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Sunday, May 8, 2016

It's Not Often That I Link to ENWorld, But When I Do... Chris Helton Talks About the Need to Pay What Games are Worth

It's not often that I link to a thread on ENWorld. Come to think of it, I don't recall ever linking to a discussion on ENWorld, but this one is worth reading.

+Christopher Helton wrote an article that went live earlier today titled Why We Need To Pay What Games Are Worth, Not What We Think They Should Cost. It's a good, if short article, but the discussion is at 4 pages long and growing.

It's worth the read, whether you are a publisher or consumer of gaming material.
We have a problem in the tabletop RPG business (well, honestly, we have more than one). That problem is that many people in the fan base are a bunch of cheapskates.                     - Christopher Helton 


34 comments:

  1. Luckily Helton is not the one in charge. Bump the prices to 60-70 dollars a corebook, and the market dies - which is much, much worse than people paying less-than-roughly-estimated.
    Not everyone in the hobby drinks Starbucks or eats $60 pizzars. Hell, not everyone has just retired, Tenkar! This smells like gatekeeping from a mile. Good intentions gone rogue, if you ask me (but you'll be glad you didn't).

    If anything, making products available at different price ranges would be ideal, but that's already being done (to some extent).

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    1. I'm right there with you. Many games have outpriced what I can afford now days. My family and I don't eat out all the time and I sure as hell can't afford Starbucks. It comes across as if everyone who complains about the prices are just cheapskates who want something for nothing.

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    2. Adjusted for inflation the 1st ed Monster Manual was about $33. These days, the costs of books has risen but now there is full color printing and all number of other things that drive the printing costs up.

      $50-60 for a core book isn't any big deal when you figure out the value of the entertainment it provides. That's what? Three tickets to Civil War?

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    3. this came up recently in some of my real life rpg circles. suffice it to say, if you want to sell a book cheaper then you have to be willing to make the book look like shit OR the artists, editors, layout designers, and writers have to be willing to make less money or worse, agree to a royalty payment.

      i think it is a little shitty, actually way shitty, that people demand that the pdf version of a hardcover book be 70 to 80 percent less in price that the actual book. the difference in cost of printing a book and releasing it as a pdf is super negligible. the cheapest thing about an offset printed book is the cost of printing. a 400 page book in full color with a hardcover only cost 5 to 8 dollars to be printed. the higher cost comes from paying artists, layout people, editors, and proof readers. making physical books is usually 2, maybe 1 percent of the budget, if not less.

      the book industry sucks, and the RPG book industry sucks more. audiobooks still cost nearly the same amount as their printed cover price, as do ebooks. but no one, as far as i know, is bitching that audiobooks should cost less because there is no physical product.

      i dont really think PDFs should cost the same as a printed book. BUT i have seen people bitching about a 300+ page full color, full art high production layout book costing more than 5 dollars as a PDF wayyy too much. i don't consider those people cheapskates by any means, but i do think that more light could be shed on WHY books cost so much money. for instance, i work as an RPG cartographer full time. I charge at industry standard in this field, but if you look at how much money I make yearly, I make less than minimum wage. most working artists make less than 10,000 a year (rpg industry or otherwise). i like to think i do pretty good work, and deserve what money i do make. so to hear that people want publishers to spend less money making books hurts. it means in turn meaning i either make less money OR i charge less and do the same amount of work.

      but the high cost of production isn't the only issue, the other issue is that people have less money to spend on fun shit. it sucks, but its how things are. the solution? if people want cheaper RPG products then they need to be willing to get books with less or no art, and possibly less editing review and little to no layout.

      which is sad. but thats how it is.

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    4. I think some of the reason for people not liking the pdf pricing is from the what people have been told for years. For decades we got told books were expensive to print, warehouse, ship etc and that's why they have to sell them for X amount of dollars. Then when pdfs came along many thought that eliminated the heavy costs of making a book. Now many of know this isn't true and that companies also spend a lot more on editing, layout and art than they did a decade ago... but it's still a thought in the base of some peoples minds.

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    5. not quite that simple. with PDFs (and POD to a lesser extent) you can play with the pricing to encourage a greater number of sales. as the number of items you see is influenced on price, overcoming the mental limitation some folks have on price by lowing the PDF cost and result in larger number of sales and thus more monies coming in.

      much harder to do when print books require a printing cost up front, reduced pricing for retailers and all the other variables.

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    6. peter that is a really good point, some of which is true. it is expensive to warehouse and ship books. that is why so many kickstarters go afoul, they get the product made no problem and then can't get the things back from wherever they are made.

      but yeah, books are really really expensive to make until the printing. there are artists who will get paid the same amount of money for a single page of art as it would cost to offset print a hundred 350 page full color, great layout books.

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    7. I think a big point of people not wanting to spend much on PDFs is because they have no resell value.

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  2. Luca -- you are making too much sense.

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  3. Well, that's why I like the OSR scene. Affordable rulebooks with decent content and enough room to customise.

