Do not like.... pt 2

Last week we talked some about how to be a cool guy when you stop playing a game. If you missed it, you can find it here: Do Not Like pt 1. I felt it only fair that we also talk about the other side. This is, I suspect, more relevant in the US with our fondness for campaign larps. But campaigns are not exclusive to the States and I imagine that there is some translation to other formats as well. So, take this as is appropriate for what you do. Or don’t. As you wish.

Some thoughts and unasked for advice on how to be a good game runner when a player leaves. This is a little wider reaching though, so let’s start at the beginning.

People who attend your events are not “your” players. You don’t own them, they are not spiritually linked to your game nor do they have an obligation to continue to attend your events. If they choose to go to another game and you are mad about it, you might have lost sight of your games place in the world.

I have, over the years, seen many people stop playing Dystopia Rising. For an array of reasons, both related to the game and not. To dial it down to a local level, I remain fond of many of them. I don’t see a lot of them regularly, but that’s more because of my introverted and somewhat hermit like tendencies. I actively follow many of them on Facebook, enjoy seeing what they do and casually comment and chat as one does. Some of them occasionally come to an event, some don’t. My fondness of them is not predicated on whether they’re giving me money. The only time it’s weird is when I see someone and they feel the need to profess to me how they “keep meaning to make it back to an event” or “they’d love to come to game but…”. I’m sure sometimes it’s genuine, but it’s always awkward. I have yet to find a way to say, “I don’t care, live your life.” without sounding like I’m being rude.

Think of it this way. You probably don’t play the same game you did when you were a teenager. Why would you expect someone else to? Be happy when someone comes to an event and give them a high five when they realize they would rather do something else. They’ll be happier, you won’t have an emotional drain at your events, some other game will have an excited, enthusiastic player. Everyone wins.

A little secret to go along with this: If someone leaves your game and they’re not treated like shit for it, you win twice. When they leave with positive feelings, they are less likely to associate your game with a bunch of assholes and down the line, if they feel so inclined, maybe they’ll come back. If they do, they’ll be excited and hopefully reinvigorated in their enjoyment of the game. This is aside from the karmic benefit of not being an asshole to someone for no reason and having avoided putting more negativity into a world that doesn't need the help.

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But, you exclaim, if people leave my game then I won’t have enough players! There are only so many larpers!

My dear child. There are over 323 million people in the US. If .5% of the population was interested in larping that would be just over 1.5 million players. The idea that we will run out of people to play pretend with us is downright absurd. Given how sequestered and behind closed doors larp has traditionally been we should all, players and runners alike, spend our time sharing the hobby with the world. It’s why you shouldn’t recruit from other larps, but that’s another post altogether.

But, you exclaim again, it’s not cool when another game poaches my players!

You’re right. It isn’t cool. But you talking shit about the other game is not going to convince players to come back. It’s going to make them think your game is full of petty children. And let’s be honest with ourselves. You cannot steal a human unless you’re into trafficking and slavery. Maybe that other game sounds like fun, maybe their friends are playing or maybe they just want to try something new. No matter the reason, let it go. Every minute you spend being mad is a minute you’re not spending on the players who are actually attending.

Run a fun game, make it what you want to see in the larp world, and the players who want the same thing will come and stay. You won’t keep everyone, nor should you try to. Some people like mild, some like medium, some like hot. Be happy they’re eating salsa and enjoy your style with those who agree. 

You're welcome to leave comments, especially if they're constructive or positive. 
I always take suggestions for topics, please requests here or on social media.
Thanks for reading!

Do not like... pt 1

It happens in lots of realms of entertainment, but I know nerds so I’ll focus on them and larp specifically. We’ve all seen it. A friend, a stranger on the internet, we’ve probably even done it personally. Someone enjoys a game for an undefined amount of time, then something s changes. Maybe their tastes change, maybe the runners go in a direction they don’t like, or maybe it’s just not as fun as it used to be. Maybe they just get bored of the playing the same thing for multiple years and want something different or new. Whatever the reasons, they stop attending.

