Larp Ticket Cost: What Goes Into Pricing?
Larp participants are often taken aback by the ticket costs. From the perspective of the larp organizer, ticket pricing often leaves a tight margin. Let’s take a look at what causes the sticker shock – and what organizers can do to be transparent about the reason for the larp ticket pricing.
As both a game designer / organizer and a larp participant based in the United States, I empathize with every side of this issue. As an organizer, I’m discovering that profit margins are usually slim with larp, and breaking even on expenses isn’t even always a result planned in to some blockbuster larp efforts.
As a participant on a budget, sometimes I feel entirely priced out of the hobby, even at local games. In my country, the cost of goods and services rises, but the income unfortunately does not – and it’s really starting to impact what people are able to spend on nonessentials.
The Larp Ticket Cost Breakdown
Whether a larp is small and inexpensive or a blockbuster game played in a hotel or on a private estate or college campus, cost breakdowns are important, especially when you’re crowdfunding and/or looking for an initial investment. Cost breakdowns encourage player trust and show everyone exactly where the money is going. This allows prospective participants to make decisions based upon how they feel the money is spent.
While I target the ticket cost breakdown to larp organizers, please read on if you’re a participant, too. Hopefully this will demystify some of your ticket cost concerns.
Fees are quite a thing – it’s amazing what unexpected expenses can crop up. For example: some venues charge an extra fee to allow on-site photography. If you serve alcohol, that will increase the cost of your insurance. There are many variables.
Ticket Cost Breakdown Example: Visuals
Learn Larp LLC (New World Magischola) provides a breakdown of costs. Where does the money go when you buy a ticket to wizard school?
Learn Larp’s cost breakdown is a decent example of the type of information organizers should reveal to potential players, especially for high ticket cost games. Note that the transparency includes unexpected costs, which always crop up in any production.
Their costs for Learn Larp’s Immerton, a larp centering the experiences of participants identifying as women and nonbinary, demonstrates the variations in cost breakdown between larps, even when the design and production are accomplished by the same team.
Valuing Artistic and Creative Jobs
Game design and execution, especially for more theatrical larps, falls into the more artistic and creative professions. Ask any creative: many people often undervalue any sort of artistic or creative job. (Trust me: I’m not just a game designer, but a writer and editor.)
The good news is that most larpers expect to pay at least something to attend a larp, just as they’re accustomed to spending on concert or movie tickets.
If your larp is a destination venture, or if it’s in any other way innovative, you really need to prove that value.
Is This Important If You Have an Established Audience? Yes.
This involves showing (and proving) value. You can do some of that on reputation, experience, and word of mouth, but even if you’re established like Learn Larp, you’ll always want to attract new players. This can also help you branch out: while Learn Larp is known for New World Magischola, they design in other areas and explore new themes, even within their magical world. That means constantly proving value to new players and showing existing players that there’s value in trying another type of larp.
Ticket cost breakdowns are the way to go.
Ticket Cost Breakdown Components
Some fees vary depending on location – for example, in the U.S., insurance is mandatory, and renting a swanky location in Manhattan is going to cost a lot more than an outdoor space of comparable size in the Midwest.
Note: In the above examples, Learn Larp’s operations costs include props, costuming, scenography, marketing, storage, and travel, but for your use and scale, I have addressed some of these elements separately in the breakdown.
What does it cost to rent the site? Does that change based upon how many tickets you sell / spaces you rent? Your site fee percentage needs to cover this. Don’t forget to include the complete site fee, such as any cleanup or administrative fees the venue may tack on.
How are you going to document the larp? Photos and video? If you’re paying a photographer, include that in the cost breakdown.
Are you having an event that takes place over one or more meals? Are you going to serve snacks? Don’t forget to include your food budget, regardless of the arrangement. If you hire staff to serve the food, include all expenses and gratuity, if applicable, as well as waste disposal and cleanup fees.
Most venues require insurance (at least in the United States). Insurance protects both the organizer and the participants, and it’s considered a starting point for trust and safety.
Costuming, Set Dressing, and Props
Staff and NPC (non-player characters) need to look sharp in game, and that often requires costuming. In some instances, you may also need to invest in decorating your venue or set (and hiring someone to do it). You could also need specific props or materials to execute your larp.
You may choose to be as specific as you want about teasing these items, such as ‘we need to decorate the venue to reflect our visit to the underworld’ to ‘we’re unleashing a new type of monster that you’ll meet at this game.’ That way, players get where their money’s going.
Don’t forget to include taxes. Those add up. Most people include them as part of total expenses in their given realm (i.e. food, lodging, etc.). In many locations throughout the world, tax amounts vary based upon the type of goods sold, so it’s easier to bundle taxes in with their respective type.
IP and Licensing
Is your larp your own creation, or are you basing it off of legally acquired IP (intellectual property) rights? If the latter, those rights cost money, and that gets factored into ticketing.
Accounting, Processing, and Other Business Fees
In the Learn Larp example (above), you’ll notice credit card processing fees are listed as a cost. Whether you choose to sell tickets via PayPal, Eventbrite, using Shopify on your own site, or through this event-oriented site, you’re going to lose money to fees. Make sure your buyers are aware.
Marketing and Consultation
Does your larp include sensitive subject material? You’ll probably want to hire a consultant to look over that. Marketing materials also require writers, editors, and graphic designers – and you should pay them.
Marketing also means paid advertising (and possibly hiring a digital advertising expert).
Marketing expenses include comped tickets for journalists, larp personalities (such as vloggers and bloggers), and more.
You should pay yourself and the people who work for your larp organization. Some people think that this is up for debate, and that’s another conversation, but you’re probably sensing a theme here: people deserve to be paid for the work they do, eve if it’s “fun.”
As a larp organizer, sometimes it feels like you can’t win. If you profit on your game and ask for volunteers, you’re taking advantage (and depending on your location, you’re violating labor laws). If you price tickets to pay all of your staff, people may not play. It’s a tougher game than the one you’re actually running.
Healthcare Costs (United States)
If your organization is based in the U.S. and you are a full-time game designer, you need to be clear about the big American elephant in the room: health insurance. It’s not cheap. And you need it.
If you need to purchase your own health insurance and you do this for a living, you’ll be surprised at how much sympathy and understanding you’ll get, particularly from international friends. The point is that you have to be transparent about this, because a lot of people don’t understand that marketplace healthcare costs hundreds or thousands per person per month.
Since this is an expense you’re expected to bear individually, you should let your supporters know that a certain percentage of your salary needs to go to healthcare, and that healthcare costs may fluctuate.
Travel and Lodging Expenses for Staff
Is your larp local? If not, it costs money for your staff to get there. Set a reimbursement amount and include that in a percentage of the ticket costs.
Considerations on Scaling
Scaling any product or startup is one of the most difficult aspects of business for many people, myself included. When we think about physical products – say, books – the more you produce, the cheaper the unit cost. With larp tickets, that’s usually not the case. It’s usually a fixed cost for food and lodging (but more participants means more staff, and if you’re paying staff, that cost then increases). Larp organizers can mitigate this by having a strict cap on participants, even if their venues could handle more people. Many thanks to Maury Brown of Learn Larp LLC for the images and review of this post.
If you’re a participant, do you have questions about where those ticket fees go? Let us know what they are.
If you’re a larp organizer, what’s the most difficult part about the ticket cost and how to communicate to players? Let’s talk about it in the comments.