Spending Money On Games

Is there an upper limit to how much you might ever spend on a game?

I’m betting opportunity cost is a huge part of your answer! For example: I don’t know that I’d ever scrape together $200 for a single game all at once. BUT I’m looking at my shelf, right? And I’ve got about $300 into Edge of the Empire books — a game I don’t even especially like! But I was following it for a while, and a little trickle of books over a very long period can sneak up on you.

I’ve got a couple hundred in on The One Ring and I don’t know that I’ll run it again. I hope I do, it was lovely, but still. It adds up.

I’m going to spend several hundred going to a three day convention: air fare, food, hotel. But it’s also my personal vacation and my birthday present wrapped up in one.

I have no idea how much I’ve spent since…hm…my first purchase (red box) in 1983 or so. Tens of thousands. Ridiculous, right? But amortized (rationalized!) over a lifetime? Among the cheaper hobbies per person-hour of pleasure delivered.

I’m not judging one way or another, here. I know some folks have more resources at-hand at any given moment, so a single big indulgence — an elaborate multiday convention, a ginormous Kickstarter (oh I’ve run up pretty close to “too much” for me a couple times on the boardgaming side) — is possible.

It strikes me that RPGs continue to be a pretty reasonable and egalitarian hobby to be in on. There are no requirements to spend big money, unlike buying a mountain bike that won’t literally collapse the first time you use it, or the travel/lift/living expenses of skiing, or the obvious material expenses of racing cars or whatever. PDFs have made even keeping up with new games either affordable or technically possible (koff torrent koff). Huge, huge range of choices in the open source/free space as well. I’m not even persuaded that expensive stuff — the high end of the Over the Edge or Coriolis Kickstarters, for example — actually deliver an objectively superior experience.

Anyway, RPGs! Still among the very most affordable hobbies per person-hour! I’m honestly not sure how anyone could be offended at the existence of high-end spending opportunities. It’s not like you’re dumping money into a multinational’s overseas holdings or something! That’s artists, writers, editors, printers and truck drivers being paid.

0 thoughts on “Spending Money On Games”

  1. I’d say there’s a difference between paying a base minimum of $200 up front to get a playable game, versus paying $50 up front to get a playable game then spending another $150 spread out over multiple other books that expand the game but aren’t required to play.

    Generally speaking, right now $50 is pretty much my upper limit on a new game, barring special circumstances. I think the most I’ve paid for a game in a while is $100 for Unknown Armies 3 and $65 for Fragged Empire (which was shipped from Australia).

  2. I did similar calculations to yours. For me, gaming conventions are an almost-unattainable luxury, because there just aren’t many near me. For me to attend even a relatively-close one, like, say Big Bad, is going to cost me 3 of my vacation days (because I’m going to need a travel day on either side), $400 in airfare and fees, plus whatever accoms cost, the event itself, food, and the enormous emotional cost of attending a huge busy event, not sleeping much, then coming home and going right back to work. But I can afford to buy the occasional luxury hardback and any number of PDF games, as long as I’m careful about it, and even if I play RPGs three times per month, combined with the number of hours I spend talking about them on the Internet and thinking about the ways they fit together and the things they say: pretty good deal. When I was a broke student, I had a regular game groups and managed to budget 1 or 2 game books/year, and so my fun-hours:cost ratio was enormous.

    That’s probably the real reason something like Invisible Sun is laughably-expensive for me: I have no idea if I’m even going to like it, let alone like it for long enough that the up-front cost starts to make sense. Even the $6000 level might not be completely ridiculous if I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it. $500/month for a year is not a great rate of return for me, but if I could get three years of fun out of it… that’s not unfathomable for me, in my fairly privileged position.

  3. My personal answer, by the way:

    If I want a taste of something, no way am I spending more than $50. So that actually keeps me out of D&D 5th, which, you know, whatever. Maybe I’ll find used copies at a later date.

    But once I’ve had a taste and I like it? I don’t know that I actually have an upper limit to what I’ll end up spending. Opportunity costs keep my ongoing burn low, like in the $50/quarter range, hence my curiosity about starting a Patreon if folks like reading my takes on games and they’d find my reviews, analysis and AP useful.

  4. Where I am; there are so many free games and nearly free games that I don’t see a need to spend large sums on games themselves.

