The above is a sentence everyone will have heard a hundred times from a variety of people. The expense of LARP events is always something that has been one of contention, with larpers seeming to almost always be hunting for a cheaper event. Adamant that their hobby remain low budget and affordable for all, but still expecting a great site, good props, good crew kit, makeup, and in some cases pyrotechnics not far removed from big budget film quality.
But what are the real economics of a LARP event? How do organisers go about gathering the ticket money and then spending it? It wouldn’t be right for me to assume I know how every event organiser runs their finances, but I can speak about my own experiences of running an event. For the examples in this post, I’ll assume the event is catering for 30-50 players.
So lets start at the beginning with site hire. Most sites in the UK that I have approached vary between £500 to £1750 for a three day hire. Each site is different in terms of what additional costs are required on top so you really have to read the small print and know exactly what you need before you start looking. For example chemical toilets, again for a 30-50 person event you would want at least 6-8 toilets for a Friday to Sunday event. Average costs per toilet vary from £45 to £70 different firms include delivery and some have that as an extra charge of £30 regardless of the amount you hire.
So at a bare minimum at this point you have either spent £665 for a fairly average site plus additional toilets if you find somewhere that will deliver with the cheaper bracket of toilets or £740 for the same site with a more expensive toilet hire firm. Or you have hired the mega site and have spent £1750.
Now you have a game, you have a site to run it on – which you have either paid a deposit for or the full amount up front. You’re selling tickets for what is the UK average of between £65-£85 for an event this size. Selling 30 tickets would give you about £1950 to play with, or £3250 if you manage to sell 50 – that’s at the lower end of the price bracket of course. Around £700 of that is already spoken for with the site hire.
The next big expense comes insurance and this will vary hugely according to what your event is doing, and also if your site has insurance that hirers can use. If it’s the latter then you’ve hit jackpot because it’s an expense you don’t need to worry about. But if the site doesn’t come with insurance then your next step is to be ready for lots of phone calls with insurance companies who will often have no idea what it is they are insuring. You’re going to have to come up with a way to explain exactly what LARP is. There are some LARP insurance people out there, however in my experience none of them as of yet have been able to help if you utter the dreaded term….. airsoft. It’s almost a taboo word in the UK LARP scene. Insurance for a LARP that uses airsoft on average varies between £800 and £1150 which is a huge amount of money. So the key is to try and find a site that has a policy that allows you to use theirs rather than have to arrange your own. Of course this limits the amount of sites that an airsoft LARP will be able to use, but hopefully that will start to change in the future as it becomes more common.
Further down the list of things to spend event money on is crew kit and weapons. This is less of an issue if you run say a historical fantasy event. Most larpers own kit suitable for this unless you do something truly different like Mythlore. Mythlore however is unusual in that it charges over £100 a ticket and if you have seen any of the photos from those events its very easy to see why. The standards of kit are incredible.
But lets assume you have decided to do an event that is not typical fantasy, maybe its a sci-fi event, a very accurately historically themed event, or a post-apocalyptic event – none of which can use genetic fantasy style costuming or weapons. You need crew weapons so you contact several weapon makers and get a variety of quotes. For around 30 weapons (individual designs rather than a batch) you will be looking at anything between £600 to £1200 depending on who you speak to, the size of weapon ordered, how much they like you and if you can arrange a discount of some kind. At this point your budget is starting to look not anywhere near enough, you haven’t even looked at crew costume, FX, pyro or any other consumable that you require for your event.
All of this you hopefully researched before selling tickets, but as with all things, a quote can change. When you initial agreed to hire the site perhaps it included toilets, but due to some damage to site it no longer does and you now need to hire more chemical toilets to cover this. The insurance quote might now be higher than originally stated. The site you originally wanted to use has had an enormous issue and can’t be used but your backup site is more expensive. All these sort of issues as well as the fact that people seem adamant to not spend money to attend but still expect it to be amazing means more and more events run with the organiser ending up out of pocket. Very few run and break even and some large scale events do turn a profit, but most smaller events (and specifically events that break out of the traditional fantasy mould) will end up costing the event organiser money.
I have spoken to several event organisers whose events I believe are truly special and every single one of them has ended up putting their own money into the event to ensure it can run. Now it is easy to argue that this is due to bad finances, an inability to budget properly. But the truth is not as simple as that, running an event has a host of hidden costs and with the LARP community largely unwilling to spend much money on attending events there will always be people who decide to run at a loss to put on something special. Last of all, these hard working event organisers and refs are not paid, that event price that budget is all done with zero payment for the plot writers, the refs, the crew, and the organiser themselves. Thousands of hours can be spent creating the event before a player even sets foot in the game world.
So next time you decide to suggest that an event is too expensive perhaps consider that maybe we are used to events being too cheap, rather than that particular event being too expensive.