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.