    Couple it with my personal preference of experiences over stuff, and I’d rather have a weekend at a fantastic convention than spend $500 or a $1000 on books.

    That being said, I absolutely do contribute to patreons and kickstarters of things I find valuable — because I want to support the artists, not necessarily because I need the output.

  5. There was a time where I’d spend $100 (cover price) on a game, but now it’s capped around $50, with room to go a little higher for Kickstarter special stuff. But I also buy very, very few games, because I try to buy only things I’m sure I’m going to play, and I don’t get to play often.

  6. I might spend as much as $100 all at once on an RPG if…
    1) I’m absolutely certain it will get played at some point, especially if it will get played more than a couple of sessions
    2) I’m certain I will derive pleasure from reading and possessing it (see: Fall of Magic)

    I think the only way I would go higher than $100 is if there were some kind of experiential component (say, New World Magischola) and/or it was certain I would play the game a LOT (10’s of sessions).

    On the other end though, lord knows how much money I have squandered on $5-$20 PDFs here and there I knew even at the time I bought them that I would never play and would probably only skim for 15 minutes. I’m trying to be more judicious about that sort of thing.

  7. Probably? I’m old enough to have more disposable income, but with that age has come more prudence. The last thing I remember balking on was the War of the Ring deluxe boxed set. It was, hmm, $400 or something like that? So War of the Ring is one of my all time favorite games, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. But most games I buy are nowhere near that point. In fact, I primarily buy PDFs.

    I remember in college buying the Necromunda boxed set when it came out. Percentage wise, that was a good chunk of my income! I remember not going out much at all for a few months after that. But it seems like I appreciated it more than most games I buy now. I still have it and all the miniatures I painted!

  8. Ulf Bengtsson hey man, your money!

    I’m absolutely not here to make anyone feel weird about their spending habits. If I had that kind of money sitting around and I liked Petersen’s work (Cthulhu Wars didn’t really tickle my fancy), you know, hell yeah get me in on that action.

  9. Comparison thought experiment: Hiking.
    I get about 4 good day- or half-day-hikes/year over the past three years, which is more or less when I started. Say an average of 6 hours each, for a measly total of 72 hours of fun. I’ve gone through two pairs of Merrell trail shoes (~$170 each; I use these as day-to-day shoes as well, so let’s say half their value goes to hiking). I have bought a handful of trail guides and other reference materials ($200). 35L backpack ($200). Backpack first aid kit and the training to use it ($250). Bear spray and paraphernalia ($50). Other incidentals that I might have bought anyway (water bottles, raincoat, lightweight pants). That makes it a $12/hour hobby, more or less, the way I do it.

    If I spend $60 on a game, 5 hours of enjoyment makes it an equivalent expenditure to hiking for me. My weekly group meets about 45 weeks/year, and I’d estimate (conservatively) we play games an average of 3 hours/meeting, for a total of 135 hours/year. That would give me a comparative budget of $1620/year for RPGs and board games at the same rate. I’m curious if I go over that or not.

  10. My tap out seems to be $100 for a single starting purchase if I think about WFRP 3 or the three 5e core books. I’ve definitely spent more on expanding an RPG or board game. But initially that’s my limit.

  11. I’ve always been kind of skeptical about breaking down/rationalizing entertainment as a per-hour thing (it really can’t be commodified, how do you work out the “yes but how much did I really enjoy it?” multiplier), but I do think it’s worth doing to help get past the fog of war surrounding very high opportunity cost things like NWM or Invisible Sun.

    I think opportunity cost is largely not understood by folks.

  12. My current issue is not so much the cost, as the likelihood that the cost will lead to fun, even lonely fun. So many unread rule books! It’s kind of silly.

  13. $10 – $15 for a PDF of a game I might play. Will go higher (and get a physical book) for a game I know I’ll play.

    The most I’ve paid for a game was $75 for Fall of Magic and that was a weird corner case of excellent design, cutting-edge presentation, and designer I’m eager to support.

  14. I don’t try to justify one hobby’s cost against another. But I do look at the cost if I buy this will my wife kill me. If I buy that will she kill me more.

