How to Ruin an Escape Room Experience

2021.02.10.

Running a busy escape room complex in the heart of Budapest in Hungary, we have a very good idea of what makes the escape room experience great. But there are many players in this gaming space. Some are nothing but excellent. Others have a little way to go. If, as a customer you book an escape room game, then'll there'll be some basic expectations. Unfortunately there are a number of businesses that fail to embrace all the necessary points that make an escape room a stimulating experience. Let's have a look in no particular order at some common escape room mistakes.

Poor Design Of Puzzles

Between great and poor puzzle design there lie a multitude of sins. But whatever they might be, it's the customer who suffers. They will leave the escape room wondering what on earth was going on, annoyed at having wasted their money and having an bad impression of the whole escape room genre. As most feedback is word of mouth, this is a disaster for the reputation of not just the room played, but it taints all escape rooms by default. 

A common fault, and one that's really down to laziness, is the re-using of the same clues. This will only cause confusion. It's the same story will having to solve a huge number of puzzles from the same set of clues. Like finding a persons date of birth, his shoe size the color of his eyes and how tall he is, all from the same set of torn up paper clues strewn about the room. It's confusing and ultimately, boring. Another common error is having props that really shouldn't move. Players are going to be touching and moving around everything they can get their hands on. If by moving a certain prop it makes the puzzle unsolvable, then that's down to bad design.

Sometime items will be too well hidden which is super annoying. Considering that the clock is mercilessly counting down the time, then spending 15 minutes to find a key is unacceptable. Of course hiding an object is much easier than devising a proper well thought out clue. It really shows a lack of thinking. Hiding something is not a clue! And that leads us on to non-functioning clues. With more and more technology being involved in today's games, then the probability of failure increases. Of course things can also go amiss with basic low tech puzzles like pad locks. Again this tends to point to laziness in that the Games Master didn't check the room properly before the game started. But there's nothing quite like a non-working prop or clue to throw a complete spanner in the works and ruin a game.

Ruin An Escape Room: Bad Introductions 

Escape room games are really all about team work. And part and parcel of the team experience also includes the Games Master themselves. When you first enter the room everything will be gobbledygook without a proper explanation of the back story narrative. A bad introduction, or one that's rushed and therefore missing important factors, can easily break a game and turn what should of been an enjoyable experience into an exercise in pure frustration. Between reading off the story from a piece of paper, to forgetting to even mention the back story, we've heard it all! The game experience should be totally immersive, and is designed to put the players in the mood by setting up the overall atmosphere. Missing out on the back story narrative will ruin the whole point. 

Ruin An Escape Room: Bad Debriefings

The same goes for the debriefing. It's purpose is to allow the players to speak about their individual experience as well as talk through points and clues that might of been missed or couldn't be solved. This exciting coming down time is also important for letting everyone bond even more. After a game the atmosphere has a certain electricity about it. Groups of people have shared a mad rush to find solutions together. The game has bought them that tiny bit closer. The exuberance that fills the room afterwards is something to be savored and enjoyed. Missing out on this is a huge no-no. It can feel as if there's something missing as this important time for coming down to earth has been stifled. It can end up with the feeling of you having paid for something, and then you're ceremoniously kicked out. There's the sensation that things were left incomplete.   

A proper debriefing should include going through the room again. There will be lots of questions to be answered by the Games Master, as well as comments and massive debates around the meaning of clues and puzzles. You're letting the players re-live the experience, but in the post-game calmness. We've certainly seen our share of rooms where the players were simply escorted out of the room, with a few minutes of chat, maybe a photo, and then asked to leave. You'll then see these groups of players, standing awkwardly on the street at the entrance. 

Way Too many Distraction

This is a common fault for those who are just starting their escape room businesses. And in many ways it comes about via laziness. Devising real immersive puzzle stakes time. So it's so much easier to have irrelevant factors that simply prolong the time taken to work your way through all the proper clues. Often times you'll be faced with hundreds of pieces of paper on a desk, with all but one of them being useful for the game play. This is a champion waste of time, will take the players out of the immersive aspects of the game and lead to needless frustration. Less distractions and more real clues and puzzles is the answer. 

Not Preparing The Room Properly Before The Game Starts

Though (fingers crossed) it's never happened to us, we've heard some awful stories about how some escape rooms weren't ready at the start of the game. After each game, it's the Game Master's job to go through the room, resetting all the locks and making sure that all the clues and puzzles are in order. As people are paying for the escape room experience, then there's really no excuse for sloppiness. The most hilarious are when the players are asked to return to a previous room or section simply because the Games Master forgot to lock the main room properly. Being told that we'll let you know when you can come through is going to kill the immersive elements pretty quickly. 

Bad Hints And Hints With Bad Timing

We get it...every now and then you'll all be stuck at a particular part of the game. This can be for many reasons, but most commonly it's down to beginners not being able to see something hiding in plain sight. Often times the players are looking too deeply and so miss the obvious. This is probably the most skilled part of the Game Masters job. Knowing when to butt in and knowing to what degree they should offer up some help. Give a hint too early on and you'l be taking the wind from the sails of the players. Give hints too often and the players will feel impotent, as if they did non of the work. Give hints too late, and then the players will struggle to finish the game within the time limits. Though there's no perfect hint system, there are plenty of ways you can ruin the game experience. probably the best solution is that the games master has an eye on the clock and ensures that the hints and their solutions allow just enough time for the players to complete the room.

Conclusion: How To Ruin An Escape Room

In summation, there are so many things that can go sideways when organizing and playing escape room games. What makes things even more difficult is the the game play is in real-time. And that's why, ladies and gentlemen, it's imperative to have well trained and competent Games Masters.
 

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