And that’s when the mad starts. Suddenly, the non-stop posts on their Facebook feed about the game they loved turn into a diatribe of everything they hate about it. The creator’s decisions are stupid, they should be hung from the rafters. They’ve either always hated it or they can’t believe what the game runners did to them personally by doing whatever it is they did. They post angry thoughts on the games page, telling everyone that they’re leaving and there’s no reason to ever speak to them again. They become a fountain of negativity, blasting the game at every possible instance. You’re probably picturing someone you’ve specifically known at this point. We all are. It’s to them I’m talking.

Put on your listening ears, little Timmy.
It’s ok to not like a thing.
Statistically, you dislike or don’t care about infinitely more than you do like. All those things you dislike, continue despite you not liking themit.

All through my late teens and early twenties, I played a lot of vampire games. I mean a lot. Every weekend, sometimes two different games in one weekend. I spent hours between events in email chains and scenes at the local diner. I played from when I was 16 until about 26. Around then, I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore. It had become more like a job than a hobby and I found myself sighing when I realized a game was coming up.

So, I stopped playing.
There was nothing wrong with the game or the world or the game runners. I had changed and much like I don’t still wear the clothes I wore in high school, (the genetics that dictate the size of my hips have seen to that,)  I wanted different things. It would have been simple to tell the world how much I hated the game, raged against the things in it I didn’t like. Instead, as many of you know, I put the time and energy I used to put into it into a new thing. You’ve probably heard of it, if you made it to this page.

I have an old friend who fits the model of this almost comically. I played games with them back in our teens. I’ve watched them rage-quit no less than 6 games over the decade and change. Every time the game is the worst thing ever created and the new thing is the greatest creation since bread and electricity. They’re definitely not happier for the process overall.

I understand it though. Everyone is the hero in their own story. Realizing you were wrong or the problem feels like shit. Especially gamers, who have grown up loving fantasies of “white knights” ridding the world of an evil beyond fathom. You don’t get into gaming if you don’t like drama of some sort. It’s a lot more interesting to rage against something than to look around and realize “huh, this isn’t fun anymore. Let’s go do something else.” In every story, there is a bad guy and nobody wants it to be them. That’s fine. But be aware of what you’re doing. I wonder how many friendships have been destroyed because someone quit a game, then spent the next six months talking about how much they don’t like it. Is it any wonder that their friends who still play stopped calling them?

I’ll end with advice. Do with it as you will. Next time you realize you don’t want to play a game anymore, just leave. There’s no need for a dramatic Facebook post, or to throw your things on the floor of whatever your game calls the NPC area and declare with fervor that you’re leaving forever. Find something you do like and put all that energy into it. Maybe make something new, that fits the mold of what it is you want. Get really into a new group that’s starting up in your region and support them however you can.

If you play a game and you still love it, but there are things you feel are issues, address them constructively with the runners. That’s not what I’m talking about. But if you look at the calendar, see a game coming up and sigh then that’s probably a good sign that you are robbing yourself of joy. Find something that makes you happy. Look back on the fun you had over the months/years/decades and be excited for the new fun you’re about to have. Invite your friends, who doesn’t like having double the fun? (The answer is, as always, Communists.) You and the world you inhabit will be happier for it. 

Take it like a Champ

One of the most important questions we ask potential Directors is “Are you prepared for your public life to be put under a microscope?”  When you turn your hobby and social circles into a business, you lose the separation of who you are and the game you run. In some ways, you don’t get to own yourself anymore. Keeping those two separate takes a great deal of planning and failing takes a toll.

For more years than I care to count, I took the criticism, negative feedback and complaints personal. After all, I was half of the team that created it. Why wouldn’t it be personal? This is as close to a baby as I’ll ever get to making. It affected my life, my health and my outlook on the world. I’ve always been a little nihilistic and nobody will tell you that I've become more of a ray of sunshine over the years.

