If you want to know what a blockbuster larp is, Lizzie has an excellent post on it. If you want some thoughts on what they mean for our hobby, read on!
Myths about Blockbuster Larps
First of all, let’s bury some myths.
1. Blockbuster larps are (currently) sustainable
This will hopefully change. But right now, there is no company that makes a steady living doing blockbuster larps. There are individuals who get paid decent wages to develop and run these events, but so far, the underlying financial instability is real. Even though the prices for blockbuster larps are high compared to other larps, most of that money is “pass-through” money, that ends up with other people (location, catering, transport, etc). This is changing, though, and before long, we may see the first sustainable blockbuster larp production companies. If I had to point to one group that’s leading the way, it’s the people behind The Witcher School in Poland, but even they aren’t exactly well-to-do.
2. Blockbuster larps are always professionally produced.
This is a simple untruth. I know of several groups doing blockbuster larps (in Italy and Czechia, just to name two) that consist 100% of volunteer organizers. Sure, for every larp event someone gets paid (locations are rarely free!), but not necessarily any larp organizers. Sometimes, no one gets paid even for events produced by “professional” larp production companies, since most of these are small, struggling and still trying to make the financial side work.
3. Blockbuster larps are “taking over.”
This is a blatant falsehood. There are maybe 20-25 larps in 2017 (worldwide) that fall into the “blockbuster” category. Out of how many larps in total? In Germany alone there are hundreds of fantasy larps that are BIGGER than the blockbuster larps. And the world’s largest larp, Conquest of Mythodea, has enough players to fill up more than 50 Colleges of Wizardry, with plenty to spare.
4. Blockbuster larps are too expensive for anyone to afford
When people say “It’s too expensive”, what they usually mean is “It’s not worth it for me,” and that is a perfectly valid argument. But it’s far from “It’s too expensive in general.” A trip to Disneyland easily costs more than a blockbuster larp. Disneyland has more than 15 million visitors a year, and that’s just in California. Is Disneyland too expensive for anyone to afford? Obviously not. But is a Disneyland trip worth more than a blockbuster larp? That’s up to the individual to figure out. I’d rather go to Hell on Wheels in Czechia (and I did!) than go to Disneyland, even though Disneyland is cool. But I’m a rare beast in this regard (so far!).
Predictions for Blockbuster Larp
Whether blockbuster larps are a tiny niche that will have faded away in five years, or a trend that will keep on growing, is impossible to say. But for now, the blockbusters are exerting influence over our hobby on a global level, for better or worse.
My personal key predictions are here. The next couple of years will tell us if they’re completely off the mark.
1. We’ll see more blockbusters
The number of blockbuster larps will rise dramatically, as will the amount of organizer groups that primarily put on blockbusters. For some, it’ll mean doing something new. For others, it’ll mean doing what they’re doing already, but trying to get in a new type of player – the international one – to give their larps a place in the blockbuster circle. And because there’s prestige to be gained, new territory to be explored and maybe even some lovely legacies to create, I think we’ll see more blockbusters being produced.
2. We’ll see better quality blockbusters
As we learn to handle this particular beast of larp, we’ll get better at it. This isn’t necessarily just tied to the rise of the professional larp organizer, but just to the simple fact that doing the same thing more than once makes it easier. Blockbuster productions lend themselves well to re-runs, because re-runs make it “more valuable” to put enormous effort into documentation or design, for instance. And more iterations of the same larp usually means each run gets better and tighter.
3. We’ll see wilder blockbusters
This year, the most expensive blockbuster larp is the $1,200 larp Roadtrip, which Dziobak is producing together with the US-based Imagine Nation. My prediction is that in years to come, we’ll see more larps in the $500 to $1,000 range, and probably also some in the $2 to $3,000 range, as ambitious organizers will keep on pushing the envelope. Whether these gain traction, or fold due to lack of players is an open question. Personally, I dream of doing an Agatha Christie style murder mystery on an airship, and that won’t come cheap!
4. We’ll see more brand partnerships
The Witcher School is made with the support of Red, the company behind the computer game of the same name. The vampire larp Convention of Thorns is made together with White Wolf. My guess is that we’ll see more of this. More intellectual property holders will partner with larp production houses to give fans a new way of engaging with their universes. It also holds true the other way around. Larps tapping into established fandoms have a lot of ready-to-go newcomers just roaring to go.
I don’t yet think the time is ripe for the really big steps forward, though. I don’t think that the next five years will see Universal Studios create a larp division to show us all what College of Wizardry could be, if they were behind it. I don’t see an official $10,000-a-ticket Pirates of the Caribbean larp with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow IN the Caribbean. Not yet.
But I do believe that we’ll be closer to those things happening five years from now.
5. Blockbuster larp—and by extension larp in general—will become more visible.
It’s no secret that College of Wizardry got global, viral press attention, from Vice and MTV, among other outlets. It’s also no secret that it was probably a lucky once-in-a-lifetime situation. But more and more larps are getting solid press attention. Inside Hamlet got covered by the Atlantic. BBC Travel, with its arieported ~330 million viewers, covered Fairweather Manor, and the Witcher School regularly lands nice coverage in international gaming circles.
These are the pioneer years for blockbuster larp. I hope this is just the beginning towards a raging and unstoppable larp fire, and not just a small flicker of light in the darkness.
Claus Raasted has the title “larp guru” on his business cards, and runs what is arguably the world’s largest larp production company (Rollespilsakademiet/Dziobak Larp Studios). He also blogs about larp on Medium, but has loved Lizzie’s work from the start and is happy to be a guest here on her blog.
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