Home » Ancient Posts » Why is the Fair Market Value of Tabletop RPG Products So Low?    
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This is one of the few times I have read a solid descriptions of economic fact. For all of human history, there have been those (usually rulers or other power-hungry folk) who believe they can manipulate an economy – and act surprised when such artificial means ultimately fail. The first and only time in which a society had enough to feed everyone was, ironically, when a nation followed – very imperfectly – a free market system. I say "ironically" because the very freedom of the system means that wealth will be distributed unfairly. That is, some will get rich, some will be poor, but even the poor will have a higher standard of living because the wealthy will be unable to hold onto their wealth if they cannot supply their goods at the prices their target customer can and will pay.

Capitalism, like nature, is inherently unfair. Yet every other method of buying, selling, and trading (this includes employment) requires force and loss of freedom. Once someone is forced to work at an artificial price (wage) and/or someone is forced to sell at an artificial price, the bust and boom cycle begins, brings panic, and is as disruptive to our income (food, shelter) as trying to make a peach tree give forth watermelons would be to the tree.

Kickstarter, for all the evils inherent in its system, proves that people will pay for something they want and value. Postpone the payment, and people will pay even more. (The "rainbow" effect of an optimistic future.) The price – in this case, the pledge – is chosen by the buyers. If enough people want a $100 game with polished hickory miniatures, a publisher can get that message immediately – with little chance of a loss…assuming they understand math, budgeting, and economics.

If even more people want a $5 game which suits their needs, a publisher can find out (with Kickstarter or something like it) comparatively quick. Either type of game can profit as high as imaginable — IF simple economics are followed. And that means sell what people want at the price they want.

It's finding out what people really want (which means much more than just asking them) that is the first rule. Can you make it or create it at a price they'll pay – AND ensure the right customers (those who want it and have the money for it) know it is available?

"Economics" is merely our word for facts which already exist. We can work with those facts or work against them. Our success will be like those who choose to work with the facts of How to Swim as opposed to those who just splash around.


Indie game publishers should consider themselves part of the artist class instead of the merchant class. 😉


Wickedmurph wrote "I think one direction that companies are taking to get out of this process is the "Game as service" model you see with Dungeon a Day or DDi."

This probably will suffer from the same problem supplements and adventures do — it's really optional and many players will not need it. There isn't much of a way to make it mandatory without seriously limiting sales of the core game rules.


I’ve said it many times, but people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. Not that I’m going to let that stop me. ^_^ I think there are two things a smart RPG publisher should do.

1. Identify the types of modules that there are. One size does not fit all. A module that is information overload to me is ideal for someone else, while the ideal module for me leaves someone else feeling like they got ripped off. Then find a system for identifying the various types so that I can know which of your modules to look at and which to skip over because they’re for someone else.

2. I think there’s a lot of opportunities to create products that make running games easier. Of course, modules are generally designed to do that, but I think even they could be done it ways that make them easier to use at the table. From what I’ve glimpsed, Wizards actually has done some of that with “new school” modules, but surely there are some innovations to be found that address “old school” style as well. I think there’s a lot of room for more products designed to help the “winging it” GM too.


I think it's concepts like "hour use per dollar" and "revenue stream" that are causing all the problems. I'm not picking on the people who used those terms in this thread; they're just quoting standard modern business thinking. That's the problem. "Consumers" don't buy products because they maximize the hour-use-per-dollar or because they want to provide a stable revenue stream to a business. People buy products because it's stuff they want and think will be useful, and becausethey think it's a fair price. Business people should familiarize themselves with business models and procedures, but having a business model isn't a reason to start a business, nor do predicted sales equal money a business is entitled to. The RPG "industry" isn't doing as well as expected because it's not an industry, it's a hobby, which means a good chunk of the product out there is home-brewed, traded, or sold at garage sale prices. It's like rock collecting or model railroading; there are professional publishers and manufacturers of support materials for rocks and model railroads, but there are a lot of people selling stuff at flea markets and collectible shows, and not all of them are what you'd call "professional".


From my experience it is because most gamers that I have dealt with when it comes to RPG prices are spoiled self entitled winers. RPG books are crazy cheap considering the amount of "hour use per dollar" you get out of them and the price for quality ones hasn't really gone up in the last 15 years compared to say, well everything else. I would honestly have no issue with RPG if they cost double their current price – it would still be a deal considering the amount of use you can get out of them.


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Jeremy Murphy

I think one direction that companies are taking to get out of this process is the "Game as service" model you see with Dungeon a Day or DDi. This lets them get a more constant revenue stream and keep the costs below a perceived level. You might spend as much or more on a subscription to these sites, but the cost is more spread out, and therefore, less difficult to justify.


Thank you! You've nailed something bugging me since the mid-80's and that's the moaning on just how hard it is to make it.

To which I respond "Play smarter".

The fair market price is reflected in how the written word's marketing has changed. You're dependent on your patrons (aka the customers).
Piracy is a fact of life – an epic marketing fail. You can either try and fail to stop the copies (look at the record industry) or use a ready made marketing tool you have available.

Watch Paizo, watch Rogue Games, watch Fantasy Flight Games. Each works differently but each does a niche well. To quote someone smarter than me. "Connect with Fans + Reason To Buy".

Or just watch this video.