Welcome to the first-timers’ series, in which I ask a panel of seasoned gamers and experts from the US and beyond to advise newbies on a variety of larp-related topics, from running a first game to organizing a convention.
Today’s advice is for gamers who want to live the dream, and make larp their day-jobs.
Mike Young provides a reality check:
Are you in a Scandinavian country? Great! Are you in the USA? OK, larp is a niche market of a niche market of a niche market (larp is a niche of the RPG [roleplaying games] market which is a niche of the hobby game market). The numbers just aren’t there. Good luck! You’ll need it.
Claus Raasted’s super-secret advice:
Don’t. Unless this is your dream and you’re prepared to do what it takes. Then send me a mail at email@example.com. I’ll be happy to let you pick my brain, but since a lot of it will be unpleasant truths that need to be addressed (or ignored), I won’t write about it here. After all, your friends might be reading this too. :o)
Rather than run your own game, Anna Westerling recommends applying larp to the real world:
There are plenty of larp-like activities done for profit; you can do team building and development for companies, you can do educational games for schools or you can do PR and event like games for the entertainment industry. Of course, you can make huge larps and keep productions cost low enough to live on what your participants pay you, as done in Denmark with some children’s larp. But all of these options mean you will have to think slightly different about your hobby. The last option would be to get money from grants, but that will be difficult to live on in the long run.
Other options include becoming a researcher, working in a store that sells larp and roleplaying gear, or writing and publishing scenarios.
Boil it down to your core mission, suggests Emma Wieslander:
Be aware of what you really are trying to achieve. Is it a commercial game? Make a financial plan. What do people expect when they pay and how much are they willing to? Is it the games or a “community center” that will be the day job?
Is it educational games? If it’s really what you want to do then make sure that it’s the gamist version of education that you aim for and not just a way to do games and make money or you will give people a strange image of roleplaying and you’ll probably get fed up pretty soon.
Also consider that when you get pay, others will want pay. You can’t expect them to work for free and money has a way of changing dynamics. Be absolutely sure that everyone is game – first.
Forget running it like a commune, according to Avonelle Wing:
Anticipate upheaval and don’t build the success of your organization on anybody’s shoulders but your own. This is an industry rife with personalities, and the visionary MUST maintain the deciding vote. Do not rule by committee. A committee of more than two is death to an organization of that sort. You can have advisors. You can even share the success, but do not fall into the trap of trying to be a socialist organization; communes are a nice idea, but they don’t work.
Don’t lose track of your audience. Listen to criticism and sort it carefully. If you hear the same thing over and over, you’ve either got a vision flaw or a PR problem. Either way, fix it.
Remember that running a business isn’t always fun, Geoffrey Schaller says:
Not only will you have to deal with the banality of the business putting a constant drain on your will to run the business that used to be fun, you will be dealing with legions of players, who are now customers, trying to pull you in multiple (and often opposing) directions in their attempt to influence your game / product / business. Unless you can maintain your ideals, visions, and integrity, you are bound to fail. People skills are essential to success.
Attend to the unsexy back-end of running a business, Michael Pucci recommends:
Take classes in regards to setting up business status, taxes, liability, and growth. Most people don’t consider how much they can put themselves at risk by making a business out of their hobby without understanding the business side of things. If you already run a game you at least understand the basics of gaming… however making it a business requires a little more effort.
Aaron Vanek suggests alternative revenue streams:
Consider going the non-profit corporate route, and applying for art grants. Learn how to use Kickstarter. If you design larps, consider boxing them and selling the scenario online. If you make props or costumes, keep the molds or patterns and consider selling those, too.
Amber Eagar says to cater to more than just larpers:
Here in the US running a larp as a viable, full-time job that will provide you with a stable enough income to live on is very, very rare. The hobby has yet to grow and mature like the table-top hobby has to a point where people can make a solid living off of it. At this time, its the support industries that have the larp job opportunities: costuming and prop suppliers and rental locations/facilities; and they all have one key thing in common: they’re able to cater to a wider audience than just larpers.
Approach it like a vocation, says Jeramy Merritt:
Running a larp is a lifestyle, like becoming a priest. And as with the priesthood you are expected to maintain a public face, to always support your endeavors, even if all you want to do is sleep for a week. Also, most jobs pay better. There are maybe 20 people in this whole country that make a living running a larp, and maybe another 50 (and that is being generous) who sell enough product (weapons, costuming, etc.) to support themselves. The fact is, unless your game is bringing in 100+ people an event, you are probably not making a living off of it.
Mike Young has been writing live roleplaying games for over 20 years. His award-winning larps have been run across the world, and many of them are available for free download at his website.
Claus Raasted (32) claims to be the world’s leading expert on children’s larps, and so far nobody has challenged that claim in earnest. He’s the author of six books on larp, is the editor-in-chief of Denmark’s roleplaying magazine ROLLE|SPIL and has been a professional larper for nearly a decade. He also has a past in reality TV. But these days, who hasn’t?
Emma Wieslander has been a gamer and larper since the late eighties and served as a front figure for the Swedish national gamers association during the times when role-playing was still under suspicion. Emma’s more notable larps explore love, gender and how we construct these norms. In creating these games, she invented methods to enable play around these topics. Her most known contributions are the frozen moments and the Ars amandi method.
Avonelle Wing is the Senior Vice President of Double Exposure, Inc. Along with her partners and a team of friends, comrades and co-visionaries, she works to produce two full-sized gaming conventions and a variety of other gaming related productions each year. She is a larper at her core – collaborative storytelling is her art form of choice.
Geoffrey Schaller is a gaming gypsy, having wandered into and out of tabletop RPGs, Collectable Card Games, Miniatures, larp (WoD, boffer, and other), Board Games, MMOs, and countless other forms of gaming, as a player, play tester, demo-runner, author, and staff member. He still dabbles in all of them when he gets the chance. He is the Technical Director of Double Exposure, Inc.
Michael Pucci is the CEO of Eschaton Media and the creator of multiple larps, tabletop books, scripts and gaming-related media. He has more than twenty years experience storytelling for larps, tabletops, and convention games, and spent five years in the business side of the gaming industry. He proudly holds the title of ‘Zombie Lord‘ while looking for more inventive approaches to modernize gaming.
Aaron Vanek has been playing, designing, running, and thinking about larps for 25 years. His larp publications include the illustrated essay “Cooler Than You Think: Understanding Live Action Role Playing“; “The Non-United Larp States of America” in the Talk Knutepunkt 2011 book, “Predictions for Larp” in Journeys to Another World, the Wyrd Con book, and the blueprint for “Rock Band Murder Mystery” in the Do Knutepunkt 2011 book. He hopes for at least another 25 years of larp.
Amber Eagar is a long time larper and game organizer, who edited the academic books put out in conjunction with Wyrd Con in 2010 and 2011 (Journeys To Another World and Branches of Play). She is a former RPG.net columnist, and maintains two mailing lists, called LARP Academia and International LARP Academia, for those in the USA or those around the world who like to take a more academic look at larping.
Jeramy Merritt is a long-time larper, first-time caller. He is the creator of Doomsday, a sci-fi larp.
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Other First-Time Guides