The True Cost of Gaming

An Analysis Of The Cost Of Miniatures Gaming In Helsinki

Maxxon

Preface

I originally wrote this piece back in 2003, almost exactly ten years ago now. A lot of things used in the calculations have changed due to inflation, exchange rates and such. However while the small details may be incorrect today, for the most part I feel it is still valid for anyone wishing to provide their own hobby space.

However, one thing has substantially changed in the Helsinki area. As the hobbyists are getting older, a more self-reliant club scene has risen. There is now a gaming club that is fully funded by membership fees and rents its own gaming space. I joined this club partly top support it, partly to actually play there. Since I've already paid for my gaming space, it is a bit of an added expense for me. But for others this sort of arrangement is a viable option. You just have to find enough like-minded individuals willing to really put their money where their mouth is.

Introduction

As long as I have been in this hobby, I've heard complaints about the cost, and I'm speaking in purely financial terms here, of miniatures gaming. Gamers complain about the money they are sinking into the hobby, and non-gamers typically raise the cost as the number one reason for not entering the hobby.

This reasoning is especially prevalent when it comes to certain manufacturers: So-and-so raised their prices again, the Evil Empire is just gouging us for more money (yet we keep handing it over) and so on.

I was among them until a few years ago something happened that made me wonder what does this hobby really cost. And where does that cost really lie?

I've converted all the prices shown to US Dollars using an approximate conversion rate of $1 = 1 euro = 0.65 UK pounds.

Please note that this article is somewhat local in nature. Some of the prices mentioned, especially of real estate, vary a great deal depending on locale. I welcome any readers to send me additional data on their local conditions; I will tabulate the information and do a comparison.

Necessities Of Gaming

What do we need for gaming? Let's see:

Opponents

Opponents, that is friends, like so many of the best things in life are essentially free. If your desire is for tournament-grade opponents, that can incur additional costs in travel expenses, entry fees etc. but we're concentrating on the friendly game here.

Cost: NONE

Accessories

Dice, rulers and other accessories do cost money, but comparatively trivial amounts. Even the most dice-heavy games rarely require more than twenty dice to be thrown simultaneously. A sufficient supply of accessories can be easily had for $20 or so.

Cost: Negligible

Rules

Rulebooks tend to cost $20 to $30 these days. Typically, you are expected to buy a number of supplements at similar prices, but most games are quite playable with two or three books.

Cost: $100 or less

Terrain

Terrain is loved by cheapskates, because it can be made literally from junk, which is usually free. Sure, you can invest a lot of money in commissioned terrain lovingly hand-crafted by Gary Chalk, but that's not any more necessary than dice carved out of solid gold. Still, you are likely to spend some money on white glue, latex paints etc.

Cost: $100 or less

Painting supplies

Getting all the painting supplies at once can sting a bit when you're starting out. However, once paid for, you're basically set for life. I'm still using Citadel gold paint I bought almost 20 years ago. Sure, you'll need new brushes, primers, occasional jars of paint -- but it's a very minor expense.

Cost: $100 or less

The above expenses are pretty small. And normally you don't hear people complaining about the price of latex paint or white glue. But now we're getting to the juicy part...

Miniatures

You'll have to excuse my bias here: The following is based entirely on 25/28mm figures. However, other scales tend to be cheaper. In case of the exceptions like naval miniatures, the amounts needed tend to be much less, so consider this a high-end calculation.

Miniatures. Without them, this would not be miniatures gaming, contrary to what some people seem to think. The love of miniatures is what separates us from board, card and computer gamers. Even skipping the painting part is tolerated in some circles, but you just got to have miniatures to be gaming with miniatures.

Thus miniatures are a somewhat unavoidable cost factor in our fair hobby. It could be argued that some of the more business-driven operators in our "industry" have certainly noticed this.

A good quality historical infantry figure tends to cost around $1.50 these days. Manufacturers who've managed to lock people into their particular brand, especially in fantasy and science fiction, can generally command higher prices.

On the other hand, no one is forcing you to play their particular games or use their particular figures, so we'll settle that $1.50 buys a quality infantry figure while cavalry goes for twice that.

The amount of figures required by a rule set varies greatly. A Wild West skirmish game might be at its very best with just two or three figures per player -- the proverbial dirty dozen going a very long way.