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  4. I think the problem here is that, as Robin D. Laws once said at a GenCon panel I attended, the fanbase for the hobby breaks down mostly into two groups: tech nerds with high-paying jobs and starving college students. That statement was probably an oversimplification, but the fact is that there's a diversity of financial situations among RPG fans.

    Right now, all the big publishers seem to be catering exclusively to those fans who have means. Every book seems to be a hardcover with really high production values and quality art. Obviously, the existence of these books isn't a bad thing, but there are have been a lot of games (Legend of the Five Rings 4e comes to mind) that are great book design porn that I can't really justify buying a physical copy of at $70.

    Numenera and The Strange from Monte Cook games also fall into this category of expensive book design porn. However, MCG also sells softcover players' guides to those games at $20 for a physical copy. That way, only the GM has to have the expensive hardcover with all the extensive setting material.

    Obviously, the rise of PDF publishing has created one avenue for releasing lower-priced products (though also creating the possibility of pirated torrents). Other possible ways to do this is to release games in $70 hardcover, full-color collectors' editions, while also releasing a softcover, low-art edition at a lower price point.

    Overall, I think most of the industry is failing at figuring out how to sell their products at a price point much of their fanbase can afford.

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  6. No, the problem is publishers print huge books devoid of content in order to jack up the price. We usually pay MORE than a book is worth.

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  7. the idea you need to keep buying books and editions is a bit sad. Keeping up with others spending habits is ridiculous. My club got a flood of new members who only want to play 5th ed - when i tell ppl i play pre first ed or a custom game people look confused and wander off. Original content is harder to get players interested in and some of my game cons only accept best selling product now. The re release of many older versions of games is great - many are simpler and smaller and more readable. Id rather use history and non fiction books or national geographic as supplements because i learn about real world and i can spend nothing or very little. More than half books i see are bloat ware and crippleware, over designed, over complex and designed to waste space. I run intro games and give players a list of free downloadable stuff. I wish i had this option as a kid.

    Im happy to look online for amazing art - id rather a good simple game that isnt unreasonably complex for the sake of selling stuff.

    I was a big CoC fan because it had changed very little (actually newer characters are tougher and have more skill points and fightimg skills) but new edition troubles me alot by breaking with 30 years of product.

    PDFs are nice but collecting piles of splatbooks that look pretty is like collecting star trek plates. I guess lots of players read more books than they play as a sort of fantasy non fiction read or to keep up with hobby they cant play as much as they used to. Big glossy books are like pokemon cards for adults.

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  8. He's whinin'. What consumers perceive the value of your product to be is up to them. If he wants to set his own cover price or cut out distributors so that he keeps more of the sale price, he's got a point. Blaming (potential) customers for not spending enough to pay his mortgage is simply a frustrated temper tantrum.

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  9. I'm having trouble getting over the "everyone deserves a living wage"argument. Gygax himself said he didn't see where the market could bear more than a handful of full-time game designers.

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    1. Further thought reveals that all artistic creators run into the same problem. Most "artists" (musicians, fine artists, authors, actors, athletes) do not use their art as a primary occupation. They do something else to pay the bills.

      There are comparatively few Stephen Kings and Taylor Swifts who can support themselves using their art alone.

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    2. No one "Deserves" anything in life.

      Sure it would be nice if every one who wanted to and did publish Game Material was paid enough to live comfortably, but that is not how the free market works.

      The Market sets the price based on what people perceive as the value of a Game Book/PDF in this case. No amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth will change that.

      This is Milton Economics 101.

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  10. The thread on EN world seems to be devolving into a debate about capitalism and economics in general. Sign of the times...

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    1. It's understandable it is "evolving: into such a debate, as that is exactly what is at the root of the OP's article.

      As soon as someone charges $ for something, it becomes economics. Heck even when stuff is free it still has to compete for brain CPU cycle time in the marketplace of ideas.

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    2. This coming from a guy who is a well'ish to do Tech Nerd with a large chunk of disposable income to spend on RPG's (and books in general). I spend 100's if not 1000's a year on RPG material be it print or digital.

      But even for me I recognize I can't buy it all so I have to pick and choose what I will buy and what I won't. And $$$ is often the #1 or #2 factor in an RPG purchase.

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  11. As a grey-bearded grognard I find myself with more time (and disposable income) to donate to my beloved hobby now than at any other time in my life. I love to support RPG Kickstarter projects and I have always preferred printed materials over ebooks. However, I now find that I am becoming even pickier than when my finances and time constraints were a concern. I love books but I don't like them on glossy (often hard to read in bright light) paper, especially when they come dotted with artwork that I will look at once and then discard because it is (a) not integral to the rules in any meaningful way, or (b) because I've been gaming since the 70's I'm pretty familiar with what a dwarf or an elf looks like (regardless of what spin or new class you put it in) and hopefully your descriptions will help fill in any gaps/changes that I may have missed. Most modern game systems seem to feel that more is better. I now beg to disagree, sometimes less is more.

