Why Are Roleplaying Games So Expensive?

After a day of searching Amazon I have one question for gamers and publishers of games, why are roleplaying books so damn expensive?

There are few things I understand:

  • Prices of materials have increased
  • If a product is licensed then the cost of that license is passed onto the consumer
  • Companies have to pay for the writers, artists, and other personnel
  • All of the above is passed onto the consumer

Here is what I know and have experienced over the past 30 years of gaming

  • The writing has not gotten that much better
  • The editing and layout have not changed or gotten that much better
  • Systems are being reused and new systems that have value are rare
  • The art has gotten better
  • The licensing has improved
  • Page counts and paper quality is about the same

Is this simply an economic issue, in that game companies have a “captive” audience without many options or other avenues of recourse and feel that since they can charge 40 to 50 dollars a book–often books with limited value within the game and definitely limited outside of the game–they will charge that amount?

Is there something deeper at work here? Of course I do not know that, but would love to learn. I would love to see the cost breakdown for one book and then the markup.

Because right now, I feel I am getting screwed over by many game companies. Product has not increased in value since the early days of gaming. From my perspective there is not much difference between when I first started gaming and today. There is plenty of cosmetic differences, but when boiled down to what the consumer gets for their money, you would have to defend your argument well to convince me. Not saying that cannot happen, but after shelling out 50 dollars for a core book to “discover” that while it does look pretty (new art), the layout is similar to books of 20 years ago, the writing is sophomoric (this is a problem for the game industry overall in my opinion-to many people who can write and not enough people who know how to write), and in the end for the 50 bucks I have a game.

The last non-game book I paid 50 dollars for came with enough recipes and lessons on cooking that I could make one recipe a day and be cooking new stuff for a year. That is value to me. A game is fun. A game is a shared experience. A game means a lot to me, but…of late I do not feel I am getting the same value out of a roleplaying game as I get out of a board, card, or dice game.

Core book 40 to 50 bucks and then tack on 20 to 30 dollar expansion books which often in addition to suffering from the same problems of a core book come with even less value. I enjoy good world building and stories, when they are written well and contain newish ideas-fleshing out material from the core book feels like a rip-off and the writing…well as I said previously, many game writers can write that does not make them writers or people who can write well.

So, if anyone out there can explain why roleplaying game books are so expensive I am all ears and would love to discuss the issue of cost and the value of roleplaying games in general.



19 thoughts on “Why Are Roleplaying Games So Expensive?

  1. Probably a supply and demand thing – there are nerds willing to pay the price because they love the game. Maybe the roleplaying nerd community follow the self publishing world and e-publish their own roleplaying game books.

    1. Ankoku1331

      Funny thing about ebooks, a lot of game companies are releasing digital or PDF versions of their books and charging a “discounted price” roughly 5 to 10 dollars off. This makes me think it is a supply and demand thing verse real world issue.

  2. It’s annoying, that’s all I can say. I don’t understand anything when it comes to money. I just know that if I give money, they give me what I want to buy. However, I do end up waiting for my birthday or Christmas or something to get most games because I’m too cheap to buy them myself.

    1. Ankoku1331

      I agree it is very annoying. I don’t mind waiting to get something, but when I get that something I saved up for I expect more than I have been getting of late.

      1. I know what you mean. I haven’t bought The Sims 4 mainly because it was expensive, but now that the price has gone down I noticed that it has some bad reviews.

  3. I can’t say with any authority, but I’d imagine it being partially due to inflation ($50 now is roughly $27 in 1990), and stagnating wages complicates the matter.

    Full color pages are expensive, but they seem to be the standard for the bigger companies, so it eats into profits. Also, printing is stagnant in terms of innovation and efficiency, so there is that as well. Rising fuel costs… well, you get the idea.

    There is a problematic issue as well of digital competing too heavily with print product, and as a result you see a lot of companies trying not to totally destroy one side of their entire marketing strategy by making pdfs so cheap that they obviate printed sales, though even Pathfinder does a bit better about this and releases their core books at $10 each on pdf.

    The non-core books (especially the big hardcover ones) are far far more expensive, because they know that they can charge that, and that it will at least make people pause before they decide between print and pdf (as well as to convince people to subscribe to their respective product lines so that they can get both for the price of one). It’s all savvy, even if it isn’t necessarily best for the consumer.

    That having been said, I agree that books should be cheaper. Palladium Books has been among the cheapest per page count for a long time, but they don’t often go all out as other companies do. Third party publishers can do much cheaper by way of pdf (Kobold Press notwithstanding) so they tend to at least occupy that space with success, though being small does very little for their printing capabilities.

