Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why "Competition" is Good

There's been a lot of commenting going on based on Bill's last couple posts. Really, I couldn't say it any better than a lot of the points made. We all know, logically, that diversity is a good thing.

But at the same time, when new LARPs have come up, people tend to have a knee-jerk reaction and view these upstarts with suspicion, if not outright hostility. These games, even if not the same type or theme, are seen as out to bring down "their" game. They are full of people who can't play, who play to hard, or who just don't get it. They are, in some way, inferior, and a threat to our good time.

From what I've seen, though, people don't make LARPs to bring others down, or because they like controlling people and telling them what to do (mostly). At least in the beginning, people make LARPs because they have a vision of a way to create a new, fun way of creating the LARP experience and they want to share it with like-minded people. They have a dream - and the dream is not, in general, to be High Supreme LARP Overlord. :) That may come later, of course, but at the heart, everyone just wants to play a fun game.

Unfortunately, those who see other games as competition aren't totally wrong. LARPers are only a small percentage of the overall population, and it's very difficult to have multiple, successful, large games in the same area. Or is that just in Ohio? :)

So how can you both support diversity and ensure the survival of your particular brand of LARP?

Support these other games. It may not make sense in a business model, but LARPs aren't really there to make people money. Or at least, I don't think they should be, and I don't think that most do a very good job of it. So instead, games should act more like a club or a hobby - and you don't see different Girl Scout troops trying to cause the other to fail (or at least, I didn't :) ). No one wants their hobby to have a negative, hostile atmosphere - even if it's directed at the other team. No one wants to feel like they're bad people for playing another game. Why not be a knight one weekend and a space marine the next?

And, as anyone who's a fan of capitalism knows, competition can create a lot of good things. If you don't have to try to succeed, things get stale, and old. I'm not saying to change for the sake of change, but certainly be open to it. Competition brings new ideas, new ways of doing things. It challenges us to keep up, to do better. With our friendly competition here, I'm not advocating that we constantly try to outdo each other and prove how we're better - that just leads right back to hostility and everything else. But certainly there could be a little of that, deep inside - I mean, we've all got our pride, right? :)

We can all learn from each other to keep up a good quality game. What is that game doing that people like? Why do certain players play there, and how can we get them to also play here? What cool prop-making have they thought of?

On a personal level, it can be really nice to have somewhere to go where you can just have fun. If you run a game, you can "vacation" at the other one without feeling responsible. If you're heavily involved in one game, playing others can create a break and freshen your outlook.

I've been very impressed at how our 3 big NERO chapters have been working together recently (at least outwardly). They seem to support decisions made, they try not to schedule over each other, and they maintain a positive atmosphere. And I think it is working - I know I'm more encouraged to play different chapters, because I feel like I'd be welcome.

And once you work together, it makes you a stronger force. When one chapter goes against National, it's easier to ignore than 3. And when several games group up, they can share information and players, but also have a force in the community. They can do demos, go to fairs, and so on - and the more people you have, and the more diversity, the more likely you are to suck in new players and break the stigma.

So maybe what I'm talking about isn't really competition. Maybe what I'm saying is still "diversity is good," and we shouldn't circle the wagons when we hear about new LARPs. Try them out, learn a few things, keep an open mind. Bill is right: We want to be a community made up of many voices that make all of our hobbies stronger and better.


  1. Amen!

    PS: If you make a LARP within 3 hours of my house that has space marines, I will play your game!

  2. I wanted to do it without any kind of work! Oh well. KICKSTARTER GO!

  3. Bil, I know someone that wrote rules for just such a thing, we were discussing me funding an event.

    As to competition, I do not see wanting to make money and building the community as mutually exclusive. NcN is a for profit company, I do not like competition, but I also work with other chapters to build the community and play and support other forms of LARP.
    I will draw the line at games that seek to draw players from NcN events. There is healthy competition that builds the community, sharpens the games, and helps your particular chapter.

    I don't think a LARP that requires such a substantial outlay of cash as NERO to run needs to be a club. The girl scout troops don't invest $10,000 into their troops, some NERO chapters do, and the time committed to running a chapter is pretty incredible. I see no reason for it to be a negative that someone would want a return on that investment.

