Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What Are Games Worth? - A Follow Up to Chris Helton's ENWorld Article on the Need to Pay What Games are Worth

What follows are some thoughts in regards to +Christopher Helton 's ENWorld article on Why We Need To Pay What Games Are Worth, Not What We Think They Should Cost. The Tavern's link to the article is question has generated 32 comments at the time I type this and the ENWorld article has 270 comments. It's obvious that it's subject that touches on us all and I've read some great comments on G+, The Tavern and ENWorld.

I think Chris' article is misnamed, because what he is really saying is that the price of RPG products should reflect the cost involved to produce them. Cost to produce and "worth" are two wholly separate issues. It is quite possible to spend more creating something than it's actual value.

What is something worth? That is subjective. While I find Frog God Games products to be well worth my investment as gaming material, others find them to be to expensive. I've heard many a Tavern reader suggest that FGG should offer a POD option for their books to make them move affordable. They want the product but aren't willing to pay the price the Frogs are asking. Still, the Frogs seem to do well with what they publish. They have an established customer base and a quality level to their finished product that exceeds that of POD.

What something is worth or valued at is, in the end, determined by the consumer and the producer. Ask too high a price and you limit your pool of prospective buyers. Sell at too low a price and you may never make back your investment.

I remember speaking with +Doug Kovacs at NTRPG Con in 2014 and remarking at the prices for his art, especially the original art pieces. To my eyes, the prices seems low, but I assume Doug knows his market. Maybe I overvalue art, as it's a skill I lack (even if both my parents are artists) but greatly appreciate. Maybe my assessment is correct but there is less of a market for original art than there is for written RPG material.

There is a reason Kickstarter is used so successfully by the Second Tier Publishers (I'm defining First Tier Publishers as WotC and Paizo for the purpose of this post) - it allows them to control cost and get an accurate print run estimation. Frog God Games, Goodman Games, Troll Lord Games, Pinnacle and others, especially those that do NOT offer Print on Demand, need an accurate assessment of the demand for their newest releases. Bringing those projects to Kickstarter allows for that. Dead stock sitting in a warehouse is minimized and a greater share of the final price of the product goes into the hands of the publisher.

PDF and POD publishing has been a godsend to the self publisher, the vast majority of whom are writing and publishing in their spare time.

No one is getting rich off of creating RPG material. Many are supplementing their "normal" salary. A few are making a living off of it. That is the general rule of being a "creative".

My sister is a published author. Her novel, The Hollow Ground, was a best seller on Audible. Her second manuscript is making the rounds hoping for a contract. In the meantime, she work as a college professor. Would she like to be a full time author? Yes. Will she ever be? Who knows.

Again, value is set by the market. While it should reflect the "cost" of creation to some extent, no one should be guaranteed a certain ROI on their creativity just "because". Not all creative works are equal, and effort does not guarantee quality. In the end, quality work has the most worth.


  1. This KS update seems timely and relevant.


  2. I agree with your post, but, I must point out that you don't define 'quality' and then close with it as the metric for worth.

    As I commented in a re-post of some Europen guy's retort to Helton's post, if art and layout are measures of 'quality', apart from mechanical innovation or even delivering what was advertised as regards setting and design goals, then money will always be the 'quality'-measure and thus, worth. I hate that idea. Especially from folks who used to love old games that barely had any art in them, and used tiny fricken fonts and a simple one or two-column format.

    1. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. It may be the the written work, the art, the layout, the sum of the above - whatever.

      It's how the consumer judges things - by a perceived quality of the product. The publisher may aim to make a "quality" product, but only the consumer can make that determination.

      High production values do not guarantee a quality product. I suspect for most consumers, it is a balancing of many metrics, including value.

  3. Well said, Erik. This is the post that Helton should have wrote. Publishers have to convince and persuade consumers of the value of their product. It is a gamble because no matter how much time and effort is put into a product, the consumer gets the final say.

  4. I really don't understand why publishers would think the basic rules of market economics don't apply to them. They determine what they think is the worth of the product and set a price. The customer decides if the value of the product is equal to or less than the set price; then acts in their best interests. It's not rocket science. Complaining about customers not spending enough is purposely ignoring reality and sounds a lot like whining.

    And the use of the whole living-wage argument is taking a good idea into a very selfish place.

  5. "I really don't understand why publishers would think the basic rules of market economics don't apply to them."

    Why not? Many of them seem to think the rest of the rules of the world don't apply to them, so I don't see this as any different.

  6. We're a vanity market aimed at discretionary income which is saturated with free and low-cost product, that places equivalent value on games from forty years ago or yesterday. There are budding authors desperate to make a living writing game books, but Chris (and others) are missing the point: you do not become a game designer/writer. You aim for professional author, and then you write as much as you conceivably can across a vairety of genres of fiction and other, treating RPGs as a solitary (and unreliable) source of some of that income. The author needs to value himself, and go where the money is. RPGs will sink or swim on a quality set by the needs of the audience, and right now the audience is incredibly fickle, so anyone putting all their apples in this one basket is going to starve.

  7. The "everyone deserves a living wage" argument is a faith based argument like "minimum wage should be a living wage". The ultimate answer of course is the market. The point of complaint seems to involve the cost of art. I can pay a living wage in other countries and get x 2 - x 3 the quantity of art as in the US or the UK.

    1. Strong Market Hypothesis is pretty strongly faith-based, too. At least that's what my portfolio rumbles at me from its cavernous lair.
      From an economic standpoint, I think that it's more fair to say that everyone ends up with a living wage, one way or another. Sometimes those without resources do just lay down and die, but nobody really wants that. Not once they've seen it up close. So if they don't just die and don't get enough from employment to live on, they end up relying on charity, or government subsidies (most food stamp recipients are employed - McDonald's and Wal-Mart had employee videos on how to get benefits), or doing criminal things. All of which are probably more expensive to society than ensuring that folks aren't exploited beyond certain parameters.

  8. Please remember that RPG's are NOT complete games, like Monopoly and Risk. They require a lot of work on the part of the participants. Implicit and explicit in the published rules and adventures, the players and Ref's are expected to change them to their liking and engage in improvisation where situations occur that aren't covered by what's written.

    In other words, you're buying a kit. Once you have the rules, you can make up your own adventures. After you've played RPG's a bit, you can make up your own games. Every player is a potential rival publisher. You need to factor all of that into your product pricing too.

  9. There are plenty of people making lots of money in the rpg biz. They tend to be selling shovels to miners rather than being miners themselves, but Stefan P pulling in 6 million is not chicken feed (he also happens to be financially independent, but that was not the case with the first 2 KS). For small press guys, Kevin Crawford is doing very well for himself, and deservedly so. Yes, he deserves his revenue, as he earned it with good ideas and excellent execution/product.

    As to the ENWorld Hack, yeah, his ideas are too faulty to really spend my time debating.

  10. I love frog god's stuff. I've paid less for other books and felt a bit sad at the end because even where the content was really good, the quality of the books was pretty terrible. I think it is smart for the Frogs to define their market - set a price for it and let people take it or leave it.


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