Can larps be a business?

The simple answer is “easily”. It’s been done before in other industries. Let’s roll back the clock to the 1980’s and 1990’s; which were interesting times for tabletop gamers, and larpers. There were no game development companies, no streaming services, and for that matter not much internet. There were barely publishing companies that could scrape together enough money to keep printing RPG guidebooks. There was Games Workshop because lets face it Europe has always been ahead of the U.S. on this curve. D&D was a pretty new thing. Adults would scold their children for playing with ‘toys’ (this literally happened to me, I may have some buried resentment).

In the year 2018 we have Blizzard Entertainment, Wizards of the Coast, and thousands of other game development companies. Twitch, YouTube, Instagram, and probably a dozen apps or stream services all fighting to be the next one the current cohort of high school students uses. Most regular people are blissfully unaware of the Board Game company mergers of the last few years, let alone that we are in a board game golden age. All these industries were built by the same children who were told to “learn something that will get them a real job”.

Look, all of that is a really long and complex way of saying that the role playing, boardgaming, tabletop gaming, and computer gaming industries have gone from “Satanic Panic” to “Legitimate Career Choice” like a Tesla goes from 0 to 60. Hobbies become industries. Hobby computer clubs of my fathers generation built the computer industry as they aged. While Larp may be a subset, of a subset, of a subset of an industry at some point it probably won’t be. At some point it too will probably become an industry.

The real question is should a larp be a business? This is an infinitely harder question to answer because it’s about morality, greed and modern corporate culture. Also peoples expectations about what ‘being a business’ means. Being a Larper take time, passion, and money to just attend games. In return players have amazing emotional experiences.

Anyone who has run a larp knows that putting together an event requires writing, planning, gathering resources, managing a community of volunteers, planning logistics, and then executing on that plan. And generally events cost more to run than they take in from the players. Meaning usually people lose money throwing an event. If an even holder is really lucky (or smart) they host a few cheap events each year, and then one amazing one at the end of the year and break even. But more frequently running a larp costs more money than they make.

So the costs are human work hours, and cash. The costs are monetary. The output is a great emotional experience and a tight knit community. The reward is emotional, without much tangible stuff produced. Doesn’t that fit Not For Profit a bit better?


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