How Escape Room Boss Destroys Fun in Escape Rooms

Escape Room Boss offers “escape room game management software” as an iPad app.

The website claims it will let your “customers enjoy a superior escape room experience.”

In my experience as a player, however, it has diminished some otherwise fantastic escape rooms.

What is Escape Room Boss?

Escape Room Boss is an app that runs on an iPad. The app provides:

  • audio or visual game introduction
  • self-service hints for puzzles
  • self-service answers for puzzles
  • game timer

The app works in conjunction with QR codes, which are affixed to the escape room set. Players scan the QR codes with the iPad when they need hints.

Set defacement

QR codes are ugly and they mar beautiful sets.

An intricate and old skull statue with a QR code on the forehead of the skull.
Yup. This looks better.

We’ve seen these QR codes affixed to six of the most incredible sets we’ve ever encountered. They disrupt an otherwise gorgeous and immersive environment.

Also… why would an ancient temple have QR codes?

The impossible art of QR code placement

There isn’t an artful way to place a QR code on an escape room set.

If it’s positioned exactly where the puzzle is, it’s a dead giveaway for the puzzle. Instead of finding puzzles organically within the environment, we can go directly to the QR codes and work backwards toward the puzzles. Immersion broken.

If it’s positioned too far from the puzzle, we won’t know what it refers to. It is rendered entirely useless at best… or more likely, exceptionally frustrating.

Either way, expect disappointment.

Hint roulette

When we call for a hint, we have surrendered. The fun has stopped and we want the fun to return. An attentive human gamemaster can provide the nudge needed to get us playing again. Escape Room Boss turns this process into a game of chance:

We might scan the wrong QR code and receive a hint for something we have already solved. This has happened to us using Escape Room Boss.

We might scan the wrong QR code and receive a hint just to learn that a puzzle can’t be solved yet. This too has happened to us using Escape Room Boss.

The hints are preprogrammed. Even if we scan the correct QR code for the puzzle, we won’t necessarily receive useful information. More often than not, the hint will tell us everything we already know. Oh boy, has this happened to us using Escape Room Boss.

Forced answers

If the one or two preprogrammed hints don’t help, our only recourse is to click to see the solution. We don’t get to work through the puzzle. We don’t get any satisfaction out of the solve.

Giving players the solution to a puzzle outright should rarely be the response to a hint request.

Penalties

In most implementations of Escape Room Boss, it feels punitive. Taking a hint or a solution results in a “time” penalty.

This doesn’t affect the actual game clock. Rather, it gets added on to the end. For example, if we escape in 55 minutes, but take two hints costing 5 minutes each, our time shows 65 minutes.

This makes wins feel like failures.

Scanning time sink

Scanning a QR code requires bright lighting… which isn’t the norm in escape rooms.

You want to know what isn’t fun? When scanning a QR code turns into an additional puzzle.

Escape Room Boss requires players to scan a QR code to end the game. If you want to see the joy of winning an escape room evaporate, watch a team that just triumphantly completed a final puzzle realize that someone needs to run back two rooms to find a flashlight so that they can get enough light on the QR code to make it scannable and stop the clock, which refuses to stop even though the game is already won.

Value prop

Escape Room Boss is designed to make operating an escape room easier. Maybe it does this for the escape room operator, but it is at the expense of the player experience.

The operator can hire fewer gamemasters, train them less completely, and watch the games run themselves.

Except that they don’t.

Escape rooms are supposed to be challenging. With Escape Room Boss, however, we struggle against all the wrong challenges. These challenges are frustrating instead of fun.

Don’t make me step out of your seamless, beautiful world to work a clunky device.

 

 

7 thoughts on “How Escape Room Boss Destroys Fun in Escape Rooms

    1. The worst (and only bad) experience I’ve ever had in an escape room was the only one I’ve done with QR codes, and we experienced just about everything you mentioned here: low light, out-of-sequence hints, yanking you out of the game setting, frustration over clues that didn’t make sense…If that had been my first escape room, I’m not sure I would have ever done another one.

  1. Delivering just the right hint is the “art” of what a game master does. I have never played a QR code room, but I’ve suffered enough with “canned” hints, hints on stuff we’ve already found and impossibly vague hints to know that anything short of an attentive and amiable game master is a recipe for player disappointment.

    1. That’s true. It’s not enough to have a human gamemaster. That human needs to be attentive too. And there truly is an art to gamemastering. As players, we can tell when our gamemaster knows their craft and it elevates the experience.

  2. Yikes, this sounds like an awful idea. One of the first things we train our staff on is how to assess the situation when they get asked for help. A generic clue/hint for a challenge isn’t going to be the right help more than one time in five. Definitely something I wouldn’t implement (for all the reasons you give) but I enjoyed the article anyway as an exploration of what makes hints/help contribute to a good or to a bad experience.

  3. Yes, it’s an idea that maybe seems like to should work, but it really, really doesn’t. We’re glad you enjoyed this article. We’re also planning to write more along the lines of hinting techniques in the future.

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