Guidance — Gibbering Mouther: Watching the Galaxy Burn

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Guidance! I recently got a catfolk boon at GenCon, so originally I was going to share my catfolk prowler at world’s edge for you. But then something happened and I decided to write this article at 11:00 pm on Sunday night. Bear with me.

Now, usually for me to write an article like this, something needs to happen. And a lot of stuff is happening in Tabletop RPGs right now. But I’m going to focus on something that I don’t think many people are talking about, and that’s Paizo’s Alien Archive being released. Yeah, that thing. Perram, James, and I did a review episode centered on it, and it was great and fun. But Perram said something during the episode that bothered me (you can probably see it in my face in the episode—I’ve very expressive like that), and I wanted to talk about it.

In the episode, we were talking about pros and cons for the book. I had mentioned some of the mechanical things I don’t like about it, and James pretty much loved everything about the book. But Perram had a “con” that really bothers me as an RPG Industry progressional, and what he said was something along the lines of this:

“I wish this book was bigger, because it feels like we got less than we ever got in a Bestiary. I want future books to be bigger.”

I have a serious problem with this sentiment (which I’ve seen in TONS of people who’ve bought this book), and I want to take some time to put them to paper now that I’ve had some time to figure out my thoughts on the topic. Warning: this article is going to be short, because I am going to try my damnest to make sure that I don’t rant (and believe me, I am EXTREMELY close to ranting mode on this topic).

The Many Rewrites of Grandmaster Augunas

Now, I wrote this article roughly five times, and trashed it every time. First I decided to try and tackle it with math. When you math it out, the Bestiaries cost roughly $10.00 more, and for that $10.00 you’re getting roughly 80 to 90% more pages. Not quite twice as many, but not an insubstantial number. However, it became clear to me that the math wasn’t the message I was trying to get out. I’m not trying to prove that Alien Archive is an amazing value: you are paying more for Alien Archive then for a Bestiary, and I won’t sugarcoat that.

So the next two times I tried to write this article, I started talking about games in general. Basically, gamers don’t want to pay for games. Don’t get defense, because it’s absolutely true. The fact that you wait for Humble Bundles or for Golem Clearance Sales or for Steam Sales 100% proves my point. A sizable number of gamers actually don’t value the games they play, which is heartbreaking. But both times I took this route, I got lost in this very “Holier Than Thou” tone that I decided wasn’t worth your time or mine, and I trashed that article. Twice.

So the fourth time I tried to write this article, I combined both of those approaches. And like fusing a dog with a little girl, that created a result that nobody wanted. (By the way, I started watching Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. WHAT THE HECK, JAPAN?!)

So, here I am. Try number five. At this point, me writing this article is basically a meme. So how am I going to tackle this burning anger that’s inside my heart? Well, Bruce Banner style, I think. I’m going to get to the root of my anger and bare my soul to you, the reader. And in understanding my anger, use it as a weapon. And alright, here it is. I am baring my soul in 3…2…1….

When you say, “This book isn’t worth it’s money,” all I can hear is, “Your work isn’t worth my money.”

Are You a Cog in the Murder Machine? (Probably)

Now, what I said in our Alien Archive episode is true. I did not write a single word for the Alien Archive. I am not part of that book at all. But when I say that sentiments against Alien Archives tell me that my work isn’t worth your money, what I mean is that you, the customer, don’t think that we, the authors, deserve your money. The RPG Industry is incredibly stagnant in terms of cost. You might hate millennials, but when we like something, we’re always willing to pay what it’s worth. Video games going from $60.00 to $70.00?

“I like this game and I want more of them, so I will pay for this.”

In-app purchases?

“I like this game and I want it to grow, so I will pay for this.”

Microtransactions?

“I like this game and I want to experience more content, so I will pay for this.”

DLC?

“I like this game and want to enjoy more of it, so I will pay for this?”

RPG books?

“Oh man, this book has half as many pages, but only has a cost reduction of $10.00! I refuse to buy this product!”

Please Sir, May We Have Some More?

What kills me is that no one ever stopped to ask how much it costs to print a book. (From my printer, a 100 page book usually costs about $15 to $20 to print, which is literally half the book’s cost in many cases.) How much money is needed to cover art costs? Author costs? Developer costs? Editor costs? Art Layout and Design costs?

Things do NOT get cheaper. They get more expensive. There are people who need Alien Archive sales to live, to afford to pay people. And when the community says, “Oh, I am just going to ignore the print copy out of principal! Keep your sales low!” then what you’re basically saying is, “I don’t want this thing that I love to grow.” This is how companies fall apart. This is how Wizards decides to slash its production staff to just a handful of people. This is how AAA game studios sink after one project.