    Now the LARP club has long fascinated me as an idea. A group of people, pay a yearly membership and the club runs LARPs of all shapes and sizes throughout the year. I have never really put thought into how to make it work financially and logistically, but I do like the concept

  4. Whoa, doggie - I'm not saying that a LARP shouldn't be turning some money. In an ideal world, it would cover all its expenses (props and gas money included), and have some left over for other things (marketing, cooler props, etc). And pay back its investors. But LARPs are, in general, not out to make money as their major purpose, as most businesses are - they're out to give people a good time and not lose an arm and a leg while they do :) And I'd argue that if you can't pay your employees an appropriate amount, you're not really a business, but then, Wal-Mart operates at a loss, right? Anyway, not to get bogged down by a tangent, but the point was just that keeping an open mind is good and that a little friendly competition is :)

    That's why I say they should be more like a club. LIKE a club, LIKE one! :) As in, no need for cutting throats.

    Now, there are going to be situations where it is competition. Having two similar games that both try to draw directly from the same player pool, for example.

    And while I don't know if any club puts in $10000 a year, I would say that many probably invest just as much time, energy and cash as a lot of people involved in running a LARP. In general. Overall. Sometimes. Many. Most. Almost all. Other generalities. :)

  5. On the club note, a lot of larps operate as non-profit organizations. Which doesn't necessarily mean that working owners/runners can't take money home (presuming that there is money to be taken), it just means that money is paid out as a wage (or repaid loan), rather than "return on investments." Laws probably vary by state and such, but given the small amount of money most game owners are taking home, that might well be a better organizational model for a larp than something that is "for profit."

  6. I can't say I entirely agree with this. I understand how in a lot of ways LARP's are in competition for a scarce resource, that being players. I suppose this isn't the case in all places, and that there are areas where the amount of LARPs is less than the amount of interest in the local players to play them. But where I come from and in several places I've visited there is just a finite number of customers to go around.

    This is really a problem of advertising, recruitment and outreach mostly. At least locally we have always had a seriously difficult time getting new players interested in the game. The trickle of new players is barely equal to the number of players who continually leave the hobby for various reasons. Our retention rate is also not terribly great.

    What this means is that if you start a new LARP where I live, the single biggest source of your players is going to come from cannibalizing the existing playerbase of current games. And given the monetary and time cost of attending games, even if both the new and old game is spectacular many players are going to have to choose between one or the other.

  7. @George

    There are a lot of hardcore LARPers out there who are willing to play multiple games, as long as they're not at the same time. And there's a lot more benefit to be gained by being friendly with the other games (NPC exchanges, community building, etc) than from being isolationist.

    If you find yourself in an area with multiple games and one of those games is isolated and the rest are a community, odds are against the isolated game.

    1. I’m certainly not advocating hostility to other games. I agree that if a new game shows up that the best policy is to be accepting and supportive of that game. There is more to be lost than gained in taking an adversarial stance against competition in this hobby. But that doesn’t mean that a new game is always going to improve the LARP scene for rest of the competition.

      The point that Karin seems to be trying to make is that any new addition to the hobby adds new life, new blood, new creativity, and new energy to the LARPing community and that ultimately this is to the benefit of everyone, including the local competition. Therefore old games should be welcoming of new games. While I support the second part of that, I don’t fully agree with the first. I have experienced and witnessed several examples of where new games have harmed old ones.

      Certainly people are willing to play more than one game. Like you, I play several, and travel further than most to attend some of them. If the pool of customers willing to play LARP’s is very deep and the demand for games is not fully satisfied by the existing campaigns then adding a new one is probably good for everyone.

      But those conditions don’t exist everywhere. A lot of places have small LARP player bases, and each new game means less to go around for everyone. Even if the old games are accepting and friendly towards the new ones they are still competing for players, plot staff, and site dates. I can cite you numerous examples of older games being hurt when PC’s abandon them to start playing a new one.

      I agree with the general premise of the article. The hobby as a whole is better served when the community of games cooperates and collaborates and supports each other. My disagreement is with the idea that old games have nothing to fear or lose when new games start. Very often local games or even game communities suffer when the new games start and the limited players get Balkanized across many games.