LARP Economics: Real Event Costs

After writing that wrap up of the Hannigan’s costs, I thought we might talk about the elephant in this particular room. As I laid them out, the various costs for Hannigan’s ran to a total of £712.45.

But what none of these costs mention is the organiser time. So let’s make a token stab at that, shall we? Obviously, this is self-interested, and maybe even a little self-praising, but I really am tired of listening to people express scepticism of LARP prices that clearly don’t factor that in, like having the kind of fun that relies so heavily on other people’s labour being given away for free was a reasonable thing to expect. Sometimes, it’s couched as “I can’t afford more than that”, and I sympathise with that, but equally often it’s couched as “but what about the other costs of participation” as if the fact that the players want to spend extra money on costume and what have you, also obliges the organisers and crew to throw in their time for free.

(And sure, the organisers are probably having fun doing it too, but still: we pay writers and musicians and all other creative workers, even though they’re having fun, too. Badly, maybe, but we don’t actively resist the idea that they should be paid something for their time and effort, like we seem to in LARP.)

Still let’s try and keep our costs down. My day rate for tech work is higher than average (on grounds of experience), and honestly, I have no idea what my colleague in event running would charge out as an event organiser, but she’s bloody good and definitely deserves more than market rate. Still, for the purposes of this thought-experiment, we’ll assume UK average day rates (even though we live in London, and should charge out at London rates) for coding and event organising as our baseline.

So, coding day rate: £370. Event organising day rate is a bit harder to find, but I can find a few roles offering £250 per day which feels reasonable. Let’s factor those into our costs, shall we? What does that do to our costs?

Coding: the total time spent on the Badgers and Jam tech stack so far runs to about 20 days. Let’s allocate just 10% of that to this event, shall we? (Because it can and will be used for other events.) . So that’s another £740.

Event organising: This covers the production of any and all documents, venue wrangling, planning meetings, event runtime, post event admin etc etc. And again, let’s be generous here. This was a second run of the same event, so we’ll only factor down the time that was specifically for this event. Across two people, I would estimate there were 4 person-days of work here, in planning and writing and wrangling. (If you were to factor in the costs of planning and document production from the previous iteration, I would expect that to be about 8-9 days total, but since it was designed to be multi-run, I think it’s fair to skip them). So that’s 4 days, or another £1000.

That brings our running total for price to £1000+£740+£712.45=£2,452.45. 31 tickets makes that £79.12 a ticket to break even.

That all seems wildly expensive, though. 80 quid per ticket for a 6 hour game is a lot of money.

How about, then we try the experiment of paying the organisers just London Living Wage (£10.55 per hour at time of writing) for their time outside of the game, but we also add the same pay rate for the crew, and 6 hours each for the crew.

That mean the organiser time runs to: £506.40.
And crew time runs to: £316.50
For a total of: £822.90. Let’s be generous and round that up to £823.

So our with our initial £712.45, that’s a total event cost of £1535.45 at these lower rates, putting break-even on ticket price at just shy of £50 per ticket.

You know what? 6 hours of theatre in London would probably run you that. While I don’t think we could actually successfully charge that for a 6 hour game at the moment, I don’t think it’s a bad or unfair price to work slowly towards. (Secret Cinema, as a reasonably mass-market model roughly analogous to LARP charge significantly more, for a much less personal, and slightly shorter experience. Other live events companies I’ve worked with certainly charge in that ballpark per-hour.)

And for what it’s worth: for all LARP has other factors – it’s participatory, players have their own kit and props costs etc, I think that argument is offset by the fact that what I’ve outlined is at-cost (at-low-cost) numbers, not profit-making. It’s theoretically just enough to ensure that organisers and crew can live like normal humans while they facilitate the LARP happening.

It also occurs to me that there’s another imperfect-but-close analogy that might apply, too – the live music experience. The audience is a key part of that, and many people wouldn’t go if it wasn’t, because it’d be the 99% same as staying home and listening to the record at an uncomfortably loud volume. What we pay for in a live gig experience is unquestionably partly the crowd/communal feeling. No-one suggests that their gig tickets should be cheaper because the audience might have to factor in travel or accommodation, or buying merchandise, or because the gig wouldn’t be the same without the audience, do they?

Yes, this post is a bit self aggrandising. But at the same time: I love running LARP. I do an OK job of it, I think. I’d love to do more of it (and I’d love other event runners to be able to do more of it), so I could get better at it. But I literally cannot afford to do more than a certain amount, because I am obligated to do it for free, and I don’t imagine I’m alone in that. The only way I can see to change that is for LARPers to start having this conversation about how much our hobby really costs.

