We Need to Change the Way We Think of RPG Products
You can order The Demonplague, my level 1 – 20 fifth edition adventure, right now!
“Fifty dollars for one book?!” That was my reaction when the prices of the fifth edition D&D core rule books were announced. Like many I decried the cost. “D&D books were already expensive,” “The whole set will be $150!” and, “They’re just books!” are the kinds of things I was saying to my friends. Now that I’m on the side of creating these products I see things very differently. Saying an RPG is just a book is myopic and at $50 a single D&D core rulebook is a steal.
Though my own views have changed the community still needs a bit of a push towards being fine with paying more for RPG products. People are clearly willing to shell out money for official D&D books, but when it comes to smaller publishers (who often have thin profit margins) many consumers still hem and haw over cost.
Before I dive in I do want to say that I totally understand cost is a totally legitimate barrier to entry for some people to RPGs. I am going to address what publishers should do about that as well in this post, but I also wanted to state it before getting into the weeds. This is a hobby after all, and necessities should come before RPGs.
More than a Book
Most RPG products come as books and are available in all the physical and digital formats one expects with the medium. Many gamers tend to compare such products to other books they buy, which for a lot us are comic books and novels. Those books aren’t put together the same way a set of RPG rules or an adventure is, and they aren’t used the same way either.
We need to stop thinking of RPG products as books and start thinking of them as what they really are: games. A lot of us are are willing to shell out more than $50 for a video game system or board game. RPGs have far more in common with these products than comics or novels.
Most RPG products require more hours of work than a comic book or novel of similar size, which is not to say putting together comics or novels are simple tasks. An RPG product has more people working on it than a typical comic or novel. Open up any official D&D book and you see a long list of names. Many have multiple game designers, artists, art directors, editors, proofreaders, developers, graphic designers, producers, and playtesters. These teams are far similar in size and titles to the makeup of a team working on a video or board game than a team putting together a novel.
Like all books RPG products go through editing, but they often have another round or two due to changes made after playtesting. The products can spend more time in development than a comic or novel because they need to by played over and over again to get right like video and board games. It’s not just Wizards of the Coast going through this process. Most companies write, edit, playtest, write, edit, and playtest again (and again and again) because it’s the only way to ensure a product plays as intended. You can get a good idea of the scope of work on a shorter RPG product in this article on Alphastream from Teos Abadia.
All these people need to work on the product to get the quality you’ve come to expect as a consumer, and they all need to be paid. If those people aren’t paid enough, your favorite designers and artists go work in different industries or the company doesn’t pay for art, editing, or playtesting, and the product suffers.
RPG products provide more value than a book or comic in terms of the hours of quality entertainment they provide. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is $29.99 in hardcover. As the longest book in the series it is 257,045 words. If you read at a speed of 200 words per minute (a speed on the slower end of average), you would finish the book in a little over 21 hours. For most of us our favorite RPG products have provided far more entertainment (and the stories we get from replaying adventures are always different as opposed to a novel). Compare RPG product prices to going to see a movie, a concert, a play, a night at the bar, or most any other paid entertainment activity and the price per hour difference is massive. In this sense again RPGs are more like video or board games, since each hour of entertainment can cost pennies (and in many cases RPGs provide even more fun than video or board games).
How Do We Shift Thinking?
If you’re reading this blog, odds are you agree with me already. You don’t think of RPG products as just books. You think of them as the games they are. How can we help shift the thinking of others and get people to pay what RPGs are worth? Consumers and publishers can help.
What Can Consumers Do?
Consumers can help shift the thinking and RPG market by taking the following action:
- Don’t Pirate. Piracy isn’t just theft, it’s also a great way to hurt an RPG company. With such small profit margins even taking a small number of sales from an RPG publisher can mean the difference between losing money or turning a profit. Don’t steal, and if you have friends who pirate, tell them to knock it off.
- Leave Reviews. Have an RPG product you love? Leave a review for it on DriveThruRPG, DMs Guild, Amazon, or wherever you purchased it. This helps other consumers (and the publisher) know the product is worth the cost!
- Play More Games. The more games you play with friends, the more you all appreciate and value the hobby and its products. Make time to play games, and you’ll prioritize the purchase of them.
Got other ideas? Let me know in the comments.
What Can Publishers Do?
