Thursday, July 1, 2010

NERO: A business or a club

LARP is a hobby, it is a hobby that is pursued by normal(sort of) people. We give up our weekends and pay to come to a game that is run by our friends, our friends are not paid, they volunteer to run this game for us, we pay to help rent the camp. Does this sound like a business model or a club? To me it sounds like a club. There may be a business model hidden within the larp concept but I do not believe we have seen it yet.

FACT: A game is only as good as the plot people who run it. Plot people pour out their creative ideas into the game, they wrangle NPCs and point them in the direction they wish them to go in. They schedule the event(Not rent the camp I am talking about the schedule DURING the event) and play important NPC roles. They are a director, a traffic cop, a final rules authority and the writer at every event they attend, and they are not paid. How then do we differentiate good plot people from bad? Truthfully, we don't, ouch. I have seen so many bad plot people it makes my head spin and not in obscure out of chapter play, I have seen bad plot people in my primary chapter. How long can these bad plot people stick around, until they don't want to do it anymore, because no one else is beating down the door. NERO cannot be a valid business concept with no valid way to select above average plot people and no way to dismiss those who are poor. NERO cannot be a valid business model without a way to compensate those who DO run above average plot to keep them running above average plot.

FACT: Plot is limited by the props and costumes that are available to them, if NERO is a business the chapter must provide props and costumes. I have heard from many people that they are satisfied fighting on modules with tabard monsters and face paint, I too am satisfied with that for most of an event. Once in a while though I want to go on a module where all the stops are pulled out, where I have to fight a giant 20 foot dragon in a cave filled with sounds and flashing lights, with fog billowing and people shouting. Production value on ONE MODULE can make an event 100 times more memorable, if this were a business, owners would realize this and strive for that one impact module. The one scene that you see in the trailers for movies, the one that gives you tinglies down your spine, do that once per event. And it should not be the plot people paying for this for some imaginary currency, it should be the owners paying for it. In the last two years the one chapter in Ohio that does value production value has seen its average event size go up by a large margin and the ones that don't have dropped off. How can you be a valid business model if you do not follow market trends? How can you expect to draw people away from computer graphics when all you offer is tabards and face paint? NERO will be a business when production value across events is standardized.

FACT: NERO events have no guarantee of satisfaction, it is possible to show up to an event and have 5 hour down times with nothing happening. You could come to an event and not go on a single module, there could be no NPCs to interact with. If an owner sees these things happening, they should be outraged that the people that they have selected are not entertaining the people who are paying...but I have seen owners not get outraged. NERO cannot be a valid business model if the owners do not take responsibility for the quality of events, customers will go to the chapters that do run quality events or they will return to their computers. Club managers may be able to allow a meeting to slide or degrade but owners of a business must first think about the satisfaction of their customers and with a live action game, the only time the impression can be fixed is while it is happening.

What then can be done? The first question that must be asked is what do we want to do? Owners are you trying to run a business? If so then you must take responsibility for the satisfaction of your customers. If you cannot determine who is and is not acceptable to run plot you must find someone who can. Invest some money from your proceeds to design an impact module for every event, make sure that it is widely experienced Guarantee peoples satisfaction, money back guarantees are a staple of marketing because satisfied people do not ask for their money back, even moderately satisfied people do not. Most of all, listen to people after the events, really listen and attempt to fix what they are suggesting. Constant improvement and sustainable results make a great business model, can you make NERO do that? If you cannot then run it as a club, reduce the costs down to what it costs you to operate and ask for people to help out. Other organizations do this and it works out fine for them.

NERO is a business? I admit that some chapters are closer than others but in general no...NERO is a club. Volunteers running events and donating all the props and special effects gear, below par plot people running below average plot and no guarantee of satisfaction are symptoms of the disinterested management of a club. If we are playing in a club then it is our responsibility to make sure that we have fun, and it is the so called owners responsibility to book the camps. So owners, what have you done for me lately? Why am I giving you the extra money on top of the camp costs?

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