Friday, September 3, 2010

A Few Words on Capitalism

Capitalism is, generally speaking, a Bad Thing. And I do mean that with the capital letters. In general it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, and while in theory it should promote quality over time, human nature being what it is (at least in present times) that doesn't always happen. Look at Walmart.

Capitalism has definitely made this country (my country, the U.S.A.) rich. Filthy stinking rich. But has it made the country great, as so manny commentators and pundits (especially on the Right would tell you)? Indirectly at best, from where I'm standing. There have certainly been members of the richest elite who have spent their riches to do great and altruistic things both at home and abroad...names like Rockefeller and Gates come to mind. At the same time, there have been plenty of wealthy folks who have spent their wealth on little more than their own and their family's interests...and while holding public office IS a form of public service, for many folks it is simply another method of taking and exercising power.

Plenty of non-rich folks have done things to help make this country great...and I doubt, say, Martin Luther King Jr. would claim his efforts were due in some way to capitalism.

But we DO live in a capitalist country, and it IS a great nation despite its flaws. There are so many things here that we over-look and take for granted, especially in the face of questions like "why aren't we MORE perfect? Why is our standard of living and health care and life expectancy so low compared to other first world countries?" But, man-o-man: just across the border in Mexico, there are young women in Guanajuato who are in jail due to having late-term miscarriages and being charged with abortion (still a felony in that Mexican state) and serving 12-18 years. They had no lawyers because they were too poor to afford them and their country doesn't have a guaraItalicnteed "right to attorney" as we do.

And Mexico has universal health care!

ANYway, I digress...this country IS great, mainly based on the hard work of its people (rich and poor) and it IS capitalist and if you want to live in this great nation, you have to play by the capitalist rules. My B/X Companion book is a "for profit" venture...even though I haven't cleared enough to pay a single month of my mortgage, I have made money on it...enough to cover my costs AND do a 2nd print run...or finance the print run of a new book.

And that wouldn't have been possible without selling it for the amount I'm asking. Originally, I was thinking about asking for $18 a copy and my business manager (my wife) told me if I charged that little she would smack me around. It's a niche market I'm selling to, but it's not a vanity project. Well, kind! No! It is NOT a vanity project, but a working set of rules that I'm quite proud of. People ARE getting their money's worth, and I am making enough that I can finance more printing...which is what I want to do.

But I will never be able to make a living off it. Especially not when I'm charging $25 a book (plus shipping & handling) and Wizards of the Coast can put out their D&D Essentials box set for $20 a pop.

$20...holy cow! I suppose they were able to cut costs by recycling artwork? By pulling TSR's old box-printing machines out of storage?

Last night's rant was just that...a rant. And the frustration being expressed was not about WotC's ability to print and publish was frustration expressed at people who buy their material and support their business even though they don't like it.

But here's my new thought on the matter...don't we want to be a bit discerning in our tastes? Or do we want to just buy the cheapest thing on the market.

This country is great, but we destroy small and local businesses every time we choose Walmart for their cheaper prices. Even I, who hates waiting for ANYthing, can delay my gratification enough not shop at frigging Walmart. I prefer to support my local businesses whenever possible, even buying coffee at every single locally owned shop in the neighborhood (despite the fact that their drip coffee is almost universally least they all have free wi-fi). And I skip the big chains when possible, as well.

But whatever...I'm digressing again. With regard to BUYING RPGs, I totally salute those folks that have a limited budget to spend on such luxuries...I know my wife would prefer me to not drop as much coin as I do, AND I try to buy "used" and "cheap" whenever possible. But buying is a part of the material for ideas, new material for inspiration, new material for nights when you don't want to come up with your own adventure, and new games when you're ready to change up the existing program at your gaming table.

We COULD all just sit in our rec-rooms pencilling up our own RPGs, but as a hobby community...and a social one...we tend to want to share what we've wrought with others, and see what ideas others have penned also. And that means being part of the marketplace and buying, buying, buying.

