Due to the rise of high ticket cost, Blockbuster LARPS, there is push back against LARP producers to provide insight into game budgets. People want to know what they are spending money on and why ticket prices are climbing. People also want to know why some events can run and offer tickets for $50 wherein other events find themselves charging over $400 for tickets.
I strive to keep ticket prices down. I am able to cut costs by negotiating with my venue on hotel room nights and catering. Most hotels have mandatory catering minimums that you must meet in order to use their space. Other hotels require that you book a certain number of room nights to rent the event space. I have been very lucky to negotiate away these terms. I have been paying only for the rental of the conference room space. The first year I ran, the event space was smaller at my venue that it is now. My second year, I was charged the same price as year 1, but they hotel remodeled and added more space. I got more space for the same amount of money. In year 3, the county I run my events in increased the taxes on hotels. My guests noticed on their room bills. Because I had paid for my rental in full before the tax increase went into effect, I did not have to pay that tax. In year four, the hotel added a special event service fee to my contract and my price went up by $300. My contracted room rate also went up by $10 a night for all of my guests. It took four years for inflation, tax changes, and the hotel remodel to hit my contracted rates.
I have spoken to another LARP producer in the area who runs two events a year. She and I are hoping that if we negotiate together with a single hotel that we might be able to negotiate a deal that cuts costs for both of us. She and I are trying to find hotels that allow us to bring outside food into the meeting space. A hotel that offers us a guest nightly room rate of less than $100 per night. We are also looking for a hotel that does more corporate events opposed to weddings. Venues that gain revenue from weddings are super pricey and they almost always require catering.
Because I am engaging in a hotel search, I have three different working budget drafts. The variable on these budget is for the hotel event space.
Have you planned a wedding and had to deal with caterers? Many catering menus offer lunch prices at about $20 per person and that food is served buffet style with no choice or options for the guest. Dinners start at around $22 for a buffet. If you want a plated dinner served to a guest, that would cost around $35 a person. Most hotels cover breakfast. If I were to add catering, it would be added in to each and every ticket and the catering cost would add $100 to each ticket. I would also need to charge NPCs and GMs this cost as well to mitigate the impact to participant ticket pricing. (Friday Dinner (35), Saturday Lunch (20), Saturday Dinner (35), Sunday Lunch (20)= $110).
In addition to the cost of catering, I would also need to spend more time communicating with the hotel and party guests in order to cope with a myriad of dietary needs, requests, and restrictions. Instead of charging people more and putting the extra stress on my shoulders to entertain and feed almost 70 people. This burden has not rated as a value add to me, so I don’t do it. Instead, I try to choose events that have a variety of food options within a 15 minute drive around the event space. I inform guests when meal breaks will happen and I allow them to budget and plan for food at a rate which works for their budgets.
My hotel contracts have not included a mandatory number of room nights to book. My hotel contracts have included locked in room rates for hotel rooms. I try to get these room guaranteed at a rate that is under $100 a night. Hotels come in a variety of shapes and sizes and so do their rooms. Event guests have different arrival/departure times. Some people want to share a room with friends to save money. Other people want a quiet space that they can retreat to if a game becomes loud or hectic. Additionally, hotel rooms are full of creature comforts, electronic things, plumbing bits, and smells. If you pay me money to book your hotel room, it’s generally a nuisance for me to hunt down and keep track of your room, your roomates, your smell preferences, your toilet or tv remote woes.
There are a bunch of businesses who are happy to broker and rent hotel rooms as a middleman- Travelocity and Hotels.com. I am not a third party hotel broker and I am not an employee or agent of the hotel. I believe it is in your best interests to select a hotel room that suits your needs and budget. I believe that you are the best person to talk to your friends and sort out if you are room sharing and cost saving or if you are getting your own space for the weekend. This also allows guests who are local to events to opt out of booking a room altogether.
When I go to a conference or a convention, I usually get a treat bag with some goodies and promo items inside. Sometimes these promos are silly junk, but sometimes there are some cool things in there. Also, my games tend to have a lot of bits, baubles, and paper pieces. At SEALAB, I provided bags to all of my attendees. These bags were inexpensive and they were easy for me to assemble. When guests arrived, the bags also made it really, really easy for me to get folks checked in. Previously, I have charged additional amounts to include food/snack items at an event. I’m going to stop doing that. I’m just going to start giving some snacks to people in their goodie bags. Also- I have an allergic reaction to a game space littered with plastic cups. I will still give folks a cup when they come to my event. One person- one cup. Because these goodie bags fulfill a few purposes and they are as complicated to prepare as a character paper envelope, the bags are a feature of my events that are here to stay.
I run my events at a hotel. The event space looks like, a hotel. I believe in the power of make believe, so I rely on my attendees to imagine the scenery changes each year when they come to my event. I have been to other events that do a lot more to change, re-skin, and adjust their event space. They have built up decades worth of props and scenery and they have to pay for the storage costs of these items. I live in a small 1,100 sq foot home. I do not want the extra expense of paying for a storage locker each year. I also prefer to change my genre and setting each year because as a creative person, this helps to keep me engaged. I do try to make props and buy items that help to enforce the genre of an event. I buy sheets from thrift stores and paint them. I buy clearance robots from failing toy stores, and I get weird colors of already mixed paint from the Lowes rejection shelf to keep costs down. I have increased the line item for props/scenery because folks have commented in the past that a modest ticket price increase to cover better set dressing is worth it to them.
Presently, the Props/Scenery Budget is $1500. $25 from each ticket is being spent on the components of my events that I cannot acquire from the office supply store. I have increased this budget line item each year because each year I manage to exceed this line item the most. For Bullets and Belles, I was about $700 over budget ($500) in this category alone. For SEALAB, I closed out this line item at $220 over budget ($1200). In the event that I experience an underspend, the funds will be placed in an isolated bank account and used to offset the costs of the next event. So far this excess has not happened and I end up paying the overage from my own pocket because my dreams and visions get away from me. I am watching this line item closely because it has been the hardest to plan for 1+ year in advance of an event.
I have three printers at home. I started out with a single Ink Jet printer. My ink jet printer still works and is over 5 years old. I acquired two laster jet printers in the last two years. One of these printers was broken when I received it. I took a couple hours to repair it and clean it. I still have some ink for the ink jet, so I have not gotten rid of this machine. I have swapped to do most of the game printing on the laser jet printers. The cartridges for the laser jet printers is about $20 more than the ink jet. They are also 3X faster. What used to take me a weekend to print, I can now complete in a few hours. For SEALAB, I went through two black cartridges ($140) and two color cartridges ($120). I also had to buy a case of paper, stickers, name badges, card stock, and pens. I have stopped buying perforated name badges and instead use cardstock and a paper cutter to make my own. I do this with paper items in the game as well. Using card stock instead of perforated paper saves a great deal of money, but it does cost extra time to produce. Stickers, paper, and cardstock can be bought in bulk and used overtime. Some paper products I bought lasted for three games. My previous budget for office supplies was $250-$300. I have exceeded it by ~$100 each year as toner prices fluctuate and when I have had to buy various paper types. I am hopeful that this budgeted amount covers the costs. Any surplus from this line item will be kept in a bank account and set aside in the event that new office equipment needs to be acquired (replacement printer, stapler, hole puncher, paper cutter, laminator, etc.)