Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Price of the Hobby

A bit more random thoughts today. I apologize for these, but some of them have been on my mind for a bit and with things in life not giving as much time for writing as I'd like, sometimes quick posts are better than nothing. At least, I hope they're better than nothing. If you guys would prefer nothing, let me know :) Anyhow, today I want to talk about the price of the hobby we've all chosen to partake in.

Price to Play
Amusingly RPGs, particularly table top RPGs, seem to be an incredibly expensive and an incredibly cheap hobby to pursue all at the same time. I mean, gaming books are expensive. Edge of the Empire is coming out end of July and it's going to go for about $60 U.S. Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, and Black Crusade all cost about $60 each. These are big books, hard covers, quality paper and nice art. But even cheaper games, like the tragically short lived Marvel Heroic RPG went for about 20 to 30 dollars, cheap considering it was a licensed game yes but all the art was also taken from works already owned by marvel. Then you have other things related. Beyond the books you have other books - supplements - dice, miniatures, and whatever other things you  need/want for the game.

On the other hand, RPGs are really cheap. I mean, honestly, all you really need is your brain to play one. I have a post on here about a super simple RPG design. You use a coin to determine success or failure and everything else is up to the GM  and the players. Technically the coin isn't even needed. All you really need for a Table Top RPG is 2 people and some imagination. That's it. Cheap, right?

So if the game is so cheap where is all that cost in the expense going? I mean, you can rationalize the cost in a lot of ways. The most common seems to be cost per hour of entertainment. Say, you'll pay $10 for a movie, so $5 for an hour of entertainment (assuming 2 hour movie) isn't all that bad. By this logic, as long as you figure you'll get more than 12 hours of enjoyment out of an RPG book. Another comparison would be a videogame. A new game for the Xbox 360 or PS3 is $60. On average a video game lasts for 8 hours. A bit of a dearer price at $7.50 an hour, but the hobby is more interactive. Get more than 8 hours of your RPG and it is worth it, right? Hell, you don't even have to buy the $200+ system. Only, in both cases you get video, sound, musical's a lot different than what an RPG offers, but hey entertainment is entertainment.

Thing is, justifiable as it is, I wonder how many people think of what actually goes into making a gaming book? Now, I don't know the full mechanics, but as someone who has made a couple games - and knowing where each of them is stalled in production due to my limited means - I have some insight on it.

So Where Does It Go?

The Physical Aspects
The first place your money goes is into the physical aspects of the book. RPG books need to be of a decent quality. These are books that are going to be flipped through a lot and they need to be able to hold up to the strain. I mentioned the $60 monsters of Fantasy Flight's Warhammer 40k books, those things are sturdy as heck. Yeah they can fall apart, but in general they are good quality. They're also heavy (and large) as hell which means paper costs, especially quality paper costs, are definitely going to be up there.

Art and Technical Work
I'm going to put this bluntly: you want paid artists working on your book. Sure, free work is always nice but there are benefits to paying for the work. One, you can legally claim you own it - and work that deal out with the artist. Two, you don't have to feel guilty when you sell your book and its made money partially on someone else's work. And art is important, trust me. It helps sell the feel of the book and the game. Beyond art, there are other expenses as well. Editors and Copy Editors for one. Believe me again when I say reading a non-edited work - even if it was proofread and gone over multiple times by the writer - can be a painful ordeal. Editors just make everything a lot more streamlined and easier to read. Copy Editors make sure everything is grammatically correct and thus less confusing as to what it actually means. Both of these are vital.

Then There Is The Book
Beyond that there is the book itself. This means writers. Only, the writers for an RPG are different - or at least use different skillsets - than normal writers. First off, they have to be able to design a system that can be used to tell stories, allow for characters to progress in power, resolve conflicts, and handle a whole variety of specific circumstances while still being flexible enough to handle the zany things that players and GMs will try to do. So, awesome, you've got mechanics so you're done right? Hahaha, no. See you still need a world, characters, adventures, and a whole lot of fluff. The games people seem to gravitate to: warhammer 40k, dresden files, D&D, star wars, all have something in common: large, pre-built universes that you can explore. Generic games can exist too, that's true. GURPS makes proof of this, as do several other systems (Mutants and Masterminds has no defined world beyond "super heroes" and some random things they've made for the books that is expressed in the core books) but the ones that seem to have the pull have other things to call on. If nothing else, people need a place to play the game.

And So Much More
So that is three big areas that need work. The creative, the technical, and the physical. This goes beyond other costs that are also involved. Shipping, advertising, licensing, legal fees, and all the other myriad things that come up. Look into the Evil Hate kickstarter for Fate Core and the aftermath. They've been hit with a slew of costs, some unexpected, and they're an established company with veterans.

The Point?
So what is the point of all this? Nothing really. It's on my mind, and I felt it would be good to reflect on our community and group. The RPG industry is small. Very small compared to other industries. But we're also a solid one, and were surprisingly recession proof recently. That said, the games cost money. It's always good to know where that money is going when you drop it on a book, at least beyond the store, and why sometimes a game costs so much. Good to know whose table you're putting food on with your patronage, right?

Oh, and if you have more information on this I would love to hear it.

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