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[PUBLIC] The Economics of LARP (or, Are We Willing To Pay What LARP costs?) - The Cover Story
October 2013
Sun, Oct. 20th, 2013 11:18 am
[PUBLIC] The Economics of LARP (or, Are We Willing To Pay What LARP costs?)

This morning I am preparing to go to To Be Continued..., a theatre-style LARP campaign I participate in. Recently, one of the GMs (staystrong62805) has been commenting on social media and in conversation about the sheer amount of effort preparing each session is. There are 45 player characters, each of whom need around 1,250-2,500 words of character sheet each game. In addition, forums must be managed, background must be researched and integrated, NPC's wrangled, space reserved, and so on. 3-4 times a year, I get to take advantage of all this work for about $5 to help cover snacks.

In the New England theatre LARPing community, the burden of games, creative, logistical, and financial, lies squarely on the GM. None of the major conventions (Intercon, Festival, SLAW, or *Bubble) finance the games that run there; if a GM bids a game, they are expected to develop, build, deploy, run, strike, and evaluate their games all on their own time and budget. The reward for all this investment of time, money, and energy is watching players play your game (when you have time to observe.)

The sheer amount of work got me thinking about the real costs of running a game like TBC. Reportedly, for at least several weeks before each session, staystrong62805 is spending at least 1 Full-Time Equivalent each week on prep. Supposing that she alone was carrying the weight of this entire time's development, and was working full-time between sessions to get each one ready, how much is the real cost of the game?

People consistently undervalue their time when putting together business proposals, so in keeping with that tradition, I'll start my estimate off at Massachusetts' Minimum Wage ($8.00/hour.) For a 2,000 hour work year, that comes to $16,000. Splitting that across four sessions a year, that's about $4,000/session. The game I'm in runs about 45 players, which comes out to about $88.89 per player per session. That doesn't even start to count the GM's, NPC's, and other staff present at each session.

So the cost of having a person paid minimum wage to full-time write and run a LARP campaign for 45 players is about $356/player/year. Whether or not you consider minimum wage to be a living wage in the Boston area is beyond the scope of this essay.

I don't know of anybody for whom LARP writing is their livelihood, but I can see in the dim distance of the future a time where campaign LARPs may start employing full-time staff. I've had numerous conversations with many people in both the theatre and boffer LARPing style about the future of LARPing, what players are willing to pay for a game, what GMs are willing to absorb to see their own games run, and if those restrictions are limiting LARP as an art form in New England. I don't think LARP, especially theatre LARP, should be a proverbial Rich Man's Game, but I don't think the current distribution of cost in our community is fair at all, and I think we need to start establishing a culture of spreading at least the financial load of these games out over our player bases, and acknowledging that the time that our writers and GMs put in is worth more than just our hearty thanks at game wrap.

Cultural changes don't happen overnight, but I believe for our community to continue to develop and thrive, we have to start reimbursing our staff for their efforts. I know it isn't practical for a lot of people who LARP these days to pay a hundred dollars a game, and it is important that the theatre LARPing community maintain its low barrier to entry. That said, I think it is also important for those of us who can afford to pay what a game is worth to start doing so -- to voluntarily start paying the costs of our characters, because until a culture of distributed costs is created, I fear we are in danger of plateauing as an art form.

So when I get to gamespace today, and the staff asks me for my $5 admission, I'm going to hand them $100 and be confident that I'm still getting a deal on my afternoon's entertainment.

Tags: ,
Current Location: Waltham, MA
Current Mood: hopeful hopeful


Sun, Oct. 20th, 2013 06:25 pm (UTC)

It's very thoughtful and considerate of you to even take any of this effort into your mind, when many players don't even think of it. As a GM and writer I'm grateful on behalf of us all. And as somebody who is fairly serious about larp running, and somebody in need of more regular employment with an expensive writing degree, I've been mulling a lot over the idea of how to possibly turn running larp into a real job. As you say, culture changes so slowly that I don't know how feasible it would be to turn it into something supportable, but I do wonder if there is a way. I'd be really happy to take on the burden of major game writing and hosting if the community were willing to employ me that way.

Also, your $100 tip is gentlemanly and kind. Kudos to you for that.

A fool who should know better
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 03:11 am (UTC)

I have run through this math several times myself over the last decade, and come to similar conclusions.

