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127. Why valuation is hard when creating something new

I run a company that primarily produces live spectacular action role play events. Wizard school at a real castle. Pirates onboard real wooden sailing ships. Rockstars on a real tour. What we do is fake in the sense that the stories are made up, but the emotions are very real.

It’s not like in the movies. Here, everyone is the main character in their own story, and there’s no director telling you what to do. It’s not like the theater. There’s no audience to play for, and the stage has no fourth wall. It’s not a book, with a single person crafting a story and everyone else just consuming it.

No, this is part game, part simulation and part alternate reality.

There aren’t many of us doing this worldwide. At least not compared to other mediums. And when. it comes to those of us doing it professionally, we are few and far between. Our company, Dziobak Larp Studios, is arguably the biggest larp studio in the world, yet we’re a measly 32 people. It’s a tiny industry, to say the least.

And yet, the potential is insane. We see others dipping their toes in the lake where we have been swimming for decades, and they almost flinch in delight (and terror) just from getting their feet wet. Immersive cinema, like Sleep No More and Punch Drunk. Escape rooms. Disney’s upcoming Star Wars hotel.

Compared to what we do, this is Larp Light, yet it’s still powerful and amazing. I don’t want to discount these cool experiences – not even a little – I just want to use them to illustrate that there’s a trend here, that we’re at the cutting edge of.

And what that means is that nobody has any idea of what’s it worth, how to sell it or how to develop it. We’re flying blind, and whenever we try to look at the new with the glasses of the old, things look grim instead of exciting.

Imagine being a filmmaker in 1910, and having your film studio go out of business. Trying to get any money out of the remains would depend a lot on who you could find to pay. For another film company, movie cameras would be worth a lot. To a classicla theater, they’d be worthless. A skilled camera operator hitching a gig with another studio would be counted as an expert. The same guy in the theater mentioned above? Worthless.

That’s where we stand with larp. We have things that have immense value to us, and are capable of producing value, while they – to the casual outsider – are worth very little. While 150 wizard robes mean that we can put on a College of Wizardry larp, for almost anyone else, they’re a useless novelty.

Of course some equipment and skills have cross-industry value. Lighting gear that’s used to light up castles can be used elsewhere, and if you can lead a hundred orcs into battle, you obviously have some general leadership skills.

But as long as we’re this tiny industry that others don’t yet really understand, we’re cursed to prices and valuations that are dubious at best. And while that’s hard enough to determine when it comes to physical props, it’s even harder when we talk about skills.

We may know what a good dentist can earn, or what a carpenter costs for an hour. But what’s a fair wage for a fake duchess, or a sneaky goblin? And what’s the going rate for a larp professional, who can be both at a moment’s notice? What does good larp design cost and how much is good game mastering in dollars?

We’re at a place where we sometimes need to put price tags on things, but don’t have a clue as to what those pricetags should be. And like any new industry, we don’t even always agree on which things should be paid for, and which should bring in money.

So if you’re involved in the fledgling larp business, either as a volunteer, a professional or a participant, here’s a tip for you:

No matter what valuation you put on something larp-related, it’s going to be off. Either because you’ve judged it by different standards that don’t do it justice, or because you’ve judged it by its own standards, which don’t really exist yet.

Either way, someone’s sure to complain.

In that, we’re already like every other industry!

If you like my writing, and want to free up my time, so write more, you can do exactly that, by supporting me via Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=3351676

If you want to get into contact, I’m easy to find online. So if it’s worth your time, search me out. I’ll do my best to answer. ;-)

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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