LARP at Play: Recruitment and Retention

I’ve yet to find a LARP group that didn’t want to grow its numbers, even slightly. So, how does one go about attracting new people to the game (or even the hobby) and then get them to stay? Over the years I’ve seen some successful and not so successful methods used to encourage individuals to try a game out and I’d like to share that wisdom with you.

To start, make sure you know what your game is and isn’t. You don’t want to give a false impression of your game when trying to recruit and keep new members around. Understand the scope of your game and the audience you want to attract too. This will help you get a better idea of how best to advertise your game. Remember, first impressions are very important.

Recruitment
Not all of the following will work for your particular situation, but I feel that providing a wide scope of options that are discussed is good due to the varied nature of LARPs out there. Understanding your audience will better allow you to pick the methods that will work best for you.

  • Word of Mouth – Word of mouth I’d rate as the top and best form of advertising for a LARP, but also the form that can quickly destroy a game too. Word of mouth is very much a double edged sword. If your game is great and the player’s expectations are met and exceeded this can be a very good form of advertising. On the flip side, if your game is lacking and is unable to fulfill promises made to players it can hurt your game.
  • Networking – Network with other LARPers by attending other LARPs in your area, preferably those similar in style to the game you’re wanting to run. Play well, even if it’s not your preferred style or game. The goal is to make friends, contacts and network. While out at other games, don’t bash them, rather get them excited in your idea as another option when it comes to LARPs in your area. You want to be seen as a LARP advocate and be an example of the kind of player you want to see in your own game. This can also help promote more of a LARP community in your area through doing such outreach, provided the other groups are open to such and willing to reciprocate the favor.
  • Website – In today’s digital age it’s a very good idea to have a web presence and having a web presence can help you get word out about your game. People like to learn as much as they can about your game before they attend. Having a neat, clean, easy to navigate site with current and relevant information will provide that. Include your event schedule, game locations, photos of past events, contact emails for staff members, and any other information a player should know prior to showing up to the game site for a game.
    A note on emails, if you do include email contact information on your site (and I strongly recommend that you do) make sure you respond to email inquiries in a timely manner, particularly the closer to a game date you get. My rule of thumb is at least an acknowledgement within three business days (less if time is of the essence) of the arrival of an email message, if I can’t get a full response written in time. Make sure your communication is polite, professional and on topic. If your email reply is sloppily written with several grammatical and spelling errors and full of inconsistencies it can send the wrong message about your game.
  • Incentives – Provide incentives for existing members to bring new people to game. A common one is a reduction in the registration cost to attend the game. This encourages existing members to bring potential members to game and this is a help to the potential new member since they have a friend to help them acclimate to your game’s culture and rules system.
  • LARP sites – Advertise your game on popular on LARP sites, forums and communities. This allows you to reach a wide, but targeted audience. I suggest posting to the following sites if you’re in the USA as this will reach not only a US audience, but in some case also an international audience: LARPaddicts on LiveJournal, LARPers on LiveJournal, Shade’s LARP List forum, The LARP Network, LARP Space, LARPA forum and RPG.net’s LARP forum. Also check to see if there are any regional or local web sites you can advertise your game on. If you’re not in the USA many different countries have a nationwide web site or two for their LARP groups that you may want to post to as well as some of the above. Some of these sites may also sell paid advertising and I’ve seen LARPs purchase paid advertising at one of these sites. The best advertising I’ve found though are well crafted postings.
    When you post your game announcement include information that answers these key questions:
    Who – Who can people contact for more information? Who is this game aimed at (an adult only audience or are younger LARPers welcome)?
    What – What is your game about? What information should a person whose never heard of your game have at first glance? What can a new player expect upon arrival at your game’s site?
    Where – Where will the game take place and where can they get directions to this site?
    When – When will the game happen? How much time should they plan for it?
    Why – This can be difficult, but you need to provide a good hook to show why they should attend your game.
    How – How can people find more information on your game? Do you have an email contact? A website or webpage they can visit?
    Nat Budin wrote a short post on crafting short blurb descriptions for advertising your game and it’s a good read if you’re not familiar with writing a short teaser for your game.
  • New member packet – Have a downloadable information packet for new members that includes information on game schedules, game locations, a general packing list, a short bit on what the player can expect upon arrival at the site, contact information, and if your game is a part of a larger organization anything specific to your campaign or chronicle such as a short note on different in-game cultures or a brief blurb on the in-game laws of the land if they are vastly different from the rest of the organization’s in-game laws. Include any new member paperwork the new member will need to fill out and bring with them too as well as provide that paperwork individually on the web site. Treat this as a one-stop welcome and information kit for the new player.
  • Fliers – Put out fliers at coffee shops, book stores, game stores and other locations where gamers will likely be found. Your fliers should be eye catching and provide a way to find out more about your game, like visiting your game’s website. Make sure you get permission to post or leave fliers at the business location.
  • Convention booths – If there’s a local or regional gaming convention consider having a booth. Bring items that represent your game and utilize them in your booth display. For example, if you’re a live combat game, have some latex or boffer weapons as a part of your display. Push the table away from the wall and provide space for people to walk around it and for you to easily get out from behind it and interact with the people passing by. If you decide on a booth make sure you have a few different people to help rotate out staffing the table. You may also want to volunteer for LARP panels and discussions. Take this as a time to provide outreach and show that those involved with your game are a welcoming and interesting group of people.
  • Demos – Hold a recruiting or demo game. Conventions are often a good place for this since people at a convention go to have fun gaming and potentially try new things. Doing a simple new member or introductory type module or game is a good idea (I’ll go into more depth on this in the next part)

