Monday, September 15, 2014

LARP Organisation - Financial Costs or Why We Have Membership Fees

One of the things rarely mentioned in the various Create a LARP web-links I've found is the actual nitty gritties of the boring stuff that must go on in the background.  If you're in a litigious society, especially one where venues require public liability insurance and offer discounted rates to registered Not For Profits, you'll need to do quite a bit more to run a campaign LARP than simply hire a place and offer tickets.

You see, an event LARP can afford to pay the higher rates for a venue so long as it's relatively prop-lite / uses props already owned.  People will generally pay a higher ticket cost for something that has so much extra prep-work going into it than the more self-sufficient (but still time intensive) campaign LARPs where players must shoulder some of the burden in character creation, goal setting and interaction.  I think it's also partly because an annual event also feels more special than a monthly one so people can justify to themselves spending a little more (i.e. $15 instead or $3 - $5).

Generally private venue hire includes public liability insurance coverage (at least in South Australia) where your event can come under the venue's own insurance contracts.  Most venues have a limit of, say, four hires per year where you can do this.  This is basically a 'Private Hire' and explains how people can hire such places for birthday parties and other celebrations without having to take out event insurance ($250 a pop).

If you wanted to run a campaign LARP under the private venue hire rules in South Australia, you could still do it using the higher hourly rates but you'd need to change the venue every fifth time in a year.  True, you could run it as an unincorporated association (i.e. informal club) but very few organisations / councils recognise them and insurance companies certainly don't.

In Adelaide, the average meeting room has an hourly rate of $10 - $20 for a private hire.  Larger spaces like halls tend to sit between $40 - $75 an hour, especially on weekends (Friday night to Sunday night).  If you want meeting rooms on top of that, you have to pay the combined rates.

Generally Not For Profits get to pay half to a quarter of that rate - sometimes meeting rooms will be free though halls rarely are unless you get really lucky.  They do need someone to contribute to the cost of the building's overheads and all that.  (Increasingly venues won't offer reduced rates on weekends due to a lack of funding from other sources - so even as a Not For Profit you need to shop around).

Therefore becoming a real Not For Profit can save you a lot of money.  I don't yet know the cost of public liability insurance (which covers damage to property and passersby) for a dice LARP but boffer LARP insurance can cost around $1800 for $10 million insurance.  That boils down to $150 per session if you run 12 a year - which compared to $250 for event insurance for each game for a private hire, is a saving of $100.

Of course, very little is free these days.  Not only does a Not For Profit require a constitution and a committee, but there's an incorporation fee (currently $181) alongside other sundries such as cash boxes, ledger books, occupational first aid kits (potentially sporting first aid kits), and rubber stamp.

Then when running the actual events, there are venue fees that will generally range between $10 to $20 an hour if you're clever and lucky, insurance that could reach up to $1850, and a bond for the events that can range from nil (rare), $250 (less common) to an average of $500 and a high of $1000.  That's a lot of money to put up front for an event and it's likely to come out of the organiser's pockets and you don't get the bond back until after you stop using that venue.

This is the reason why most LARP organisations charge some kind of membership fee on top of the actual session fee.  There are a lot of costs and if you want to get to the point where you can pay deposits and bonds as well as purchase props without digging into the organiser's pockets and reimbursing them later on, then there also needs to be a small profit per event.  This profit can also help the game survive if there's a small slump in either members or attendees.  If you're barely breaking even then even one player dropping out can put you in the red.

There are alternatives naturally but in Australia you have all the legal responsibilities (as an unincorporated association) but fewer protections, can't apply for grants, can't open a bank account for the organisation and will likely need to run the game out of your own house.  There are also convention LARPs which normally involve a single event run using the insurance provided by the convention itself.  Either option can work for some LARPs and not for others.

So ... any thoughts?  Any queries?  What's it like in other countries?

(Also, let me know if this article isn't very clear.  There's a lot of details in there and it's easy to make it over convoluted and confusing.)

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