LARP at Play: The “Business” of LARP

This week’s topic has been inspired by some comments made to Kevin Tjia’s article Has LARP Evolved? and this forum thread comment (focus on the part discussing club vs. corporation). It got me thinking, what could the LARP hobby learn from the business world? As I was doing some research to answer this question I happened upon a really good article on the Top 10 Basic Business Principles, which was exactly was I was looking for: What basic principles should someone running a business be aware of. I think it’s easy to take these 10 business principles and apply them to LARP. Now I know some of you are going “But my game isn’t going to be a business” and that’s a valid point, however I feel these points are justified no matter if your game is for profit, non-profit, or a private game amongst friends.  With that said I present the Top 10 Basic LARP “Business” Principles:

1. Decide what you do (and what you don’t do)
You need to decide what genre and style of LARP you want to run. Often this is decided by the rule system and/or organization you decide to use or belong to, but if you decide to design your own from scratch and be an independently run game you’ll want to decide the genre and style of game you want to run. You’ll also want to set your expectations for the game of what you expect from the game and from your players.

To do: Write down what your game will and will not be and refer to this often to make sure that you’re staying on track. If this changes update the list.

2. Decide who you serve (and focus on them intensely)
Decide the kind of player you want your LARP to attract and then put your focus on attracting that kind of player. Unless you have good reason not to allow other types of players in your game, allow them but make sure they know the style of game you plan to run and your expectations. Remember that you can’t cater to everyone out there, so decide the crowd you do want to cater to and then do so as best you can.

To do: Define the kind of player that your game will cater to and refer to this often to make sure that as your game progresses it still caters to the audience you wanted to cater to. Updated this if your audience focus changes.

3. Decide what makes you different (and do it)
What makes your game stand out and different from all the rest out there, or at least in your neck of the woods. Why should someone give your game a try or just play in your game. Don’t just be a clone of the game next door, do something to make your game stand out from the rest. This can be anything from the quality of props and crew costumes to your game rules. Just be different and don’t be afraid to be different.

To do: Write down what makes your game different from the other games out there and then do those things that will make you stand out.

4. Manage cash flow (very closely)
Starting or running a LARP takes some financial resources. How much depends on many factors including how often it’ll be running, what is required in the way of GM/Staff provided props and costuming or where it’ll be held. You need to understand the expenses you’ll accrue and then manage what funds you have. See what you can do to get the most for your money and be aware, particularly when starting a LARP, that funds can go fast if not carefully watched and kept in check. You should be aware of your expenses so you can calculate a fair fee (taking into consideration what the market can bear too) if your game will be a pay-to-play game.

To do: Check your game’s funds. Create a spreadsheet or utilize a program like Intuit QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition 2009 to help you manage your cash flow.

5. Manage employees (incentivise them for success)
You won’t be able to do everything by yourself, so make sure you get at least a few others to help you and then understand what has excited these people enough to want to help you. Take care of them and be aware of their needs because by taking care of them they’ll help take care of you and your game. Also, unless you’re paying your staff, they’re volunteering because they want to; so be aware of what you ask of them vs. what they’re willing and/or able to do.

To do: Talk to your staff and figure out what they need from you to help your game be successful. Show them you care.

6. Manage customer expectations (under promise and over deliver)
Set and uphold your player expectations and don’t say one thing and then do another. If your players expect one thing and you do better than what was expected you’ll end up with happy players. If you deliver less than the expectation that you set for your players, your players will not be pleased. Happy players will spread good words about your game, less than pleased players will tell others to avoid your game.

To do: Keep a list of the promises you make and then work to meet or beat those dates. Don’t promise something unless you know you can fulfill it and when you can’t resolve the problem as soon as it arises.

7. Set goals (and go after them)
These goals aren’t necessarily in-game goals, but rather out-of-game goals. What out-of-game goals do you have for your LARP. Perhaps reach a certain number of players? Have a campaign that continues for a certain period of time? Perhaps it’s being able to afford a certain kind of prop or location. What ever you decide create and write down short, mid-range and long term goals for your game. This will help you keep focus on the direction you want your game to go and keep you moving forward with things.

To do: Make a list of short, mid-range and long term goals for your game and then place these goals in a place you (and preferably your staff when they’re around) can easily see them.

8. Expose yourself (tell the market what you do)
You may have the greatest game on earth, but if people don’t know about you or your game they won’t know that you exist. Write a LARP blog that will help educate others on the hobby or within the hobby, become an active poster on various forums such as RPG.net or Shade’s LARP List and provide constructive feedback and conversation. Create and maintain a well designed and informative web site on your game. In short, do things that gain you exposure to the hobby and create an association between your name and your game.

To do: Plan out some promotional activities for your game: demos, getting your web site up, a social, starting regular postings on a list or forum or starting a LARP related blog and then do them.

9. Persevere (through the tough times)
Not every moment will be smooth sailing. Every LARP will go through tough periods. A LARP that is able to persevere and learn from the challenges it faces will often be a better game. Think and prepare contingency plans for things which may seriously set back your game, like if you can’t get a particular game location. The catch and key here is to learn from the challenges your game will face and use those lessons to make your game better.

To do: Think about what could go wrong with your game (out-of-character that is) and then determine how you’d respond to each of those situations or circumstances.

10. Always maintain your integrity (in everything you do)
Just as you need to be able to trust your players and staff not to cheat or be dishonest in their out-of-character dealings, your players and staff need to be able to trust you. Do everything you can to keep the trust of your players and staff, even if this means having to remove players (and even staff if nessesary) from your game that are causing issues.

To do: Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to share all of my behind the scenes, out-of-game dealings with my family or closest friends? Is what I’m doing ethically right?”

While this isn’t one of the 10 points I feel it’s something that does need to be mentioned: Practice good customer service, particularly if your players are paying to play. I realize this can be a challenge if you’re amongst friends, however understand as a person who runs a LARP or is on the staff of one that when working within the capacity of the game you need to wear your LARP staff hat and not your best buddy hat. This is doubly important when your LARP group includes people who are not typically a part of your social circle. Remember to be polite and professional, particularly if you’re a staff member or head of a LARP. How you treat other people will affect the perception that individuals (particularly individuals who aren’t a part of your LARP) have of your game.

Just as the businesses down in your local shopping district reserve the right to refuse service, so should you if a player is being particularly unruly, rude, cheats or otherwise is not meshing well with your game and other attempts at resolution fail. No, this isn’t fun, however it’s better to lose one player who is not fitting well (or causing problems) than lose the majority of your player base because of problems and more than likely the remaining players will be grateful that you’ve helped them preserve their fun. Again, you can’t please everyone so decide the kind of player that you do want to please and then focus on that.

What are your thoughts on these 10 points? Do you think they’re valid? What would you add or subtract from them?

I’d also like to take a bit of time to share that the publication schedule of these columns will be changing. Rather than publish every week, I’ll be putting one out every other week with the possibility of moving this to once a month. Much of this will depend on what time demands I’ll end up with as the holiday season nears and the other non-LARP commitments I have. Any other publication schedule changes will be announced.

The next column will be a LARP Link Dump with a focus on players and organizers. 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.

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