BUT...we CAN be discerning in our tastes. The great promise of capitalism is "two stores sell a similar product, and the one that makes a better product lasts and the other one goes out of business." This tends not to happen, at least in the USA...the company with the cheaper products stay in business and the one with higher quality, higher price stuff, goes under.

[except in the case of VERY high end products that are always sold to a niche market anyway...say, Tesla electric sports cars]

Despite all the love and effort and imagination and creativity and artwork that goes into RPGs, it's hard to see anyone ever valuing them for much more than the worth of the paper on which they're printed. Which is sad and all, but it's a fact of life. But WE, the niche buyers of this niche market, can choose to purchase quality, despite cost, when we see it. And for RPGs quality means (to me) quality of play...because isn't that why we buy RPGs in the 1st place? Not as expensive, elaborate coffee table books (or door stops), but because they help our game?

It's the reason I choose to buy them anyway. And it's the standard I plan on holding to every game product out there that I choose to buy (with the exception of the old ones I'm just buying to deconstruct and tinker I've said before, RPGs are my "beater car" hobby). I hope others can get on board with my plan, rather than just buying the newest, shiniest thing on the shelf. It's the only way I can see to really challenge the competition.

By the way: IF we choose to purchase games based on actual play performance and not simply marketing, or press releases, or "name recognition," this will make Cons and Demo games vitally important for showcasing new product. As a community-based hobby, I don't see that as a bad thing at all.
; )


  1. It's sometimes tiring to hear laments from some gamers about the price of goods sold by some OSR-style publishers. I don't know if all of them truly appreciate how much effort goes into getting something really ready for sale.

    It's true, there are a lot of neat things being put up on the internet, often for free. But while every person has to make their own decision about whether a particular product is worth the price for them, they do always have the option of not buying it, or at least waiting until later.

    I like to hope that quality will ultimately out (and not just because I think my stuff is good), but large companies with large marketing budgets are nearly always going to garner the lion's share of the dollars out there. The best thing that can happen is that people who DO take a risk on a new product or publisher and are happy with it TALK about it to other gamers; whether in their group, on the internet, or at cons and gaming stores. Word of mouth is still a powerful tool. Even if one conversation doesn't reach thousands of people, it has more impact on the listener than an impersonal ad.

  2. Yeah, economies of scale bites us in the ass.

    Trying to make a product that can compare quality-wise to WotC or Paizo or whoever, and competes price-wise, is insane.

    Yet here we are...

  3. The following is not meant to be antagonistic, just a different point of view.

    WotC & its D&D brand are the RPG standard. There are many competitors, but D&D in all of its incarnations is the most played and in the OSR the most imitated product. Sort of the WalMart of RPG's if you will. You chose to create a book complementing the WalMart of RPG's. Then you cry out against those purchasing and supporting the latest incarnation of the same RPG you are supporting, albeit an earlier incarnation of it. I purchased your book and enjoyed it, but if I did not already own B/E books as well as Lab Lord, it would be fairly useless to me. In fact most accessory books tend to have far smaller print runs and sales than core books or core items. As your book is not a stand alone item, it's sales were naturally limited from inception.

    Then while charging $27 for a 64 page book and making a solid profit, you bash capitalism, the engine that lets you do this. You could have saved yourself and your customers $$ and simply offered it as a $8-$10 PDF, or as a POD book on Lulu. Alternatively you could have given it away as well. My point is you had other options outside of investing your own money on printing while offering your product to more consumers at a price they could more easily afford or at least take a chance on.

    Quality is worth paying for, but you are a merchant in a market place and economic climate that is currently focused on value over luxury. When charging a luxury price you can't be surprised that some will go for value instead. Do you eat more steak or hamburger? More foie gras or fish sticks?

    One of the great things about capitalism is choice. People vote with their wallet and the people in the market place determining whether something survives or not. I understand and share your dislike for 4ed, but I do not blame WotC for trying to get more people to play their current version of their game, any more than I would at your charging $27 for an accessory book to a version of a game no longer in print.

