The title of this article is intentionally inflammatory, because there is honestly only one big reason we are going to hit another RPG Industry extinction event. In Designers and Dragons, Shannon Appelcline lays out the major developments in the RPG industry, and the one recurring rockslide is a series of what I’m going to call extinction level events. These are crises that cause the industry to implode and cause us to lose company after company that has built up during boom times in the industry. The last one of these happened at the end of the 90s into the early 2000s, which coincided with the d20 boom and bust, with the bust being caused by two things: a glut of product serving one dominant game system and an increase in the cost of paper. The paper cost increase made printing costs a major factor and since this industry is already built on small margins, small adjustments to production costs have a devastating impact. We’re about to head into another of these moments unless, you, the creators, and you, the consumers, help us do something about it.
How is this about to happen?
While this blog is Canadian, the integration between Canada’s and the United State’s economic systems is strong and this means that actions by one government have major economic effects on the other country. President Donald Trump, and the United States Trade Representative are calling for a 25% tariff on toys, games, and dice, as well as on paper printed products, like books. Hearings begin on June 17th to discuss this issue. I encourage you to tweet to https://twitter.com/USTradeRep to let them know about how this will impact you. I’m going to lay out a few of the reasons this is going to have a major, harmful impact to our industry below. If you live in the US, like I do, I also encourage you to contact your Representatives and Senators expressing your frustration about these tariffs. What am I talking about? Here’s an article on the topic.
Why is this about to happen?
2) Production Costs
You might think I’m engaging in hyperbole. But here’s the thing: RPGs are a very low margin industry. If you go on DriveThruRPG or look through a FLGS you’ll notice that most books cost between $20-50, with small press books usually being on the lower end of that scale. Having been involved with the creation of 70 products over the last three years, I can tell you that making a profit on these books is very hard. With most $20 books you are lucky to have net margin between $6-8, if you’re lucky. That’s not profit, that’s money that you get in hand after publication and marketing efforts. With the costs of writers, art, layout, etc, you’re lucky to make a profit at all, and usually only do so with sales exceeding 100 individual products. If you increase the cost of making physical copies of these books? You’ve wiped out the profit margin for nearly all small to medium publishers.
3) Digital Will Save Us?!
Digital/PDF options will mitigate this issue to some degree. The increase in PDF production happened when the cost of paper increased during the D20 Bust era. That’s something, and it does provide hope. However, it will not totally prevent this from being an issue. Most companies that are mid-sized have just begun pushing back into selling their books to stores, and pushing for regular bookstores to carry their games again. Many have been tentative about this move because it is fiscally risky and it has only just become profitable enough to do this again. Guess what? These tariffs will ruin that margin and will make a lot of companies step back and end distribution to FLGS and bookstores. This limits the industry, it limits the market, and it will hurt gamers.
The way this proposed tariff is currently being floated, it will have the biggest impact on game accessories like dice, miniatures, etc. While 3D printing will help to some degree it will not mitigate this issue completely. Manufacturing in China is so much cheaper, and it is still expensive to make quality board games that require a lot of miniatures. While I’m all for moving industrial production, it will cost more and it will not be a quick process to develop the infrastructure to do this in different places. While we don’t HAVE to have these things, a lot of gamers find them incredibly useful, and this will increase the cost of entry into our hobby, which is already perceived to have a high barrier to entry by new folks that don’t know if they want to invest in all the books and accessories to play these games. Do they need them? No, but it is the perception of cost that will push people away.
These proposed tariffs will reduce the ability of new talented and creative folks to publish products and kill the renaissance of gaming that we are experiencing right now. . While this will not destroy High Level Games right now, it makes it much harder for us to move from very small press to small press as we’ve planned over the next 2-3 years. We won’t be able to produce traditional print runs in the way we hoped. We are hardly the only company that will find this to be a major issue.
Please contact the USTR: https://twitter.com/USTradeRep
There are many issues for us to fight in today’s world, but this one is deeply personal and we need to strike now or watch our industry burn again.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games and he organized the first HLG Con. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
21/5/2019 07:36:46 am
I'd say that if anything's going to lead to the demise of the RPG industry it's the ridiculously, disgustingly overinflated current prices.
21/5/2019 08:24:27 am
Dunno about the minis, but $100 for a several-hundred-page campaign book? That's cheap! Consider all of the art and design that goes into that—not just to make it pretty, but to make it well-organized and easy to reference, to create maps, to help the GM keep track of everything. Then consider the amount of time it takes for someone to invent all of the events and characters, and to write them all down. And then there's editing and, we hope, playtesting.
Eric A. Smith
21/5/2019 09:02:08 am
21/5/2019 08:31:05 am
$100 dollars? Who's charging that?
Eric A. Smith
21/5/2019 08:59:15 am
Frog God games
21/5/2019 08:32:04 am
Although I am a career Architectural Designer, I am trying to switch into the world of games, because I’ve developed a knack for creating them. This article puts this objecting into sharp focus as a difficult or perhaps impossible task.
Eric A. Smith
21/5/2019 08:59:55 am
Good for you! Lots of companies succeed at it on an almost daily basis.
21/5/2019 12:53:51 pm
Would love to know which books are yours. I'm in complete agreement re. over-priced RPG books, but in my experience publishers of academic texts charge quite a premium.
Eric A. Smith
21/5/2019 02:11:34 pm
The Path Book I:Origins https://www.amazon.com/dp/0983443408/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_vPf5Cb4YDBBFE
My sympathies! As a convinced free-trader, you got me with Point 1)!
21/5/2019 04:52:33 pm
I produce game related specialty items including leather bound books like the Tal'dorie guide from Critical role (https://www.facebook.com/pg/OmnivoreArts-103014223071309/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2250973611608682) and having cut them up you need to understand that they are bound differently than common hard cover books. They are sewn for long lasting durability which makes them far more expensive to produce. Normal hard covers are bound in the same manner as a magazine as they are only intended to be read once and then shelved. When you fork out $25-$35 on a game book you are getting a very different object than a crappy hard cover novel. Add to that the amount of art involved and that price is nothing frankly. Most artists in this field make next to nothing (less than minimum wage) so take away anything and we go away. An increase in cost due to this tariff would be devastating.
Eric A. Smith
21/5/2019 09:02:13 pm
Yes. 35 bucks is reasonable. 50 bucks is reasonable. Even 75 for something super special. 100? Starting to get in ridiculous territory.
22/5/2019 04:18:47 am
The tariffs were not intended to be a permanent thing, as should be obvious as they were just negotiated away between US and Canada. They were a lever to adjust the balance of trade, as Canada had been using tariffs for decades.
22/5/2019 05:42:54 am
Spot on a silly article indeed, motivated by self interest.
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