Influencers Follow-Up: Clarifications and Personal Disclosure

(Featured Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash.)

Last week’s blog certainly set the internet talking, as I suspected it would. Influencers are no less controversial a topic than when the issues first started breaking over a month ago. However, I received a lot of questions from many corners of the LARP world about the existence of Influencers at all. I forget how much of my audience comes from a huge amount of varied LARPing backgrounds. I also didn’t set up the blog with a lot of clarity on what Influencers are, or how/why I consider myself an Influencer. So, I wanted to write this blog as a follow-up to help make things clear for those who aren’t in on the whole issue. I also wanted to give a larger disclosure to everyone as to how I make money in gaming, and where that money goes.

The History of the Influencer in LARP

(Preface: I am not an expert in this matter. I have not even been a part of the Influencer world/community for a while. I come at this as a person with 18 years experience in LARP who has had the privilege of attending a lot of the newer, destination-style LARP events in the US and considers herself a designer/consultant in the LARP scene. What I’m laying out here is simply how many of us in the larger LARP world saw it as things came to light. Your mileage, as ever, may vary. This is the story as I’ve seen it.)

The face of the North American LARP scene started changing rather dramatically about 5-6 years ago. High immersion, high budget, (therefore, high price ticket) LARPs began breaking into the scene under a variety of names (Nordic-inspired, Blockbuster, Immersive Freeform, Destination LARPing, etc). While no one in these LARPs ever said they were the ONLY way LARPs should be, they were designers out there which believed there were LARPers out there willing to pay a high price ticket for a high destination experience. As many of us LARPers got older, more stable jobs, and less time, this actually didn’t seem like a bad idea. Saving up to attend one blockbuster LARP a year instead of spending 50-100 bucks a month to attend several smaller games worked with ‘Older LARPer, stable job, family and lacking time’ model. So, I certainly bought in, with tickets to the second run of Learn Larp’s New World Magischola and an interest in finding other experiences. Slowly, more of these experiences began to pop up at varying price points, all much higher than the average LARP in North America at that point in time.

Along side of these experiences, die-hard LARP bloggers and vloggers started popping up. Much like twitch, other gaming vlogs, podcasts, and popular gamers on the internet for other genres of game. People love games. People love hearing about people’s experience with games. So, a handful LARPers (often also very charismatic and with a previously built audience) started content creating about these experiences. There were no rules established in our market of the gaming world, because LARP had never been a luxury experience like this before. Games had never tried to create high level value or needed to market to such a wide audience which included non-LARPers. Many of these content creators did not grow up as journalists or professional marketers, they were just LARPers who loved to talk about LARP who suddenly got very popular on the internet. Then they were being handed free tickets to attend these high value LARP experiences and talk about them. Some companies started handing them contracts, calling them Influencers, and suddenly talking about LARP on the internet became a business.

In other areas of marketing and journalism, it’s common knowledge that legal practices are you must disclose if you are getting any sort of compensation from the company you’re talking about. That compensation could include simply a free luxury ticket somewhere, or an actual paycheck. However, many of the now-’Influencers’ in North American LARPing did not have that experience, training, or background to realize they needed to disclose. (There were several Influencers, especially ones that come from Europe with more clear marketing guidelines, that disclosed and have always disclosed. See Cheyenne’s comment on my previous blog for more information.) More so, LARP companies saw no need to disclose that is the way people were being offered tickets or used. It seemed just a part of marketing to them, as well as ‘what all the other companies were doing.’

Not many players knew that Influencers were being used as a part of marketing, were getting free tickets, or actually existed in the world of being called ‘Influencers’ until this last year. Then controversy started breaking. More than one Influencer did unhealthy things, unsafe things, or had skeletons in their closets that they did not tell the companies they were working for. The internet got ahold of this knowledge and began to tear them, and the companies, open. Because of the lacking transparency in the past, because no one was doing their homework on Influencers, and because the LARP world is going through a LOT of growing pains, the internet was rightfully outraged. There were a lot of not-great things happening in the world of Influencers and, more so than that, there were some illegal things happening by these people marketing LARP in North America without disclosing.

That’s why I chose to use the word ‘Influencer’ in my blog, even when I wasn’t just talking about those specific people. I wanted to address that controversy in the words that this sect of LARPing was using. However, I ALSO put out a set of rules and ethical guidelines for anyone who is getting financial compensation from a LARP in any sense. For my beliefs, the moment you are taking finances from a LARP (be it by a free ticket to a high value experience or actually being paid as staff), you become a part of staff. There are other LARPer’s hard earned money that is going to pay for YOUR experience. Therefore, you should act as support to staff in some capacity, even if it’s making your character into more of an NPC role. I wanted to address a wider audience of game makers/owners/officers that all get some form of compensation of LARP even in the world of the non-Blockbuster games. Because, frankly? That’s the world I live in more often than not. Sure, I get paid to consult for some of these high level games, and I attend a few of them a year, but my regular LARP life is spent in the trenches of monthly, high immersion, high emotion, mechanical campaign LARPing.

Returning to the destination-LARPing issues with Influencers, I do not think they are going away. Nicole Winchester suggested that they should be called ‘Content Creators’ because that is what they are doing. That is what a whole lot of other forms of gaming call them on the internet and these kinds of marketers are always going to exist. They are a reality of social media and social media marketing nowadays. I will never personally operate as someone who simply takes a free ticket to a LARP to be a part of marketing, it simply doesn’t abide by the rules I set for myself in the previous job. But others are going to do that, and many other gaming genres use this is regular business model. As long as those Influencers/Content Creators are honest about their work with their audience (and many of them have been), I suspect they will always be around. It’s simply not how I’m operating my business as someone who makes money as an influential voice in gaming.

