Last month there was a discussion on the Yog-Sothoth.com Breakfast Club podcast about how PDF files are used in role-playing games. The general opinion is that they are rapidly replacing dead tree versions of rulebooks and, especially, supplements as they are cheaper and take up less space. It was also pointed out that a great many people nowadays buy gaming materials not necessarily to actually play the game but to read the books for entertainment purposes.
Yesterday, I purchased the Shadowrun 4e Bundle of Holding. The month before I bought the Ars Magica 5e Bundle of Holding. For those not familiar with the Bundle of Holding, it is a website that sells bundles of various role-playing gaming materials at very low prices and even then a portion of what you pay goes to support a charity chosen by the game designer/company. For Shadowrun it was the Electronic Frontier Foundation and for Ars Magica it was Gutenberg.org, though the charities don't necessarily match so nicely to the games as they do in these cases. You can pay more than the minimum if you like and the extra all goes to the charity. It's a great deal, you get cheap gaming materials and support charity.
Now I haven't played Shadowrun since the FASA first edition came out back in the mists of time and I have no plans to in the immediate future. I've never played Ars Magica though I have always thought it was a very well designed game. And these are just a couple of the bundles I have bought in recent months. Like the Yoggies posited above, I got them as reading/entertainment material and a large part of the reason I did so was that it was convenient to do so. I have neither the space nor the money to get hard copies of all the gaming stuff I have bought this way.
It's not just through Bundle of Holding too. I've got an account on DriveThruRPG and I am often on the site looking for deals. I recently grabbed some 6mm Napoleonic miniatures* rules through their sister site Wargame Vault at half off the regular PDF price.
If it wasn't for the technology of the PDF format and the tablet e-reader I would not be able to enjoy these hobbies as fully. And yes, just reading the rules for entertainment is part of enjoying the hobby. I joked in the title about how this has hurt my bank account but in truth it barely makes a dent in it. If I bought all of these rules the old way as dead tree books it truly would have caused financial distress.
Which raises the question on the flip-side, would I have bought them at all then? To a certain extent many of these were impulse buys. I get an email from one of the websites with their latest offerings and think to myself "What a deal!" and break out the credit card. I doubt I would buy a whole bunch of Shadowrun or Ars Magica books if I was just browsing at the friend local gaming store. For a gamer I can be depressingly financially responsible.
The more I think about it, the more it becomes a chicken and the egg problem. So I've decided to stop worrying about it. I am happy, the game companies and e-gaming websites are happy and where applicable the charities are happy. Wins for everybody.
* Yes, 6mm. I really like that scale for historical wargaming. You can actually get the whole sweep of a large battle for a comparatively small sum of money. Plus I enjoy the challenge of painting minis that small. What can I say? I'm weird.