LARP at Play: Young’s Law

This week there’s a guest columnist, Mike Young, and he’ll be discussing Young’s Law or why word of mouth is an important part of growing and advertising a LARP. And now Mike …


LARP Is Sold By Word of Mouth
I first spoke those words in the early ’90s, and nearly two decades later they are still true. Think about it. How did you start LARP? If you are like most people, a friend brought you into it. Word of mouth. But I wanted to do a more in-depth analysis. Why is Young’s Law true? What makes it work? And how can you use Young’s Law to market your LARP?

Live action roleplaying is a niche of a niche of a niche market. It is a subgroup of the roleplaying games market, which is in itself a subgroup of the hobby games market. Live action roleplaying is just starting to get positive national attention here in the United States. In other countries it is far more prevalent and well known, and Young’s Law may not be as true there. I don’t know. I’ve never tried to run a LARP in Norway.

Take a look at traditional advertising methods: television, radio, billboards, fliers, magazine ads, even banner ads on your computer. Overall, advertising is a visual medium. But it just isn’t easy for a hobbyist LARP group to take advantage of this medium.

First off, LARP rarely lends itself to the static visual medium. Maybe you can get a picture or illustration of a cool battle scene or people colluding in the shadows, but that seldom gives an idea of what your LARP is really about. LARP is about interactions. Some LARPs have produced videos, but even then these fall prey to the second problem with traditional advertising methods: talent, cost, and cheesiness.

LARPs tend to be an amateur not-for-profit venture. In fact the very thought of a for-profit LARP almost seems to be an anathema to most of the LARPing community. But that mindset really drags us down in terms of advertising. Because without the budget to produce high quality ads, we have to rely on volunteers. And while there are many talented volunteers, without money to guide them, they often lack the motivation to give a true professional effort. And without money and talent, your ads will come out cheesy and unprofessional and reflect poorly on your LARP.

But further, even if you do have the best advertisement out there, as well as the budget to get it in front of your target audience enough times to make an impression, there are still social pressure issues to be dealt with. In general, people do not want to attend a social event without some people there with whom they are familiar.

Even when going to a non-social event, like seeing a movie or going to a museum, people still want to go with a family or friends. And LARPs are social events. You will be thrust in with a group of people whom you don’t know and be forced to interact with them. I have found that there are very few people who are willing to take a chance, to commit the time and money needed for a LARP under uncertain circumstances. However, these people are very important, and need to be cultivated if you want to grow your LARP. Because these people will come back and bring their friends. LARP is sold by word of mouth.

Young’s Law in Practice
I frequent a number of LARP message boards and mailing lists. Every so often someone will post, “How can I get people to come to my LARP?” And I always answer with my surefire plan. It isn’t quick and it isn’t easy, but it is a perfect application of Young’s Law in action.

First, instead of trying to get people to come to your LARP, start going to other LARPs in your local area. Don’t try to sell these people on your LARP and especially don’t tell them that you think your LARP is better than theirs. That isn’t your goal.

While your ultimate goal may be to sell your LARP, you can’t do it by offending your target audience. Instead, you want them to be your friends. Befriend them. Become part of their LARP community. Help them with their LARP. Get your friends to play their LARP too.

And most importantly, do this all sincerely. Do not be disingenuous and only pretend to help their LARP so you can steal their players. Don’t try to steal players. Get rid of any “us against them” attitude. Your goal here is to foster a greater local LARP community where all the local LARPers know each other and can rely on each other for their LARPs.

Then, then when you have a local LARP community, when you have true friends in that community that is the time to invite them to play in your LARP. Don’t ask them to abandon their old LARP; ask them to try yours as well. And if they do, then run an excellent LARP. They will then tell their friends and those friends will bring more friends, and there will be a ripple effect that will bring people to your LARP.

And don’t abandon your new LARP friends once your LARP takes off. Continue supporting them as best you can. And if you become too busy running your LARP, at least keep trying to be friends with them. Remember, your real goal here is to build a community to enhance all the LARPs in the area, not to build your LARP at the expense of a community. You want the community. You want the LARPers all talking to each other. And why? Because LARPs are sold by word of mouth.


Thank you again, Mike, for being a guest columnist. The next article will be an introduction to LARP. Granted this topic will likely be rather dull to veteran LARPers, but those new to the hobby should find it of good use. It should also be a good resource to point new folks to who have some questions.

There are still opportunites for folks to become guest columnists. Do you have a LARP related topic you’re really passionate about and want to share with people? Send an email to webmaster [at] mortalisrpg [dot] com with your topic proposal and if chosen you’ll have a chance to take the column spotlight. All that is asked is that the topic be broad enough that it will appeal to LARPers from many games/genres/styles and your article be in the 500-1,000 word range (a bit over or under is okay).

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.


Mike Young is an award winning LARP game designer with over twenty years of LARP writing experience and is one of the few professional LARP authors. His LARPs have been run in countries all over the world. You can download his free print and play LARPs at http://interactivitiesink.com/

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