Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What are RPGs Worth?

Been a lot of talk about this on the old internet lately.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?3410-Why-We-Need-To-Pay-What-Games-Are-Worth-Not-What-We-Think-They-Should-Cost#.VzH7TnErKVM
http://www.tenkarstavern.com/2016/05/what-are-games-worth-follow-up-to-chris.html
https://plus.google.com/+GregChristopher /posts/4ScbaXYPFnv
http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2016/05/whats-it-worth-to-ya.html (edited to add)
http://therpgpundit.blogspot.com/2016/05/incompetent-game-writers-demanding-we.html

Some advocating more expensive books and/or better pay for the work they do.  Others saying let the market decide what something needs to be charged and/or paid.

I guess to me the issue is really what is an RPG worth to me.

I am very fortunate. I get to write RPGs, the stuff I want and I get to be choosy about it.  I have a day job that I am really good at and pays me well.  I can afford to buy the things I want and even get the occasional luxury item.  So my personal calculus for what I will pay is different than yours or someone doing much better than me.

The questions are "What should RPGs cost?" and "What are RPGs worth?".  The logical extension of these questions are what should a professional game designer be paid?

These are two VERY different questions.

Let's look at the breakdown of price (money), cost (money and time among other things) and value or worth.

I bought the AD&D 1st edition hardcovers back in the 1980s.  Money was tight for me then. Even a $15 or $20 book represented a significant number of hours of me working at the time.  So their value started out as higher than their price might indicate.  The worth of those books to me is incalculable. Not just the time I spent with friends playing, or reading them over and over, but the things I do now with my own kids.

I bought the 3rd Edition hardcovers when they first came out.  I keep the receipts as bookmarks so I know when I got them and how much I paid;  9/11/2000 (interesting date) and I spent $18.00 plus tax (in Cook County Ill that is about 9%).  These books cost far more to produce. The cost was a bout the same to me, but the amount of work this total represented 20 years later to buy them was far less.  Also, their worth to me is still great since this was the system I taught my kids how to play.

So value and worth is not something I can easily quantify.  Does Skip Williams deserve to be paid more or less than Gary Gygax did?

I have had the pleasure to work on some truly wonderful games.  I spent hundreds of hours doing research for Ghosts of Albion. Not just on the primary material, but on the Victorian time, names, economics, how long it took to load a gun, world leaders, countries, disputes. Hell I spent an entire day doing nothing but looking up the most popular names of 1838 and 1839!  Should it have been more expensive to make than say Army of Darkness? A game with the same rule system?

I am going to say no.

Why?  Well lots of reasons really. Army of Darkness, the movie, is more popular than the Ghosts of Albion books. There is a certain gamer-cool vibe to Army of Darkness too.  Plus Victorian games, as popular as they are, are still a small niche inside the RPG community.
I spent that time in research because it was what I chose to do. I wanted to give you a better game.  I wanted to give you the best Victorian game I make and the best Cinematic Unisystem game I could make.  In both cases I feel like I did my best.  Hey it's 8+ years since publication and I still get people telling me how much they love Ghosts.

To someone else the value of Ghosts vs. Army is the same.  The cost certainly is for the consumer.  I am privy to many of the behind the scenes costs for both books, so I am not going to get into the issue of which one was more expensive to make.

I also spent hundreds of hours working on The Witch. The typing, the layout and the research alone goes back decades. I also bought a bunch of art for it and bought advertising on my own dime. I sell it for $5.00.  I bet I could have charged $10, but 5 felt better to me.  If I were to be paid let's say minimum wage on the work I did, well...I'd likely never see that money based on sales alone.

But that is not why I do it.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Kevin Siembieda's ex-wife Maryann, "If you want to make a small fortune in the gaming industry you need to start with a large fortune and work your way down."

There is a sad truth in that.

I am not saying we couldn't or even shouldn't pay game designers more.
But they will be paid what the market allows for.

There is a price that a book will sell at, but my knowledge of micro- and macro-economics is not MBA level so I have no idea what that is.  We have thousands of games, hundreds of professional and amateur designers out there, and unfettered access to all.  This new golden age of access to RPGs has a price.

We just don't know what that price should be.

10 comments:

StevenWarble said...

For me, I feel that many of the big rpg books are too expensive because they have become over illustrated. Given equally good written content, I would prefer a $40 black and white book with sensible illustrations, versus a $60-70 full color book with full page illustrations, page borders, bleed thru backgrounds, etc...

Mark Craddock said...

Thats an interesting point, Steve.

Like Tim, I publish my own stuff, and I do it for my own enjoyment. Most things I release are $1. I know they will sell at $1, because I'm a one-man shop, a vanity press, really and I'm building a brand. In in almost 4 moths I've paid for one Kickstarter and will pay for a second with the extra income.

As a day job, I manage a small chain of comics and game stores in KY.

This isn't the video game industry. A top-selling TPB from DC or Marvel has less than a 10,000 unit print run and we are MUCh smaller than them.

