The Biggest Risk to Escape Rooms
Escape rooms seem to have blown up in popularity over the past three years. They were relatively unheard of in the United States a few years ago. Now there are dozens in each major city across the country. Charlotte is no different. One of the reasons they are so popular is that they provide an interactive, experiential form of entertainment vs the many passive forms of entertainment we have come to love – like movies.
As escape rooms have become more mainstream, lots of people it seems want to start their own. Heck, I’m one of those people! And while at times I have questioned if Charlotte is big enough to add another escape room, what worries me much more than having too many escape rooms in one city, is having bad escape rooms.
Good escape rooms breed excitement for more escape rooms. Think about the first time you played one. You loved it, right!? Then you wanted to play more. This is great for the escape room industry because you can only play a given game once. Once you have played it, it’s done. You know the clues. You know the puzzles. You know the outcome. Regardless of if you beat the room or not, you had a great time and want to try another escape room – hopefully. The problem arises when you have a bad experience, especially if your first experience is lousy.
While it is possible to start up an escape room with four walls and just a few props, it likely will not provide a satisfying experience that will make customers want to come back and try another one. A good escape room requires much more than just a few padlocks.
So the answer is simple. What’s the biggest risk to escape rooms? Bad escape rooms.
Makeup of a Good Escape Room
There are a few key elements required to make a good escape room.
Start with a strong theme. The theme should be evident in the background story of the room, in the décor of the room, and the puzzles should also relate to the theme. For example, I visited an escape room a year or so ago where the theme advertised was a plane hijacking. When I got there, they explained that the hijacking was just the back story, now I was kidnapped by the hijacker and needed to escape his basement cellar. Ummmmmm, needing to escape from a kidnapper is not at all the theme advertised! To be fair, it’s not a bad theme, but the entire game had nothing to do with a plane hijacking.
Good rooms have good puzzles. Puzzles should not be random or just trial and error. I don’t want to guess my way through a game. I want to use the clues given to build up to an answer. I want to put the pieces together and have it be logical. If you’ve played enough games, you’ve seen the random puzzle or clue. Some I’ve seen include a demon in a room that wasn’t meant to be scary or a QR code in a room that didn’t work. The game master even admitted afterwards, “Yeah, that QR code rarely works.” What!?!?
Props need to work! Nothing is more frustrating than when you figure out a clue and you put in the correct answer and the given lock does not open! It really kills the vibe of the game when the game master has to intervene and tell you “no, you are doing it right, just push the buttons a little harder” or “just wiggle the knob a bit more.” You get the idea. If you pay money to play a game – it needs to work.
When escape rooms pop up and they don’t have carefully crafted themes, their puzzles are trite and random, or their props don’t work, it truly makes for a frustrating experience. People like to be challenged, not frustrated by others lack of attention to detail. It is these escape rooms that worry me. I fear that if someone goes and has a bad time at one of these establishments, they will never try an escape room again, and they will miss out on the true joy that comes from playing a top notch escape room.