  4. Looks like we're on pretty similar ground politically, too.

    All about supporting stuff I like and voting with my dollars. That's why the last week's couple of RPG purchases were Raggi's Esoteric Creature generator and the 4E starter. I plan to make use of Raggi's stuff for 4E (and for Lab Lord if I can ever get my group to give it a serious try). Good times. :)

  5. Eh, capitolism is fine. It's this crap crony capitolism that we pretend and badmouth to be "capitolistic" thats irritating. Regulate, Legislate or take out your opposition with the courts or prevent them from even getting into the game even if they can do the job better. :p

    Anycase that point aside, charge what you need to and charge enough that you are selling a -quality- product. A very low price subconciously implies to people that see it that you are selling crap, which you aren't. This isn't McDonalds here, and you're not going to be able to compete with McDonalds on the same playing field. You need to compete in the niche market; with people that enjoy grass fed Filet Minion, Truffles, Caviar or whatever your expensive flavor is. If you decide you want to work a lower price point distribution, make it an E-book or something similar. In the meantime, keep making good stuff!

  6. @ Fenway: You may misunderstand me...or perhaps I didn't explain this well enough.

    I do not "blame" WotC for charging what they can afford to charge and still make a profit as a business. I DO think role-players at least (as we are a niche market, and by that standard, a bit "elitist") should be more discerning with their money. If they believe my book is too expensive for what it is, that's fine. But don't buy a game simply because it's inexpensive...hold designers to a higher standard. That might mean saving one's pennies (and playing the games you already have WHILE saving those pennies), but if that's what it takes to raise the quality of the product on the market, so be it.

    And as far as "bashing capitalism" goes...well, there's capitalism and then there's Capitalism, if you get my drift. Making a profit...even a small profit...with which to build a hobby business (as I'm doing) is NOT the same as preying on folks, using one's wealth to and power to drive others out of business so as to amass more wealth and power. I'm not bashing making a profit...if anything, I'm bashing using business for "evil," or more specifically "for selfish self-interest, un-caring about the consequences for others."

    Personally, I don't think I'm harming others with my book. I don't think I'm preventing others from doing business. And HEY I'm not saying that's what WotC is doing either! But some people do this with capitalism...and that's Bad, in my opinion.

    WotC is simply putting out product I personally don't want to purchase. That's ME exercising MY own "discernment." It would be nice (IMO) if more folks developed their own standards.

  7. Chello!

    Well, I'm not a capitalist myself; I consider myself a distributist, so your work fits nicely into my personal paradigm. (I haven't bought it gaming budget was spent by school supplies for the kids.

    I can't wait to get it in my hands.

    Oh, and I liked your rant!

  8. @ Anthony...huh. I wasn't an economics or philosophy major and "distributism" is a new concept for me...though not too bad on quick perusal. If it's good enough for J.R.R. Tolkien...

    However, while I'm a Roman Catholic by birth myself I'm still a fan of secular nationalism...I'll chew it over.

    As for my book...I still have a few copies left, and the orders have slowed down. I'll make sure to set one aside for you. School supplies should be priority!
    : )

  9. I recommend a thorough read of Adam Smith to anyone who pulls out the capitalist card. Here's just one of many Adam Smith quotes to baffle and confuse:

    "The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

    Not only does Adam Smith advocate in favour of taxation, to fund the public expense, but progressive taxation, where the rich pay more, in proportion to their revenue.

  10. @ Pal: You're preaching to the choir, man.
    : )

  11. And just to be clear, it has been Colonialism and Imperialism, not Capitalism, that has made the West rich.

    For 250 years, the West has been using third world labour and resources to make ourselves wealthy. Slavery. Multinational oil and resource companies. Third-world sweat-shops. United Fruit Company.

    The only thing that Adam Smith was naive about was that he thought consumers would be loyal to local businesses. Walmart and McDonalds proved him wrong.


  12. @ Pal: Ah, yes...I had neglected that part.

    Though to be fair, there have been folks that have made themselves rich on the back of our own people.
    : )

  13. Good stuff. Just bought your book. Not planning on buying any 4e stuff. :) Keep up the good work!