    You figure that you are paying hundreds for art pieces, perhaps thousands for editors (and the companies that don’t use editors pay for it in reviews), and you pay developers and layout design people… well, it all adds up. It’s an unfortunate artifact of the way that the RPG business was founded and maintained, but a top tier role playing book is assembled more like a textbook than a magazine or even encyclopedia, and that means lots of oversight and overhead costs. Damn, this could have been a blog post in and of itself…

    1. Ankoku1331

      Wow, well I did ask for comments. 🙂 I agree with everything you said all of that is true and all of that needs to change. “It’s an unfortunate artifact of the way that the RPG business was founded and maintained, but a top tier role playing book is assembled more like a textbook than a magazine or even encyclopedia, and that means lots of oversight and overhead costs. Damn, this could have been a blog post in and of itself…” I think I would be closer to okay with the price increase, if the quality of a magazine or textbook were apparent in roleplaying games along with the long term functionality of either. From my point of view, neither of those has been met-between poor writing, poor ideas, retread ideas, editing or a lack of editing, and the constant new editions make any roleplaying game a gamble. Roleplaying games, at their current cost, should be more of a long term investment with the game universe, the setting, and more importantly the company. Why should I pay the money, when quality is suspect and I know that within two to three years a new edition will be released? Again, I agree with what you said, as it matches with what I am aware of and that tells me that roleplaying companies should be looking to change their way of business to something more consumer oriented. And yes, you should write a blog post about this. 🙂

      1. Sadly, I haven’t thought textbooks to be of better quality than most RPG texts anyhow, but that treadmill is even more tedious than RPG releases. In both cases, they do have captive audiences, though in textbooks you can’t quit Chemistry as a prerequisite to a degree as easily as you could, say, Pathfinder. But I digress.

        You are right, and I think we may see things even out between indi games and big production games, though sadly I think there will always be a call from the consumers to have high quality print products. I think that is the fault of the consumer more than that of the companies. If they were to return to non-glossy color pages, sales would suffer, I think.

        The hope would be for some innovation that would make printing cheaper, but I suppose that will be a long wait. Thanks for the reply and the idea.

      2. Ankoku1331

        Being in college the difference between textbooks and roleplaying games is minimal to me-both are expensive, usage is questionable over a 15 week period of time :), both have lots of cool pictures, and writing ranges from poor to good.

        I hope for gaming in general things do change and change sooner rather than later. I would like to see more electronic stuff done. I love the feel of a good book in my hands, but electronic is cheaper, easier to distribute, and with the right build easy to search through. Not to mention store and cost. You are welcome for the reply, the idea was yours, and thank you for commenting in a thoughtful way.

      3. Oh yes, I want print books, but pdfs are vastly superior for things like game planning and research. I am of course consternated by 5th edition not having pdfs so far, but with luck it will change. Do you run any games other than for your kids? I’ve been working on restarting a 4th edition campaign for them and I’m curious to look through your posts to see what works for you.

      4. Ankoku1331

        Since we moved here, which coincides with start of blogs, I have not run any games for people other than family. Moving 400 miles kills gaming groups. 😦

      5. That it does. I worry what it will do for me in the future. I love my current group. Hopefully my kids will appreciate the extra attention.

      6. Ankoku1331

        I have found that our kids enjoy playing games regardless of the game. They have their favorites, but playing games is better than no games.

  4. Chris McWilliams

    What I’m wondering is why are PDFs of game books so expensive. Yeah, I figure part of it is to not hurt hard copy sales (the same reason PDF comics cost the same as hard copy comics) but I was just looking at the Cosmic Handbook for Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition and it’s nearly 20.00 on it’s own.

    I got the other books as part of a ‘bundle of holding’ for about that and didn’t even realize until I got to looking. Yeah the actually book is more than that but jeeze nearly 20.00 for a PDF? Really?

    1. Ankoku1331

      I could site the various reasons I have been told paying for the writing, art, layout, editors, time, and all of that jazz. The truth lies somewhere between that and the reality that the majority of PDF games are copies of existing material complete with mistakes.

      The other factor is a niche audience, as popular as tabletop games have become games are still a niche market, meaning sellers can charge what the market will bear.

      Personally, I’d like PDFs to be similar to digital movies, you buy a physical copy you get the digital for free. You buy the digital copy, then you pay a slightly smaller amount. But I dream of much better days for gamers.

      1. Chris McWilliams

        Oh yeah, I’m sure that’s part of it. Of course if the PDF is a copy of an actual book then they’re charging for those ‘production costs’ twice and not having to pay for paper or printing costs should lower the cost.

        Of course, as I said, a part of it is protecting material sales, which I get, digital comics are much the same way.

        Your idea has merit, I have tons of digital movies for just that reason. 🙂

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