On Game Pricing

With the announcement of the release of the 6th edition of Ogre, there has been some discussion in the wargaming community about the $100 price tag that will accompany the game.

Similar discussions have gone back and forth in the role-playing community over the years; some say that modern rulebooks and modules are over-priced, that rules bloat, extraneous artwork, etc. have caused prices to rise beyond the ability of modern gamers to get into a particular game due to the expense of buying rules and supplements. I know I’ve made the same complaint myself.

Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Back in 1979, you could get a Players Handbook or Monster Manual new for $12. That would be $36.40 in today’s dollars. Each. For a relatively thin rulebook (by today’s standards) with art that could be described as endearingly quirky. The Dungeon Masters Guide was $15 new, which translates into $45.50 in 2011 dollars.

So to buy-in to AD&D 1E in 1977 cost the equivalent of $118.30 in 2011 dollars. How does that compare?

The Dungeons and Dragons (4E) Core Rulebook Gift Set retails for $104.95. You can get it on Amazon.com for $66.12! Each of the core rulebooks retails for $35, and can be gotten on Amazon new for $23 each. That’s only a little more than the combo gift set ($69).

Pathfinder compares even better. The core rulebook retails for $50, and can be had on Amazon for $31.49. The Beastiary is another $40, or $26.39 on Amazon.

Naturally, there are more than just the core books to be had for both 4E and Pathfinder, but there were accessories for 1E, too. Those ultra-thin modules? If memory serves, a module like Village of Hommlet went for $4.50 in 1979, and had 24 pages. That’s a whopping $13.65 in modern dollars. Compare that to The Slaying Stone, module HS1 for 4th edition. That retails for $14.95 ($10.17 on Amazon), and has 32 pages to boot.

I’ve got to say, just looking at the issue of price, 1E and 4E are quite comparable, when you look at the prices in adjusted dollars. Pathfinder comes in even better, at least for the core rules. When you factor in the quality of the materials (which in some part is a subjective assessment, but it must be admitted that the binding of the modern books is probably superior to their 1979 counterparts, and no matter what my old eyes may think about the artwork in modern RPGs, at least they have art in full-color), the modern games come out looking pretty good.

There are a lot of factors that go into it (Amazon, of course, not being around in 1977), but I’ve got to say that cost is not something I can complain about any more, not when I paid $20 for Hall of the Fire Giant King!

(The inflation numbers in this post come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator.)

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

17 thoughts on “On Game Pricing

  1. I'm not so sure I agree about the binding having gotten better. My first edition D&D books have held up wonderfully under many years of use and abuse. While some of my third books have started to come apart with far less use and. And the fourth edition books, at least the first three which is all I bought, had ink that ran when I got a drop of water on them from condensation on a glass.

  2. Great post! I am one of those gullible types who will gladly fork over $100 for the revamped OGRE — thanks for the recent update on that.

  3. I have a circa 1978 1e PHB that has seen a lot of use and abuse and is still holding together, whereas my '1e Unearthed Arcana' from just a few years later is disintigrating. I wonder is TSR stuck with the same printer/binder?

    I suspect printing and production costs, especially for 'desktop publishing,' have fallen dramatically since the advent of all of the new technology. Used to be that each page had to be laid out by hand (images and text glued down), then each page of layout had to be photographed and, if in color, separations made, and sent to the printer. These days we can just lay it out on the computer, produce a pdf and send that right to the printer, saving 100s of hours of work on a single 100 page book. And the hobbyist can have access to a virtual workspace on his/her desktop that is very similar to what a pro will have.
    I suspect that there may be other factors, but these are the ones I know about.

  4. Great post, and thanks for including inflation with regards to prices.

    For me, $100 is still a ton of money, even when I make far far more than I used to. So as a hurdle for a game, it seems pretty high. Buying a book at a time may cost more, but it seems easier somehow…

  5. I also disagree, specifically regarding the binding of the 1st edition books. My 1979 DMG has wonderful tight clothbinding in the spine and is in really excellent condition. I remember reading somewhere (alas! I do not recall where) that for the pre-orange-spine AD&D books, the quality of the binding was a big priority. I've seen a 3.5 Player's Handbook (my nephew's) come completely apart after having been left in a car over a hot weekend -the glue melted!

