The RPG world is all a-buzz about the PDF release of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game. The hardback will be available on February 28th. The PDF is available on the website for $12.99.  I’ve noticed a trend towards PDF releases of RPG’s lately and this has caused a question to rattle around inside my brain-box for a while now.  Are PDF releases helping or hurting our hobby?

Until recently most game companies have resisted the urge to release PDF’s of their games for two main reasons; One-They didn’t want to make things more difficult for the brick and mortar game stores, and Two-Fear of piracy.  Let’s address the second point first. To paraphrase Jonathan Coulton :

Create something really good and sell it at a reasonable price. There is your anti-piracy plan.

Simple and true.  Certain people will pirate your creation no matter the price and there is very little you can do to stop them.  But they make up a very small percentage of the people interested in your game.  Most people in this world are more than happy to pay for what they want as long as it is affordable and easy to get.  Some publishers released PDF’s of their games, but kept them at the same price as the hardcopy products that they shipped to retail stores.  They did this in an effort to encourage you to support your Friendly Local Game Store.  The idea was that if you had a local game store and there was no price difference you would go to the store instead of buying online.  People who didn’t have a local game store would still be able to get the games at the same price everyone else was paying.  Sounds reasonable at first, but when people start to think about the lack of printing and shipping costs associated with PDF files they start to wonder if maybe there is also a greed motive involved.  And then the piracy begins.  Protecting the brick and mortar stores is a noble cause, but there are better ways of doing it than through price.

Online distribution is the way of the future.  Change is the only constant in the universe.  And though it will probably mean fewer local game stores, it doesn’t have to mean the complete elimination of them.  We have discussed on the The Dice Guys podcast how brick and mortar locations have to become innovative in order to compete with their online competition.  They have to step up their advertising, offer extras that their online rivals simply can’t do, and provide exceptional customer service.  Publishers can help support Friendly Local Game Stores by providing little extras in their hardcopy releases, such as, character or monster tokens, full-color maps, condition markers, etc.

I suspect that we will be seeing more PDF releases of role-playing games and at reasonable prices.  I think that it is a boon to our hobby and a challenge for the brick and mortar stores.  I love having a physical location to browse the games, interact with the people, and play my Monday night [amazon_link id=”1601251505″ target=”_blank” ]Pathfinder[/amazon_link] game.  I sincerely hope that they will be able to stand up to the challenges of this rapidly evolving world.

Tl;dr—Lower priced PDF releases of RPG’s are good for our hobby, but challenging for our local game stores.


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One Response to PDF versus Brick and Mortar

  1. Jeff Healy says:

    PDFs aren’t what are hurting LGSs. The physical books you can get from your local store and a PDF are serving different purposes for most people. If, say, you’ve got an iPad or a Kindle or a Nook, then shopping for that is always going to bypass the LGS, because they don’t offer digital options. On the other hand, some people just can’t stand reading stuff on a computer screen, and will opt for the book every time. That’s why I have a lot of games in PDF format I’ve never gotten a chance to play; most of my friends don’t want to read through the book on their computer, they want a book.

    What’s killing LGSs is Amazon, and other online retailers. Amazon has a comprehensive selection that’s usually better than what you can access at the store, and offer discounts around 33% on average. They even throw in free shipping if you’re spending above a certain amount. All this together means I usually end up buying my books from Amazon. Websites like Noble Knight or eBay mean you can even find used and old books online, while most game stores don’t carry much beyond new releases or the ‘big’ lines. Even the game companies themselves are getting into the online arena, running their own storefronts to reap greater profit shares from their sales. Many offer bonuses to buying directly from their websites, like getting a free PDF copy with the book. White Wolf, one of the bigger fish in the RPG pond, has gone even further, and are now fully-digital, releasing all of their new products as PDFs with print-on-demand ordering available, as well steadily working through their entire back catalog and converting every book they’ve ever printed into PDF form.

    The advantage brick-and-mortar has against the internet is the social aspect of a game store. As you pointed out, the LGS is a great place to play, if they provide space. Both the stores in town not only have plenty of table room, they offer snacks and drinks for sale. They hold weekly game nights for RPGs, card games, and miniatures games. Card and mini games are especially popular, and profitable, because of the tournaments, some of which are sponsored by the companies. One of the stores has a bulletin board up where people can advertise games they’re running if they’re looking for players. I have also noticed that the store in town that also carries comics has seen the comic section slowly eat away at the space allocated to RPGs over the last decade, with over 2/3rds of the store now comic racks and boxes. They’ve found a product that still has a small online presence, and have made that a major portion of their business.


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