Games oriented towards massive battles tend to require more figures, a hundred or more. A Vis Bellica army numbers between 100 and 200 figures, depending on options and exact basing scheme. A 3000-point Warhammer Ancient Battles army might number 600 savage barbarians! People playing DBM in 25mm seem to have gone the way of the dodo, so we'll ignore them for now.

Let's say you can at least build a reasonable starter force with 100 figures, double that for providing for an opponent and/or allowing for options.

For the purposes of this analysis, we'll ignore the strange urges to buy more miniatures than you really need or indeed are physically able to paint before reaching an early grave through lead poisoning.

Cost: $300 should set you up

A Place To Play

Unlike card games, most board games or computer games, miniatures games need space. Not quite as much as a good game of baseball, but generally we need to be indoors.

How much space exactly? Well, many rule sets seem to be built around a 6' by 4' playing area (that's 180cm x 120cm for us Europeans). Some games are more dependant on correct table size for game balance than others, some gamers prefer as much space as they can get while others make do with less. But we'll use this figure as an average.

The table won't do you any good if you can't get around it. You can get away with butting one short side against the wall, but let's say you need at least two feet of space on the other three sides.

That amounts to 4' + 2' + 2' by 6' + 2' or in other words, an eight-foot square (240cm square), the area thus being 64 square feet (5.76 square meters).

This does not include storage space, painting space etc. and it's not very roomy around the table either. Thus I'd call this the bare minimum gaming space.

The space requirement is actually roughly comparable to what a pool table would require.

The Dining Table Myth

My failed attempt to create miniature gaming space in my previous apartment.

Don't fool yourself. Buy a house with a proper game room. Some people equate the de facto standard 6'x4' with a dining table, others simply claim their game is playable on said table, or even kitchen table, by which I assume they imply even less space requirement.

Well, most of these people seem to be hailing from the land of milk and honey, where everything is big and, big being beautiful, beautiful. Around here the polar circle contracts everything so the standard width of a dining/kitchen table is 80cm (32 inches to our imperial folk). Desiring anything more than that marks you as an effete snob ripe for being ripped off.

It's bloody hard to buy a table wider than 80cm. I know, I've tried. You might find the odd 90cm table in the "upper class" ranges, or maybe one or two 100cm models going for $1000+, but full 120cm? Dream on.

To me all this talk about dining tables seems like a cruel joke, a bit like being told people can easily play golf in their back yard. In any case, we can scratch the idea of a suitable gaming surface being available in nearly all homes.

Invest In Land, They've Stopped Making It

Paraphrasing someone far more eloquent than I am. While they haven't stopped making houses, they certainly haven't stopped making money on making houses. Buying real estate, i.e. your home, is the biggest and most important investment most of us are ever likely to make.

Now that we've arrived at a rough figure of the required room, what is this room going to cost us?

When I bought my house, the prices hovered around 10 000 FIM ($1650) per square meter. That's roughly $150 per square foot. These days the prices have risen to 2300 euros per square meter. Cheap by Silicon Valley standards I guess, but I don't personally know any people who get a Silicon Valley -level salary either.

Thus the bare minimum gaming space costs something on the order of $10 000. The cost of the actual table is rather trivial compared to this.

Cost: $10 000 and over

Summa Summarum

Let's see... the total cost is something like:
OpponentsFREE
Accessories$20
Rules$100
Painting supplies$100
Miniatures$300
Gaming space$10000
TOTAL$10520

The cost structure is rather dominated by one single overriding factor: The cost of the gaming space. In fact that $10 000 would buy you over 6500 infantry figures in 25mm (ignoring possible volume discounts). Let's assume for a minute that you mount your figures on 1" washers, modern 25's being rather hard to mount on smaller bases anyway.

4' by 6' is in other words 48" by 72", or 3456 square inches.

For the cost of your gaming space, you can fill your table, base-to-base, in 25mm infantry figures -- almost twice over!

Conclusions

Gaming costs are dominated by the cost of the gaming space. Other costs, such as the much bemoaned cost of figures, are really a factor only when you are not actually paying all the costs of your hobby.

I'll stress this point again: This calculation is based on the premise of you paying all your direct hobby costs yourself. If you aren't paying for it, someone else is. If you're playing in your parents' garage and Santa Claus brought all the figures, sure, it's free for you. But not for the someone else who's footing your bill.