  15. The only RPGs I’ve ever spent more than a cumulative $100 (CAD) on:

    – WFRP 3rd Ed.
    – Kult: Divinity Lost
    – Unknown Armies 3rd Ed.
    – D&D 4th Ed., but only if you count minis too

    These are very special circumstances – usually I don’t exceed $30 – $40 for a print copy or $20 for a PDF. It was a close call with Coriolis but the price point stopped me in the end. I try pretty hard to run on fumes as much as possible at conventions, too. I’m pretty frugal with my hobbies.

    Edit: The above is technically correct, but also I suppose I’ve spent considerably more than 1000 SEK cumulative on Vampire: the Masquerade. Probably more than 2000 SEK if you count makeup.

  16. Man, I’ll go up to 75 dollar single purchase or more if I know I’ll like a game. Hard to find anything under 50 for solid hardback fun. I spent a good 150 on Mutant YZ alone this month (a game I already owned) buying an extra book, the new genlab alpha and dice plus map and prop making stuff. 200 isn’t entirely unreasonable, but on one book? Seems a bit inflated.

    I already spend a couple of hundred a month on music to listen to. Way way more if I want to buy a new slab of gear or software/vst for the music I play.

    I can’t see buying in at that level, my hobbies are expensive enough.

  17. There is an upper limit, but I’m not sure what it is. Like Ulf Bengtsson, I’m currently pledged for $450 for God’s War, with the caveat that I may not stay at that level by the time the kickstarter approaches close. I probably dropped close to that on the RuneQuest Classic KS, but I have this weird fascination/nostalgia for all things Glorantha that totally triggers my FOMO.

    I can’t think of any other KS where I’ve pledged anywhere near that much, though. $100 is probably the sweet spot; I have to be really interested in something to approach, much less exceed that amount.

    That said, if you compare my average RPG spending to the kind of cash demanded by, say, my guitar hobby, it’s chump change. You couldn’t buy a single effects pedal for how much prestige RPG backer levels cost. And getting a really nice guitar for under $2,000 is generally considered a good deal.

  18. I spent $150 on Chuubo’s earlier this year.

    I’ve already spent $200 on Monte Cook’s games and don’t plan to play them.

    I’m at least enjoying reading Chuubo’s, and don’t mind that I supported a small publisher.

  19. Like $40 a pop for “a taste” is my upper limit, video games being the exception. l go as far as $60 for those. I don’t have a ton of free money floating around so that is a big factor here; I’m willing but not able to spend larger quantities on things that I’m very interested in.

  20. I think it’s changed a lot over the years. I have bought (and mostly given away) shelf-busting collections of my favorite systems, but the combination of hitting parenthood in my 30s (making time my most precious commodity), along with really deep, splatless systems like BW, made all that seem unnecessary. When am I gonna play it? When am I even gonna read it?

    An entry level price of $200 strikes me as bananas, mostly because RPGs suffer from the positive externality of being more useful the more people buy them. Generating the minimum buzz to dislodge a group’s favorite game seems to be no mean feat, so chopping your audience down to those who will sling that kind of cash sight unseen seems risky.

    Though maybe a gorgeous tackle box full of colorful doodads is part of their strategy?

  21. Michael Prescott I think Monte’s fanbase essentially justifies the project. I can see there being die-hard Monte/Cypher groups that would be happy to pony up and try whatever he puts out. Just look at the Numenéra boxed set he did.

    Without that fanbase, no way this project would fund.

  22. “Hey, players, guilt your GM into running the game you want him to run by shelling out a lot of money for it and presenting to him as a ‘gift’!”

  23. Eloy Cintron LOL! I actually had a bastardised “The Smiths” song in my head: ” Thought Leaders if the world! Unite and take over! Thought Leaders of the woo-O-rld!”

  24. “There has to be an invisible sun that gives its heat to everyone (who can pay $200)”

    Sing it! Whoa-oh-oh-oh, whoa-oh

    Whoa-oh-oh-oh, whoa-oh….

    Okay. I’ll stop now.

  25. I dropped $150 for Chuubo’s and I think around $220 for the special edition leather bound version of Call of Cthulhu. I have noticed that as I have been clearing financial debt away I am far more likely to buy more expensive things. But those purchases HAVE to be accompanied by the knowledge that I enjoy those games. I read through Chuubo’s on pdf before buying. I have played a fair amount of CoC. Would I drop $200 for a game that says nothing about its mechanics? Heck no. If the pdf is $100 then I am probably also not crossing that line. Good for Monte that he is doing well but the games he has produced are not particularly up my alley.

