Essential Strategies for Creating a Great Escape Room Part 1

2020.12.21.

If you play escape room games, then after playing a few, you'll begin to see a pattern emerge of what makes one game successful and another fall flat. The truth is that not all escape games are equal. Not every owner opens a game that works well off the bat. If you look at the number of businesses around the world you'll see that the escape room niche is still growing, albeit slower than a decade ago. In the UK there are around 160 escape room games, in Toronto over 100, and in Amsterdam over 140. In large and small cities all over the globe, escape room businesses are opening and closing each and every month.

So the question is; how do you make your escape room business a success? To answer that question we first need to ask ourselves what we consider t be a great escape room experience? The following list is really for owners to peruse before they start putting down a deposit to rent a space. At Exit The Room, we have over twelve years of experience in running a successful escape room business that has been expanding continuously. These tips represent many of the things we've learned the hard way.

Understand Your Audience

Right at the start, you'll need to be sure as to who you're entertaining. Do you want to be totally family-friendly? Or do you want to run horror-themed games? Will your games have a high level of difficulty? It's super important that you know your audience, what they require, and what their expectations are. You must provide games marketed exactly to the level at which your customers will be happy. If you have several rooms, then maybe you'll be able to provide a different experience across a larger customer base.

Location, Location, Location

Location is so important, that we've written it three times! Obviously, you want to be around a certain amount of foot traffic. But don't break your head if central locations are too expensive. In reality, where you are exactly isn't so important, just as long as you're able to create enough buzz to bring the players to you. One thing to keep in mind is that the "build-up" to the game is important. By this we mean, the atmosphere that the players will experience even before the games begin. For example, descending to a dark basement might be more exciting than taking the lift to the third floor. As such, you should "window dress" as much as possible, from the area first entered. make sure all your public areas are themed in the same factors that go hand in hand with your branding. 

Write The Narrative To Fit Your Space

It's a given that whatever story you have in mind, it must fit the space provided. You may well have the best escape room plan, but if it doesn't fit the space, then it's all for nothing. So, first things first, examine the space/room you have. Check it's limitations. Only then should you start with your game plan. And the best way to start this is by making a story-board. Just like making a movie, draw out all the escape room elements so you can see the "flow" of the game. Doing this will allow you to see more clearly any possible problems between the story and the available space.

Decide Between A Linear Or A Multi-linear Concept

This will be determined by both your space and your story. Multi-linear designs will have several different paths that will eventually lead to a singular point. That means there's more for the players to think about, as they have to tie together all the loose ends. In movie terms, think of a Christopher Nolan film, like Inception, with lots of narrative elements all over the place that gradually converge together.  

Create A Believable Narrative

The more you can immerse your players in the game, then the better the overall experience they'll have. Your job with the story is to create a believable world that the players can then engage with. You need to cover all aspects, from the tiniest details to the big picture. Whether dealing with the geography, the architecture, the props, and sounds and lighting, everything must be totally in tune with your initial story. If it's not meaningful or engaging, then your customers will not feel completely involved. 

Detail Your Main Protagonist

Many games will be centered around a single character, who we're either meant to follow or avoid at all costs. To this end, we need to make him/her believable. That means describing them well, with all things like appearance and behavior well described. This character is an essential part of the overall narrative and so should be fleshed out equally so.

Game Design For Optimal Flow

When designing your escape room game, you'll need to ensure that the players are guided through the experience from A to Z. This means using a series of "signposts" that will help keep the story flowing in the right direction. You also want to keep the game well-paced. The way to do this is to have puzzles and riddles that the players are forced to interact with to find solutions. You should ideally make the puzzles more difficult, the closer the players are to completing the course.

Make Puzzles Interesting And Challenging

Players entering your escape room game will have certain expectations. And part of your job is to ensure that the majority of these are fulfilled. If you don't allow players to triumph, then they will feel unhappy. Part of it comes down to the fact that they pay for the experience and so want an outcome that's favorable to themselves. You'll have to check and then double-check the level of difficulty of your games. Make them too easy, and everyone will be disappointed. make them too complex and difficult and the players will feel ripped off. 

Though the game will last for one hour, you'll still need means to keep the customers occupied. Anyone's attention span is going to wain if the game's puzzles are too hard to fathom. So you must have a huge range of puzzles and riddles so that all levels of players can find some benefit during gameplay. Another way of keeping all the players immersed is to have clues that encourage teamwork. For example, a clue that requires mathematics can be worked on by one team, whilst another is checking out their results on a combination lock as they call them out.

Red Herrings Should Fit The Theme And Narrative

On the whole, we don't like introducing red herrings. We prefer that every object in the room has a defined purpose. If the games are well thought out, then there should be enough going on without introducing anything of surplus. Having said that, we are well aware, that many escape room games like to include some red herrings into the mix to spice things up a bit. if you do take this route, then be sure that they fit in with the narrative and the theme.

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