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A late night plot meeting at All for One

The Economics of LARP (Part 4)- What are we charging?

This is the fourth of a series of articles about the economics of LARP (live action role-playing) and the failure of market forces within the hobby. This series is derived from a keynote lecture which I gave at Camelot UK LARP conference held in November 2019.

  • The first blog of this series, about LARP and the Failure of Market Forces, can be found here.
  • The second in the series, about What LARP Should Cost, can be found here.
  • The third in this blog series, discussing What do Other Similar Pastimes Charge? can be found here.

I have written in previous blog posts about how we at Crooked House organise LARP events, but I wanted to find out what other event runners were doing. In order to investigate this, I created an online survey about event running. I cannot claim that this is a truly representative survey, but I feel that it gives an interesting snapshot on the current world of LARP organisation.

It seems particularly relevant in light of this article about the financial problems and exploitation and poor payment of staff at Dziobak, the Danish-Polish company who ran the well known College of Wizardry games in Poland.

My character and family at College of Wizardry

I posted the survey on Facebook, both on my personal profile and in several LARP community groups. It was shared by friends and the wider online LARP community and I directly emailed several commercial LARP companies as I was particularly interested in their financial activities.

I would like to thank all those who took completed the questionnaire, particularly those who made it to the end of the optional extra questions. I accept this was a lengthy and complicated undertaking, but I was trying to gain as much information as possible. There were 91 respondents which I accept is not a huge sample set but I feel gives a reasonable snapshot of the industry/hobby.

The participants have run LARPS in eighteen countries. I suspect there is a bias towards English speaking countries and countries where LARPs are run in English, because these are the social groups I belong to. However there is a pleasing spread of replies from countries all across the world and many LARP who play international games in English also play games in their own languages and home countries.

I also conducted a similar survey of LARP participants, which I will discuss in the next post in this series.

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As you may suspect from a hobby organised predominantly by volunteers, 80% of LARPs are run as hobby, rather than a commercial ventures, with a small proportion organised as other non commercial ventures, test events with the hope of profit later, or art events.

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Most events are relatively small, as expected from those organising a hobby, with 76% of LARPs run for fewer than 80 player participants.

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More than 80% of those organising events run four events or fewer each year. Organising a LARP event is a hugely time-consuming activity and the vast majority of organisers run LARP events as a hobby in their own time. I have immense respect for those who organise multiple events simultaneously as I know that I could not. Event organising on top of a full time job is a significant undertaking.

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Most LARP events have a 2–3 day duration, with no respondents running events of more than 5 days. This is also understandable, as most organisers and participants work and therefore only have a limited amount of holiday time. Others will have commitments around school, university and other studies. Empire LARP in the UK had to cut down its four-day event to three, partly due to the vagaries of the UK weather at Easter, but also due to the problems for the crew of set-up and take-down on top of a four day event.

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As I had undertaken this research to investigate the economics of LARP, I was particularly interested in financial markers of these events. The range of ticket prices cited by respondents was £0–400. For the purposes of this survey, pounds, euros and dollars were used at a 1 to 1 rate, to make answering and analysis easier. The average ticket price was £80–120.

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More than 50% of events offer some sort of discount. This is available most often to students and the unwaged, but may be open to anyone who feels they should qualify. 23% of events allow more affluent players to subsidise those less well off using a patron style ticket where they voluntarily pay more. In many cases this is purely an altruistic gesture, although some systems do offer perks for these patrons, which may be off-game e.g. early or preferential booking, or in-game e.g. VIP tickets.

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There is an interesting discussion over whether paying more should gain you any sort of benefit either as a player or a character. There seems to be widespread acceptance of price ranges for different accommodation options eg double room, dormitory or camping. Games may also have different classes of tickets costing different amounts e.g. in historical games the nobles and servants may pay for different tier tickets with expectations of different degrees of luxury.

Other games have offered bespoke characters to VIP bookers, or enhanced access to plot or NPCs. Personally I am comfortable with a higher ticket price gaining you off-game benefits, but feel uneasy about buying in game perks using real money. However, I think it is a conversation that the hobby needs to have, as in purely commercial terms it makes a huge amount of sense to give those who can and will pay for an enhanced experience the chance to do do. They are in-effect subsidising the event for players who are paying less and allowing organisers to spend more on props and costumes etc.

