Archive for February, 2011

Mainstream: The Future of Medieval Combat is Now

This article was originally found on Electric Samurai, the Amtgard’s opinion magazine. It represents some of the best market-research to date on the burgeoning Live Action Role Playing industry.

 

Medieval Combat Sports (MCS) have existed in recognizable form since the 1970’s and since that time existed primarily on the fringes of society. It attracted nerds, geeks, and social outsiders. It shunned the bright light of public attention as the sport itself had a similar social outlook to that of its members who often avoided attention. This was seen as a positive to many members who specifically wanted to be identified with a counter-culture or rebellious, niche activity. Indeed most people participating MCS still view it as a niche activity. That view, however, is incorrect.

In a recent survey of 3300 people (representing a statistical cross-section of America) 33.6 percent of them were aware of Medieval Combat Sports. Surprisingly, one out of every three people sampled not only were aware of it, but were able to identify it based on the terms ‘Medieval Combat Sport’ or ‘Live Action Role Play’. Awareness was highest among males aged 16-20, with a remarkable 51.6 percent of the population sampled being aware. Awareness was lowest among the under 16 age group with 18.2 percent being cognizant of the sport. Males tended to be more aware of the sport than females at 42.8 percent awareness to 30.8 percent awareness. Culture demographics were remarkably surprising with only a 7.1 point spread between the most aware culture (Amerindian 38.5 percent) and the least aware culture (African American 31.4 percent). This is incredibly surprising given that non-Caucasians have a very low representation in MCS. In fact, Caucasians have the lowest awareness rating of any culture other than African American at 33.6 percent.

Looking at the question of how people become aware of MCS yields more interesting data. The largest single contributor to awareness was television at 25.6 percent. Furthermore it is interesting to note that a mid-sized MCS group, Dagorhir, had a spot on the Discovery Channel’s ‘Wreckreation Nation’. This looked like a correlation event, but further research discovered that only 10 percent of the people who were aware of MCS were viewers of the Discovery Channel, and that almost everybody who reported ‘television’ as their method of awareness had seen a local news piece done on a local group. Either people didn’t associate from the ‘Wreackreation Nation’ spot or they didn’t remember something not local to themselves. The second largest contributor was word of mouth from friends at 21 percent, and word of mouth from family at 9.1 percent. Combined word of mouth was 30.1 percent, edging out television for awareness efficacy. Internet awareness was a surprisingly low 9.4 percent with live demonstrations, print articles, movies, and radio making up the difference of awareness with an even spread.

Participation is where the niche appearance begins to reassert itself. Only 2.8 percent of the population sampled had participated in MCS or LARP activities. Over the course of the thirty years the activities have been active, and the numerous groups available to choose from, this does not seem like an impossible number when extrapolated out into the general population. Most of these are likely people who participated only at a large convention such as DragonCon or participated for a brief while and then never returned. Clearly there are not currently 8.4 million (2.8 percent of 300 million Americans) active MCS/LARP participants. On the other hand, 42.6 percent of the people sampled have an acquaintance who participates in MCS or LARP activities. This is instructive as it suggests that those people who play do so openly, which is a large break from the fringe, secretive behavior seen in the past.

Taken together, this data yields insightful analysis. First, MCS is no longer a fringe activity. With 33 percent market awareness it is beginning to compete on a stage similar to that of other extreme sports. It isn’t there yet, but it is inevitably moving in that direction. Second, MCS is not reaching anywhere near the full potential of recruitment and retention available. With 3 percent of the population already having shown itself willing to participate in the activity it is clear that there exists sufficient interest to grow into the tens of millions of participants. With low barriers of entry and a diverse group of activities within the category there is no reason that MCS/LARP couldn’t achieve 27 million participants in the US alone once 100 percent market awareness is reached. What is made clear right now is that MCS/LARP is doing a poor job retaining and appealing to interested parties. With an estimated 40 thousand active participants, MCS is currently retaining only .5 percent of total participants. If retention and involvement was raised to a mere ten percent the sport as a whole would break one hundred thousand active members in two years. With corresponding improvements in market awareness the million member mark could be reached in as little as ten years. Further, reaching out to minorities is a must. MCS has the highest recruitment base among almost the lowest awareness group. Hispanic, Asian, and African American outreach programs need to be developed and implemented with a quickness. That alone could double the size of all MCS groups with no further improvements in awareness or retention. Minority outreach programs, local media involvement, and word of mouth campaigns combined with modest gains in retention can yield immediate and impressive results in growth. Groups should utilize those programs to direct potential new participants to social networking tools such as Meetup.com, Facebook, and Twitter in order to create an open and appealing appearance to recruits.