But Ericka, you just took an Influencing contract! Aren’t you being a hypocrite?!

The agreement I made with that company, and with any ‘Influencer’ work I’ve done before, has always gone far deeper than just being a well-known face. When I come into a game, be at as an Influencer NPC or a design consultant, I very much believe in all the players around me getting a higher value experience for my being present. I have to earn my keep, so to speak. That’s why I wrote that blog. That is why I put down those rules and ethics. That’s why I tried to define my role in this changing LARP economy. So, I cannot say that purely marketing Influencers are going away. I can say that people getting money to make games better is definitely NOT disappearing, and I will always fall into that latter category. That’s why I looped so many kinds of influential players and staff into the definitions I gave in my original blog.

My Personal Financials Disclosure

I’m working on acquiring many different streams of income through the LARP world. Most of these streams are small, so tiny that it’s not even close to a part-time job now but a simple goal of making LARP pay for itself by the end of 2018. As the LARP world figures out how to do this in multiple forms: as a hobby, as an art, and as a business, I’m finding a lot of different roles and needs to fill just on sheer expertise. As I get more offers, especially when discussing them on the internet, I’m going to be more open about things. However, a lot of my past work has been ‘Ericka, can we pay you 20 dollars to look over this design document?’ or ‘Ericka, I need a sounding board for help with this community issue in my game, can I give you 30 dollars for an hour long conversation on the phone?’ It’s tiny bits and pieces of the gig economy where I’m willing to lend my expertise to friends (and comrades) who have the time/money for it.

Hell, I’ve had a lot of those conversations for free too. I’m working on being better about getting paid for my art and not performing free social, emotional, or professional labor for people when I am actually trying to do this for a living. It’s not even a living right now. Every bit of money that I make in gaming (because I am privileged to have a day job that covers living expenses) I am putting straight back into gaming. I have a separate bank account where all the money goes and I pull out of that first to buy props, costumes, food, plane tickets, convention fees, etc. Every game I go to makes me a better gamer elsewhere, I believe. I learn more from each experience. Therefore, I’m trying to directly give back to the community that pays me for these experiences. That being said, I’m still making some money in gaming beyond those tiny consultation and copy editing fees. This is where that money comes from:

Pertho Productions: I recently became a member of the board of the production company which runs Dead Legends. This has come with no actual money yet (as we’re dedicated to putting the money straight back into the company.) But I get a routine, small stipend from being the Head Writer at Dead Legends. That stipend pays for my gas, food, and a bit of costuming each month and that is it. Still, it goes into the ‘LARP account’ as money I have set aside to only spend on LARPing in the future.

Patreon: I run a small Patreon where I have just under 50 supporters. Many of them are only a dollar a month, but they are giving that as a cheer and support to keep doing the work. I make just over 200 dollars a month off this Patreon. However, you do not have to support my Patreon to get access to anything I am writing in gaming. All the content on my Patreon also goes live to the public on my blog, the Patreons just get to see it first. Sometimes I ask Patreons for direct feedback, suggestions on guest bloggers, or offer them a chance to highlight their own experiences in my blog. I have a level of sponsorship on the Patreon that allows you to request 1 blog a month and several gaming companies will often request blogs about their games. I acknowledge this is a form of marketing, but I retain full editorial control over those blogs. They often take the form of Q&As which help inform my audience if they wish to attend certain games or not. No one can just ask for free, biased marketing through my Patreon.

I’ve also set Patreon goals, two of which have been reached. The Patreon money is going to go directly to buying a GoPro and a properly hosted WordPress site, probably sometime in the near future. I want to be able to bring my readers more accessible content and massive swaths of text isn’t always the easiest thing for people to parse through. Therefore, if I can bring some basic video content and have an easier to read website, I’ll be able to get this information out to a greater audience AND make it more accessible to my current audience.

Sinking Ship Creations: Sinking Ship was one of the first companies to hire me formally as a consultant for head staff position. I was their Head Storyteller for Project Ascension and I receive a reasonable fee for that work. It included creating the entire workshop from the ground up, many consulting sessions over the course of the game, a LARGE amount of copy editing, and story direction on the ground during the event. Now, Sinking Ship has been one of my longest standing higher level Patreons. They routinely request blogs that discuss they work they are doing in gaming. I’m excited to cover their newest project, The Morality Machine, and am operating in a journalistic capacity nowadays where Sinking Ship is concerned. While they can ask me to write a blog, once more, they have no control over what I say to my audience. I’m doing more reviewing and investigation about their work than straight up marketing.

HLG Con: I was invited earlier this year to be a Guest of Honor at HLG Con, due to my work and writing in the greater LARP-o-sphere. That invitation came with a free ticket to the convention, a ticket to the marquee LARPs, and a hotel room for the time of the con. In return, I’ll be speaking on a keynote panel, several other game design panels (especially women focused ones), and running a game they offered as one of their Kickstarter rewards. They have never asked me to market for their convention, but I’ve talked about it many times as I’ve been really excited to be a part of things. I want to be able to have these high level gaming discussions in a new and changing game arena, and HLG seemed like a great place to hold these panels as well as do idea-jam sessions with some of the biggest minds in North American LARP. So, while I’m not getting any pay from HLG, I am getting a free ride and I’m excited to be a part of it all.

 

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