For games which do offer these higher priced patron tickets; on average 12% of players will buy a more expensive ticket to subsidise others.

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Rerunning events is often suggested as of the easiest ways to attempt to make a profit from LARP events, as it allows organisers to reuse props and costumes, amortising initial outlay and reducing the cost for each run. 31% of LARP organisers are re-running events using the same scenarios. Those who do rerun events, do so on average three times. Many systems have an oath or code that players will not share spoilers, to allow players on later runs to enjoy these events without knowing the scenario ahead of time. Other organisers use the same universe, but run stand alone games, again allowing reuse of certain props and costumes although ‘hero-props’ may be used only once.

Only 40% of the respondents said that their events made a profit. This does not mean that everyone else makes a loss; it may be that there is some incredibly careful budgeting going on, where 60% of events break even.

In some countries, organisers do not feel that they can make a profit. Because of the way their events are financed eg with government funding in Sweden and Denmark, any profit has to be channelled back into future events. In other countries there was felt to be social pressure from players not to make a profit. Others said that they would only make a profit where they had misjudged something and it cost less than expected eg. a heating bill as they were running events for the pleasure of their social group.

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However in replies to another question, 42% of organisers stated that they made personal payments to ensure that their events break even.

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Does it matter if event runners subsidise their own events? Well I believe that it does. Why? It contributes to a situation where events can only be run by affluent, middle-class organisers, because that price point is all the market can stand.

If this false subsidy continues then there is a risk those who are not financially secure, or others with marginalised existences are not be able to run events because they cannot personally afford it. Therefore you exclude poorer, wannabe LARP organisers from sharing their experiences and in doing so interesting games and different perspectives on issues are lost.

It also creates a situation where staff in commercial LARP companies are not properly paid for the work they do. It may mean that they have to prop up their finances with other family members paying for their healthcare (such as was the case for Polish Dziobak employees) or claiming benefits to achieve a minimum income level.

If LARP events are accurately priced at what they cost to run, anyone who wishes to organise an event should be able to charge a fair price for doing so. It would also allow them to reimburse staff and crew for their work and time.

Currently, very few LARP events pay staff or organisers, with only 6% paying staff for work in advance and 15% paying crew of work at the event. Some organisers take a dividend if there is profit left in the company after an event, but they are the minority.

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Of these systems which are paying crew, only three of them managed to pay one or more full time member of staff during the year. The amount organisers paid varied between £8000 and £20,000 per annum or from other responses, an hourly rate of £13-£25/hour.

Other LARP runners state that as they are not using LARP as their sole business to earn a living they have a certain amount of freedom they would not have as a commercial business. They, “recognise, and are grateful for, the massive amount of goodwill and voluntary effort” that enables them to operate. This is certainly a hobby which would not exist without a huge number or people giving up their time, energy and creative talents for a wonderful collaborative experience.

88% of respondents had unpaid volunteer crew. It is not that crew are not rewarded at all; 43% of event runners gave free tickets (worth up to £250) to crew in return for their work.

Others event organisers reward crew in a different way. This may be of-game, e.g. free or reduced price catering or accommodation, discounted tickets or playing their character at part of the event. Some systems reward with crew with in-character perks such as extra character points, special RP encounters, plot information and some character progression incentives. These are cash- cheap but rewards that are highly valued by those invested in the game.

47% charged crew for attending the event. This was often a minimal amount to cover insurance, food or accommodation.

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Little profit is donated to charity, as most LARPs do not make a profit. However, 13% of LARPs are able to, or chose to make a donation.

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It is interesting to know that even if there was spare money in the budget, less than 20% of organisers would spend the extra money on staff.

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I asked organisers about the budget for their events. Whilst there was a huge variation in budgets, the proportions spent on different items stayed very similar. The event budgets varied from £0-£32600, with the average £4371.