Clearly MCS/LARP is at a turning point. It has come out from the shadows and moved into the limelight of public awareness. It is time to walk forward bravely into the light of day and welcome all people to join us in our pastime with open arms and encouragement.

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How to Market Your LARP

Today we’re going to talk about some of the main ways to get new players for your LARP.

The Myth is that all you need to do is run a great game and people will play it. If you run a really fun LARP, players of other LARPs will  come play your game too. There are LARPers all over the country, and when they hear about your chapter, they’ll come play, right? WRONG! You cannot sustain your chapter on “traveling players”.

The Truth is that LARPs must constantly recruit new players.  This takes a variety of strategies. Your game does not sell itself — no, you must actively sell it or it will grow stagnant. Use Internet and face-to-face marketing. Use local media and to a lesser extent, other nearby LARPs. You must also be willing to reinvent your game in order to make it more marketable and accessible to new players.

Low Barrier of Entry

Before you can do any marketing, you have to examine what you’re selling. There are a lot of hurdles which keep people from joining their first LARP. Your job is to remove or circumvent a lot of these barriers.

Before a player PCs at their first LARP event, they have to  go through all of this stuff:

  1. Find out about the LARP
  2. Learn the LARP’s rules (this may require a rulebook purchase)
  3. Come up with a character
  4. Buy or create a costume they think will be appropriate
  5. Buy or create a boffer weapon (which they may never have seen before)
  6. Request an entire weekend off from work / significant other / other hobbies / real life
  7. Invest another modest sum of money on the event ticket

That’s a lot of commitment for a hobby you don’t even know if you like yet! For a player to complete all of these, they have to be really sure they want to play. And in a lot of cases they won’t know that until they get there.

Do anything you can to remove items from this list. For example, have costumes and weapons on hand to lend, rent, or sell to new players. Give new players a free first event. Introduce them to a team or guild so that they already know some people when they arrive. You want to be able to tell a potential customer “Just show up, we have you covered for your first event.”

Internet Marketing

Web Site

Your chapter’s web page should explain everything in about 10 seconds. When somebody arrives at your web page, they should instantly understand the following

  1. this is a live fantasy game involving costumes and boffer combat
  2. where in the country (state and city) your game takes place (a disappointing number of LARPs hide this info somewhere on their Registration or Event Info page)
  3. why they should commit the time and money necessary to learning more

The average person decides whether or not they’re going to read a website within 5 seconds. Attention is a precious resource in web marketing, so learn how to construct an elevator pitch. The challenge is to present the complete idea of your chapter in a very brief, compelling package. If a potential player has to dig around on the website to find out what the game is about, or where it takes place, or why it’s fun, you’ve already lost them.

The key here is to give your potential player an image of what it’s like to play your game. You need to communicate what experience you are selling them. Pictures and video are worth a million words. Large blocks of text only repel people. Show them the look on the kid’s face as he opens a treasure chest. Show them the fear of being followed as you walk through the woods at night. Show them the parties around the campfire, the  noble procession, a ritual being cast, the visual and emotional touchstones which people associate with your game.

After you’ve given them a taste, give them the opportunity to move a little deeper. This is when they find out the event dates, the cost,  what to bring, details about the story, et cetera.

Social Networking

Social Networking is a big deal these days. It is an extremely cheap and easy way to market your game to new people. At the time of this writing, the main network to attack is facebook. Set up a facebook page for your LARP. Create a facebook event for each of your events. Invite everybody that’s associated with your group or fan page. Allow them to invite their friends.

Any time you create an ad or teaser for an event, go back to your elevator pitch. You need to tell people why this is the event they shouldn’t miss. Or why this is the perfect event to start playing. You don’t just have to tell this to people, it also has to be true!

Your LARP’s social networking page, if maintained, can become a powerful marketing tool.  Keep discussions moving, make sure everything sounds welcoming and inviting. This is a great channel for people to invite their possibly-interested friends.

Face to Face Marketing

Most of your new players will come from your local area. Think about it – the easiest people to recruit are the ones with the lowest barrier of entry. They don’t have to commit to a lengthy road trip and a weekend of camping with strangers in order to find out whether or not they’re even going to like your game, they just have to drive up the street on a Saturday and take a peek.

Set up local character creation days, module demos , and meet-and-greets. For most LARPs, a local college campus the ideal place for recruiting. If possible,  make contacts with the local gaming club and give them a bunch of coupons or vouchers. Put up fliers and posters in that area. Optimally, these should match the visual style and branding present on your website.

