Monday, May 09, 2016

What's it Worth to Ya?

Via Google+, Greg Christopher draws our attention to an article by Christopher Helton about how gamers need to be less a bunch of cheapskates and be willing to spend more on RPG books. Greg Christopher does a pretty good job of knocking down Helton’s arguments, but there’s more to this. Quite simply, the problem is not with the fans. We’re not cheap.

How can I say this? Quite simply, we’re willing to spend US $40+ (depending on what the exchange rate is this week) for A Red & Pleasant Land. And has everyone forgotten Ptolus already? Back in the double-oughts, when everyone was saying that RPGs were going the way of the model train hobby, Monte Cook embraced that model with an almost-700-page book with CD and handouts and stuff that retailed for US $120. I don’t remember Monte Cook having all that much trouble selling copies of Ptolus. (The electronic version is still available at drivethroughrpg for US $60. Nope, I didn’t miss-type that, the actual price is fifty-nine-point-nine-nine US dollars.)

So the truth is, gamers are willing to spend the money. If you give them something worth that much money.

Calculating value isn’t easy, but here’s a handy cheat: does the feature you’re paying for make it easier to play your game? Does it make it more likely I’ll play your game? Does it make your game more fun to play?

Those are the things that matter to me, the player. I’m not interested in collecting books, I’m interested in playing games. So how does your book make it easier, more fun, or more likely that I’m going to play?

Here’s an example. This table of contents is printed on the inside of the cover, not a few pages buried into the book. It’s quick and easy to find. And notice what’s right on the bottom, left-hand side: if the PCs want to do x, then go to page y, with a list of things PCs commonly want to do. How awesome, yet simple, is that? Why doesn’t every adventure have that? They don’t, but World of the Lost (hard-cover, 176 A-5 sized pages, black & white interior art, MSRP US $40) does.

If you want gamers to spend money on your books, you have to convince them that the value is there. I’m a big fan of Green Ronin’s stuff, but I don’t care how much it costs to produce a full-color hard-back, coffee-table book. I play games; I don’t collect books. But even if I did, why would I buy another glossy coffee-table book when I can get A Red & Pleasant Land or the hardback version of Carcosa, with their stitched bindings, voluptuously tactile covers, sewn-in ribbon bookmarks, and sumptuous paper?

Don’t tell me that the glossy coffee-table format is the only one people will buy. Raggi’s success proves otherwise.

Hell, as a gamer and not-a-book-collector, I’d rather Raggi dump his gorgeous book-printing fetish and go with spiral-bound for everything from now on. That format is just so terribly easy to use at the table. But that’s not Raggi’s bag, so I’m not holding my breath on him doing it.

Here’s what I also know about a book I buy from Raggi: it’s been playtested. The layout has been meticulously crafted to make the book easy to use. The writer, layout expert, and Raggi have all thought about how they can make the book easier to use. The book I buy will take advantage of the innovations they’ve come up with for this book and others.

There’s more useful innovation coming out of a one-man, officing-in-his-living-room shop in Finland than there is out of all the companies based in the Seattle area.

You want me to pay US $40+ for your adventures and settings and RPG rules? I’m willing to do it for Raggi and Monte Cook. I’ve spent US $23.00 for select softcover Pathfinder adventure path books, and that’s a game I don’t even play, because I know there will be cool ideas in them that will entertain my players.

That’s the bar folks. You want my money? That’s how high you gotta jump.

Now get to it.


Sean Robert Meaney said...

So if i dump my year of chaos pdf on you with a year of mystaran dnd campaign events or my dnd creature catalogue II filled with my own poor quality artwork out there that I basically give away free on the market because i didnt create it for money you suggest its the sort of useful thing i should be shilling...

Chris C. said...

I think that's a fair bar to set. My own purchases in recent years have drifted away from certain types of products (e.g. settings) because I simply don't use them. I pretty much limit myself now to products I will use like rules or GM aids that help me make adventures.

trollsmyth said...

Sean Robert Meaney: there might be copyright issues with selling something openly labeled Mystaran or Creature Catalogue II, but otherwise, I'm very much on record as being a fan of profits for encouraging and enabling creators.

Chris C.: and that's why I think there's lots of room out there for many sorts of creators. Some people want setting material, others want GM aids, some want random tables, some can't stand random tables and want meticulously crafted adventures. For those of us playing regularly, the challenge is less coming up with material than it is finding an audience/market for it.

JDJarvis said...

People are odd in accepting what they think the right cost for something is. Folks balk at a $60.00 game book but the same people will easily spend $10.00+ on food, snack, and drinks session after session for years on end, they'll spend $20.00 for a movie ticket and snacks. Eating out once a week and a movie once a month will easily run someone $80.00 and that money isn't buying something they could be using 20 or 30 years from now (I still uses my DMG from a long long time ago).

As for people thinking things should be priced as they were back in the day, they seem to be forgetting the page counts were different, and the cover was often the only thing in color. Based on CPI alone buying what $10.00 could buy you in 1985 would cost $22.00 today. But anyone recall 400 page full color RPG books from back then? Or 200 page books? Or even 60 pagers ? There weren't many at all because they would have been too expensive for most of their audience.

trollsmyth said...

JDJarvis: I won't deny that people can seem terribly fickle when it comes to value. What people will balk at to pay for gasoline is seen as a bargain for coffee. People value stuff based on buzz, on color, heck, even on mere weight. The trick, then, is to get them to value a product more highly. This is called marketing.

As for page counts, meh. Are those extra pages valuable? If I'm only getting 15 pages of value out of a book, every additional page is a detriment, not a bonus. If I was only getting 15 pages of value from a 60 page book in '85, and I'm only getting 15 pages of value out of a 400 page book today, why should I value the larger, bulkier, harder-to-use-at-the-table book more highly than its slimmer, more efficient counterpart?

Just because you put effort into a thing doesn't give it value to someone else. If I go to your home and meticulously excavate a dozen carefully arranged three-foot-deep holes in front of your house, that doesn't mean you're not going to be pissed about some looney digging up your yard. Me demanding payment for all my effort is just adding insult to injury.

JDJarvis said...

Someone vandalizing my yard just isn't the same thing as someone publishing an RPG book. Now if I hire you to dig me 1 hole and you dig a dozen I'm not paying for the 11 more, but this still doesn't equate to an RPG book where the publisher has to be producing something I value before I start waving my money and seemingly a significant portion of the market expects lavishly illustrated color books.

The 15 pages of value deal is however very much on the mark, likely why I've been more prone to pick up smaller pdf titles in general as of late. Of course part of that reason might also be the couple/few hundred books I already have all over my office; in all actuality I could probably pick a half dozen pdfs and a half dozen RPG books at random and have enough materials for a campaign that could last a decade.

Mujadaddy said...

It's a fool's errand; trying to monetize RPGs, I mean. I said on this topic elsewhere that 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, no matter where you sit at the table. Publishing more "original" 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.