The larger the company got and the wider the reach of our product, the more differing voices we heard. Not to say that in 2010 we didn't have friends who disliked what we did or had opinions about it. But the farther from home we got, the more frequently we found people who thought DR would be better with some goblins in it (my favorite unsolicited "fix" of the system to date) or that Road Trip was exploitative of real touring bands. 

We would tell one another that the insults, threats, and attacks didn’t matter because the people throwing stones didn’t see us as real people. It wasn’t until about a year ago, maybe less, that I really understood that. I don’t know what caused it or when exactly it happened, but I came to realize that it was foolish of me to take things to heart. People have a desire to fight authority and to rage against the injustices they see, real or otherwise. I get it.

As anyone who knows me can confirm, I really hate authority. So much so that I made a company just so I wouldn’t have to answer to a boss. When I worked in an office, I would have to sit alone for at least an hour after work just to calm down and be capable of talking to humans. I am the same level of fight as I was at 16. It’s just been fine tuned over the years.

In some ways, it’s no different than someone who rages on Facebook that the change to a skill has ruined their entire life. Humans need something to fight. Sometimes it’s leaving a one star review on Amazon of the greatest album that’s ever been made. Sometimes they decide it’s the people who run their entertainment. But that doesn’t mean we’re anything more than a concept to them. The same as someone who spends full Reddit posts talking about how awful the video game developer is who changed the way their favorite character fights. And maybe they’re right, maybe the game is unplayable now because the character can no longer use a two-handed weapon. But, that doesn’t mean they have a right to hurt someone for it.

So I learned to take rages posts and the like with the weight they deserve. Filter through for the good ideas and discard the rest. We joke that no group loves to hate the things they love more than gamers. We can’t change that, but we can control how we let it affect us. They’re welcome to smash a cardboard cut-out for as long as they like. It has thin skin, but lacks pain sensors.

There is no Illuminati.

Today the first Dystopia Rising winter event was announced. Amidst a lot of (rightful) excitement, someone asked why we don’t run National events on the west coast.

Well, little Timmy, let me tell you.

Dystopia Rising has a national event format of one each season. Our sister company, Imagine Nation Collective, runs Downfall. We created the whole shebang and Downfall is the hardest, busiest, most nuts event we run each year. We love it. Often, we ask other Directors to help us make the magic happen. We’re also based in New England, so it’s probably always going to be in this region. If only because we can’t put that many severed limbs in checked baggage.

That leaves 3 other events. You’re probably familiar with Uprise, as we’ve had three of them. The other two options, winter and summer, have floated in the aether. Any branch that has been running for at least 8 events can apply to run one of them. We look over all the applications and pick the best one. Before this coming winter event, we’ve never received an app for winter or summer. For the last three years, we’ve received one app each year for Uprise.

So, if you would like to see a national event in your area, start with the carrier pigeons to your local Directors. Tell them what you want. I can’t assign them, they must be applied for. Besides, if I’m not running the event that’s just an opportunity to get drunk in an airport lounge and let Jeff take over all my leg space while I watch free movies. Believe me, I’m down.

This brings me to a broader point. Companies that are based on repeat business want their customers to be happy and return. That’s it. There’s rarely an ulterior motive or secret agenda. Especially when it comes to larp and other live events and experiences. I could tell you that our desire for good events is based on an altruistic drive to spread happiness and joy in the world, through avenues covered in fake blood and nerf guns and in some ways it is. But more so, this is a business that we run based our ideals. Every Director, in some degree, wants nothing more than for you to come to an event, have a great time, go home happy and bring a friend when you come back.

