LARP at Play: Setting Game/Player Expectations

When I first started this article some years back I gave it the working title “The Care and Feeding of (New) Players” and that title has stuck with it until today. As I was writing it I realized that it needed renaming, thus the slightly different title. This article has made it here after I shared it with a good friend, Conor, who said I should publish it as one of my weekly columns. I’m glad he suggested doing that.

I’ve found over my years of LARPing that most players consider several factors when looking at involvement in a LARP, from the playstyle of the game (gamist, narrativist, simulationist, etc.) to the type of game (steampunk, fantasy, post-apocalypse, etc.) to the style of the game itself (theater, live-combat, adventure style hybrid, etc.) to the plotlines that may be running. As I looked at things more closely I observed that weather a person realized it or not they consider what I feel are three key factors, and then continue to evaluate those three factors now and again during the time that they are involved in a particular LARP or LARP group. These three factors are, in no particular order of importance: Effort, Money and Time. All three are valuable resources that a player is asked to contribute in various amounts when they become involved with a game. If a player feels that their contribution is any of these is not worth what they are getting out of the experience, the group or game risks losing a player. I’ve decided to explore each point individually and then collectively at the end.

Effort is how much work the player must do for their character to be a viable part of the game and/or for the player to be considered a viable part of the group. This could be the amount of work a player participates in during downtime activities, the amount of work a player must do to prepare for an event or any kind of work that a player must engage in regarding the game.

As long as there is a fair reward for that effort a player will continue to make an effort or increase their effort if they notice that the rewards for their efforts are related to the amount of work that they do. The amount of effort that a player must make is dependent on each game as each game has different expectations. It’s important that a player understand up front the amount of effort they will need to make in order to be considered a viable part of the group or their character a viable part of the game. If a player does not understand this expectation then they risk disappointment when they feel they’ve made what they feel is decent enough effort, but nothing has happened or they feel their reward for that effort is too little.

The reward that is offered in exchange for that player effort also varies, just like the amount of effort a player is expected to give. This reward can range from simple acknowledgment of their presence at an event or meeting to reward points of some kind to plot opportunities to whatever the governing group deems fair compensation for the player’s effort. Because there can be misunderstanding regarding what is considered fair compensation for various amounts of effort this may warrant some type of announcement to the membership. Most of the time the effort/reward quotient is understood: I say “hi” to you, you say “hi” to me, or if you do this I’ll give you that.

Why is this important for a player? If a player, in particular a new player can’t see a justified reason to expend the amount of effort you expect right away they may not deem your game worth the effort and will look for another group that meets their effort expectations. Because of this it’s important for the group to show the player by way of action, resources, a list of expectations, or etc. what is expected of them and what they can expect in return (and then actually do it!). Of course effort isn’t the only factor and depending on the player, their circumstances, and what they are looking for, this may be a very important deciding factor if not the one that makes the decision.

Money is another important factor: How much your game costs to attend, how much supplies cost, how much they’ll need to spend up front to properly equip themselves, how much they’ll need to spend over the course of the game for food, lodging, travel expenses, and etc.

The monetary factor can be much easier to quantify than effort. Like effort a player must understand why they must spend the amount of money they do, where it all goes, and what they get in return for that expenditure. It helps a new player to outline all that they are expected to have on hand for their first event. Will they need a boffer weapon or are latex weapons allowed and if so how much will one cost or how much will materials cost? Will they need a costume or a specific costume and if so how much should they be expected to spend on it? What items are they expected to have for their first event, especially if the event is a camping event? Even veteran members will still need reassurance that their hard earned money is being well spent.

Often most of the expenses a player will encounter can be rationalized: The site is a hour drive away so that’s “X” amount for fuel, I’ll need enough food and drink for three days so that’s “X” amount in food costs, and etc. Other fees such as registration fees can often easily be answered by sharing a cost break down stating where those fees go, such as: Registration fees pay for plot props, supplies, and site rental.

Why is this important to a player? The player, new or veteran, must feel that they are getting their money’s worth out of their expenditure. If the player is expected to travel a couple of hours to get to the site and the site ends up being a dump a player will most likely feel that they have been cheated out of their money. Likewise, the site may be the best in the area, but if the player does not feel that they got their money’s worth out of the game (I paid to attend, therefore I expect some attention to be given to my character by plot), they may deem your games not worth the cost. Generally speaking, the greater your game costs to attend the greater the expectation that the player has that they’ll be well entertained at the game.

Whether or not your game is run by a non-profit or for-profit organization, by running the game your group is offering a service: Entertainment. A player, if they don’t feel they were sufficiently entertained, will most likely consider the monetary investment a waste of money (among other resources).

The last factor that is considered is that of time. This takes into account the amount of time a player must spend preparing for the event as well as the amount of time the event will consume. Often times this goes hand-in-hand with effort as effort takes time.

When it comes to the amount of time spent out-of-character a player, particularly a new player, should be made aware of the time expected to prepare for a game, the time they should set aside to reach the game location, how much time to expect to dedicate to their character or to the game outside of the scheduled game time, time for any out-of-game meetings or meet-ups that they should attend and etc. Just as well, a player should be made aware of how much time to set aside for the game. This is often the easiest to quantify since games are typically scheduled to run a set period of time. This should also include the frequency of games as well, not just when games are played; how often games are scheduled can affect a person’s decision to play a particular game.

How can the time expectation be achieved? Note game location(s) and driving time from key cities if need be, make sure players are aware of all the activities that are expected of them because of their participation in a game, let players know how long they should have to wait to hear back from staff when they write with a question, provide a posted game schedule going out for at least a few months if not for a whole season at your site and keep it updated and etc.

Why is this important for a player? Like the other two factors a player needs a valid reason why they should devote the time you ask of them to your game. What will the player get in return for that time investment and do they feel that the trade off is worth that investment. For new players this is especially important, as the new player is unfamiliar with your game, time expectations, and the quality and/or quantity of what they will receive in return for that time investment. There must be some form of proof of what the player will get in return for this time investment: help creating a really good character background or well built character, a few minutes of plot just for their character, an engaging day or weekend game, and etc.

As I was finishing this article I realized there is a common theme running through all of the above points: Set expectations and uphold them. Both what the player can expect from the game based off the information they have as well as the expectation that the game organizers have of the players. These expectations need to be clearly and thoroughly communicated. Even if the information is listed in a rule book, a stickied forum post, or noted here and there on a group’s web site, it’s smart to provide an easy to read and accessible statement indicating such information. Not only will this make it easy for potential new players to get a quick snapshot of what all is expected of them and what to expect in return, it gives existing players an easy way to review the expectations of the game they are in and provides an easy way for the staff to make sure they’re upholding the standards they’ve set or revise them if needed.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you think there are other key factors a player considers? Do you feel any one of the above mentioned factors trumps the others? Are there any alternate viewpoints to share?

Next week I’ll be discussing Costuming and You. As always I love to hear feedback and suggestions for further articles. Feel free to leave a comment here at (see the link below for this article’s forum thread), write Amber at webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com or visit the Mortalis Games site to see what else has been shared or leave a comment there.

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