Almost 11 years ago I started working a LARP by the name of Dystopia Rising. When I started writing this LARP, it was my intent to design a game system that my friends could use so that we could continue to do weekend long events without having to use overly complex or slow LARP mechanic systems. What I wrote, and what I created, rocketed upward since the time it was originally created. What was once a game for 60 people in my home town became a franchise network with over 4000 players.
And in the process of this game growing, there were many things that my co-founder Ashley and I learned. We learned about publication process. We learned about trademark and copyright law. We learned about protecting intellectual properties, and we learned about business and event liability. We learned tons of strange niches in regards to oddball things that most first time game organizers don’t think about. Things like license verses franchise law. Things like the legality and definition of bows in regards to different towns, states, and regions. We learned from freeform and Nordic LARP styles to introduce degrees of bleed control, after care, and what a group can and cannot enforce as a part of their community.
Some of these lessons came quick and easy, others took a lot of time and effort to learn. We now have an entire team of lawyers, accountants, and professional business advisors that we talk to on a regular basis to ensure what we do is not only acceptable to our community but also acceptable legally. We have moved from individual property licenses to federally registered franchises. We have had to work with state and federal guidelines that were written and intended for major corporations like McDonalds or Walmart. No joke, the same costs and legal guidelines that apply for those massive chains apply to your LARP network. The process also all runs at the speed of bureaucracy.
We also had to change how we approached things. When things were small, I could approach one of our members or directors that did something wrong and personally ask them to address their shit. We had a situation wicked early on where two players got into a brawl over personal issues away from their time at game, and I was able to ask both of them to take some time away from game until they settled their problems.
Now with the size we have reached we empower local business owners to use our materials and our game design theories and be a part of our community. The tradeoff for that is while in the past, when we were a smaller game that I directly oversaw, if there was an issue I could just talk to those involved and help them settle their shit. Now instead I have to give directions to the franchise holders and advise them how to oversee their business within the guidelines of what is acceptable for our entire network. Because while we own the materials, and the process, and the source goods we are engaging into legal contracts with local businesses to allow them to use these items within a scope.
Now let’s say that one of the franchise owners became some sort of monster, like a child abuser, and we want to terminate the franchise connection. By law if we want to terminate a franchisee’s agreement for breaching the agreement or damaging the product, the franchisor must give the franchisee reasonable written notice of what breach of contract happened, tell the franchisee what it needs to do to remedy the breach, and allow the franchisee up to 30 days to remedy the breach.
To use our earlier hypothetical example, this means that if a director were to become a child abuser and we were to inform them that we wished to discontinue their franchise because we find that they are damaging the name of the product, we would still have to give the franchise owner 30 days to correct their mistakes. This means that if the individual has no charges filed against them, or the case is dropped, then the local chapter is protected by franchise laws in regards to the parent network. These laws were drafted to prevent massive mega-corps from abusing or discriminating against local business operation, however, it also defines the same rules and laws that local chapters need to follow.
Through all of this, what is it that I learned the most? Much in the way of our business laws and operations laws that exist in the United States are nearly completely divorced from the need and functionality of smaller business networks. The percentage costs to operate as a network with oversite makes much of what game networks do difficult, if not in many cases, impossible to happen. Often times the laws tie the hands of those who want to make improvements, prevent progress, and limit designs to create a healthier and safer community.
Evidently utopian playlands are built in small clusters, and fought for on large scale.