Retention
Once again, first impressions are very important, particularly for new player retention. You’ve got their attention, now you need to keep it … and keep them coming back for more. There are several things you can do to encourage new player retention.

  • New player liaison – Have a staff member or two just dedicated to helping out new players and being the key new player contact. This gives new players a key contact they can reach if they have questions or need help with character creation and to help mentor and introduce these new members to the other individuals in your LARP group. You should make sure these individuals understand your game really well, have good people skills and the ability to respond to emails in a timely manner.
  • Introductory module – When you end up with a new player or players, have a special new member module (a.k.a. an introductory module) that they run through prior to being allowed to enter the main part of the game. This will allow them to familiarize them self with any key skills that their character has, help them get into character, understand the basics of the game such as how magic or special skills are used, how combat is run and introduces them to a bit of plot. A good idea is to have a veteran member (perhaps one of the new member liaisons) act as an in-character guide on this module, providing a bit of nudging or dropping a hint or a bit of help when needed. It also helps the new players get to know each other and familiar with their in-character guide.
  • A welcoming group – Often times when a new player arrives at a game they know maybe one or two of the other people there, and then there’s the vast number of people they don’t know. This can be daunting, perhaps very daunting for a new player. Existing members should take the upper hand here and go out of their way to welcome and introduce them self to the new member. If your game utilizes new player liaisons, they can help introduce the new player to the other members that a new player should know. A new player that perpetually feels like the never-welcome-outsider will likely not stay involved with your game and may let others know that your game isn’t welcoming to new members, no matter what your advertising says (again, word of mouth can help as well as hurt).
  • New player involvement – Get new players involved in-character and out-of-character. In-character, give the new player something or put them into a situation that will encourage them to interact with others. Perhaps they have a skill or bit of knowledge that’s needed to solve a puzzle or handle a situation. Existing players should go out of their way to involve the new player in things by allowing the new player to take a stab at a plot hook or challenge. Likewise, veteran players should go easier on new players when in a challenge of some kind. Having a veteran player completely roll over a new player’s character and render that character useless or killing them is a great way to make sure that a new player doesn’t stick around. Out-of-character find out what skills and talents the new player has and provide them with opportunities to put their energy, skills and talents to use for your group. Getting a person involved in the organization as well as their character in the game is a great way to encourage someone to stick around because you show that you value them and want to involve them in things. Need a way to figure out what a person is looking for when it comes to involvement, offer a short survey for new players where you ask them what they are looking for from their game participation as well as what things they’d be willing to help your group with.
  • Post event contact – Contact new players within a day after the game and thank them for showing up. The new players have gone out of their way to check out your game, now it’s your turn to go out of your way to thank the new players for coming out to try your game and see if they have any questions or issues that need addressing, including find out why a new player won’t return to your game if that is the case. Doing this shows a genuine interest in them and a desire to address any post game issues they might have. Like any email contact, make sure your communication is polite, professional and on topic even if their response isn’t.
  • Existing players – Don’t forget about your existing players. Make sure they’re still getting some attention and that they’re still enjoying the game because if they’re still enjoying the game they’ll tell others, thus helping you to advertise your game via word of mouth. It takes less time and energy to retain existing members than it does to recruit new members.
Below are some forum posts and essays that contain very good points on this subject matter and I think are worthwhile reads for anyone involved with this column’s topic:
The Three Rs of Running a Group
LARP Recruiting
Advertising your LARP
Larp Recruiting Part Deux (Some of the later comments in particular)
Keep ‘Em Coming Back for More…
Things You Need to Know When Starting a Group (focus on the Newbies, Publicity and Online Presence sections)

A few final words: In the end you want to build a good reputation amongst your local (and perhaps beyond) LARP community. Having a good reputation will attract players to your game and the cycle continues on. Also, you can’t please everyone, so don’t expect every new player to stick around, but done well you should be able to get renewed or increased interest in your game and several new people to stick around.

What other tips do you have for recruitment and retention of new members? Do you have any other good essays or links you feel others should read over? What do you feel is most important when trying to recruit or retain new members?

Next week I’ll be discussing Evolution of the US LARP Hobby. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at the Mortalis Games site, write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or once this goes live on RPG.net, visit the article’s forum thread (there should be a link below the article to it) to see what else has been shared or to leave a comment there.

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed