Annual Dues and What National Does

National plans to reinstate annual membership dues. This is causing quite a stir in some groups, so I thought it would be useful to describe some of what National does, and what they plan to do moving forward. Here is a brief summary of what National currently does for the players:

  1. Produce and release the rulebook. We have the best looking rulebook of any larp in the country. Additionally, every Nero member gets a free download of the current book. For professional quality production and design we need to pay real money. For 9th Edition Joe had to pay for all of this out-of-pocket. They want to continue to develop and revise the rulebook and publish additional supplements and source books over time, but they can not do that without additional revenue. If you want nice books like this, you need to pay for membership so National can pay its staff.
  2. Advertising in magazines and on the web. While each local chapter does their own marketing as well, the National marketing initiatives attract new players at other chapters which we all get to meet and play with both when they travel to our game and when we travel to theirs.
  3. Marketing at conventions. This is something that National traditionally had done every year but was forced to cancel when they stopped collecting membership fees. National traveled to several conventions each year and inevitably recruited a dozen or two new players at each. These players became customers of each local chapter. It costs thousands of dollars to attend any given convention, but National receives negligible income in return since they are just generating customers for other people’s companies (the chapters.) The 7% royalty they get from each new customer’s event fees doesn’t come anywhere close to covering this cost. Like #2, we as players benefit from all the new players National recruits by having more people to play with when we travel and when they come to our games.
  4. National adjudication and review. If you have a dispute with your local chapter, there is a higher authority you can appeal to. Many players have taken advantage of this service over the years.
  5. Answering Questions, and Issuing Errata. The level of responsiveness from National has waxed and waned over the years, ranging from daily updates to months of radio silence. Obviously the goal is to respond to questions and concerns timely and affirmatively. Official changes to the live game rules have to be done very carefully, but also need to be done quickly enough so that if a major issue is discovered it can be rectified before too much damage is caused. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this effort also goes towards defending the organization from toxic members who misrepresent National or make outright false and inflammatory statements. This takes valuable time and effort away from all the productive endeavors listed here.
  6. National plotlines. Dan Comstock, Mickey Golosovker, Dave Epstien, Kevin Sterbakov and Joe Valenti ran national plotlines at various chapters consistently over the last ten  years or so. Joe and Kevin ran some stuff at ARGO several years ago and I had a lot of fun with it.
  7. National source material. All the racial handbooks, the Evendarr history, the maps of Tyrra and Avalon, and all the other free source material on the National web site had to be created by someone. One of National’s major initiatives right now is a complete overhaul of the web site, and they can not afford professional quality work without at least the base level of revenue required by any organization of this scale, which annual dues provides.
  8. National member and character database. National provides a central store for all Nero members and their characters that can be accessed and updated online, with integrated support for Goblin Stamps.
  9. National Game Forge logistics database. The new treasure and production item tag database has been updated and is currently being released, replacing the old Filemaker Pro databases.

On the subject of the database, there is tremendous value in having all the chapters comply with it. On average, National catches about six build cheaters per year. Most of us have groaned and rolled our eyes about players who miraculously explode in levels all at once, but there’s nothing we can do since their characters are tracked at a different chapter. Likewise with the people who get bazillions of Goblin Stamps for having daily “plot meetings” at the pub with their buddies on staff. If you don’t want build cheaters to have an unfair advantage against you, it is most certainly in your best interest to encourage universal compliance with the National character database. Furthermore, if there is a major change in ownership or staff, or if your chapter closes completely, you know your character will persist and be available no mater what. There is no awkward transition between owners with the potential to lose your sheet or somehow be missing dozens of events, as has happened to far too many players in the past.So those are the things that National already has in place and has traditionally done in the past. Here’s a sneak peek at some upcoming projects from Nero National:

  1. Web site overhaul. We will be completely overhauling the layout and design of the web site, as well as adding a slew of new features. This is something that players have been asking about for quite some time. The primary goal is for Nero to provide the best online experience of any larp. In my opinion, this the most exciting development National has on the horizon.
  2. Newly reorganized Plot, Rules and Infrastructure teams. National is currently revising the structure of all the various staff positions that make the company work, while integrating the new projects into the organization. Overall they are adding dozens of brand new positions and are drastically expanding their operations.
  3. Expanded and more responsive National plot services. Both traditional services such as Plot Submissions and Role-Play Sessions will be available for players to directly interact with the National plotlines between events. They will also be releasing “a la carte” adventure modules.
  4. New Publications. The Formal Magic and Cantrip Handbook will be released later this year, with a series of other official publications following it including fully illustrated Race and Culture Source Books as well as a quarterly newsletter.

Most of these tasks can be done through the magical power of Goblin Stamps, but certain things require professional quality work which can only be acquired with real money. Writers, graphic designers, web developers, and advertising all cost money. Membership dues have been a necessary revenue stream for Nero National for most of its existence. This is not a revolutionary concept. Organizations ranging from the SCA to community softball leagues charge dues to cover the management’s operating costs and expand their groups, and truthfully the majority of them charge more than National is currently asking for.

  1. #1 by Matt on April 15, 2011 - 11:43 pm

    Thanks so much for this article. I will be sharing it with my players.

  2. #2 by Daniel Burke on April 19, 2011 - 7:35 pm

    My issue is not with the charging of a membership at the National Level.

    At the chapter level this gets a little fuzzy – Not are chapters are running on the same financial model. Some are in the $75-$100 per person range per event for a standard weekend in the North East. Further south and west there are the $50 games and in some cases even less.

    Many chapters charge about $15-20 for a yearly membership.

    My issue is, as a north east ‘casual’ player, that if I want to go to say 2 or 3 games in a given year I am going to be essentially paying full price for the event, a chapter membership (as its doubtful I’d hit the same game twice) plus whatever my travel expenses are. Even if I did hit the same chapter twice, my ‘value’ of having a membership is not so high as a more dedicated player. This is discouraging to a potential paying customer.

    Consider also a new player who finds that on top of a chapter fee there is going to be an additional $30 or more dollar “one time buy in” fee just to show up, to something they may not come back to?

    I understand the necessity of keeping the organization solvent at the Chapter and National level, but large up front ‘membership’ fees do not seem to be the necessarily ‘best’ solution.

    Some easy thoughts on secondary sources of income:

    Concessions – Rather than provide food, cut this cost to the chapter OUT. Provide food stand rights to two or three different options at say $50, they can then have vending rights to 100+ people at $3-7 a meal (just using easy to do math to fill in number, I’m used to NY prices so feel free to adjust) and suddenly you are not dealing with paying for a kitchen and buying food for a banquet. If people want to have a banquet they can: rent the kitchen themselves and make it a special event or provide their own means. Example – we used to bring a small grille with us that earned OOG and IG cash.

    Vending – Appeal to local/faire merchants. Offer cheap table and vending space, a minor income spike for the chapter, a potentially good income spike for the merchants.

    Rentals – Consider if the chapter had packages available for rental. New character basic costume and weapon kits for $10 for the weekend? Just a weapon rental for $5 for a 1h $8 for a 2h. Put a deposit on it for double the rental fee that the player gets back at the end of the weekend, if they walk off you are ahead, if they snap a core (obviously a deposit can’t be for foam) you keep it. This also makes it easier for newbs or returning players to come back.

    Just some idle thoughts.

  1. Making The Membership Fee Work « Nerology

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