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This shouldn’t be taken as a suggestion that the customer is always right. I will say no to 100 demanding, angry, vindictive players who demand that we shape the game around their desires. If you threaten to leave if you don’t get what you want, especially if what you want is special treatment or an exception to the rule, I will be happy to find someone to help you carry your things to the door. But that is because we believe that the community is more important than one entitled person. From a business perspective, a game loses any number of good players when negative people are allowed to flourish. Do I want to lose 1 player or 7? The math is pretty easy to sort out.

What I’m getting at is that next time you lose your bananas because the larp/video game/comic book/movie that you like turns out to be an affront to your senses, give it a minute. Remember that your entertainment is made by people who are aiming to elicit a positive response from the consumers. They’re probably not out to get you. Honestly, they probably weren’t even thinking about you specifically. Creating something is hard and comes with a lot of putting your soul on the table for abuse. They’re trying to succeed. Don’t take it personal if it’s not how you decide you would have done it, if you took the same risk.

Don't read the comments.

It’s a game. Even when it’s work.

Welcome back. The trip back from Europe was great, the jet-lag and catching up on work was less so. I don’t think you really ever realize how far behind in life you get when you’re away. Everything that’s not vital gets put on hold and is waiting patiently for you when you get back. These are all my excuses for why I haven’t posted. Now that we have that out of the way.

I, like about 4.5 million other people read “You May Want to Marry My Husband” in the last few weeks. If you haven’t read it, I’ll wait while you do so. It’s touching and sad. The writer died on Monday. I didn’t know of her before this, but her letter reminded me of something that has always held true. Both in life and work. For today, I’ll talk about it in context of work.

If you run a game or a network or any other form of organized pretend, you are doing something fun. Hopefully something you love. Don’t ever let it become something you hate. This will take a lot more work than you expect.

1: Don’t take your work to seriously. I have seen the good that larp can do and I will be the last person to deny it’s potential benefits. But we’re also playing dress-up pretend. It is only as pretentious as you make it.

2: Don’t get offended. There are people who will truly hate what you do. They’ll think you’re the worst thing to happen to gaming since Chik-tracks. That’s ok.  There are plenty of types of games that you probably don’t like. Personally, I’m not a fan of high fantasy. Doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just means I don’t like it. I also don’t like football or onions. But I don’t take it personal when someone dislikes a fruity red wine, exceptionally crumbly cheese or my favorite pair of shoes. Gaming is like everything else. If everyone liked the same thing, we’d only have one thing. Which sounds terrible. So don’t be offended if your game isn’t for everyone.

3: Gamers, for better worse or in between, can be some of the most beautiful, compassionate and passionate people I’ve ever met. With that, comes entitlement, emotions and intensity in equal measure. If you change a rule or make an announcement, someone is probably going to explain how it ruins their event, their life, their belief in god. Most people, if it’s a good call, will read it, nod and move on. It will be easy to not register that that majority exists because the angry minority has invested in megaphones and billboards to tell you of your error. For that, you have a few options:

- Stop reading the comments. This can be hard if they have your email, but I believe in you. Don’t read the responses in a thread. Turn off comments. Set filters to automatically archive every feedback form that comes in. You’ll be happier, but if you want to keep your player base, I don’t know that this is the best option. If it’s a one shot you’ll never run again, you can probably get away with it.

- Read every comment. I suggest wine or your beverage of choice for this. It will take up a lot of your time. Its going to take up even more of your soul. The more invested you are in the creation, I suspect the more of a toll this will take on you. It depends on how well you take biting, uncaring criticism. I know that personally, I take a lot of it to heart. It’s why I don’t read any comments anymore, it’s better for my health. I employ the third option.

- Find someone else to read the comments. If you’re running larp professionally (or trying to), hire someone. Whatever else they do for you, make this one of their tasks. Few will ever care as deeply about your project as you do, but if you can find someone who gets close but didn’t create it you’ll have a much better chance of them not burning out after six months. You can teach them what is good feedback and what’s goes into the garbage. Then you can leave it to them.  This is my favorite option, as it lets you access the good stuff while avoiding the “you ruined my entire game by changing the duration of this skill.”