On average the event budget included the following categories:

  • Site 42%
  • Props & costumes 30%
  • Catering 17%
  • Operations 5.5% (Some respondents seemed unsure what this category was for. I would include printing, glue, string, etc; costs for those administrative tasks which enable the event to run smoothly. If you ever run an event with Harry, most of it will be spent on post-it notes. For some event organisers it included insurance)
  • Marketing 0.69% (and in fact for 60 out of the 70 respondents who answered this question, the amount spent on marketing was was 0) For some the marketing budget included photographer, because photographs sell LARPS.
  • Transport 12%

Accommodation was provided in 75% of the events. In the main this was camping or scout huts, with a small number of other options.

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It seems that there are many similarities between evens run on hugely different budgets in different locations. Many events are only charging enough to break even, which means that those involved in organisation, both in advance or on the day, are not rewarded financially for their contributions.

Some respondents stated that they were able to access support from their governments for hobbies and social support clubs or grants to enable them to charge players less, but have a bigger budget for their event. In the UK this seems difficult to do and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has had success in gaining support in this way.

Another suggestion is to increase the prices charged for LARP events to allow a financial contribution for the organisers efforts. But would players pay this? In the next blog post in this series I ask that question and several other related questions using a player survey.

I have heard arguments that event prices for LARP cannot be raised as players are not able to pay those prices. It may be that current players are not, but looking at the tiny marketing proportion of the event budget above, it may be that there are other players, or even people who do not know about LARP yet, who might want to pay a premium price for a luxury event.

I am not suggesting that every event should immediately raise its prices. There should always be some LARPs which are accessible to all. These allow new players to come along and try the hobby. They provide a wonderful experience for those who cannot afford higher ticket price events and many players choose a combination of high and low ticket-price events.

But should all LARP event prices be set at a level which everyone can afford? In my opinion, no. We have hostels, 3 star hotels and 5 start hotels in popular destinations and people can choose how much they want to pay and what sort of service they want to receive. There is no reason why LARPs cannot offer different levels of service at different prices.

There have been problems with both high and low ticket price LARPs. Low cost LARPs can be a wonderful weekend of roleplaying, with camping accommodation players bringing their own food. High ticket price LARPs can give a great few days sleeping in a castle or country house and eating excellent food, cooked by professional caterers. There should be both low cost and aspirational, high concept LARPs run with a budget and ticket price available. Both events should run in a way which which does not jeopardise the organisers’ physical and mental health, and means that they do not have to cut corners on the event that they wish to run. High concept, high budget LARPS if run commercially, require a realistic budget, including a budget line for staff costs.

There is a Murder Mystery on the Orient Express which has a basic ticket price of $10,380, with an additional VIP package costing $3,916 per person, so there is obviously a market with some individuals for high cost games!

My take home message for organisers would be to run the event you want to run, at the price you need to charge to do the subject matter and setting justice and don’t be afraid to do so.

I would also remind players to be kind to their organisers. These people are giving up their own time (and often money) to ensure that you have a great event. Please make it as pleasurable as possible for them as well.

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The Blaid Ddu. A group where we went to cheap events and had a great time.

In the next blog in this series I will discuss the findings of the questionnaire I sent to players, asking about their attitude to ticket prices and what they consider to be good value within the LARP world.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please give it a clap and share it so that others can enjoy it too.

I am very grateful to the following individuals and companies who completed my questionnaires and enabled me to collect the information that this blog post is based on.