LARP Economics: Event Costs

I’ve seen a couple of people talk about running their first event recently, and ask for feedback about ticket prices. As much as I appreciate that different people can afford different things, and everyone has their own limits, I was horrified to see that when some of those people talked about running a weekend long event for 40-50 people, with sub-£100 ticket prices, people responded saying “oh, I’m not sure about those costs, that would make it a maybe for me”. While I do 100% sympathise with those who are budget constrained, and I’m not suggesting they’re talking about anything that their own budgets, I am a little tired of of watching LARP runners slash their budgets to the bone, because it’s a super risky thing for them to do, and I don’t think it helps the hobby.

Having just done run #2 of Hannigan’s: Graduation Night, I thought it might be interesting to break down how that worked out for us, in case anyone else is thinking of similar. At the outset, I’m going to say: this is one of the simplest LARP events it is possible to run. Non-combat, with small number of players in one room for 6-8 hours, timed so people could eat before and after, and not need to eat during, with a cash bar as “catering”. We were/are a cheap-and-easy event by design. One room, in an already-insured venue. A doddle compared to a weekend in a field or other more complex venue.

Oh, and before getting into this: we still lost money. Do not make our mistakes.

So, income: we sold 31 tickets at £20 quid each, for a budget of £620.


  • Venue £500.
  • Props: £70
  • Tech budget: £20
  • Crew: £50
  • Payment processing fees/refund costs etc: £72.45

Net result: £92.45 loss.

So, let’s break those down, and explain what went wrong:

Our initial venue budget was £400. Only after quite a few tickets had been bought did the venue contact us to tell us they’d misread our times (we double-checked, they were definitely correct in the emails we’d sent) and they wanted rather more money – more than we could have afforded. After the initial panic, we eventually were able to keep them to just a £100 price hike, in exchange for less run time than we wanted. We compressed things a bit to make them fit, resulting in a shorter event than we might have wanted, but I don’t think it suffered overly.
Lessons Learned: Honestly, not sure. I’d like to say “have your costs fully locked before you put tickets on sale”, but this time round, we thought we did. I suppose “factor in a 20% contingency to your pricing” would have done the job, but again, we actually thought we had a (small) contingency fund factored in.

There’s nothing really controversial here. Except this: our real costs there are about £60 more. We have £40 quid set down against a future event, for some props we had custom made that we intend to re-use, and we re-used about £20 quid’s worth of stuff we had from a previous event. If this was 100% stand alone, costs would have been higher. And our props were cheap – no major creature budget costume or makeup costs.

Badgers and Jam pays the crew (not the 2 game runners, just the 5 NPC crew) – there’s a whole other blog post in “Paying the crew and LARP Economics”, so I’ll leave that there for now. It’s a token honorarium at the moment, because if we went with what we’d like to do, and paid London Living Wage, then our costs for the event would have more or less doubled, so we’re just doing that for now. Still, this should have been rather higher, because the crew catering ran to “some dried fruit and nuts in the crew area for emergency snacking”, and that’s not great.
Lessons learned: factor in higher crew costs to allow for better crew catering as well as the honorarium.

Tech Budget
Another uncontroversial one. Factored in and ran to-budget for the event.

Payment Processing Fees
Another slightly unusual one. Badgers and Jam have a mostly-functional event booking system that will let people use their credit/debit cards to pay online, and that we can issue refunds through and so on.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this, chief among which is that we want to ensure that our players are confident of their legal protections and consumer rights. Bank transfers (of the sort most LARP systems seem to prefer) and even Paypal (who are not a bank, and not regulated as such) remove a lot of those – it’s basically impossible for a consumer who has made a bank transfer to claim that money back if they don’t get what they paid for. But if we were to vanish with the money, or go suddenly bust and fail to put the event on, people who had bought tickets from us would have the benefit of fraud protection.

However, it means we are charged fees to process the payments, and those fees are still taken even if we refund the payment. So we lose a percentage of every ticket, and we lose more than double on refunds.
Lessons Learned: These fees run to about 50% more than we expected. We’ll factor that in next time.

Overall: If we hadn’t had the venue problem, we’d have just broken even. Not terrible. I think next time, assuming everything else remained exactly the same, unless we can 100% lock in a cheaper venue before running, (and probably even if we could) we’d want to add £5 to the ticket costs – I don’t think there’s a big psychological purchase difference between £20 and £25 quid, and if nothing else went wrong, it would even give us a (small) crew catering budget.