    Although I love printed books, PDFs do offer something far more useful and often overlooked or undervalued - hyperlinks and bookmarks! I want rules and system information that I can use and refer back to quickly while I'm at the table. I seem to recall being able to run basic and advanced D&D campaigns without much trouble for a couple of decades with little to no artwork and a decent index.

    Yes, these days (for me at least) a set of well thought out rules coupled with good layout (and, for the love of all that's Holy, a competent proof-reader) in a format that doesn't require Popeye's muscles to hold at the table trumps a flashy hyperbole volume padded with eye candy any day.

    Now THAT is something I'm quite happy to pay good money for... but like I said - I'm a grey-beared grognard (and proud!)

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  12. It's unfortunate that the discussion got sidetracked (for reasons that are partly Helton's fault) by the semi-political comments about health-care expenses and the right to a living wage. I think the limited question of whether print books are worth more than they're being sold for is a good one to have, and I'm sympathetic to the complaint that the market is killing itself with deep discounts and constant sales, and needs to reset public expectations back to a non-suicidal business model, or face collapse. But the abstract idea that there's some obligation from "the community" to enable an arbitrarily large number of wanna-be writers and designers to exceed a certain salary threshold is ultimately not an argument that can ever be won without a broader consensus about some pretty contentious issues in economic and political theory.

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  13. I think something the tone of this piece led a lot of folks to respond much more negatively than they might have otherwise...and has lent itself to the derailing of the comments. There's a little too much "You're spoiled and expect to rip off people who deserve your money," and not quite enough "Hey, everyone, let's think long-term about the health of our hobby and try to be more reasonable in what we expect to pay for some really high-quality products." I love the idea that those who make games can devote their careers and talents to it. Like many of us on here, I dream of one day devoting more of my career and talents to it. In the back of my mind, though, I know that most of us could never spend another dime on RPG material, and we'd have enough to entertain us for the rest of our lives. And that's stuff that people make available freely (by that I mean: I'm not referring to pirating anything).

    In other words, I'd rather someone educate me on the cost of quality printed products, including the time used to funnel appropriate talent into the project, than to try to shame me into buying things we all know I don't need. And yes, that's an oversimplification, but I think it's how many people took it.

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  14. One other thing I thought of -- there is certainly something to be said when the publisher says "It'll cost $25k to print this book" and some fans just don't understand.

    There are some cheapskates in the fan base. But I look at Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Frog God, Small Niche, WOTC, Raging Swan, et.al. , and see them being supported not by cheapskates, but by gamers who appreciate the product being offered. Mr. Helton might be better served by telling those people who think they can get a professional printing from their home ink jet printers to sluff off and do it themselves, we don't need your money.

    Of course, there's a reason why I don't work in PR . . . .

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  15. My sentiments run parralel to Konsumterra's. A lamp can have many different design aesthetics but the light is what you want and all you need. I think it's a little unrealistic to believe you can raise your initial investments all by asking for strangers for money and wind up with quite a lot, make, in the words of another commenter, "expensive book porn", and sell that at prices the market won't support. Then again, I don't believe kick-starter and crowdfunding should be used by the same individuals more than once. there is enough of this material in existence and enough creativity to make from scratch for free that not buying expensive books isn't going to endanger this hobby at all.

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  16. My problem with this whole model of RPG book printing is that I really, really do not want or need full color hard cover RPG books with full page illustrations, and page borders, and bleed through backgrounds. I am fine with a simpler, black and white, less illustrated game book.

    I know that folks like James Raggi and Zak Smith and WotC and White Wolf really like to push the value of art in an RPG product, but I would rather have a well written art light less expensive RPG than a well written fully isllustrated more expensive RPG.

    Maybe it's an age thing.

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    1. oH AND LET ME SAY THAT i AM NOT KNOCKING James Raggi and Zak Smith and WotC and White Wolf. There stuff is beautiful, but you know, not every car needs to be an expensive sports car, sometimes you need an economy car and sometimes you need a pick up truck...

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  17. I still haven't read all the comments there are to read (I'll get to that tomorrow), but the core of this pricing problem is limited customer base. If anyone wants or needs me to expand on that, I'd be happy to.

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  18. I never understood why the options to buying RPG books do not exist... for example... Why not have the $50 hardcover book available, but then break down the book into Players Guide and GM guide and Monster Guide in soft cover for $25 price range... maybe they only want the players, then later they decide to go for GM... I am less likely to bring a $75 dollar book to a con (I have seen many accidents happens) than I am a $30 dollar book that I can easily replace

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  19. If an item costs more than I am willing to pay, I don't buy, end of story. I don't buy every video out there brand new for 60 a pop, because they aren't worth my money. A problem with that article(among many) is that he doesn't provide a compelling argument for the worth of game books besides the cost of printing. To sell to the consumer you have to make it worth their while, which means not saying that you "deserve" it. You don't deserve my money, I deserve my money. And whether I choose to give some to buying RPG's at the price I can get a value at, is my business.

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