Larp economics

There was a larp conference in the UK this weekend (Camelot), and I’m waiting for slides and talks to show up. But the first one I’ve seen has been from Rachel Thomas of Crooked House (“God Rest Ye Merry” and “All For One”, which some of you may have heard of) on “The Economics of LARP: or The Failure of Market Forces (Part 1)”:

The TL;DR: they ran expensive events which made a loss (a big loss for GRYM, statistically breaking even on All For One). Because making money at larp is hard etc. But there’s also a suggestion in there that you can do this as a loss leader to “make your name” - but for what? There’ll be more in this series, including stuff on how much events would cost if the staff were paid (we can guess: an obscene amount), so its largely a “watch this space”.

(And meanwhile, I’m struggling to think of the last larp event I ran which made a loss. But one-night theatreforms are on a completely different scale, and we know the equation: this many people in this venue = profit. And in the wider Wellington community, we know the equation for a weekend at Brookfields as well. But those are different scale events from those discussed in the article, and I think what’s clear is that they don’t know the equation for the stuff they’re doing, because each event is bespoke, and meanwhile they’re testing the market on price…)

Part 2 of this series is finally up, and it takes a cold, hard look at what larp would cost if people actually paid all the volunteers behind it for their time:

If only the writers were paid, prices would basicly double. If craftspeople were paid commercially, they would increase fivefold. Paying crew would make that sixfold.

In an NZ context, we rely heavily on volunteer labour, like pretty much all larps, so that ballpark increase is probably valid. One factor not considered is the ability to split writing and prop costs across multiple events, but that still means an increase - and finding more people to pay the higher costs.

Like NZ, the UK has people who complain - usually without having a clue about the underlying budgets - that larp is “too expensive”. The article’s response to this is very clear:

My contentious point is this — not all games have to be financially accessible for every player. The rest of life isn’t. Not everyone can afford to stay in a five star hotel or jet to the Maldives on holiday. We don’t try to close down Mr and Mrs Smith just because everyone can’t afford to stay in their hotels. However I do believe that there should be different LARPs available for different budgets.The same resort can have two star and five star hotels and I think most people would consider that reasonable.

I agree. We maintain accessibility with a variety of price points (and possibly solidarity ticketing). But fundamentally, larps cost money to run, and in order to be sustainable, their participants have to pay that cost somehow. As a community, we choose to pay it through volunteer labour. But that requires that people volunteer. My contentious addition would be that in some parts of the NZ community, people are refusing to do that - always playing, never crewing or helping in any of the other ways which help make games happen. And by doing so, they are effectively demanding that other people pay for their larp experience. And that is simply unfair.