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Soapbox: About the Industry

TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming

by Sandy Antunes
Oct 10,2002


TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming

A long time ago, I did a per-hour comparison of RPGing with other forms of entertainment. I'd like to present a different approach to the same question, a "Total Cost of Gaming" (TCG).

Put simply, this is 'how much is a one-night gaming session going to cost me'. And it's about me-- as a parent and a writer, with my own peculiar structure. It also has a little blood, for those who are thinking 'boring!'*

Okay, let's look at basic start-up costs. Buying the game book-- $0. Why $0? Well, I'd have bought it anyway, even if I wasn't planning to game with it. Most RPG books are never run anyway, and are simply read by the purchaser. Time to accept that and just factor my game-buying into my monthly reading budget.

It's not like I bought (glances at shelf at random book) "the Dying Earth RPG" thinking "man, my players will love this, and I'd better get at least 6 game sessions out of it or my money is wasted!" It seemed neat, I figured I'd mine it for ideas. And, of course, "someday I'll run a game into it" [gaming false promise #7].

This is different from computer games. I don't buy "Unreal" thinking 'I may never play this, but I'll enjoy staring at the disk.' No, computer games must be played to be enjoyed-- anything else is frustrating. Not so with RPGs, they are (after all) _books_!

Okay, let's move to the adventure. This has a cost, a very real cost for me, because I have kids. Anything I want to do that doesn't involve the kids costs money-- as babysitter time, or as 'time spent at night doing X instead of Y, so that Y is behind schedule and I'll have to book a babysitter to finish Y, so it's pretty much a given that X is costing me defacto babysitter time'.

I get 6 hours of daytime each week, during which the girl next door watches my 1-year old (Max) so I can do stuff. Mostly graduate stuff. But if I use that time, for writing, it's $6/hour, right?

Well, umm... no. Writing costs me $0. This is because I'm a #$%&ing writer, and not by choice. I _have_ to write. It's on Maslow's Pyramid of Needs, right after food! Last week I cut a finger on some glass, sliced right across the tip. I had a bandage on it, did some serious writing that evening, realized I had to pause every 10 minutes or so to swab blood off the 'r','e','f','c', and 'd' keys** so it wouldn't leak into my keyboard and mess up the innards. I still wrote for 3 hours.

So I'm buying game books for reading and I write because it's my life. So right now, the only real 'cost' for gaming is actual game play. Playing is something that's a bitch to schedule and requires a lot of logistics. It's also (unlike reading and writing) a social activity, meaning it's not totally dictated by my whims and wishes and therefore, doesn't count as a compulsion like the other stuff.

So what are the costs? Let's see. First, I have to get snacks, so that's a $20 bill right there. Drinks, people usually bring lots, so that's covered. A babysitter, when available, helps out-- that's 3 hours at $6. Other than that, though, we're covered. So we're looking at $40 for entertainment. If my wife games too, we can split the cost and it's $20.

Now let's imagine going out to the movies. With 2 kids and graduate work to do, I really can only imagine this, it's not like I can actually _go_ to a movie. I think I get to the cinema twice a year, tops. LotR was worth it, though.

Anyway, a couple of movie tickets is around $15, three hours of sitting is again just under $20. So for a couple going to the movies, we're $5 cheaper than gaming.

Positive values for the movie include 'connection with culture' and 'escapism', plus 1-on-1 time with wifey. Positive values for gaming includes 'social interaction with friends' and 'escapism', plus 4-on-1 time with wifey... err, that last bit sounds a little more risque than it was intended. Let's move on.

How about a computer game? With a price point of $15-40, plus it sucking up at least 10 hours of play time, I don't even want to run the numbers on that. Add in sitting and it's a $100 experience.

So for an adult who is into gaming and writing, RPGing is tremendously cost-effective. And if you aren't a writer, you're likely less into GMing-- a totally baseless conclusion I'm postulating here as if it were fact. So you (like me, but for different reasons) don't have to worry about game-buying or adventure-creating costs, because you're 'just' showing up to play, and thus neatly exempt from the start-up activities required for a gaming session.

Just to wrap up, there is a potential fallacy in this article. I assign no cost to 'creative' activities like writing while assigning a (penalty) cost to 'immersive' activities like movie-watching or gaming, under the justification that creative activities are driven while immersive are, if not optional, fairly interchangeable with each other.

Then I screw up this delightful philosophical dichotomy by making 'reading' driven instead of immersive. My justification for this fallacy is that reading is a sacred act and therefore distinct from most forms of immersion.

If you were a car and had a different opinion on this, then, I could honestly use the following lame cliche with a straight face.

Your mileage, therefore, may vary.

Until next month,

* You'll still think that at the end, but by then, it's too late.
** Bonus points to anyone who figures out which finger I cut.

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What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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