107. A look under the hood at some of the business sides of larp

More and more people make their living out of larps, and even more do some kind of part-time larp work. I can’t claim to speak for everyone who is engaged in larp-for-pay work, but I can share some of my experiences.

You can run a larp campaign

I did this once. Every second Saturday, we gathered 100–200 kids in a forest in Denmark. I was the boss. That meant that I took care of everything that wasn’t strictly related to the running of the game – and some of that as well. I was responsible for coordination with the forest, marketing, gathering the team, fixing logistics, etc. I had also invested in the equipment.

At the end of each event, I paid people and took the rest of the money for myself. If it had been a particular good day (=many kids), everyone got a bonus.

It was great. I worked a couple of days pr month in the field, and spent some time making sure everything ran smoothly. The pay wasn’t good (I got a bit more than what students got), but it was fun, and challenging and awesome.

It wasn’t enough for our ambitions, though, so we (Bjarke Pedersen and I) decided that we should start more larp campaigns and build an organisation around them. Back in 2004, it was just that one bi-weekly larp, though.

You can run a larp organisation

Junior Rollespil København (which would later become Rollespilsfabrikken) was born out of the Rude Skov larp campaign. The plan was to have multiple campaigns, and also one-shot events, and in time employ people.

It never got that far. Running one campaign was doable. Running two was as well, but trying to build an organisation around it turned out to require a different approach.

We learned a lot from it, and to say that it went smoothly would be an incredible lie. At some point, it became clear that this wouldn’t be something that would sustain us, even if it was getting to become a cool organisation, and paid some salaries for people working part time with childrens’ larp.

Rollespilsfabrikken still exists, and after the rocky start in 2005, thing quieted down around 2007, and for about ten years it has been one of the undisputed larp powerhouses of Denmark (and of the world).

But while I still ran the main campaign (I’m still chairman of Rollespilsfabrikken, but no longer a regular at our campaign), I also started a company, that does larps.

You can own a larp company

In 2006, my brother Peter and I started Kassidi. It would later become Rollespilsakademiet, which together with Rollespilsfabrikken and the Polish NGO Liveform now is the engine behind Dziobak Larp Studios.

Peter left the company after our first year. Not because of disagreements, but simply due to the fact that we couldn’t make money enough for two salaries any time soon.

I stayed on, and in 2008 Anders Berner bought half the company. We’ve run it together ever since, with the help of a crew, that started small but which has now grown to be more than thirty people.

Owning a company has a lot of upsides, whether it’s a larp company or not. It also has plenty of downsides. However, the larp part of it in this case means that we’ve mainly done things for other people.

Banks, libraries, schools, churches, etc. Organisations that want something and want us to do it using larp as a method. We still do a lot of that. The smallest are children’s birthday parties. The largest feature more than 3.000 confirmation students and more than a hundred priests.

You can do one-shot larps

In 2014, we got worldwide media attention for our larp College of Wizardry. That started the journey towards organising larps for larpers on a professional basis. We’re still not at a sustainable level yet, but we’re slowly getting closer.

Doing one-shot larps for international audiences is very different from running larp campaigns. For one thing, the price tag on our events is a lot higher than on any campaign larps I know. The productions are also quite a bit grander.

Doing campaign larps is (often) all about keeping costs down. Doing big, flashy blockbuster larps isn’t. Castles, ships, and so on don’t come cheap, but they also pull people in. We could easily move College of Wizardry to a public school in Denmark, but it wouldn’t exactly be the same experience.

Then there’s the whole discussion of production team. How many do you need? Who gets paid and who is a volunteer? Do you have a tiny core team, that then scales up with freelancers on a project-by-project basis? Do you have a large team, that devours projects (and money) fast, and can handle a lot at once?

We’ve gone for the big team option. That means that we’re a lot of people (32 as of this writing) and while not all of them are engaged in producing blockbuster larps, most are. It means that we a have a lot of capacity in-house, so we can do a ton of projects. It also means that we need a solid amount of money each month to survive.

At the core of this is the one-shot larp. While these are fun to do, they’re also a ton of work – especially the first time. And since larpers want new, shiny things, it’s often easier getting old players to go to new events. Naturally, this puts pressure on the production team to constantly innovate. And that’s time-consuming as hell.

You can do larplike stuff

We don’t just do larps. We also do a lot of fringe stuff that isn’t technically larp, but uses larp elements. Our Elven Kingdom in Romania, for instance, lets the participants enter the area as themselves, while the Elves are larping/acting/not breaking character.

We also do workshop facilitation, cosplay style work, teaching, and a load of other “fringe” things. Here, the larp skills (and equipment) come in handy, even though people aren’t paying for a larp experience as such. It’s even helpful when doing high-level corporate consulting, though that’s seldom larplike (yet).

This is a lot easier than doing straight larps, due to the fact that you here apply your skillset to existing economic structures. Few people know that larping has value. Slapping an “improv theater” tag on your larping might make it easier to sell, though it doesn’t do much for the overall image of larp (but might help improv!).

For most of us, this is where the money lies. Using our larp-learned skills professionally is immensely gratifying, and – at least in my experience – the closer it gets to being larpish, the cooler it feels.

So while using the excel skills you gained by larp budgetting to excel (pun intended) in planning t-shirt productions is great, it will probably feel even nicer to do body language training by teaching people to walk as orcs. :-)

Your skills are valuable in the right setting

I’ve done a lot of strange stuff and a lot of strange projects. My way is not anyone else’s way (and thank Cthulhu for that!), but I can at least share some experiences. That will be in another blog post, though. For now, it’ll be kept to a short list of things I’ve learned doing larp projects. Of course there’s more, but this is some of the stuff that’s been a direct result of doing larps.

  • Writing
  • Analysis
  • Personal Communication
  • Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Budgetting/Accounting
  • Accounting
  • Logistics
  • Emotional Support
  • Coaching
  • Public Speaking
  • Research

I’ve also managed to pick up a lot of low-level skills in different fields, but while I’ve used those in a larping context they haven’t been necessary as such. They’ve just helped! If you read my blog post #22, I go into more detail on that there.

And of course, if you want to break into professional larping and make a career of it, you’re more than welcome to send a mail my way. I can’t do the work for you, but I may be able to give a piece of advice or two.

No fun in being a larp guru if you don’t share your mysterious ways, right?

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