There's an inverse relationship between the prevalence of a given technology and its unit cost; the more of it that's made, the more is learned about how to produce it cheaply and efficiently, which means that the retail price can be reduced without lowering the manufacturer's profits. Newly developed technologies haven't existed for long enough to let this relationship take effect, so they tend to be very costly to purchase and maintain.
Stories often use this as a reason not to just blow up rampaging technology, or to make an item more important as a setup to get it destroyed or rescued. This approach also allows some characters or factions to have some items better than others without making plot holes or contrived limitations like Super Prototypes. It helps explain why stories don't simply have a whole lot of certain tech items — e.g. why are there only a few flying suits assigned to an elite team or even just its lead members, instead of jetpacks being issued to every private in the army? Because they cost too much. Which art-wise makes a justification for the greater variety of used designs. And if the author ever decides to change designs, raise the stakes or avoid going too far with The Worf Effect or Redshirt Army, the mass upgrade "at last" improves the continuity instead of taxing it.
Here's a partial list of potential expenses:
- Efforts toward further development and refinement
- High engineering requirements (reducing the number of facilities which can produce a given item at all; increasing the rate of production rejects, which reduces the number of items which can be put on the market)
- High material requirements (raw materials which are rare or expensive to obtain; complex and time-consuming material refinement processes)
- Unusual power source (rare fuels, radioisotopes, Applied Phlebotinum)
As this is extremely common, please limit examples to subversions, aversions, taken Up to Eleven, or if it becomes a major plot point.
- Astronomical amounts of money JSDF has sunk into the military cyborgs research and development during the WWIV shortly prior to Ghost in the Shell: Arise, is one of the main reasons it is in such a dire financial straits in the show.
- Many one-shot or limited production suits from the various Mobile Suit Gundam series are prototypes that were just too expensive or complex to mass produce. In fact, most series star a unique Super Prototype. Others were created for Mobile Suit Variations series to demonstrate how technology advanced behind the scenes.
- The original Gundam anime makes this a plot point with the introduction of the mass produced GMs. While vastly weaker to the Gundam, the Federation reasons that being able to produce entire armies of GMs to take advantage of their huge pilot pool is more likely to win the war than producing a small handful of obscenely expensive Gundams.
- This also comes up later after the introduction of the Zeon Gelgoog, which is described as being roughly equal to (if not superior to) the Gundam itself. Technology had progressed to the point where it was now cost-effective to mass produce Mobile Suits on par to the Gundam.
- In some canons, one of Spider-Man's major plot is budget on the expensive chemicals for his web shooters.
- Despicable Me: A huge part of the plot involved getting loans and necessary capital in order to create the evil inventions for the evil plots. They had their own Villain Bank.
- In Spider-Man 2, when Doctor Octopus' tentacles convince him to try to build his fusion generator again, he specifically mentions needing to be able to fund it, which results in him robbing the bank where he has his first fight with Spider-Man.
- In Contact, a terrorist attack destroys the first device. There are plans, but building the device was so expensive for the entire world that the prospect of building a second one (especially since it would invite yet another attack) is summarily dismissed. It is then that a second, backup device is revealed to have been built in secret. It is explained with the Crowning Moment of Awesome line:
"First rule of government spending: why build one, when you can build two, at twice the price? Only, this one can be kept secret.
- In Einstein's Bridge, the expense of SSC were used as one of reasons to close that project.
- Part of the issues in the war between the People's Republic of Haven and Manticore in the Honor Harrington series. Courtesy of their control of the largest known wormhole junction in the Galaxy and a massive merchant marine Manticore can afford to run a robust R&D program in the middle of a shooting war while the bankrupt PRH can't, even if their educational system wasn't hideously crippled.
- Justifies the Schizo Tech in the Belisarius Series: both opposing forces have men armed with everything from spears to volley guns, due to the expense of trying to fight an industrial war using a preindustrial society.
- Safehold: Both sides of the Jihad come to the point of "we need these new weapons, but how are we going to pay for them?" The Church of God Awaiting goes from the richest organization on the planet in book 1 to verge-of-bankruptcy before book 9. The only thing that keeps Charis going is the discovery of rich silver mines on a mostly-unsettled Charisian island.
- A recurring theme in Artemis Fowl. Foaly often gripes about how much something cost to make when it gets damaged or destroyed and one of the few ways Root can keep him in line is by threatening to slash his budget. When Foaly later joins Section 8, one of the first things he gushes about is the nearly unlimited budget.
- In one of Doctor Steel's songs, "Build the Robots", Dr. Steel laments about building a high-tech giant robot army:
I need assembly linesA crew and much more time.The money's all mineAnd my funds are getting thin.I'm gonna have to rob a bank again.'Cause I'm spending every dime andI'm spending all my time toBuild the robots.
- Genius: The Transgression goes a little overboard in insisting that Geniuses be able to account for how, exactly, they pay for those wonderful toys. It stops short of having the Storyteller request an itemized budget from the players, but only just.
- d20 Modern provides rules in the d20 Future sourcebook for buying advanced gear as well as modern gear made more advanced by heavy modification, with set increases in the cost for each boost. Yes, you can have yourself a Sniper Pistol if you're willing to shell out.
