such projects a lot of great games and content is available. it might not always be shiny and glossy, sport astounding art or is free of errors or bugs, but it definitely pumps the gaming hobby in general. And again subjectively spoken, many of those products offer more fun for me than those from the big companies. Small doesn´t mean bad nor is the so called production value (paper used, art included, hard cover/soft cover, etc.) an indicator for its entertainment factor.

There is a reason for pricing a professionally published product to a certain level called economics. That is not to be condemned in any way, since it can be a strong motivator to provide quality products. But this is what I would call personal motivation: Is the aim to make tons of money out of a product or is it to share an idea/vision with others for no or a small compensation for investing time and money into publishing it? whatever the reason to publish, neither of those possibilities is to be condemned (at least I think that way).

And for the term "market": How large or small a following/supporting community is, is based on so many factors, that numbers basically don´t men anything (except when you think economically in dollar terms). A good game, like said already, doesn´t need a large community to prove it is just that - a good game.


I may be wrong, but Dire Bare is right: For a good game you just need some rules to play by (many good games are for free or sold for very low money!) and folks willing to play it

Um, I believe Dire Bare is arguing that games should be priced much higher... not free or low cost. Dire Bare is saying it is fine if only a handful of people play it because only a handful of people are willing to spend the money on it. Games stores are not going to want to carry a $250 book that is likely to sit on the shelf for 2 years. They would prefer the $50 books that move more quickly. And, as you get older, it is harder to find groups to play with. If few people play a particular game, then it'll be even more challenging to find a group willing to play.

Probably a lot of us began gaming when we were young. I was around 12. How many teenagers would be able to drop hundreds of dollars on a core rule book? Having expensive books would stifle the younger groups.

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