Escape Room Game Length [Design Tips]

Escape room game timers are 60 minutes. Right?

While this has been the standard game clock so far, it is not the only option.

I have seen brilliant games of all lengths. Rather than recommend a length, I aim to help designers understand the implications of different game lengths.

Stylized image of three beautifully handcrafted, minimalistic wood clocks.

Longer games

Most longer games are 65 – 70 minutes. A few stretch to 90 minutes, which is an astonishingly lengthy escape room.

Pro: more adventure puzzling for the dollar… so long as the game is truly worth playing.

Con: beware of filler content… which is not worth it to either players or designers

Examples: Omescape in New York City and Locurio in Seattle both use 70-minute game clocks. The Great Houdini Escape Room and the Roosevelt Escape Room at Palace Games in San Francisco have 80- and 90-minute game clocks, respectively.

Shorter games

The less-than-60-minute formats are most interesting because they are incredibly varied.

Pro:  No room for filler. It’s all solid adventure and puzzles (when it’s done well).

Con: Pricing considerations. If a 15 minute game costs $15, that’s a dollar per minute. If you escape in half of the time, the experience essentially cost $2 per minute… that’s a lot of money for such brief entertainment. Choose price wisely for shorter escape rooms.

Note: An exceptionally short clock leaves nearly no tolerance for error.

Examples: We’ve seen a pair of free corporate-sponsored games that were 10 minutes each for up to 4 players. We’ve encountered a single player 15-minute game at Komnata Quest. There are quite a few 20- to 30-minute games for smaller groups.

There are a few companies like Escape Room Live that have adopted 45- or 50-minute game clocks simply because it allows them to easily run escape rooms on the hour.

Magic time

Also known as the unlimited game clock (within reason).

Pro: Players may exceed the game clock in order to see absolutely every detail of the experience.

Con: Companies need to leave substantial gaps in between start times in order to accommodate the uncertainty that this introduces into the system. The predictability of a fixed start and stop times allows for narrower reset windows between games.

I’ve only experienced magic time twice: both of the aforementioned Houdini and Roosevelt rooms at Palace Games in San Francisco are massive, long, and expensive games. Palace Games has opted for premium pricing for their extra long, high-end games. When you want to play one of these games, you have to buy out the entire room for approximately $410.

Pro: That price point buys magic time for you and up to 11 friends. You will get to experience the entire lengthy puzzling adventure.

Con: A solo player passing through San Francisco will have a hard time fielding a team large enough to justify the cost of admission. Also, it’s a better experience with a smaller team.

Game length is a choice

Any of these options can be great.

Make your game length a deliberate decision. Don’t choose a 60-minute timer simply because that’s what most escape room companies do.

If you have 50 minutes worth of great content, then don’t bother with 10 minutes of filler.

If you have 70 minutes worth of amazing gaming, then charge a couple bucks more and extend the game clock.

If quality is your compass, you won’t go astray.

Beyond that, be sure that you’re offering the proper value to your players when you price your game, especially if it’s short.

2 thoughts on “Escape Room Game Length [Design Tips]

  1. I played a game recently that had a 70 minute clock – the first time I’ve truly felt that a company extended a game because they felt that it was just a little harder, rather than change the format (puzzles/clues) to make it fit. I really welcomed that.

    On the fifteen minute games, I think it’s almost impossible to make them work well for everyone – either they’re really simple for experienced players or they’re impossible/require lots of clues for beginners. There’s no time for people to learn how to play an escape room. The only exception to this is one that’s somehow intuitive for everyone but then you lose the excitement of solving puzzles – it’s just a case of doing what you obviously have to do.

    Personally (and I know you avoided looking at the “right” length of time), I think 60 minutes is a good amount of time to keep the interest of new players while still giving them something meaty to get their teeth into. I really enjoy the 90 minute games as an enthusiast but I also realise we’re a niche market.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I generally agree with you Ken.

      15 minute games are problematic because in most games, it’s possible for a strong team to get out in half of the time. If you have an hour game, that’s still a solid 30 minutes of gameplay. 7.5 minutes is rough unless there is an adjustable price model.

      I would love to see 15 minute games have a price that correlates with the amount of time that you’re playing. I’m thinking something like: The game costs a dollar a minute per player. The most that it will cost is $15 per ticket, but if you get out in 10 minutes, it costs $10.

      Like

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