Pricing in the Wargames Hobby

I’ve been browsing TMP. Silly of me, I know, but I just have to speak out after seeing yet another thread where people are opining that there is something wrong with companies seeking to make a profit from their wares.

This is patently ridiculous. First of all, it’s the duty of every company to make a profit. Even a sole trader has the right to price his goods and services with the intention of paying his bills, looking after his family and — why not? — taking a nice holiday and driving a decent car. Why should anyone go into business with the hope of nothing but a life of penury? And of course any company, be it private or public, should also have its shareholders in mind when structuring its prices. Shareholders, in the context of the wargames industry, are mostly ordinary people who have stumped up their own savings or taken out loans in order to help bring a company into being. They’re taking a risk – so why shouldn’t they be rewarded? And Lord knows I’m a man who knows something about risk and lack of reward!

The false reasoning of the ranters goes further. So what if company x, y or z charges too much in your opinion? This is, as the saying goes, a free world: nobody is putting a gun to your head to buy a particular miniature, magazine, paint or terrain item. Just skip the advert or put the thing back on the shelf. Move along. You are not forced to buy these products!

I’ve been wargaming a very long time (since 1969) and I’m well-known for having a soft spot for ‘old school’ (I prefer Phil Olley’s term ‘classic’) wargaming, but I’ve never subscribed to the idea that everything should be cheap (let alone free). I can remember the days when being a wargamer was like being a member of a secret society, and good products, be they books, miniatures or ephemera, were so scarce that they were purchased with alacrity. But they were never cheap. In fact, I’d argue that most wargaming products represent good value relative to modern incomes, and there is sufficient competition, ranging from one-man-bands operating out of their garden sheds, through to multinational companies, to ensure a range of choice like we’ve never had before. Where products have become more expensive is largely due to the ludicrous rise in the cost of raw materials, as major powers in the global economy gobble up scarce resources, rather than the avarice of the wargames businessman.

There’s something else at work here too: consumer greed. Some people seem to think they should have access to certain things by right at little or no cost. Pardon? For example, the current trend in decrying full-colour rulebooks with high production standards. I’m really tired of hearing people trash these efforts – the product of a huge amount of work by a group of dedicated people over many months – on the basis that all they want is a black-and-white stapled version of the rules, or a free-to-download PDF, hopefully provided for nothing.

Eh?

This, I’m afraid, is one of those depressing symptoms of the internet age, which has created a culture of expectation that is groundless. It particularly afflicts publishing, where even people who would consider themselves to be ‘honest’ routinely flout copyright laws in relation to music, photography and the written word.

Let’s take an example. There was a furore when Rick Priestley’s Black Powder was first published by Warlord Games. This is a delightful, full-colour, hardback publication, engagingly written, beautifully illustrated with diagrams and lovely photos. It runs to 184 A4 pages plus the hardback covers, with an RRP of £30. You can find it on Amazon for £25.50.

Okay, £30 isn’t cheap, but I would argue that it’s good value. That’s the price of less than two boxes of Perry plastic miniatures; 15 pots of Coat d’Armes paint; rather less than seven flocked Hexon terrain boards; or, if you live outside the EU and aren’t subject to our 20% VAT, a Baccus 6mm army starter pack. As with any of this random selection, you’ll be using the Black Powder rules for many years to come. (Make sure you close the paint pots properly, or they won’t last as long.)*

Now, I can hear some of you grumbling already and of course, you may prefer to spend your money on miniatures or terrain. Then go right ahead! The publishers, of course, took a gamble when they decided on their price that they wouldn’t scare people away in droves and be left with a warehouse full of unsold copies. Ah, you say, it was bound to sell well because it was written by Rick Priestley. Well, bless his soul, I don’t imagine he thinks of himself as the Jeffrey Archer of wargaming (he hasn’t been to prison for a start, and I wouldn’t recommend it to him as a publicity stunt), but it could easily have happened that people thought “Why do I need another set of horse and musket rules?”

In fact, it’s interesting to ask, why didn’t those who bought Black Powder think that? (A topic for another post…)

Could it be that actually, part of the adverse reaction to certain releases, be they miniatures or rulebooks (the two things that seem to provoke the strongest reactions), is due to our own sense of guilt? We’re jackdaws. We all like the latest shiny thing that comes along. We suffer from a shared dysfunction and it irks us when we are forced to make choices. Gosh, I already play (for example) General de Brigade, but that Black Powder book sure looks pretty and the rules sound interesting and I WANT it but I can’t AFFORD it, let alone JUSTIFY the purchase, and what if I discover that I actually prefer BP to GdB? Would that turn my wargaming world upside down? What would my friends think? Would I have to re-base everything?

Then things turn really sour. Didn’t that Priestley bloke work for Games Workshop before? Come to think of it, a whole  bunch of the Warlord lads did. It’s a conspiracy. During their time at GW, they were secretly inculcated into the secrets of creating a business that not only survives, but actually makes money! Some of those Games Workshop products are really expensive! They’re evil! I must resist! But it’s hard! I need to convince myself that I don’t want that damn book – I know, I’ll go online and slag it off, even though I’ve not actually read it! Mustn’t read it, might fall under its spell! Oh, no, it’s affecting me already! Look at all these exclamation marks I’m using! I’m going to explode!

Of course, you could just buy the book if you can afford it (it’s nice to have in the collection) or not, if you can’t afford it or it just doesn’t tickle your fancy. Life goes on. There will be another one along in a minute.

Oh, no – Hail Caesar! What do you mean another full-colour hardback? About ancients? Why isn’t it written in Barkerese and in black and white, text only? Written by that Priestley again? He IS evil! Aaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhhh!

[For Ancients ranting balance, you are also welcome to froth at the high production values and cover prices of Field of Glory, Warhammer Ancient Battles, Clash of Empires and now War & Conquest.]

*I’m sure that keen painters out there would argue that those Coat d’Armes paints wouldn’t last years. Trust me, in my case, they would.

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