Thoughts on Up The Game 2017

We’ve had a lot of incredible experiences over our nearly three years of escape room blogging. Among the most memorable: being flown to The Netherlands to deliver a talk to a packed audience from the stage of a chapel in a retired prison.

Lisa and David standing in front of the castle-like gates of the Breda Prison Dome
Time to go to prison.

There weren’t a lot of North Americans in Breda for Up The Game 2017, so I’m going to do my best to fill people in on the happenings of the European escape room conference.

Before we begin… an unnecessary explanation of The Netherlands vs. Holland:

The games of The Netherlands

Over the next month or so we’ll publish reviews of the 10 escape rooms that we played in The Netherlands.

Spoiler: There wasn’t a dud in the batch.

We played based on enthusiast recommendations, as we usually do when traveling, and not a single game let us down. The weakest room escape that we played would be a mighty game in any market that we have visited to date. I am so excited to publish these reviews and share our experiences and observations.

Each escape room that we played was clearly a labor of love. Some were commercialized and designed to drive revenue while others were passionately crafted hobbies or side projects. We did not encounter any low quality cash grab experiences (although we have been assured that they exist in Europe as well).

Unprompted, almost everyone we spoke to eagerly told us which they felt were the best room escape companies in either The Netherlands or Europe. The recommendations were staggeringly consistent. This is a phenomenon that we have not encountered in North America.

People were also eager to tell us which companies were dreadful. Again, the results were similarly consistent. This is a phenomenon that we regularly encounter in North America.

The venue

Up The Game was hosted in the Breda Prison Dome.

Image of the massive and beautiful dome of prison cells.

The Netherlands reformed their drug laws many years ago and started treating drug addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. As a result, their prison population has shrunk dramatically leaving them with a lot of empty prisons. Some of these prisons, like The Breda Prison Dome, have been turned into escape experience venues.

The prison dome's floor with lots of people standing about conversing.

I used to work for a district attorney and I’ve seen the inside of a couple of prisons. This was the first one that I would describe as beautiful. It made for an intense and incredibly cool surrounding for an escape room conference.

A puzzle & an Easter egg

The conference organizers broke a puzzle into many pieces and hid it among the attendees’ badges.

A successful solve of the puzzle resulted in a map of the Prison Dome with a distant room X’ed. This room housed a freakshow photoshoot.

For your viewing pleasure:

David's head on a platter surrouned by fruit. He looks dead.

Talks & recordings

We weren’t quite as busy at Up The Game as we were at the North American conference (on account of far fewer people knowing who we were), so we attended more than a couple of talks. These talks were recorded, but I do not yet know how or when they will be released.

Lisa and David on stage speaking to a full house in the chapel on the prison dome.

Image of Ken Ferguson of The Logic Escapes Me & Exit Games UK

A few highlights:

  • Scott Nicholson passionately chronicled his experiences and trials as “The Creator” of the Red Bull Mindgamers Escape Room World Championship. His presentation was a lot more open and raw than I was expecting, and it was great to hear his perspective on the event.
  • Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames gave us context for SCRAP in her discussion of trends in the different Asian markets.
  • Pop-ups, obsession with technology, the lure of replayability, standard and stable pricing, and the growth of escape room marketing are not only North American trends, but also European ones.
  • Stephanie Allen from Punchdrunk gave us a finer appreciation of Sleep No More… and the packed audience demonstrated how closely interactive theater and escape rooms are intertwined.

We also missed a talk about intellectual property in escape rooms from Matthew Lee of Enigma Room Sydney, a 2016 Golden Lock-In recipient. I really wish we’d caught that one.

Meeting new folks

As with the North American conference, the highlight for us was meeting people. We had so many wonderful conversations with new and old friends alike. These conversations with owners and players from across Europe added fuel to our desire to see more of what the European market has to offer.

There were a number of people like Ken Ferguson, writer of The Logic Escapes Me & Exit Games UK, whom we’ve known for a couple of years over the Internet and finally got to meet in meatspace. For those who are interested… yes… He is spectacularly British.

A thank you

The organizers of Up The Game did a marvelous job of taking care of us. From the escape room recommendations to the travel and lodging accommodations, they made us so comfortable. We are deeply appreciative and hope that we lived up to their and the audience’s expectations. We had so much fun and hope that we can return next year. There are so many more escape rooms to play and conversations to have.

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