Stakeholder identification and analysis is a technique you might come across in white-collar work. Its purpose is to help you identify and characterise all the other people who have a stake in your work (in other words, your “stakeholders”), whether they happen to like or hate you, whether they hold power over you, or you hold it over them. It’s the kind of thing you’ll often see in business or government settings where there’s lots of people with vaguely related (but not completely parallel) goals.
Even if you don’t work in the kind of corporate setting, though, this setup – multiple factions all pushing their own agendas and working at vague cross-purposes – may well sound familiar to you from Larp. And while actual stakeholder analysis is an important but boring piece of many peoples’ work lives, that doesn’t stop us from applying it to the trivial (but much more fun) purpose of parlour Larp design.
Step one: identify your stakeholders
To analyse your stakeholders, you must first work out who they are. Write down every stakeholder you can think of – anyone who has an interest in your work. You should think about both upstream and downstream stakeholders: that is, both people who benefit from your work, and those whose work benefits you. You may want to group whole teams together, but people in positions of power (high-level or C-suite individuals within your company, individuals within teams who hold considerable social power) may be their own stakeholders.
Pick a person or faction within your Larp. This is your focus: for the whole of this exercise, you’re going to approach the Larp like they’re the most important person here.
Now, consider who they’ll interact with over the course of the Larp. For a small Larp, you might need to list everyone. For larger games, it may well be a subset of your cast. You don’t need to write down every character: if there are four characters in a faction, and it doesn’t matter which faction member they deal with, just write them down as one entry on the list. You may end up with a faction and their leader on your list: this is fine, it just means that the faction leader (who probably has some power, and whose opinions probably matter) may have different interactions with you than their minions.
You probably do this anyway, either explicitly or on a subconscious level as you build out character’s sheets. Putting it in black and white, however, allows you some space to consider faction connections: is this faction lacking allies in the game? Do they have opposition? Are they central to the network of people in this room, or on the edges? This list also allows us to do some more in-depth analysis, as follows.
Step two: analyse your stakeholder’s interest and influence
Your stakeholders’ interactions with your team can be broken down along two different axes: interest and influence. Groups which have a high interest in your work are those which will be appreciably affected by what you do, or who have a large stake in your success or failure. Groups which have a high influence on your work are those who can either make life hard for you (for example, by witholding resources and support) or pave the way to your success. Stakeholder influence does not necessarily correlate with interest, although chances are you already know your high-interest, high-influence stakeholders.
The political part of a parlour Larp gets interesting when the scheming intersects with power and interest imbalance. For example, when Faction a wants to get x done, but doesn’t have the resources, so they have to convince Faction b to lend their support, but that faction will only do so if Faction a also supports cause y. And so on, and so forth.
We often build this network of allegiances and reliances by gut feel. Now we’ve got a framework, though, we can make it explicit. Take every faction connected to your focus faction, and consider:
- How much does that faction care whether your focus faction achieves its goals?
- How much can that faction screw with your focus faction in their quest to achieve their goals?
Interest: how much do they care?
There’s always someone who cares if you win or lose. Typically, other factions don’t want you to achieve your goal, either because your goals and theirs are mutually exclusive, or because you achieving your goal uses up some resource that they want to achieve. Don’t discount that other factions may want your focus faction to achieve their goals, however: this can be the basis for alliances, mutual understanding, and complex webs of allegiance.
When gauging a faction’s interest in your focus faction, consider: have you made this interest explicit in your handouts? Can you make it mechanical in some way? Alternatively, can you lean on personal bonds to help reinforce the faction interest (rivals, siblings, etc.)?
Influence: how much can they alter?
Similarly, every faction will always have a smidgeon of influence over every other faction, thanks to social pressure. You may want to consider also how your game’s mechanics provide factions with influence over one another (eg. through provision of scarce resources, or some kind of paper-scissors-rock heirarchy of strengths). A well-connected faction, with fingers in many pies, can have influence over other factions simply due to their social power, while a more tangential faction may require some kind of mechanical justification for their influence.
When gauging a faction’s influence over your focus faction, consider: what form does this influence take? Social or “soft” influence is often very dependent on your players, while too many mechanisms of rules-based influence can make players feel like they’re playing a board game. If the influence is soft, have you made it explicit on both sides?
We can now plot our factions on a quadrant graph of interest versus influence:
You’ll notice that this splits our factions into four categories:
- High interest/high influence: Your players have a strong motivation to interact with these characters. They have a vested interest in our focus faction’s goals, and the ability to mess with stuff. If you find yourself with unexpected factions in this quadrant, consider: why do they hold so much power? Why are they so interested in the focus faction’s goals? Do we need to update the fiction and handouts to reflect this, or do we need to change goals/mechanics to place them in a different quadrant?
- High interest/low influence: These are the victims or beneficiaries of your faction’s goals. They desperately want your faction to succeed or fail, but have no real agency to make it happen. This is a nice power imbalance that you could hinge a lot of good drama on. If you find yourself with unexpected factions in this quadrant, consider giving them some form of leverage over the focus faction (to shift them into the HI/HI camp above) or reduce their interest in your faction’s goals.
- Low interest/high influence: These are the potential benefactors your focus faction will want to sway, to help them achieve their own goals. Again, this power imbalance leads to interesting play, and some useful objectives for you to highlight to your focus faction. If you find yourself with unexpected factions in this quadrant, consider what puts them there, and why they don’t care. You may want to give them a dog in this fight, or otherwise decrease the power they hold.
- Low interest/low influence: These factions really don’t care what happens here. Factions which you haven’t listed will, by default, end up here. This quadrant is useful as a warning to you as a designer: if a faction ends up in this quadrant, you haven’t given them any levers, either mechanical or emotional, to get stuck into this faction’s business.
Step three: perform an in-depth analysis of your key stakeholders
From step two, you will have an idea of which are your key stakeholders: those which have a high interest in your work, and a large amount of influence over your success. Taking each of these key stakeholders in turn, answer the following questions:
- What does this stakeholder want from you?
- What do you want from them?
These questions will let you shape your engagement with this stakeholder.
At this point, you’ll have an idea of which factions are going to cause havoc for your focus faction: the ones with both interest and influence. You may also want to consider factions which have a lot of either interest or influence, but not much of the other.
Draw up a table of three columns, that takes the following form:
|Faction||What do they want from us?||What do we want from them?|
For each faction, see how many bullet points you can write down in each of the two columns. There should be a pattern here: those factions with influence over you will have plenty of entries in the right-hand column, while those with interest in your work will have entries in the left-hand column. Again, this is a handy check for you: if you want to make a faction more interested in what your focus faction does, engineer some more things for the left-hand column, and vice versa.
Step four: build your engagement plan
From this point, you have a strong base on which to build. Influenced by knowledge of who your stakeholders are, which ones matter, and who wants what, you can make sure you address their needs while ensuring you keep them providing you with what you need.
Now you can start building those connections between players. Unlike the poor suit doing a proper stakeholder analysis, you control both your analysis, and reality. If the analysis points out some factions which really don’t have much connecting them to other factions, you can invent reasons, limitations, or goals to keep them involved.
Your analysis can also help you with personal relationships. Want to build drama along a power imbalance? Ensure your personal links are flowing the other way. Want to add flavour to an otherwise solid high interest/high influence relationship? Make sure the movers and shakers in both factions hate each others’ guts. In the words of Vincent Baker, “fight with your friends, ally with your rivals, fall in love with your enemies”. This method has hopefully unearthed those enemies, rivals, and allies, for you to start messing with.