I’m sure there are other options that I haven’t encountered. Feel free to share them with me. I’d love to hear your feedback. ;)

4: Run a game you want to play in. Games, especially long-term games, build player bases that mirror the game runners. If you don’t care about the game, that will reflect. The similarities between game runners and their players is another blog post, but at its base do something you’re excited about. That excitement will draw in people who are also excited and push away those who want to tear it down.
 

Overall, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re running games because you loved playing so much you wanted to do it for other people. Maybe you wanted to do it to share an idea, or make some money, or make a living or bring people together, or any of a million different reasons. But so long as you remember that this is a hobby you love, you’ll do a lot better in the long term, success or failure aside.

If you do start to lose sight of that, step away. Maybe go play another larp. Or just stay home and read all those books you haven’t had time for. There are not a lot of game runners, in the grand scheme of things. Larp needs all of us and at the end of the day we’re the only ones who can make sure we stick around to keep doing it.  

In the words of Shia LaBeouf

Attending this years Knutepunkt was interesting, entertaining and enlightening. I spent time with people I enjoy very much, made new friends in varying degrees, listened to people give talks on deeply interesting subjects. The thing I spent the most time on, however, was answering the question “Do you really make a living from game? How?” I don’t think what we do is the final form of larping, but I have heard a lot of conversations over the last year about things that we have either been doing successfully or that we have dealt with extensively.  From that, despite my deeply introverted nature, I cannot deny the obligation I feel to share the experience and knowledge that I have acquired over the last 8 years of running larps professionally.

With that dash of ego complete, lets start simple:

Is it possible to make money off larp?

Simple Answer: Yes.

Complicated Answer: Probably. But it will take a lot of effort, a lot of hours, and you have to actually show up.

About 9 years ago Michael and I were sitting on a couch, probably watching The Labyrinth for the 4,000th time. He looked at me and said, “I wish I could just run games for a living.” To which I responded, “Then do it.” Fast-forward to today and you’re probably reading this because I run Dystopia. Clearly things worked out.

We joke a lot about “10 year, overnight successes”. We all know Dystopia was the first game I ever played, just as we all know that Claus and his team had never even heard the word larp before opening the College of Wizardry doors. Michael and I met around 2003, when he was running a Changeling: The Dreaming game with the CFC (now called MES… I think). I joined the team a few months later to take over coordination. We ran a trio of Changeling games over the years, until about 2008/9. Dystopia’s doors opened in March 2010, after a convention module the month prior. 30 of our friends showed up, whom we begged, borrowed, and blackmailed to attend. Many of our existing larp friends skipped that event and every one after. I heard an array of reasons or excuses and did my best to not be disappointed. It still makes me a bit sad when I think about it.

We charged an average price for the ticket, kept our promises simple and tried our best. But the most important thing we did was show up. We talked about opening the game up and then we actually ran it. We were two kids working shit jobs and we’ve never borrowed any money, so our costumes were few, the weapons probably embarrassing, few luxuries were present and after the first event we did not break even. So we showed up the next month and ran it again.  Today, we employ 6 full-time positions. We have 16 franchise branches each with 2 Directors, many of which make some to all of their living off running games. We have worked with a minimum of 30 freelancers and I keep a trio of bookkeepers, an auditor and a full law firm on the equivalent of retainer.

None of that would have happened if we never opened the doors. We did not mull over things for 6 years. I didn’t let my status as a high-school drop out keep me from figuring out what we needed to do. We didn’t worry about the idea that you can’t make money off larp.

So, my first piece of advice is to bite the bullet. It’s never going to be perfect. In five years, you’ll look back on it and marvel at the choices you made. You do not need someone to give you permission. Book a site, make a website, open up tickets and talk about it until people stat pretending to have hearing issues to escape you talking about it.

It might not work out. But it will definitely not work out if you only talk about it.