Tuesday, May 10, 2016
What are RPGs Worth?
http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2016/05/whats-it-worth-to-ya.html (edited to add)
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.