We’re home from the Netherlands and filled with thoughts and feels.
1: Dutch Escape Games
The escape rooms in the Netherlands continue to impress us. We ventured beyond Amsterdam on this trip and found brilliant and innovative games in many other cities. The bar is so high in the country and the creators keep building better games.
If you don’t believe that it is possible to convey story and emotion while still presenting a strong puzzle game, take a trip to the Netherlands.
We’ve heard talk of crappy games in the Netherlands, but we’ve played about two dozen escape rooms there thus far and we still haven’t found a one. Granted we’re playing based on recommendations, but still, no duds.
2: The Prison Dome
The Breda Prison Dome was a fantastic conference venue. Its layout was a little awkward for a conference, but its personality and vibe more than made up for this. It was charming, imposing, and beautiful all at the same time.
Additionally, we got to play the massive Prison Escape game inside of the Prison Dome, which was an unforgettable experience. Our review is forthcoming.
3: The Talks
Maybe we chose well, but we saw some of the best talks we’ve ever encountered yet at Up The Game.
Yolanda Chiu’s talk on the Asian escape room markets was fun and incredibly interesting both from a game design and a business standpoint… and a little shocking.
The guys from The Room in Berlin delivered two fantastic, demonstrative, and useful talks. One covered how to create a high end experience in 2018 and the other addressed sound design.
The team from Sherlocked in Amsterdam talked about mixed realities and how to create experiences that extend beyond just time locked in a room.
Jasper Wille’s talk on meaningful choice articulated many of our own thoughts on what makes for more satisfying and interesting immersive entertainment, but he did it better than we could have.
4: Discussions on Quality
In big cities, the larger, early-to-market escape room companies can – and frequently do – get by with strong SEO and average or mediocre games. If you aren’t one of these early movers, that playbook won’t work for you.
I walked out of only one talk at Up the Game. It involved a first-in-city owner talking about how he successfully markets games that are only good enough. In 2018, this approach is the fast lane to bankruptcy for new companies. The market is a lot more mature. While the early pioneers had plenty of struggles to deal with, competing for search engine placement, media attention, and market share were not among them.
I have so much respect for the early companies that continue to innovate both in game design and customer care. New owners can learn a lot from these pioneers as long as they don’t blindly follow their strategies.
Many of the wonderful talks at this conference provided helpful guidance for creating higher quality experiences without dropping tons of money. So many details of customer service and game design cost very little.
5: Ubisoft’s VR Escape
Ubisoft Blue Byte will soon release a VR escape game set in the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I attended Cyril Voiron’s talk, which demonstrated that Ubisoft is really thinking about the right things.
Actually, I lied. I walked out of this talk too, but that was only because as it wrapped up, I realized that Cyril was about to tell us that the VR escape game was available to play at the conference… I left early to beat the crowd to sign up for a time slot.
I got to play it in full. It was a great game. A full review is forthcoming.
6: Our Talk
We really felt like we came into our own on stage this year. Last year we were nervous. We hadn’t played many escape rooms in Europe. In spite of the research we had done, we weren’t certain that we had written a talk that would resonate with the audience.
This year we returned having played many games in Germany, Hungary, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. We knew the audience and we had played many top tier games in Europe. This allowed us to come back with a stronger talk that we knew would fit in among the other talks at Up The Game.
Coming off of this, we’re psyched to speak in Nashville this summer.
Up The Game had great talks and a really cool venue. It took place in a country filled with outstanding escape rooms. The reason to attend, however, wasn’t any of these things. The true reason to attend was the community.
I don’t know if it was luck or design or some combination of the two, but the people attending this conference were incredible. Our favorite moments all involved one-on-one or small group conversations. We got the most out of talking about game design, the business, and people’s successes, struggles, goals, motivations, likes, and dislikes.
If we have a request for next year, it would be for Up The Game to further foster this dynamic. Have more dinners where people are free to move around and converse. Turn the music way down at the party so that people can speak comfortably. Create more places where people can go during the conference to simply get to know one another.
For us, escape rooms are primarily about sharing an experience with other people, and conferences are an extension of that.
For all of you that we met, we hope to see you again next year. If we didn’t get to meet, let’s make sure to connect next year.