Publishers can help shift the market as well by taking the following action:
- Offer Free and Reduced-Price Previews. I know this seems counter-intuitive, but in the internet age people don’t always have the luxury of flipping through a book in a store before buying it. If you want to ask people to pay for your product, you have to show them it’s worth the cost. Plus there really are a lot of people out there who want to play your game but cannot afford the cost. By offering free or reduced-cost basic rules, starter sets, and other products you extend good will and prove your product is worth it. These loss leaders help grow the hobby and reduce people’s desire to pirate.
- Value Your Work. Be the change you want to see in the world. Pay people what they are worth, and if you need to sell a product at a higher cost to make money on sales, do so! You hurt yourself and the industry if you make your product cheaper. You can always lower the cost if you shoot too high.
- Show How You Work. Take a little time to breakdown how your products are made for consumers. Instagram production photos, tweet updates, blog, vlog, etc. to let the world know the blood, sweat, and tears you pour into your products. This messaging not only gives you a new way to connect with your consumers (woo social media content!), it also gives your customers a chance to further value your work.
Got other ideas? Let me know in the comments.
Share the Message
Something everyone can do is share the message. Share Teos’s article, engage your friends in discussion when they say products are too high, share this blog post (shameless plug), and tell people to stop pirating. It’s going to take more than just one crazy dude blogging, so let’s start the shift together!
If you like what you’re reading please consider supporting me on Patreon, supporting me on Ko-fi, follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!
January 24, 2019 @ 12:45 pm
You make some good points but sometimes WOTC does weird stuff with pricing. The DMG and PHB were about 300 pages, and cost $50. But Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was only about 200 pages long and cost $50 as well. I know that the cost of producing a book probably isn’t a perfect ratio to size but XGE shouldn’t have been more than $40
January 24, 2019 @ 3:01 pm
My guess that the ratio is waaay off from a standard $.00 per page. PHB had a truly massive development cost to recoup, but it could also do that across a bazillion copies. XGE presumably had a way shorter development effort, but its sales are presumably also much less. I have no idea which way that ratio swings.
January 25, 2019 @ 8:31 am
What a surprise… Another idiot that thinks he knows better….
January 25, 2019 @ 10:40 am
I don’t have an issue with the $50 price tag. As I’ve gotten older I also realize I don’t need every book. Like say The Sword Coast Adv. Guide. I don’t play in the FR, we homebrew world it. Also I don’t need the latest version. It’s a hobby for me so I play the one I am invested in. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. My group skipped 4E altogether. 5E was out 2 years before we made the move to it and still not everyone came along. In the words of one player “I don’t think we have explored every thing 3.5 has to offer.” Get what you need to play the game you like. Pay a good price for good stuff. This allows creator’s to make more good stuff.
January 25, 2019 @ 5:15 pm
James this whole argument I almost bought and I hope you get a lot more work from Wizards of the Coast for being their shill. However, here is my counter argument. From what I can gather is they recognized that they were putting out so many splat books in previous editions that consumers were reaching a point of saturation where they thought they had enough books and that $25 to $70 a month could go to uses they would enjoy more. So, the strategy in this edition is to starve the consumer for content and charge as much as they can for product in addition to selling it as intellectual property and franchising the brand.. They really do not care about the how much it cost to enter into the hobby if they keep making record profits They are capitalists and they dig it when the CEO touts D&D for making Hasbro more money than before. That is their primary goal. They only care about us as far as they need to keep us buying product and making more money for Hasbro. Never forget that or delude yourself about this. They are trying to keep Hasbro happy so they keep getting bigger salaries to by summer homes, bigger cars and a boat like the rest of us. For you to argue about it being a game and not a book is a little naive. They previously put out the game books for $25 to $40 bucks a piece. Capitalist theory states they should be getting more productive and efficient at what they do and lowering the price of these books.
January 25, 2019 @ 6:02 pm
Hey Michael! I don’t blame WotC for wanting to have a business model that works, and actually because of their release schedule, I’ve given them LESS money for books than I did in the 3 and 4 days, because instead of dropping $20-$30 a month, I’m dropping $50 2-4 times a year. The model they have now keeps D&D alive longer because it’s easier to get new people into the game without a million splat books, so more PEOPLE buy books rather than having heavy users like us be the only ones buying every new thing. The downside, as you point out, is we don’t get as much content as quickly as us heavy users would like, but luckily 3rd party publisher like Kobold can fill in those gaps with the OGL.
I don’t blame WotC for trying to make money, but I do think they care about the game and its fans. They took two years to just playtest stuff and gave the rules away for free because they wanted to make the best edition of the game. They could have easily charged for those rules and made a lot of money. Call me a shill if you want, but those are the facts.
Also my article isn’t just about WotC. It’s about everyone making RPGs.