After a certain point, we need to recognize what things are worth and pay for them accordingly. And if we can’t, we don’t deserve to call ourselves fans of those things. Because at that point, we’re not. We’re fairweather enthusiasts, and we’re willing to let our creators (video games, TTRPGs, et al) be paid sub-living wages to save ourselves $10.00 at Barnes and Noble or whatever.

Next week I’ll show you guys that catfolk build I’ve been messing with as long as I’m not too grouchy from this Alien Archive thing still. So until next time, I’m Alex Augunas and I’m always here for YOU when you need a wake-up call. Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alexs Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

Munchkin Starfinder

5 Comments

  1. I’m kind of surprised comments are permitted here, but since you gave me space I’ll speak. Why do YOU get to determine what people value? I have no control over what Paizo, what Wizards, What catalyst produces. The only recourse I have for anything I dislike is to “vote with my wallet.” I love this game and I want it to grow, so I’ll buy a book next month, and the month after that, and if I feel like this month’s purchase is not of sufficient value, I’ll wait for next month. If enough people do the same, yes people will be hurt financially, but alternatively, they will find a sweet spot between value and price. I need to pay my bills and feed my family just like the freelancers do. Why am I less important? Why am I wrong for wanting value?

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      I don’t get to decide what you do with your money. However, I will tell you that voting by abstinence doesn’t work on a big scale. Here’s why:

      People fall into two categories when it comes to business: customers and not-customers. Either you bought the book, or you didn’t. When you buy the book, you’re a customer. When you don’t buy the book, you’re not a customer. Easy.

      When you abstain from buying a book, when you abstain from “casting your ballot,” so to speak, the company that you’ve decided to not buy from has no way of knowing that you are a regular customer who did not buy their product. You’ll just get sorted into the “not-customer bin.” Now, granted, you could always say, “Hey! I don’t like this book so I didn’t buy it on the forums,” but then you didn’t really vote with your wallet. You voted with your voice, because now the company can actually see that, hey, we lost this customer. Before you were just a number that didn’t make it onto a spreadsheet.

      Now, moving on. Let’s say a lot of people vote with their wallet. The book flops. Well, that’s a problem. Money for Alien Archive might have been budgeted for by the company’s finance department, so now that money’s not there. They gotta cut books from the schedule, or make someone work crazy overtime, or in the case of Wizard’s, lay someone off. Maybe that person was someone who came up with an innovation you liked in a previous book, and now they’re not creating for your products anymore. The quality of the product goes down as a result. By voting with your wallet, you ended up making the product worse.

      Does this happen all the time? No. Most game companies keep a little financial cushion ready in case a product doesn’t go over well. But with multiple busts over a prolonged period of time, you could end up doing real damage to the creators who are making the thing you love. It’s like refusing to feed a child for a few nights because they didn’t do well on a test at school. You could “vote with your refrigerator,” or you could vote with, you know, your words.

      And of course, all of these problems with “voting with your wallet” only assume that a LOT of people agreed with you and also voted with their wallets. Because if they all didn’t, then, well, your protest fell on death ears. Because, as I said, by refusing to buy, your vote was never even registered on the spreadsheet to begin with.

      • Alex, that is not accurate. In this field you have a defined group of converted, potential customers. People that haven’t bought the Core Rulebook are your clear not-customers. The percentage of your potential customers that pick up or ignore your product has got to be a signal of some kind, at least to the effectiveness of the marketing if not a reflection on the quality/value of the product.

  2. You’re right, nods by cares if I buy or not, but nodoby cares that I complain about the lack of value either. When you look at the value of one opinion, it makes no difference to Paizo if I buy or not, if I like their products or not. But, if I have $50 to spend on my entertainment this week, and choose not to use it on this product, I still have it to spend on something I value, where as you seem to advocate buying things out of blind brand loyalty.

    The whole concept of a free market is that the consumers determine the value of a product, not the producers. If you price it too high, consumers choose not to purchase.

    As I said, I understand your livelihood is wrapped up on this, and I would never say your work has no value(I definitely enjoy your products), however if the price point for a 320 page product is $40, then people have every right to be upset when they are charged the same for a product half as deep. For you to assert your opinion otherwise, is a good way to offend those consumers who are more selective than brand loyal.

  3. Christopher Eich Reply to Christopher

    Personally, I don’t see how “I wish this book was bigger, because it feels like we got less than we ever got in a Bestiary. I want future books to be bigger.” equates to “Your work isn’t worth my money.”
    You even said that from a mathematical value perspective that we’re paying more for AA than a bestiary. That’s the only part I’m a big saddened by. I loved the book. I would have loved if the book had more content. I’d have happily paid more for it.

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