But, in my observation, people will do much, much more for no money than they would for a medium amount of money. A hearty thank-you and the social status that comes from being a Person Who Makes Things Happen is (to judge from people's behavior) more rewarding than significant sums of money. Also, IME, when you start paying people for things they were doing for free, "I do this for the love" can rapidly turn into "they don't pay me enough for this shit."

So on the one hand, this is thoughtful of you on many levels. And on the other hand, in a perverse sort of way I'm not sure it's productive.

Robert Bronzite
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 12:36 pm (UTC)

I definitely understand the argument, and I think it is applicable to a wide swath of current-generation LARP writers. That said, even if we ignore the time and effort put in to write the game, I'm quite positive that GM's would welcome recompense for the material costs of game. Our hobby slays fel printers, and many a tree in its wake.

I don't think everybody who writes for Intercon would find contentment in being a full-time LARP writer, but I do believe there are those who would be happy doing so. I also think there are those who would welcome the supplementary income ("supplementary" in this circumstance being all but a euphemism for "mitigating".) Maybe there needs to be some intermediary step, such as having a con that pays for games. Maybe we suddenly see a spike in linked and re-runnable game like Tony Mitton's Linfarn series, spreading development cost thinner over the players.

I have no doubt there will always be people who write and run LARP at their own expense for love and glory. I just think there should be another option.

ReplyThread Parent
A. Nakama
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)

Also, IME, when you start paying people for things they were doing for free, "I do this for the love" can rapidly turn into "they don't pay me enough for this shit."

That is, in fact, a well-documented psychological phenomenon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring

There is a hoary anecdote about a famous psychologist who had noisy kids playing soccer outside his window everyday distracting him and keeping him from getting work done. One day, it got so annoying that he went outside and promptly paid them each a dollar and told them how awesome it was for them to play soccer there.

He did this for about a week, and then one day told them that he had run out of dollars to pay them all, that his wife was getting mad that he was spending all that money. "Screw this!" the kids said, and went to play soccer somewhere else.


Speaking personally, as someone who has never made a lot of money, but would love to get paid to be creative and feels like LARP is a good medium for me, I would be *all about* people pitching in some money.

If I already had a salaried full-time job, I would see it as an obligation that I had to fulfill (which, for me, means better delivery and some amount of excitement rather than a burden when working on something I enjoy), and would try to sink the money into setting/props/etc., which is something I would LOVE to do.

If I were working as a freelancer and amalgamating other work, I would literally see LARP writing as paying work and could *actually* do as good as job as I do my day-to-day work.

If I could earn a decent wage full-time LARP writing, I would be eyeing you suspiciously and wondering what kind of con you were trying to pull on me--but I would be *all over* that if it were the case.

At any rate, I've done enough scrambling for money in my life--with some of that as a working creative--that I would see having substantial cash flow towards me for doing LARP work as an amazing opportunity to grow on more than anything else.

I do think our generation is largely making enough money that it's not unreasonable for most folks to pay at least a little to help defray the costs. I don't know if I'd want to make it mandatory, but a suggested scale of payment might not hurt.

Also worth noting: there is something of a small industry for non-larpers to run larps for other rich non-larpers. Most of the people at the top in it come from TV and high-budget media production, I'm given to understand.

ReplyThread Parent
Gregory Pettigrew
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)

Fundamentally, our system operates on a "Pay It Forward" model. Uncle Don spent tremendous amounts of time and money writing and running games that I played in when first LARPing. Then I spent significant amounts of time and money writing and running games that other people enjoyed. Soon, I look forward to playing in more LARPs and getting back into the writing cycle.

ReplyThread Parent
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 03:29 pm (UTC)
A Thought

I have to wonder what would happen if an organization like Intercon volunteered to print materials for GMs and acquire basic Staples supplies for GMs so they didn't have to bear that cost. If Intercon is about a 300-325 person con, a $5 increase in price could give the con about $1500-$1600 to do this with.

Obviously character props, set design, and the like would still be GM purview, but I'd have to imagine Intercon could manage a wholesale rate for printing the materials and envelopes / painters tape / name badges / etc.

Gregory Pettigrew
Mon, Oct. 21st, 2013 05:40 pm (UTC)

The trick would be doing it correctly at the last minute.

ReplyThread Parent