    Interesting post, however. I had suspected there was not such a great discrepancy in price…

  6. Thanks for taking the time to do the math and adjust prices into modern dollars. It gives a perspective I was lacking when I blogged about this topic.

  7. Was mine the only DMG to have a spine that needed to be held together with duct tape, and a cover that was rbubing off in a regular pattern of white spots? And this wasn't an orange-spine book, either; it was the original version. The same happened to several of my PH's as well, as I recall.

  8. My 1st edition books (original covers) are all in great shape binding-wise…and I bought them used in 1985 and abused the hell out of 'em (my DMG got left outside in the rain one day, and while the pages are wrinkled because of the drying, the ink didn't run and the binding is as good as ever!).

    While this post is interesting, it doesn't address how RPG designers can make a living in today's market selling at reduced prices…

  9. I know that the new version of Ogre is going to have a lot of bits and bobs and eye-candy. Hard for me to justify spending $100 when I originally bought Metagaming's Ogre microgame for $3.

  10. While this post is interesting, it doesn't address how RPG designers can make a living in today's market selling at reduced prices

    And a good thing, too. That wasn't what the post was about.

  11. Interesting post. As others have noted my 1st Ed PHB, MM, & DM guide have held up well for the many years I have owned them. Granted for the last 15 years, they have only gotten sporadic use as reference or nostalgic purposes. My 3.5 books hold up pretty well, but they are not nearly as old nor do they 'feel' as sturdy. Page count is interesting: 1st Ed PHB is just over 120 vs. 3.5 Ed PHB at over 300. Lots of good comments here on the change in technology to support the book publishing also affects price.

    Ultimately – they will sell or not sell depending on what the market will bear. You analysis suggests there is a sweet point for the core rulebook set.

    Lastly – I don't buy loads of additional material beyond the core three, and even though I could afford it I am price sensitive on those additional books when I do purchase them. All that aside, just over $100 is a bargain for all the fun I get from the core set. So far I am stacking up to be an 'odd' edition guy; I don't own any 2nd or 4th edition books.


  12. I must admit, the whole pricing issue feels very much a case of the facts getting in the way of the truth. Interesting piece though it is, I don't accept the conclusion as accurate.

    I don't agree that the value of modern rulebooks genuinely translates to the values you put forth as calculated via purely monetary terms. Real terms compared to monetary terms are very different subjects. Even before taking into consideration the costs of manufacturing and the fluctuations thereof.

    In short, the facts of books costing X then and Y now are irrefutable, but I don't accept that the values of inflation and monetary 'worth' as justification for what are, in real terms, higher prices to the average consumer.

  13. That's just it. In "real term" (i.e., as a percentage of an average income) the new stuff is actually a tad less expensive than the old stuff.

    That was the only conclusion I was intending to draw.

  14. So the original microgame version of OGRE that cost $3 back in the day would be around $10 today.

    But would anyone these days pay ten bucks for cardboard chits and a paper map like the old microgame?

  15. The interesting thing is that pdfs are usually priced pretty close to what gaming products sold for 30 years ago (e.g., a module in pdf often sells for about $5). And of course, there is a ton of FREE stuff (of varying quality) out there as well, including entire game systems, modules, settings, supplements, etc.

    For those that make the move from hard copy to digital media, the hobby is very accessible in terms of price. The only physical books I've read in the last few years are those I haven't been able to get a good copy of in digital format.

    I know some folks don't like reading digital media, but the advent of the smaller hand-held devices has won me over.

  16. I think people as they get older have more to spend their money on, and so I sounds like more to me. My guess is, if I were an adolescent again with nothing I was required to spend my money, I would be more likely to spend it.
    I also think when I was buying these books in the late 70s, I only bought the 3, and that’s all that was required to play. I bought a few adventures, but I did not feel like I had to buy them. With all the other supplemental rule books now, there is more of a feeling you have to buy them.

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