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New Tech Is Not Cheap

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Ax: <Galard is a sort of universal language spoken by different races throughout the galaxy. It's what people speak when they come from different species and don't share the same language. These horses must have been fitted with speech synthesizers.>
Cassie: <Why wouldn't Yeerks be speaking Yeerk or whatever?>
Ax: <I don't know. But the standard speech synthesizers use Galard. Maybe they acquired less sophisticated speech synthesizers. Sometimes it's easier to get older, less cutting-edge technology.>
Animorphs #14: The Unknown

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, exaggerations, or if it becomes a major plot point.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The astronomical amounts of money the 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 than 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. They're absolutely right. Amusingly, they ran into this issue again with an earlier attempt to do so with the ground-type Gundam and GM from Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team - they put the suits together from spare parts left over from producing the original Gundam to save on time and money, but ended up running out of parts after barely putting together a few dozen suits (20 Gundams and about 40 GMs), which also made their maintenance and repairs much more difficult and expensive.
    • 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 with the Gundam. Unfortunately for Zeon, by that point most of their veteran pilots were dead, and so the powerful Gelgoogs were fielded by rookie pilots... who then got butchered by the far less powerful GMs and their much more experienced pilots.
    • Side stories and sequels sometimes have mass production versions of previous Super Prototypes for use by elite pilots or teams, like the mass-production ZZ Gundams in Gundam Sentinel or mass-produced F91s in Crossbone Gundam.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: One of Spidey's major plots is his budgetary restrictions on the expensive chemicals for his web shooters.
  • Robin: The expensive nature of the items used in crimefighting is highlighted in a few issues. When Bruce was out getting healed and Tim was acting alone as Robin and fighting the replacement Batman since he was willing to kill Tim was more careful with his tech and had to sneak into the Batcave for things despite Az!Bats trying to kill him and Tim being a capable inventor. After Tim's father went bankrupt he was also much more conscious of the ridiculous budget needed for even simple things like batarangs.
  • Iron Man: This is often used as a justification for why Tony Stark doesn't make suits for every member of the Avengers, or police, or rescue services around the world: each suit is ridiculously expensive to make. Amounts quoted have been $4 billion to $7 billion per suit. Additionally, each suit is often a Super Prototype, a completely unique creation that doesn't have the advantages of mass production. When Tony does make armor for a larger group—for example, the guards at the supervillain prison known as the Vault—they were often explicitly cheaper and less powerful models than his "normal" armor.
    • This trope was also a plot point during Matt Fraction's "The Five Nightmares of Tony Stark" storyline, in which the villain is getting his hands on old pieces of Iron Man suits — a partially-destroyed chestplate, scraps from a leg, etc. — and turning them into implants that could make people into cheap but extremely effective suicide bombers, powered by the "user's" body energy. Not as powerful as a full Iron Man suit, but far cheaper and easier to produce.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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. ("Formerly Lehman Brothers")

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Spider-Man 2: When Doctor Octavius' 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 this 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.
  • This is the trigger for the entire plot of Avatar; Jake mentions that the avatar made for his murdered identical twin Tommy was "insanely expensive", which is why Tommy's employers brought Jake along to make use of the avatar instead of letting it go to waste.
  • In The Core, Dr. Ed Brazzelton has plans for a ship capable of getting to the center of the Earth, but claims perfecting his fabrication methods enough to make it economically feasible would take around 10 years, time which the world does not have:
    General Percell: What would it take to get it done in six months?
    Dr. Brazzelton: [laughing] Fifty billion dollars, I...
    General Percell: [deadpan] Will you take a check?
  • Batman Begins uses this to justify why there's an entire branch full of hardware for Bruce to 'borrow' from Wayne Enterprises.
    Lucius: [This armor] will even stop a knife.
    Bruce: Why isn't it standard issue?
    Lucius: The military didn't think a soldier's life was worth 300 grand.

  • 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.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "Feminine Intuition": After several failures together costing half a billion dollars, JN-5, Madarian insists that the previous attempts weren't failures, explaining what was learned was also of benefit to the company.
    • "Risk": After the Parsec, an experimental hyperdrive ship, doesn't go into hyperspace like it is supposed to, the people in charge quickly grow worried, as the ship itself was very expensive to construct and losing it might mean the cancellation of the entire project for more profitable research.
      Susan Calvin nodded. "The situation then is that if the ship disappears, as it may do at any moment, a few billion dollars of the taxpayers' money may be irretrievably gone, and it will be said through bungling."
  • 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.
  • In Einstein's Bridge, the expense of SSC were used as one of the reasons to close that project.
  • Honor Harrington: 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 People's Republic of Haven can't, even if their educational system wasn't hideously crippled.
  • 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.
  • Animorphs: The Animorphs run into Yeerk-infested horses being used to spy on the local version of Area 51, who suddenly talk to each other in an alien language (that isn't their own). Ax says they might be using cheap versions of what seems to be a common galactic piece of equipment that uses a Common Tongue rather than the Yeerk language.
  • To the Bursar's delight, this trope is averted in The Truth, when he learns Mr. Goodmountain's printing press prices are far below the usual Guild of Engravers'. This, and the promise of an invite to a future luncheon, is enough to convince him to offer Unseen University's business to Mr. Goodmountain.

  • In one of Doctor Steel's songs, "Build the Robots", Dr. Steel laments about building a high-tech giant robot army:
    I need assembly lines
    A crew and much more time.
    The money's all mine
    And my funds are getting thin.
    I'm gonna have to rob a bank again.
    'Cause I'm spending every dime and
    I'm spending all my time to
    Build the robots.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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! (1995) 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 Meier's 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 is noted to have 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.
  • Mass Effect:
    • It's mentioned 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.
      • More specifically, the project was more expensive than building the aforementioned starship, and one of the doctors working on the project actually started a rebellion because he was jealous one dead person was getting all the funding.
    • 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 missions 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.
  • Gihren's 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 in 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 (complete with recordings of Jindosh's voice describing the AI's thinking), and making one takes so long there are less than fifty in existence. Jindosh spends a lot of time trying to find a way to produce them more quickly 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 anymore.
  • Stellaris does this with repeatable technologies that instantly buff all the ships in your empire without needing a refit, each iteration costing more tech points to research (and taking longer) than the last. In addition, the larger your empire becomes then the costlier and longer each tech becomes, as it takes longer for that technology to become mainstream; thus, a smaller empire with fewer planets and population, while perhaps lacking in military and industrial power, will advance in technology very quickly if they focus on science.
  • League of Legends explains this as to why "hextech" — considered the most powerful and advanced technology in the world— is mostly limited to the twin metropolises of Piltover and Zaun. The very original "hex crystals" that power hextech were the harvested lifestones of a race of magical beasts that dwelled underground, and are thus an extremely rare commodity. Combined with the expertise required to handle them and engineer them, hextech cannot be manufactured en masse, and even with modern attempts to synthesize hex crystals, the industrial power required for it has turned Zaun into an environmental disaster zone.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 transfers 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.