Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Frugalnomics: Increasing Cost, Decreasing Value

Price rises, price rises, all I seem to hear about these days is price rises!  Personally I think everything's more expensive these days, but Dethtron (first and second links) has a point when he establishes that GW's prices are in fact behind the rate of inflation (whether they were marked up to the point of lunacy to begin with is perhaps another matter).  Still, that's not what I'm here to bore you about today.

I have, in the past, been heard to discuss the notions of cost and value; that having low point cost kits and making them both essential to building an effective force and expensive to purchase in terms of real money is the gaming company's road to profitability.  Dethtron has been caught remarking that you don't want your ubiquitous and essentially mandatory METAL BAWKSES, included merely to transport models across the board and provide an additional layer of insulation against the rain of hot lead/laser/microwave death outside, to eat up huge chunks of your army's points that you could be spending on cool stuff.  I say that I prefer spending my money on transport vehicles that contribute something else to the game, hence my love of anything Fast with good guns that can move and still shoot, Land Raiders and even, at a pinch, the Ork Battlewagon, but that's still not the point that I'm trying to make here.

My point is that price increases are only half of the way that gaming companies can, if they so wish, diddle and fiddle you out of your hard-earned wonga.  The other way they get you is by devaluing what you already own.  We are familiar, I hope, with the various justifications for new editions that invalidate your previous rulebook purchases; some of these are more valid than others but I think that by the time you're on, say, the third edition of a game you're either a bad designer or a deliberately poor designer trying to set up pendulum swings and/or release bloat for business reasons (which, as I keep saying but will continue to restate every time lest I be considered a ninny, is a valid business model and not something unethical and vile that it's worth starting a protest march over.  Go on the ones to preserve teachers' pensions instead and at least do me a favour while you're there...).

What some of us are perhaps less familiar with is the really obvious under-your-nose phenomenon that I never see emerging from discussions of How Things Were Better Value In The Mid-Nineties.  Stuff was worth more then.  When I started playing, a Space Marine squad cost 300 points for ten lads before any upgrades.  Buy them a Veteran Sergeant with weapons and wargear, special weapons and a transport and you'd be running something in excess of 400.  With 1500 points established as the Holy Grail of game size, that means an 'army' might comprise three of those squads, the mandatory Captain and, I don't know, a Chief Librarian or a couple of Predators or a Bike Squadron (the New Hot Sexy Release during the month I started playing, sixteen years ago...) or something. 

Third edition 40K slashed the points value of that squad - and it's interesting that we talk about 'points value' as often as we do 'points cost', don't you think? - in half while continuing to present 1500 points as the 'standard' game size.  Suddenly you 'need' twice as many d00dz in order to roll up to your games night, unless you're the sort of person who asks insightful questions like "what's so special about 1500 points anyway?"  The later editions of 40K have been nudging the game toward a sweet spot closer to 2000 while continuing to gently nudge point costs (Ork Boyz dropping from 10 to 8 or 9 to 6 over the course of three Codices, anyone?) to the point where your old stuff, even if still playable, won't amount to what people are conditioned to expect.

Now, lest I be accused of favouritism here, let's take a swing at a couple of other companies.  Privateer Press managed to pull off the double whammy when they released Warmahordes Mark II, changing the entire points system in order to revalue pieces and change the expectations about what constituted a game.  Alas, rummage as I might I can't find any of my Mark I lists anywhere to run an Edifying Comparison, but there was a lot of effort sunk into creating a formula that would unpick exactly how the points costs and values converted between the two systems, and it was at first rather tricky to establish how much you now had and whether you'd been played like a stringed instrument or not - which, a cynic would argue, is what they wanted.  Wyrd, meanwhile, set out with two different game sizes and, while I don't follow the Malifaux gossip too closely, I'd npt be surprised if their first expansion brought with it an emphasis on the larger of them.  Changing costs is only half the game; sometimes companies change the value of what you own as well.


Paul said...

Thought provoking article, I remember paying 40p for a model, Rhinos 3 for a tenner ........

Malifaux is on its second expansion, they seem to be keeping to their game sizes pretty well.


WQRobb said...

I posted my own reply to this on my own blog, including some numbers to back up your statements about depreciating point values.

Anonymous said...

I always work on the 10 points for a pound idea, and it has served me well. If I want a 2000 point army then if I can get close to £200 then that is fine. Obviously I use stors like wayland games and darksphere to get cheaper models but who doesn't?

Normal units end up costing a bit over the 10 points per pound mark in general, but I used to make it up by having characters that'd cost me £7 or so in a blister and cost 200 points. No more. Now because of that my armies are ending up at £250-270ish which is not really that much to do with regular pricing as it is with the pricing of character models going through the roof.

Von said...

@Paul - I'm not quite that old-school, although I do remember the days when the same kit was a tenner a throw.

As far as Malifaux goes... this was drafted months ago and thrown up because I wanted to post something here, anything... I've actually played and talked about Malifaux a bit since then and figured out where the money is (list tailoring for every game encourages large collections), but at least they haven't inflated the number of models you actually need, which is nice.

@WQRobb - nice couple of entries, and I remember that book of lists very fondly indeed!

You're right about WFB; that's a game where points values haven't changed that much (armies like Chaos have been scaled down a bit, in the vein of 66 points for a Knight down to 50), but larger and larger units have been encouraged, and the size of battle reports/display armies inflated to fit more of them in. Couple that with some models doubling in price (Orc Boyz, anyone?), and... well, it speaks for itself, right?

@Anonymous - I can sort of see the logic with character models being expensive, even though I used to complain about it; most people are only going to buy one Vampire Lord or Slann Mage-Priest, for instance, so GW aren't going to get profit through volume on those. My issue is when boxes of core troopers that come in huge units suddenly and arbitrarily double in price - see above, really.

Von said...

Additional: meant to say that I like the 'ten points per pound' principle too. Really highlights those high-cost low-value kits that I keep rattling on about.