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2010-09-08 Short Rules

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Summary: tag:short -> tag:Keep It Short

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N. Wright was quoting himself from EN World in his blog post Why are games SO DAMN LONG? saying “I really prefer my games to be short.”

I agree!

Here’s what I wrote in the comments:

  1. Authors sometimes get paid per word.
  2. Small books are sometimes considered to be either indie games or for kids, or both. They don’t sell as well.
  3. And often this consideration is true: When OD&D was published printing was super expensive and companies super small. Ergo they made small books. But as soon as they had the means to make bigger books, they did. And they added supplements as soon as they could, too. Any newcomers started small and this is how customers learnt to recognize the amateurs, the indies, the niche products. They were smaller than the established players. And established players kept on pushing to maintain this gap either by adding more pages, more art, more colors, or any other means to make it expensive and thus difficult for newcomers to break into their market.
  4. Once you are the big gorilla on the market, you also have economics of scale on you side. Your printing costs per piece are lower, so you can afford to print more pages, outcompeting others on page count. You just need to make the pages good enough for people to buy them.

I myself think there’s nothing wrong in this little size ratchet. That is just how things are. And generally speaking the pages added are in fact good. Customers just need to learn to discern what they like and buy the appropriate book. It’s why I like Labyrinth Lord.

Why is it difficult for customers to make the right decision? I think that is an effect of printing economics. Assuming book A was 64 pages and cost $5 and book B was 256 pages and cost $20 we might choose the book matching our preferences, ie. the shorter one in my case. But if there is a fixed sum of $10 to be paid per book irrespective of size, the book A might cost $12.50 and book B might still cost $20… Now many people will be asking themselves if they’re getting a bad deal with the shorter, apparently overpriced book. After all the higher price is not due to the author spending more time making it shorter and polishing it. Those $10 are shelf space, postage, envelopes, margins for distributors, marketing, and so on.

Thus, if you like short rules, these are my predictions:

  1. You are paying more per page because of fixed costs per book.
  2. You are buying a small press product because a successful business will try to take advantage of economics of scale and outcompete newcomers on page count.
  3. You will have a lot of older products (or retro clones) to choose from, because back then everything was more expensive so products were small to begin with.
  4. The authors will probably not make a living off it because they are probably not getting paid by word count and thus have no incentive to hand in longer manuscripts.

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Changed:

< |Dungeon Slayers 2 | 12 pages
< |Dungeon Slayers 3 | 18 pages
< |Dungeon Slayers 4 | 168 pages

to

> |Dungeon Slayers 2 | 12 A4 pages
> |Dungeon Slayers 3 | 18 A4 pages
> |Dungeon Slayers 4 | 168 A5 pages


Once again, I’d like to thank you for talking about economics, which is something I honestly hadn’t thought about when writing about my love of short games. It makes perfect sense, not that it makes me like it any more ;P

N. Wright 2010-09-09 01:30 UTC


In related news, I’m somewhat dissapointed that Dungeon Slayers 4 will have 168 pages - even if we take into account it’s A5 instead of A4, all the existing supplements shold come up to about half of that page count. Talk about destroying an inherent quality.

– Harald Wagener 2010-09-09 06:55 UTC


Indeed, there we go…

Dungeon Slayers 1?
Dungeon Slayers 212 A4 pages
Dungeon Slayers 318 A4 pages
Dungeon Slayers 4168 A5 pages

Similarly, Frog God Games and Mythmere Games are merging. And what’s the first product? The Complete Swords & Wizardry rules. “It includes the ranger from SR, the paladin, thief, druid, assassin - character classes from the supplements.” I guess that’s cool for most people. It’s part of the new value proposition. It illustrates that most people like more pages to their rulebooks. Only a few of them realize after a while that they’re getting bogged down by the length of the very books they love.

AlexSchroeder 2010-09-09 07:13 UTC


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