Emma Rowden, Woody J Bevan, Diana Ostrat, Alissa Murphy, Wookie, Pip Walker, Marlayne, Fia Idegård, Aurore Maureille, Sue Lee, Isabel Ros, Marianne Koski, Damo, Francesca Cicetti, Roz Horton, Aaron E-J, Amalia Valero, Tom Garnett, Gavin Bodill , Louvisa, Michelle Taylor, Hanna Olsson, @larp_photography, Tara M. Clapper, The Geek Initiative Larps, Massi Hannula, Andy Sirkin, Philla Evans, Karin Gustafsson, Céline Bras, Rob Hopper, Martijn Kruining, Elina Gouliou, Tom Boeckx, Stefania, Maja Hansson, Jens Scholz, Thor Schramm, Mona Dellnitz, Tina Reißig, Owa, Ben Burston, Rika, The Tangerine Tornado, Lukas, Phil Vaughan, Birta, Stefan Hage, Rob Walker, CJ, James M, Christopher Zierl, Joschi, Fabian Abrath, Jean Gerard, Johannes Kröger, Sascha Staubli, Sue Savage, Martin Ireland, Tanja, James Osborn, Jannis, Golik, Mike Segner, Elizabeth, Nathalie Roann, Celestin, Nicola Tait, Tristan Jackson, Bren O’Leary, Y. Becker, Seb, James Mendez Hodes, harry Harrold, Alexinara Phoenix, Sh33py, El Loughton, Anna Meléndez Sans, Oliver M., Anna-Elisabeth , Thomas Lenzen-Zielke, Milner, Aaron Johnston, Sabrina Auer, Daisuke Takegami, James, Erica Wilcox, ralf, Michaela Ziehm, Caecilia, Jules Fattorini, Alex Rowland, Shiv at facebook.com/goodlarp, Mira Joy D, Deanna, Ericka Skirpan, Ayden Sauvageau, Kaza Marie Ayersman, Sara Welsh, Erin P., Ellis McGinley, Gail Robertson, Noot, Jeff Markus, Jeremiah Webb, S. Guile, Jonathan Loyd, Renee Ritchie, Kate Bell, Rosemary Warner, Liss Macklin, Allied Games, Roz, Neil, Ericka Skirpan / Entropic Endeavors, The Good The Bad and The Dead, Christopher ‘Lambie’ Lamb, Alicia, Brian Williams, Valley of Shadow, Alex Helm, Hollie Caddock — ERDA Larp, Mads Holst, Lost Colonies Larp, Martine Svanevik, Helle, Curious Pastimes crew, Tean Shaw, LRSQ:TB, Kåre Torndahl Kjær, Brøndum, Chaotic Shiny, Larson, Kaia Aardal, Rob Hopper, Larp Shack-Durham-North Carolina-USA, Legends of Gerrar LARP, Harts of Albion Lrp, Hanna, Owls&Whales Larp, Kitty Dobson, EYELarp, Tom Boeckx, Ark2197, Ella Watkins, CJ Romer, Erica Wilcox, Disturbing Events, Jude Reid, Shadow Factories, Klan Kronjæger, Pelle Johansen, Nick Bradbeer, Wookie, Kate Armstrong, Seven Hours Productions, Conan Daly — Orion Sphere LRP, spitelarp.com, Court of the Peacock’s Tail, Sean Milligan, Aubi Orga (Betti Aub), Andreas Andersson, Werner from Munich, Colin Northridge, Christian Horsch, Polychromical/Suus Mutsaers, Elin Dalstål, Sebastiano Palumbo , Contagion Team, Martina/Maeve, LARPHack, Insomnia Lrp, Matt Pennington — Empire Lrp, Lorraine McKee, Tara M. Clapper, The Geek Initiative Larps , Francis Lachance Courtois, Riben Asia-LARP, Johanna, Königreich Geronien, Aubi, Age of Essence, Hunters Society, Eleanor Loughton, Mythical Fools, Malc Craven — Scheming Demon LT sanctioned events, Zoe Prosser, Verein Holo-Con Austria, Piotr Milewski, BlackBox 3City, Antony Andrews, Harry Harrold, Tom Boeckx, Ark2197, Philla Evans, Mads Havshøj

With Special thanks to the Commercial LARPs Ericka Skirpan / Entropic Endeavors, Lost Colonies Larp, Curious Pastimes crew, Legends of Gerrar LARP, Kitty Dobson, EYELarp, Tom Boeckx, Ark2197, Conan Daly — Orion Sphere LRP, Matt Pennington — Empire Lrp, Tara M. Clapper, The Geek Initiative Larps , Francis Lachance Courtois, Polychromical/Suus Mutsaers, Carcosa Dreams, Ark2197

And others who wished to remain anonymous.

  • The first blog of this series, about LARP and the Failure of Market Forces, can be found here.
  • The second in the series, about What LARP Should Cost, can be found here.
  • The third in this blog series, discussing What do Other Similar Pastimes Charge? can be found here.
  • The fourth post discussing What are we Charging? can be found here.

Written by

Vet, likes all things animal. Roleplayer, LARP & Crooked House LRP. Plays and organises interactive narrative fiction. Travels as Vetvoyages.

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