We spent the opening days of May at the Niagara Falls Escape Room Conference. This gathering of over 1,000 people from across the escape room world was a wonderful experience.
Transworld, the show organizer, was completely prepared for the crowd this year. With their full staff, the lines, bottlenecks, and confusion that frustrated so many show attendees in Chicago in 2016 were, as far as I could tell, not present this time around.
With that out of the way, here are a few of my observations from this year’s show:
We saw an insatiable thirst for technology. It was off-putting how often we heard people say something along the lines of, “I have a gen 1 game and I’m looking to make a gen 2 game.”
When we interviewed Shawn Fischtein of Escape Games Canada last year and published that discussion about his generational definitions, we were publishing an interesting conversation. No one involved intended for this to become industry-wide jargon.
At Room Escape Artist, we have never referenced “generations” once in a review or commentary. These generations are a basic construct for thinking about technology, but technology in an escape room does not have inherent value. There are brilliant room escapes without tech and there are terrible room escapes with tech-heavy builds costing over $100,000.
We were surprised to hear so many owners reference these technology generations as if they were incremental steps in escape room progress, and therefore something to strive for.
Our message has always been: focus on fun and gameflow. Tech and set design are tools to help with these. The core mechanics must be present, however, or all you have is a very pretty, very expensive room with a crappy game built into it.
Marketing & differentiation
More than at last year’s conference, we heard a lot of angst about market definition and differentiation. As local markets fill with similarly named companies, it has grown increasingly difficult to stand out.
Our panel on collaboration across companies within local markets was abuzz with discussion about how to better work together and how to deal with bad actors within the a local community.
Our hope is that more companies will focus on providing an exceptional player experience, co-promote other great companies in the region, and grow strong, eager player communities. Ultimately this industry will live or die based on everyone’s collective ability to foster regular gameplay.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin:
“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Still no puzzles
I still wish that there had been a greater focus on puzzle design and game mechanics in the talks and on the tradeshow floor.
On the other hand, we didn’t have tons of people approaching us and expressing their total dislike of puzzles, which happened a lot last year. #Progress
In Chicago last year there were a number of owners and prospective owners who heckled speakers and were painfully cynical in conversation. This year that wasn’t an issue. I think I only spoke to one person who was looking at escape rooms as a cash grab opportunity.
The attendees at large felt a lot more calm, thoughtful, and mature, which made our many conversations so much fun.
It is possible that the cynics just avoided us… and that’s fine too.
How to support Room Escape Artist
Last year a lot of owners asked how they could support us; we didn’t have an answer. While we would happily accept money, we don’t want to know where it comes from, as this could compromise our commitment to neutral review. This year we showed up with a solution that we have been beta testing for 6 months.
If you want to support us, simply use our Amazon link to purchase goods for your escape room (or anything else). It has zero effect on your Amazon experience and we pick up 4-10% of the sale depending upon the item.
We don’t know who’s buying what, so we cannot be in a position to play favorites. This solution allows escape room owners as well as enthusiast readers to support us without direct financial relationships.
If you’re willing to favorite this link and use it in the future, please know that we will never know who you are, but we deeply appreciate the support.
If you’re in Canada, we’re working on a link for you. Stay tuned.
Props 4 sale
Like last year, there were a lot of prop makers selling Arduino and Rasberry Pi driven props. They looked great and cost a pretty penny.
I continue to worry about the lack of a substantive service model for these devices. The folks buying ready-made props lack the technical know-how to build these things in the first place, so I don’t understand what they plan to do when these props fail.
Every single escape room operator should have at least one backup plan for every single element of the player experience. Shit happens. Please be ready for it.
At our booth this year we set up a pair of lock trees to demo many interesting padlocks. We ran little crash courses on the finer points of lock design, as well as how to identify locks that will be less likely to break. For those who are interested, these are some of the crowd favorites from our booth:
Trick Lock (which we strongly discourage you from using in an escape room, but could be a nice lobby puzzle)
The strange but entertaining line of Mindy Locks
Stay tuned, we’ll be writing reviews of each of these and more over the coming months.
Seeing old friends & making new ones
Over the past few years, we’ve met so many wonderful people through this industry. These conferences are like reunions.
To all of the people that we spoke to (except for that one cynical dude), it was a pleasure chatting with you. We were so insanely busy, but we had so much fun.
Also, we extend a special thank you to our regular teammates and dear friends Jason Lisnak and Lindsay Froelich for running our booth and making sure that we could eat. We could not have done this without you two.
The next conference location and date have not been announced yet, but we are looking forward to it nonetheless.
Until then, we wish everyone a productive, fulfilling, and profitable year.
(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)