Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Cost of Gaming

I apologize for missing my usual Thursday blog last week. Thursday wound up being an insane day (I'll tell you more about it in my official con post), so I didn't get a chance to get anything together.

But one thing that's been bothering me, and the con has helped bring it into focus: The cost of RPGs has steadily risen over the last several years.

When I started gaming around 12 years ago, I like to think that things were relatively inexpensive. My typical purchase back in those days was a GURPS supplement. 8 1/2 x 11, 128 pages, Black and white art for around 20 bucks. If the book was bigger, hardcover, or a core rulebook for a game, it was more expensive. Box sets full of booklets, handouts and gewgaws were also in this more expensive category. If something was particularly cool, I would cough up the 30 bucks. When the Forgotten Realms setting book for D&D 3rd edition came out, it was right around $40. It was cool, but it took my fiancee breaking out the puppy dog eyes for me to break down and buy it.

Lately, though, this has been increasing. The 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons has rulebooks that cost $35 each and 3 of them are required to play (a Player's Handbook, a Dungeon Master's Guide, and a Monster Manual) for a total of $105 before dice and minis. Pathfinder is only slightly better. They only require 2 books (the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary) to give you the same level of information with a total required investment of $90 ($50 for the rulebook and $40 for the Bestiary).

This even seems to extend to indie games. Books only slightly larger than my own AiO were selling for $20-$30 at the con. The Dresden Files RPG main rulebook sells for $50 and the setting book is another $40 (and I will admit, not a necessary purchase. The rulebook comes with enough stuff to keep you busy for quite some time. The setting book is mostly a nice big reference to the series with game stats included).

I wound up swallowing my pride and buying a couple of newer games full price. It felt slightly wrong though. Maybe I'm being a crotchety old man on this. Which is funny, because I'm not that old (I swear!).

Here are a couple of reasons that I can think of why prices may have gone up.

Inflation: What with the economy as a whole going down the toilet in recent years, a dollar may not buy what it did just a few short years ago.

POD: While Print on Demand presents itself as cheap, it's still not quite on a par with traditional printing. It's pretty close and getting closer, but it's not there yet. While it may be only a buck or two difference, that adds up when you need to fit your entire operating budget into 40% of your retail price.

Production values: I'm sure people are going to bring this up. While more books are going the full-color hardcover route and doing some really interesting things visually, I'm not sure it really justifies the prices people are charging.

Capitalism: It may simply be that people have realized that they can charge these kind of prices and the average gamer will cough it up.

While this (among other) phenomena has kept me from buying as much new gaming books as I'd like, my main concern is for the hobby itself. These prices may be nothing new to the typical gamer, but I think they are growing to the point that it's choking out the new blood.

And I'm clearly not alone in this. While experienced gamers have been wondering about the D&D Essentials line from Wizards of the Coast, I very clearly saw it as reaching out to new players. The new Starter Set resembles the classic Red Box D&D to bring in those old school, potentially lapsed, gamers, while the box more clearly says "game" than a book does, and the lower price points clearly make the line more accessible to people who haven't jumped on the D&D bandwagon yet.

The scary part of this line of thinking is that I'm debating raising the price of the print version of AiO up from $15 to $20. My gut is telling me "Hell No!" but my brain is steadily finding it more compelling. The new price wouldn't be hideously unreasonable and would allow me more profit per sale. It would also make getting into distribution a bit easier.

Just a few paragraphs up, when I mentioned fitting your entire operating budget into 40% of your retail cost, I was talking about distribution. When a distributor buys your book, they require a 60% discount. So AiO, which should sell for $14.99, would have to be sold to the distributor for only $6. But my manufacturing cost per book from Lulu is around $7. While Lulu does offer bulk discounts, a quick check reveals that I'd have to order in volumes of 300 or more to make any kind of money in distribution at my current price point. Which would cost more than my tax return this year.

But with a retail price of $19.99 that 60% discount means I'm selling them into distribution for $8, making profit possible at much smaller (more affordable) volumes.

Just to be clear, I am still working on getting OneBookShelf set up for POD with a much lower manufacturing cost, but this would allow me to do this sort of thing right now.

What do you, my loyal readers, think of all of this?


Joseph said...

Well, it's certainly the case that the cost of gaming books has gone up. Back in the day, you could get the Monster Manual and PHB for $12 each (new), and the DMG for $15. That's a total buy-in of $39 for the whole lot. Less than a single book nowadays.

However, I'm not sure I buy the idea that it's anything more than the normal sort of inflation you'd expect to see in any similar industry. Scifi paperbacks used to cost me $1.95 at the same time; now they're often pushing $8. Seems comparable.

It would be interesting to get the actual numbers, though, adjusted for inflation, and see how various things compare; WotC books vs. White Wolf, Baen paperback books, movie ticket prices, etc. Way beyond my current time capacity to put together, though.

velaran said...

Absolutely. The cost has risen at a far faster rate than previously. Aside on Pathfinder: Pathfinder would be 25$ for the Player Guide and $25 for the GM's guide if the book were split.(Or something similar.) Not too shabby. But if you just want one or the other, unfortunately, you have to buy both in one package. Recently, WOTC has slightly lowered their buy in price with the Essentials, and so has Fantasy Flight Games by providing lower cost books for WFRP 3rd Edition, rather than buying the large Box Set.

Full color, glossy page, hardbacks with gilded pages, foil embossed covers with holographs, etc... are unnecessary and simply raise the price of the units, imo. Softcover, black and white on normal paper, like the Palladium Books line for example or T&T 5.5 or BRP/Call of Cthulu, etc... is good enough for play, I'd say. Let there be a sensible hardback option for those who want it, and a vanity coffee table book, too, but that shouldn't be required for buy-in.(Ideally, digest sized rules and Box Sets would be included, too!)

I personally buy more product from companies that have low-cost games, both because I can afford it, and to show my appreciation. My personal sweet spot is ~$15-20(which I snap up), but I'll buy books in the $30-35 range. I'd venture that more low-cost buy-ins creates more players(or at least gets people to take a chance on your game!), and then you are more likely to have an audience for quality supplements and/or new games.

Good luck!

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