I don't want RPG books to cost what a Text book does. Printing is an option now and traditional RPG methods don't work anymore. Why keep inventory when you can Print On Demand?

We are a hobby industry, lets just enjoy what we are.

Linneman said...

A lot of sense in this post and the comments above. It's definitely interesting to see how strong the reaction has been to that piece. I maintain that it was the perceived tone of the article (could have been a rallying cry, came across like an insult) that was a key to the volume of dissent, but it's still clear that there are some divides in how people feel on the issue.

As I posted over at the Tavern, we could all probably get by on freely available RPG material for the rest of our lives and be just fine. This may not be great news for any of us who like the idea of making games as part of a career, but it does mean that the hobby should be just fine.

Timothy Brannan said...

I will be honest. I like my premium content books. I like buying new games. I like supporting companies I like and my favorite local game store.

Free RPGs are great for people like us that have plenty of games now and know where to look. But they do not have the marketing power to grow our hobby. That is really what we need...more gamers. Increase the demand and everything else will follow.

Mujadaddy said...

@StevenWarble: As a "writer", yeah, art production seems to me the most expensive part of publishing.

And the other two sides of the triangle are provided by Linneman & Mr. Brannan: "I have enough stuff already" and "How do we grow the hobby?"

Call it a Vicious Cycle: WotC sunk millions of flat-crack ducats into art direction, which grew the hobby but also ingrained a standard of production which was proven to attract young eyeballs, a standard almost impossible to match without significant capital, which is unlikely to be possessed or provided by the passionate hobbyist writer.

I've never been a businessman. I can't propose the MBA-sanctioned methodology to make money in an era of instant-disposable-freeish entertainment. Guess what? If you're a publisher, that's your job, good luck with that.

Remember two things: this is a hobby and this is a game. Monopoly made a lot of money*. What D&D did was free the imaginations of people all over the world. It doesn't matter what the rules are if you engage the imagination of your audience, GM** & player alike. Publishing game materials is a diminishing return: trying to convince people that you've got something new is, over these past 40 years, going after smaller and smaller portions of the mass market; Palladium, SJG, etc. are still around but profitable? Ehhhh.

So good luck with that, new guys. I wish everyone all the success in the world with their product, but my opinion is that I do not wish to invest in your endeavour. The bar is capturing the imagination of the world if you're going to be anything but a starving artist. Please, please get a real job.


* How many people are playing the exact game of Monopoly today, or an Old-School Retroclone (say, the game of Life), compared to the number of people playing D&D or D&D-influenced product? Food for thought.

** I don't tell people that I'm a Dungeon Master, sorry.

Mujadaddy said...

@StevenWarble: As a "writer", yeah, art production seems to me the most expensive part of publishing.

And the other two sides of the triangle are provided by Linneman & Mr. Brannan: "I have enough stuff already" and "How do we grow the hobby?"

Call it a Vicious Cycle: WotC sunk millions of flat-crack ducats into art direction, which grew the hobby but also ingrained a standard of production which was proven to attract young eyeballs, a standard almost impossible to match without significant capital, which is unlikely to be possessed or provided by the passionate hobbyist writer.

I've never been a businessman. I can't propose the MBA-sanctioned methodology to make money in an era of instant-disposable-freeish entertainment. Guess what? If you're a publisher, that's your job, good luck with that.

Remember two things: this is a hobby and this is a game. Monopoly made a lot of money*. What D&D did was free the imaginations of people all over the world. It doesn't matter what the rules are if you engage the imagination of your audience, GM** & player alike. Publishing game materials is a diminishing return: trying to convince people that you've got something new is, over these past 40 years, going after smaller and smaller portions of the mass market; Palladium, SJG, etc. are still around but profitable? Ehhhh.

So good luck with that, new guys. I wish everyone all the success in the world with their product, but my opinion is that I do not wish to invest in your endeavour. The bar is capturing the imagination of the world if you're going to be anything but a starving artist. Please, please get a real job.


* How many people are playing the exact game of Monopoly today, or an Old-School Retroclone (say, the game of Life), compared to the number of people playing D&D or D&D-influenced product? Food for thought.

** I don't tell people that I'm a Dungeon Master, sorry.

Mark Craddock said...

My experience is that Free RPGs are undervalued. Strangely, if someone gives something away, there seems to be an inherent "what is wrong with this that you won't charge for it?".

Mujadaddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mujadaddy said...

I see it the other way; although the average Free RPG Product is only slightly more professional than a good-great blog post, SOME of the stuff that people have the nerve to charge for is much, much worse. Caveat emptor...

But you're right that some people think that way. I'm the kind of person who'll at least smell all the free samples.

Mark Craddock said...

I'm glad you do Mujadaddy. I don't assume I'm right, simply sharing my experiences. I run a comic and game store and new D&D 5E customers are strangely reticent to hit the SRD or Basic D&D for 5E when I point that way. But they will snap up the Starter Box or PHB, even when they don't have a group.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...