Stop me if you’ve heard this one “I saw a facebook post where some guy said he was charging $30 per player to run a Dungeons and Dragons game session, wtf?” It’s an interesting question that leads to a series of more interesting questions that run the gamut of ideas and philosophies. Questions like…
- I provide a service as a Game Master/Dungeon Master, why shouldn’t i make a little money?
- Can I charge for running a game?
- How would i do that?
- What about the other stuff that goes into it?
- If i host a Livestream game that accepts tips, do i split that with my players?
To name just a few of these questions. Now before everyone develops an emotional reaction and starts screaming about this, let’s take a look at some differences and some thoughts and ideas. Whether we like it or not, there are going to be ventures into monetizing gaming, and like the Joker says “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Let’s think this through on a couple of different points of interest, and see what we can come up with as a basis for having a conversation about putting this together.
Running a Gaming location vs. Running a Game
To me, this is the single most important aspect of this “pay to play” ideation. If you are setting up a hosting location that provides table space and resources to encourage players to gather and play games, you’re going to need to consider a lot of different resources and the level of commitment you’re willing to provide for players and game masters. This is very different from the level of support a GM provides for players when running a game at a store, or a convention. Let’s examine the various resources a hosting location can provide.
Probably the most important physical thing a gaming session needs is a place to settle down and play. The level of furnishment of this space will vary greatly, but the bare minimum floor, walls, and ceiling coupled with environmental maintenance (heating and cooling) are essential for putting together a place to play. Assuming you need space for 1 GM and between say 3 and 7 players (looking at you Adventurer’s League) you’re looking at probably a 20 by 20 room (Yep, we’re expressing this in terms of dungeon building). You probably want decent heating and cooling, and most importantly to most of us, ventilation. D & D (and gaming in general) produces a lot of body heat, and you want that heat to go somewhere. Ideally, we’re looking at an enclosed space with its own doors (to keep your group from bothering the neighbors and vice versa). Most groups will need some light sockets, for a variety of reasons (ambient lighting, laptops/computers/other electronica).
The other major space that a location like this is going to need is a storage space for all of the gaming supplies that aren’t in use. Dice, books, miniatures, playmats, and a host of other peripheral accessories can be used for a gaming host, and they occupy real estate. Finding the best place to store this stuff in an easily accessible yet out of the way space is a fun logic puzzle for a different day. Labels are essential, and knowing what is stored where is going to save a lot of frustration and irritation in the long run. Depending on where you live, a space like this can vary widely in price and maintenance, but you have to consider the costs of maintaining the physical space.
So you’ve got a space now, but most of us aren’t going to sit on a floor to play D & D for an extended period of time (if you can, more power to you, but my back won’t take it for extended periods anymore). So what do you want to furnish a spot like this with? You need to consider the flooring, because it’s what your feet and the rest of the furnishings sit on top of. Concrete floors are not ideal in the long run. Make sure it’s comfortable to stand on, and cleans up well/easily. So after we cover the floor, there are the following considerations:
- Table: Probably the centerpiece of any gaming setup, the table for a gaming area is probably the most critical piece of furniture you’re going to invest in. There is an amazing assortment of playing surfaces you can pick up for your gaming needs, but my key considerations are to make sure you have enough playing space for the maximum number of players suggested for an area. (with our existing example, we need playing space for 8 people and their dice, sheets, and other resources). You can spend a crazy amount of money on a table, but you can also find very functional tables if you’re willing to look outside the “gaming table” market.
- Seating: Everyone looks at the table first, but i personally think chairs are as critical to a gaming setup as the table. You’re going to be using these pieces of furniture for around four hours at a shot, so make sure you pick comfy chairs for this. Flimsy chairs or uncomfortable chairs are not ideal for this purpose, so don’t scrimp on chairs.
- Light Sources: Unless you have an overhead lighting that provides enough light to shine all over the room, you’re going to need at least one, and possibly more sources of light. Lamps are probably your friend in this endeavor, and these are a matter of personal design and decorating taste, but you should be aware that you may need them.
So we’ve got a space and a gaming setup, and we could stop right here with our provision of a gaming space. What will separate this space from others are the resources that the space also provides. What’s that consist of? All sorts of treats, accessories and other things that can be offered to improve the gaming environment. Let’s look at a potential list of the resources a gaming space can provide.
- Books: The first and most prevalent resource that a gaming space can provide is the books needed to play the game. Some game systems require more books, and this can be an extensive library of books.
- Maps: If the group playing uses Maps, then one of the easiest resources to provide is maps. You can provide Blank Graph paper pads for DMs that are building their own maps, or you can provide playmats from a variety of manufacturers. If you’re feeling truly adventurous, you can consider picking up 3D gaming terrain from a variety of manufacturers on the market.
- Miniatures: This is where a lot of cash can get spent very quickly. The tokens, pawns, miniatures pool of accessories is astonishingly deep and ranges from simple cut out tokens, all the way up to custom 3D printed individually painted miniatures made from diamonds. We’re kidding about the diamonds part, but you can find great variety and options for the playing pieces that represent the characters and the monsters they have to overcome.