At these sessions, be warm, welcoming, and positive. Don’t spend too long talking about the rules, (because that’s boring)  or the things which might suck about the game. If asked about these things, be honest and concise.

Have a bunch of hand-outs ready too. A hand-out is a one-page commercial for your game. The pitch should drive the reader towards the website or the next event. It should definitely include at least one picture.

Tip: If somebody says they’re interested but they can’t afford it, the best response is a variation of, “Come be an NPC – it’s free, and you get free food.” This incantation works like magic on college kids because (a) it requires no investment (b) free food rewards them for showing up.

Demos

At a Demo, you’ll run a quick module. Have a bunch of pre-made characters ready, and include text on the character sheet so people know what they can do. The goal is for them to be able to read their sheet and then understand how to play that character. If you give the players setting info, it should be no longer than one page – you don’t want to overwhelm them! All the info you give them should be relevant to the module they’re about to play.

A module is a good thumbnail of the various rewards that LARP offers. The players should get a taste of action, teamwork, problem solving, and treasure. They should experience what it’s like to think on your feet to overcome a challenge in real time. If they walk off the module saying, “I want to go on another one!”, you’ve hooked them.

Combat demos are easy too – bring a bunch of weapons and give people a chance to try out the combat system. Don’t just set up one-on-one sword duels. Be sure to include some team combat so people can experience what it’s like to set up a shot for a rogue, or harry a nasty monster with a spell. Teamwork is a big part of LARPs, and it’s part of what keeps people coming back.

Workshops

At a Workshop, your goal is to get potential players prepared and excited about an upcoming event. Have a member of your plot team there to talk about the setting, and help people create characters which will fit into your plotlines. At the end of a workshop, potential players should have some goals or hooks they can pursue at the upcoming event.

A gear-making session is also a great idea for a workshop.  Bring a bunch of boffer supplies and show people how to make their own weapons. Someone who owns a boffer sword will look for places they can play with that sword. And that’s where you come in.

Q&A Sessions

Q&A Session is the simplest thing you can run. This is simply a booth or panel where players or staff members can field questions about the local game.

Face To Face Tip: Don’t Apologize

We all know that LARPing is an unusual hobby. But we like it and we do it anyway. Own it and feel good about it. Don’t make people feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their hobby. One of the biggest things that will turn players away is to embrace and thereby reinforce the negative stereotypes about LARP.

This means that you do have to be aware of what makes LARP uncomfortable for some people. If you’re having a Q&A session in a public place, don’t do it in costume. If you’re running a demo module,  have it somewhere private so that the players don’t feel like people are staring at them.

Above all, don’t make them feel like they should be embarrassed. LARPers are normal people with an interesting hobby. It’s moving out of the fringe – lots of people play role playing games, cosplay, and like spending time outdoors. This hobby just combines all three. If you go to an event, you’ll find that most of the people are pretty cool. Yeah there are a few oddballs and basement cases, but you’ll find that in any hobby.

Local Press

According to market research, if you had never heard of LARP, local media is the most likely way for you to find out about it.

Your local newspaper is hurting for things to talk about.  Believe it or not, what people do for fun in your region is news.

Learn how to make a press kit and create one for your chapter. Send it to your local newspapers and media outlets. This will give them some text and images they can use to explain your game to their readers. If you invite a reporter to your event, have a member of your staff that can walk him or her through the game and explain it in plain language.

Other Games

One of the smoothest sources for new blood in your game is existing LARPers. They have a low barrier of entry because they are already sold on the live action RPG concept.

The most important rule of recruiting from other games is that this is not a competition. Do not try to “steal” other games players. The other LARPs in your region are on your team to the extent that you are on their team.  Encourage your players to play those games too.

Don’t use other games as your primary source for recruitment. Do your part for the community and bring in new blood.

Don’t book event dates which conflict with other local games.

Don’t trash talk other local games. Instead, encourage your players to play them too. In fact, the staff members of your LARP should be playing other LARPs. The friends they make at those games will be more likely to play your game just because they know somebody there.

Encourage foreign staff members to play your game. Give out coupons or vouchers to encourage them to come check it out. If they have a high opinion of your game, their players will too.

An attitude of competition or territoriality is the enemy of recruitment. There are so few Live Action RPGs in this country, we need to stop trying to fight over our meager playerbases. People who run LARPs are all on the same team, we are cooperating to build a world where LARP is a fun, popular and accessible hobby.

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