Q.E.D.

Comparison Of Localities

Here's some initial data on Finland. I welcome readers to send more information.
Price of 6 square meter gaming space in various localities
CountryArea Date$ Figures
Finland HelsinkiQ1/03 $138009200
EspooQ1/03 $119007933
VantaaQ1/03 $95006333
National average (excluding Greater Helsinki area) Q1/03$63004200
USA ChicagoQ3/03 $144009600

Post Scriptum

What was the earthshaking event that led me to think about all this?

Buying a house, of course. When my wife was expecting our first child, we decided to move to a slightly bigger apartment. Up till then I had had the extra bedroom pretty much to myself. Our new apartment was to include a room for my hobbies, so everything seemed okay.

But the room was much too small for actual gaming. After some abortive attempts to play on the dining table, I pretty much gave up gaming for two years.

Then the next child was on its way, and it was time to find a bigger place again. I was determined not to repeat the mistake, but finding a house with a suitable room for this hobby wasn't that easy. Craft skills are not in high regard anymore, and consequently they don't build houses with room for such. Living space commands a higher price, and it's all the same under zoning regulations and building permits anyway.

Luckily, I managed to find a good house by sheer luck (I got lost in a snowstorm and stumbled upon it -- this story is true), even for a fair price considering the upward trend of the real estate market.

Even so, in the end, I plonked around $30 000 on gaming space. If I ever decide to quit, I'll have a storage closet bigger than some people's apartments.

Still, my gaming friends complain about $20 bag of miniatures being too expensive...


Sucks! (8) Sucks by 8 votes Rocks by 17 votes (17) Rocks!

Comments

Gaming Space guest Jun 23, 2004 19:23

When I married my wife she already owned a house. It had been in her family for over 50 years. Even before we got married, it was obvious that there wasn't space for my gaming activities. All the rooms in the house were already furnished (kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, etc.) The basement was the logical choice but since the house was built in 1891, it was rather primitive. For example, when it rained, we got about an inch (25mm) of standing water in some sections of the basement. So, rather than give up gaming, I decided to build a new basement. I supported the house with 4"x6" timbers and dug the old basement out from underneath the house. I made it 2 feet deeper while I was at it. It cost me about $20,000 and a lot of sweat to fix/improve the 1300 square foot basement. It seems like a lot of effort just to have room to game but in the long run it's worth it. My game room is 22 feet by 16 feet. I also build my own 12 foot by 6 foot table to game on. Even though my wife claimed the remaining 1000 square feet, it was worth it. Besides, every man should take on 1 major home improvement project in his life that is way beyond his skill level. It makes him appreciate the trully skilled craftsmen even more.

Cost of Gaming guest Jan 11, 2005 12:32

There is one factor here that you leave out, that is also very hard to quantify. The cost of time. For instance, once you buy those 100-200 figures you have to paint them. I saw in your other article you managed to get down to 30 minutes per figure, that translates into 2 to 4 24-hour days of non-stop painting. Seeing as I can squeeze in about 1 hour of painting a day, it would take me as long as 6 months to paint them. Then you have to game on something. The half-timbered house I am building has taken me roughly 6 hours to produce. If you are lucky you can combine your actual gaming time with your family. My one daughter is learning the Lord of the Rings fantasy battle game.

In any case, there is a cost to all the time invested.

-Michael Shea Geretsried, Germany

Time is money maxxon Sep 08, 2005 10:35

Well, I consider the painting and modelling to ba a part of the hobby. I've counted the cost of things I need to have to actually practice this hobby, not the cost of actually practising it.

I know all people don't agree with me. They must add the cost of professional painting service to the equation.

Another space solution guest Dec 06, 2006 22:52

This probably wouldn't work anywhere near the arctic circle, but since I live in the desert, I found a great solution: $6,000 bought me a pre-built shed - the deluxe model, I might add - which is 10' x 20'. That's 18 square meters or so, which provides space for gaming and some storage as well. It's right in the back yard, but separated from the house, so its got a bit of privacy as well. I spent maybe a few hundred more wiring it for lights, and putting in insulation and a small air conditioner, but it's great to have my own space!

Most of our club gaming - as is true in many cases in the US - is done in a "community room" which costs us almost nothing. Is there no equivalent public space in Finland?

Cheers,

A. Gregory

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