Monday, May 14, 2012

An Open Letter to Gamers in Regard to pdfs

I once again made the mistake of staring into the abyss of This time, it was one of my favorite train wrecks of topics, pdf sales. First off, the proof copies of the the new edition of the Hackmaster Player's Handbook have arrived at Kenzerco for final approval.
Sure, they're a bit full of  themselves, but with books that nice, I'll cut them some slack.

The longstanding preorder policy for the book was $60 (SRP) would net you the 400-page hardcover, plus a free  copy of the pdf.  Up until this point, not only was it a copy of the pdf,  but you immediately got access to the current beta version, plus each update until the final release.  From the information I have read, this has created an extra level of editing which has caught rule confusions and general typos, hopefully creating a better quality end product.

With the proof copies arriving to their satisfaction, Kenzer has allowed for orders of just the pdf, for $40 USD.

Forty Bucks!

The previously mentioned thread started with the original poster questioning/complaining about the high price of the pdf. His group was slightly interested in the new edition, plus he had a strict no-hard copy of the rules. The $40 price tag was just too steep for his consideration, as he had purchased many an equal product for $10-15.  The thread, as it could be expected, devolved into three subjects:  pdf pricing, Hackmaster's viability, and "Is Kenzer freakin' nuts?"

Before I get into those topics, two minor points:
  1. The original poster is a moron for having an all-efile policy.  In the few short months after the Christmas glut of electronics I've seen enough iPads imploded, Nooks nullified, Kindles killed, and hard drives failed  to not only recommended a secondary, but a tertiary backup source.  Plus, even with the "Almighty Cloud," if  you can't access the information with a busted device, it's like you left your materials on another continent.  Call me a grognard, but outside of  perhaps an electronic battle board, I'm not comfortable with devices at the gaming table.  Dead tree edition + cold dead hands, you get the idea.
  2. As I can describe myself as former Kenzer fanboy (last major purchase was the first printing of Aces & Eights),  as insular as the Kenzer fanboys were to their line of thinking, the folks are worse.  When I do relapse and poke around the site, I've done my best to "ignore list" (IL) a number of people, and I added some last night.  Worse yet, there are a number of writers/creators/publishers that I not only have put on my IL, but I actively avoid their products.  To be fair, there was an extremely well-presented post today that was quoted in another's post, and that was enough for me to  give that person a second chance. Hopefully I can a find a product of their's that I will enjoy and give them some money.    
PDF Pricing/Is Kenzer Freakin' Nuts?
It is true that I just posted within the week that I thought that Chaosium's pdf pricing was too high, so it may seem hypocritical to think that $40 for a pdf rule book is an okay price. In reality Chaosium's price decreases involved products that were out-of-print, never going to the light of day anytime soon, and Chaosium deemed it a proper move at this time. The items had already pulled some form of a profit and the only expense is digital storage costs.  

With Hackmaster, there aren't going to be a pile of immediate revenue sources, a la Pathfinder paths, or D&D sourcebooks.  At this moment, ensuring that they're covering the expenses of their print run is priority number one.  Their niche market has become one of high-end roleplaying books, in price, and hopefully same can be said in quality.  Anything that restricts the sale of said books, or even worse, might restrict the profitability with a limited print run, is to be avoided.  Ergo, the pdf will stay at $40 as a business decision of the company, probably until the feasibility of a second printing is met.  Even then, if it drops below $25, I  will be surprised.

And really, the company can set whatever price they want for a pdf.  It depends on how they calculate its inherent value.  If they want it for general consumption, sure, make it free or ten bucks,  if they provide it as a viable alternative to the person in the Australian outback who doesn't have a game store nearby and doesn't want to pay the $48 for shipping, good for them.  The business model that works is the one the company is most comfortable with (and still brings in revenue to pay the bills.)

Plus, the "Oh noes!  The game isn't complete" crowd completely waved aside arguments that the Hackmaster Basic pdf for $15 was a complete game and a great way to test the system.  The pdf/softcover book has the exact same rules, but only covers up to 5th level.  The experience system is consistent enough with the old edition, and with a TPK in the first go round, it took about 75 weekly sessions before everyone reached 5th in our campaign.  Let's halve that for a "safer" party/GM and we still have a full year's worth of play (holidays/off weeks/no-shows calculated into that). 

Hackmaster's Viability
The built in base from 4th Edition is there.  The new fans of the Aces & Eight plus people turned off by the previous WoTC license requirements should be quite pleased.  If you don't like crunch, you probably won't like  Hackmaster, but outside of a  full cinematic game, I can't think of a system that can run through G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief in a single session, complete with a 80+ person regular combat when the party made a clusterf.*** of things.  The new edition is more tactical, for you 3/4/Path players who like that kind of stuff.  

That all said, I'm not buying either medium the new Hackmaster yet.  Fourth edition is fine by me, and we haven't played since forever. In fact, if we did miraculously started up again, I would significantly fiddle with the skills rules

And seriously people, if you refuse to pay more than $10 for a pdf, use your, or apparent lack thereof, in protest.  I haven't ventured over to Drive-thru or rpgnow, but back in the days when I did, I found little there     that I wanted, and most items that appealed to me had a hardcopy alternative.  I still consider the pdf the domain of illegal scans or special bonus material (usually free to begin with).  I know, I'm so 2001....


  1. I think the only RPG stuff I've bought new in the past year has been from Green Ronin, and I've generally been very happy with their PDF policy, which is pretty similar to what you've outlined here.

    With everything I've bought from them, they've had the option to buy a PDF of the same product at checkout for five bucks.

    I'm on an unending honeymoon with Dropbox, so I generally stick the PDF copy in there. I'm coming around on PDF copies, though. I love Mutants & Masterminds, but the book is poorly organized (damage saves in the powers section) and it is helpful to be able to search the document for a quick rule check.

    Ultimately, I think the different formats are complimentary and I like having both.

  2. You can even get HackMaster Basic for FREE, if you know how. K&Co has regular giveaways associated with Conventions/Game Days. Play one session of the game, get a Free Rule Book. You get to try it out AND walk away with a free book. In fact the HMA(HackMaster Association) has a Online Convention coming up that takes place on the same weekend as Origins for folks who can't make it to Columbus. Free PDF anyone? ;)