  26. Sean Dunstan Or: “Hey, everybody, we’re playing hockey and Lois is going to be goalie, so we all have to pay for her equipment. It’s the least we can do.”

    Sorry for the drift, Paul.

  27. If I think i’m gonna play it more than once or twice, I’ll put down some money. Like D&D5 is kind of an investment, but I’ve probably played a dozen times now for ~3 hours a pop. Cheaper than a movie ticket per go.

    If it’s something I think is cool but will likely never play, I’ll probably nickel and dime a small collection over time. I don’t do that like I used to 10-15 years ago, but every so often I get excited despite my better judgment.

  28. I think I go at it like Paul Beakley . Sheer curiosity? $20 dollars.

    If you hook me in? And if you give me time between books? I’ll sink a couple of hundred into a product line.

    If the promise and the components are really really good? I might risk it, if it hits the right points.

    Right now, this Invisible Sun is looking like a mix of Everway, with Mage, some of Zelazny’s Amber series, with a concept VERY similar to Serpent’s Tongue, with some Secret World MMO stuff… I’ve put money into all of those, so I can see the appeal. It’s definitely pushing my buttons.

    As premium components go? $200 is looking reasonable, compared to, say, the miniature wargaming hobby. The difference being you can ease into some of them with less than $100 (Infinity, maybe Firestorm Armada) but not into others (40K)

    The $540 price range is for the Campaign, which allegedly includes shipping physical stuff and pdf’s, possibly? tailored to your PCs? (That part sounded very iffy to me). It’s meant to last a year, at a monthly rate so that’s the equivalent of a monthly $45 subscription. Too rich for my blood.

    The $5916 level? Gives you all the secrets, plus Monte plays with you, etc. I know a guy payed a similar amount to play with Mike Mearls on some Pathfinder video game thing they did a couple of years ago… hey, don’t judge. He doesn’t have kids…. Way too rich for my blood.

    My main complaint really, is that there is no cheap alternative… It’s a game predicated on secrets, which you can pay to acquire. Pay to Win… like some Free to Play MMOs, Magic The Gathering, Warhammer 40k… I dislike that model of sales, but… if you can get away with it, more power to you.

  29. I’ve spent $150 in one pop before on spec, but it was definitely $150 for the designer rather than the game. I know this because I still haven’t played the game.

    If I total up all my spend in gaming ever, excluding trips to conventions that count as family holidays for us, I’ve probably spent more money on junk food during gaming than I have on the hobby itself.

  30. Honestly I don’t think the cost is the main problem “we” (ok I) are having with this kickstarter. It seems to be some kind of cultish self aggrandizement thing on Cooks part. There is no way the components show are more then $50 to print. Now I may be being unfair cause I just read a little, laughed and moved on.. maybe it comes with metal dice and a personal phone line to him.. but IMOHO I think it’s a case of “I think I have enough fans to make this happen.. Let’s do it!”

  31. Bob Bersch it’s funded so he’s proven his case. Well, past 90% with 31 days to go, tomayto tomahto.

    I’m not sure why this thing funding is a problem to anyone at all.

  32. I didn’t say I didn’t like it.. don’t even know what it is. I said what I think it looks like to me. Thanks, but I can only speak for myself.

  33. These days, I really have to know that I’m going to love and play and play a given game to buy it. There’s plenty of opportunity to play someone else’s copy out of curiosity if needed.

  34. Just spent more than I ever have on the Mutant Crawl Classics kickstarter. But usually I’m not going to spend a lot unless I’m going to play the game a ton or the book is a beautiful example of art, design and editing.

  35. First Play under $75.

    All in? Warhammer40k and Magic the Gathering totals are a bit scary, $2,000 each?

    All of my games are probably less expensive than my golf addiction though…. Or the bike hobby….

  36. FYI, I calmed the hell down and put my God’s War pledge back to $125. I guess that’s my limit for something unknown that still interests me. I figure if I couldn’t do $300 or so for the hand-bound versions of the BWHQ games, I can’t do $450 for a board game I’ve never played.

    (I did, what, $250 for Ogre and have played it once.)

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