- Strategy games sometimes have "miniaturization" effects - an eventual reduction in cost of hardware that isn't new as the player climbs higher on Tech Tree in corresponding fields, which leaves it a viable choice for some time.
- Stars! makes each item cheaper by 4% per Tech Level prerequisite (if it has any) exceeded in all applicable fields, until its resource cost drops to 24%. "Bleeding Edge Technology" trait, doubles the cost of new technologies until Tech Levels are exceeded, but improves by 5%/level with 20% bottom. This sucks on highest-level items, however, since there's no room left for improvement and you're just stuck with double cost until the end.
- In Master of Orion 2 "miniaturization" lowers both the cost and size of devices, and empty levels at the top of the Tech Tree exist to allow extra miniaturization of top-tier tech (and score points).
- Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri has prototyping, where the first unit of a new design has an added initial cost before you can even produce any. This cost is ignored by the Spartans and at bases with a Skunkworks.
- Prototypes have a special advantage, as well: because prototypes are typically entrusted to experienced personnel, these units gain a boost to Morale (i.e. XP). Significantly, this still applies when the prototype is built at the Skunkworks...but not for the Spartans. Not that they need the boost (they start at +2 Morale, so giving them the extra boost would just be overkill).
- Sword of the Stars II also introduces prototyping. You can't start mass-producing new ship designs until you build the prototype. Prototypes are subject to the Random Number God. Certain qualities (firepower, armor, energy production, etc.) can be slightly better or worse than the mass-produced sister ships, which is why the designers saw fit to give prototypes nicknames reflecting their qualities.
- Halo universe:
- The Spartan Laser initially cost as much as A 400,000 TON WARSHIP.
- This is part of the reason why Spartans weren't able to be mass-produced until after the war; their MJOLNIR Powered Armor was notoriously expensive to produce. They also had to design a version that didn't require the user to be surgically enhanced during adolescence to ever use.
- In Mass Effect, it is observed that for what the Systems Alliance spent on the Normandy SR-1, they could have built and outfitted an entire flotilla of standard frigates. The Normandy is of course a Super Prototype with unmatched stealth capabilities. In Mass Effect 2, the Normandy SR-2 is indicated to be even more expensive and capable than her predecessor.
- The Lazarus Project brings Shepard back from being frozen and brain-dead, but is so incomprehensibly expensive that even Cerberus can't do it again.
- The Thanix cannon is another solid example. Developed between the first and second games from the reverse-engineered wreckage of Sovereign, in Mass Effect 2 you can obtain one prototype cannon fitting for your frigate, and that only because of your high-level contacts with the turian government — and they still make you build parts yourself. By the endgame of Mass Effect 3, they're bloody everywhere; Cerberus has them mounted on Omega, the Alliance and turians field entire fleets equipped with them, and the volus built a dreadnought with Thanix technology.
- Civilization IV uses this as part of their approach to the series' traditional Tech Tree. While you don't have to research all of the prerequisites for certain technologies, doing so reduces the research costs.
- Inverted in Civilization V: Brave New World with the "Scholars in Residence" UN edict, which makes technologies cheaper for other civs after the first one researches it. Old Tech Is Cheap.
- Starcraft II:
- This trope is invoked as to why Raynor does not only artifact misions but any other mission he can find, including for notorious pirates.
- The Odin, the Dominion's ultimate assault mech, is capable of ravaging multiple bases with barely any maintenance, but is so expensive and outright huge (even the biggest cargo ship in the game can't fit it) there's only one ever built in the entire series. Fortunately, Swann reverse engineers it and comes up with a mass-production version which cuts back certain elements like the size, the minibar and toilet in the cockpit, and the nuclear missile launcher.
- Gihrenís Greed: zigzags with this trope. The price of a unit will not change even if the story (and your tech level) advances. The first time you try to build a Doros carrier, for example, will be astronomically expensive at that point of the game. Later on, there will be individual Mobile Suits that cost more than a Doros will, but there will also be other Suits (even new top of the line ones) which will cost less. Newly developed Jegans are still cheaper than building a second Zeta Gundam.
- Dishonored 2 invokes this trope with regard to Kirin Jindosh's clockwork soldiers. The soldiers are revolutionary, but they're an in-universe Obvious Beta, and making one costs the kind of money most men won't see in a lifetime. Jindosh spends a lot of time trying to find a way to produce them more cheaply, and goes to the extent of having Sokolov kidnapped and imprisoned so he could try to force him to help. In the end, Emily/Corvo deals with him before he can find a solution, and once he's dealt with the solution doesn't matter any more.
- Narbonic features an extended time-travel subplot which establishes that it is difficult, but not impossible, to change your own history. Physical time-travel takes all the energy that exists in the Universe or, as it turns out, in some other universe that's just out of luck.
- Averted by another method that transfer your consciousness back or forward in time into your own body, and you can undergo changes as a result of altered behavior. For instance, Dave never smoked.
- Inverted in this Melon Pool strip. It's because of the OLD technology (engine) that required expensive fuel.