- Dice: Everybody needs them, so why not provide them?
- Character Sheets: Beyond having a stockpile of ready to go pre-generated characters for new players to jump right in, you also have to consider the availability of printing additional sheets as they’re needed.
- Electronic Resources: Applications like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 are alternatives to traditional tabletop gaming. Providing memberships and access to these resources are potentials. Beyond that, providing Wi-Fi for the location is probably a boon to anyone using the internet for other applications.
- Dungeon/Game Masters: This one’s a little bit different to wrap the brain around, but if you knew that the space you were going to had a game master available to run a game, help you with your character and work on some of the other outside the game aspects of D & D, i think it would be a fairly valuable resource for a gaming space to provide.
- Gathering spots: Outside of the gaming space itself, being able to provide meeting spots for other gamers can cement a host like this as a key hub for the gaming community. Knowing that you can find other gamers who might be looking for a game or hosting stuff is a boon for the folks who are looking.
- Retail Options: Being able to buy stuff for the game at the same location you play the game is a pretty cool option, if you can swing it.
- Snacks/meals/drinks/liquor: The Game cafe is a real thing, and being able to provide a space to play games, eat food and socialize with your friends while playing D & D might be neat.
- Prep work: Not in terms of writing out the adventure, but having someone pull all the monsters and maps you need for an adventure sounds like something that would be superbly cool.
Thoughts on Hosting/Running
So the question to me is essentially “Would i be willing to put in a fixed dollar amount to help build/become a member of an organization that hosts gaming events with all the bells and whistles?” This is a very different question than “Am i willing to pay this guy money for running a Dungeons and Dragons game?” The answer to the first question is a qualified yes, the primary qualifications falling along the lines of i need more information, but in principle and on paper, probably. Having a social club/cafe that provides the space for gaming and all of the tools of the trade so that all i really have to do is show up with my character and play feels like a very appealing concept.
Now, the answer to the second question is maybe. If it’s a charity event, and someone from Wizards, or one of the other publishers of role-playing games is offering a “Buy a seat, play a game” ticket or promotion, i might be up for that. Under less amazing circumstances, i would probably graciously decline.
There are a few issues to keep in mind for operating a space like this, so let’s take a look at a couple of other incidental costs/potential snags
- Scheduling: Basically, you are building the mega shiny deluxe gaming space, and if you’ve done it right, people should be lined up around the block to play in it. This means that you’re going to have to put in a schedule to make sure that everyone gets their chance to play and this can be a headache.
- Resource scarcity: It’s possible to have multiple gaming groups operating in the same space, in separate areas. This becomes tricky when you have a situation where 1 table is running through a necromancer, table 2 is exploring an ancient tomb, and table 3 is dealing with a skeletal pirate crew. The problem is, you don’t have that many skeletons. This can be mitigated by picking up additional resources, or by scheduling creatively.
- Repairs: Someone’s going to break something eventually. It’s a part of the process of having a space like this that a map will get something spilled on it, a miniature will break, a chair might shatter, or some other equally creative accident will occur. First, hopefully you have insurance to cover a contingency like this, but you also should consider needing a fill in piece of gear or equipment while the replacement is acquired.
- Licenses/permits/regulations: Don’t break the law when building the gaming space of your fascinations.
Let’s loop back to the original idea of running a game for profit or hosting a gaming location. If you’re going to provide a hosting service like this, you should certainly make sure that you don’t lose money at it. Some folks are going to tell you it’s a labor of love, or do it for the sake of the fun you have playing the game. That’s an idea that i don’t disagree with, but you are going way, way above and beyond what i typically expect of a gaming host to provide.
If you are looking for a way to monetize gaming, i say fair enough. If you have devoted your life to it, and you think you have found a niche that will let you turn your love for games into currency, then more power to you. However, if you’re going to put up a price for your services, i strongly suggest you consider what the current market provides, and what the rest of your local community considers a fair price for your services.
Final Thoughts for now
We’re looking at a strange, bizarre new world of gaming. Game cafes are opening up all over the place. We’re seeing a diffusion of livestreaming and podcasting from sources all over the world. You can find 40+ hours of Role-playing game content on a combination of video providing platforms and apps. I think that we’re going to see an uptick in “premium” game providers and hosting locations in the next four or five years as people continue to see Gamers as a new market for a variety of services, things, and stuff. We’re probably going to see a bunch of these open up, and close rapidly as people get in over their heads. I think we can put our heads together and figure out how to make places like this work, and find new places and people to work with.
Do i think there exists a rationale for charging players to run a D & D game? If you are the hosting venue and providing services and resources above and beyond what would normally be expected at a place? Probably. If you’re DMing for a home game or a convention, i am not sure i can justify charging players for the game.
Anyway, that’s my ramble for now, i hope this makes sense to the rest of you.
Game On, Game Fans