Cold Hard Facts

Original D&D cost $10.  That’s a fact.  Using any of a number of online inflation calculators (I used this one), we can see that what cost $10 in 1974 would cost approximately $43 in today’s money.  In 1974, the minimum wage was approximately $2/hour, which would be worth a little over $8/hour in today’s money.  However, the current minimum wage is just over $7/hour.

So the meaning of this is simple: since wages have not kept pace with inflation, the average income buys less than it did back in the 1970’s.  For your average middle-class teenager, there are more demands on even part-time wages than in the past.  My own experience teaching college students is that they are more reliant on their parents’ incomes than in the past.  So a game that costs more than $40 in today’s money represents a higher threshold of entry into the hobby than D&D did back in 1974.  While one might argue that all that a player needs these days is just the 4e Players Handbook, that’s not a complete game.  The entire set of 4e hardcovers is over $100.
What I am trying to point out is that nobody should be surprised that sales figures for 4e D&D don’t match WoW subscription rates – it’s that high threshold of entry that makes it harder for new players to get involved in our favorite hobby.  (This is something of an argument for a decent $10 or even $20 RPG, but that’s for a different post.)

8 thoughts on “Cold Hard Facts

  1. From what I understand, in 1974 it was more of a college boom thing, and with the advent of the early photocopiers being more readily available to students, many people didn't end up buying the game. They just copied the relatively small booklets. Now, with a DDI subscription being almost mandatory if you play 4e, it makes it harder to just pick up a book and play the game, financial threshld or not. It seems there is more of a barrier to entry.

  2. If anything, what that suggests is that the functional cost of entry was lower than $10. At 3 cents a copy for 70 copies, that would make the price about $2 for a pirated game. Factor in the cost of the original set to be copied, and we're looking at $4 a copy – more of an argument for a decent $10 or $20 RPG today, or so it seems to me.

  3. Norman – while technically true, there is a distinct and valuable role for having a visible product available on the store shelf. You don't need an interface to read it, besides the Mk. I Eyeball. You can take it with you anywhere, and it's a surprisingly non-volatile memory storage device. 😉

  4. It's a far, far lower barrier than you might think. Show up to your local gamestore on Living Realms night and you'll see.

    The actual cost of entry for D&D4 (at least from a player point of view..) is *free*.. you download the character builder. It works up to the 3rd level.

    Only DMs "really" need all the books, I would say, but even just a single month of DDI (about $10, and simply canceling/not renewing) gets them a full version of the character builder and the monsters builder, and just with those two tools they can create adventures until doomsday. That's with no books. Yes, you can just use DDI and not buy a single book.

    Buying all of the books is expensive, yes. The cost of staying around is either buying the books or subscribing or both, but in both cases, it's completely separate from what you need to play.

    The hidden costs you don't mention are for miniatures (or tokens), a battlemat, and markers. 4th Edition DMs don't really haul around books so much anymore, but they still carry this stuff wherever they go.

  5. "The actual cost of entry for D&D4 (at least from a player point of view..)…."

    By that standard, that was the same for 1974 – players didn't need anything other than dice and a 3×5 card (that was their "character builder").

    "Buying all of the books is expensive, yes. The cost of staying around is either buying the books or subscribing or both, but in both cases, it's completely separate from what you need to play."

    Well, no, it's not. People did exactly what you suggest back in 1974, too. They borrowed the booklets from a friend, read 'em, and then came up with their own game – that's how Tunnels & Trolls got written, roughly speaking.

    Here's another way of looking at it. In today's litigious gaming environment, in order to be "sure" about something, you need the game rules in order to play. Those rules come in the form of a set of reference books. If someone is going to dispute something with a player or referee, you are going to want the reference works as a touchstone for surety. Those cost money.

    Here's another way of looking at it: a subscription to DDI isn't "free" – you need to have a computer or access to another computer in order to get at it. And while, yes indeed, many more households have computers, not all do, and not all have internet access, and not all of them are available to teens for access to DDI. As economists talk about this stuff, there is a real opportunity cost which cannot be discounted. If anything, I'll side with JoetheLawyer in his assessment of DDI making the initial threshold higher, not lower.

  6. Great post!

    Labyrinth Lord is $17 through Amazon. $22 through Lulu. (I didn’t check the price at my FLGS.) Still, that doesn’t seem to be too bad, and it is on shelves. Maybe not as many as Wizards can claim, but… shrug

    Not to mention free for the PDF. Oh, yes, you have to have a computer, Internet connection, etc., but those costs are spread across much more than just this hobby. And you know what? You don’t have to read that PDF on your computer. You can actually print it out and get all the benefits of a paper copy.

    (Anybody have a good figure for the average cost per page of printing at home?)

  7. Robert – somewhere between 5 and 10 cents a sheet would be about right. It's not just the toner, it is also the replacement cost of the printer itself, plus maintenance, if any.

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