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.