7 Unexpected Tidbits from the 2018 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey

What do Escape Room Enthusiasts think?

Errol Elumir of The Room Escape Divas posted an escape room enthusiast survey, open during July – August 2018. Members of the community helped craft the survey. Lee-Fay Low compiled the results.

This is a really interesting data set… and I want to dig into some of my observations about it (even if this post is publishing a little later than I had intended).

An analytics dashboard.

First off, let’s get this out of the way…

Bias

As you read these tidbits, keep in mind that biases are inherent in the process:

(1) This was a self-selected group of respondents.

“Participants in this survey are not representative of escape room players at large. The sample is biased towards people who identify as enthusiasts, have played more rooms, and spend time on English language online enthusiast groups.”

(2) Many of the questions were multiple choice. Respondents ranked items in a list in order of importance. Lists are not exhaustive.

(3) Many of the words in the survey weren’t defined. Different players likely interpreted these concepts differently.

Bias isn’t a knock against the survey. (In fact, David helped write the survey.) Bias is, however, important to be aware of.

The survey results deliver interesting and valuable data for the community and the companies. Plus, this data will become more interesting over time as it starts to illuminate shifts in trends.

Here are a few tidbits that I found to be particularly interesting:

[1] 562 enthusiasts answered the survey.

There are a lot of us out there who want to spend our free time thinking about escape rooms and who will take time to fill out a pretty detailed questionnaire. We’re excited to see the enthusiast community growing.

[2] Discovery over immersion

When asked what motivates us to play escape rooms, “discovery” edged out “immersion.”

When I travel in industry circles, I constantly hear reference to immersion. Immersion seems to be this elusive gold standard that companies aim to achieve.

While the most enthusiastic players are certainly motivated by immersive experiences, they are more excited by discovery.

Discovery is an under-explored concept. As players, we seek the unexpected. It’s energizing.

[3] Subscription-based puzzle games aren’t speaking to us… yet.

When asked which escape room-related activities they’ve played, subscription-based puzzle games ranked below escape room board games, in-person puzzle hunts, immersive theatre, and online puzzle hunts.

The subscription-based market is younger than these other adjacent forms of entertainment. We’ve reviewed a number of subscription puzzle games and generally enjoyed the concepts, but found that the products weren’t mature enough yet. There’s a lot of room for creators to develop this idea.

Don’t discount this style of entertainment just yet.

[4] Theme matters, but there isn’t consensus around best themes.

When asked what’s most important when booking an escape room, theme ranked second only to personal recommendations. Theme mattered more than reviews, booking type, location, and price.

That said, no one theme out ranked the others. Tombs and space were the most popular themes, but so many others were almost as popular.

Escape room enthusiasts are searching out themed experiences, but theme is a personal preference.

Data on popular themes will be skewed because theme pervasiveness seems to be a fairly regional phenomenon. For example, much of the United States has tons of labs, zombie apocalypse, and prison break themes. These themes are barely present in our home market of New York City.

As we travel around, we often find pockets of similarly themed games. Is that regional similarity good or bad? I’m not really sure, but it is a thing.

[5] Use of technology is not very important.

For a well-designed game, the most important thing is puzzle quality. Of the 15 game characteristics listed in the survey, use of technology ranked 13th.

This data supports a common misconception that escape rooms need fancy technology.

Technology is not inherently valuable. It’s one tool in a game designer’s toolbox.

Our opinion has been that technology is usually best when it’s hidden and the player doesn’t think of the interaction as a tech interaction… it’s just a fun moment.

[6] There is a bias towards multi-room games.

Not a single person said they prefer single-room games over multi-room games. While about 12-15% of respondents are indifferent to this differentiation, the vast majority of respondents prefer multi-room games.

I would imagine that this has a lot to with transition reveals. Room transitions usually present an opportunity for a memorable moment… and for discovery.

Additionally, single-room games are often a sign of a cheap company cramming a game into the smallest space possible.

I’d guess, however, that this bias is correlation and not causation. As escape room companies have built more sophisticated escape rooms, they’ve also shifted toward multi-room design. Many of the best escape games we’ve played have been multi-room games, but they weren’t necessarily the best because they were multi-room games.

We’re indifferent to room count because we’ve seen some amazing tiny games and some horrible massive games. What matters most is how a designer uses the space they have.

[7] We love logic puzzles?!

When asked how important different puzzle types are, logic puzzles out ranked all the other puzzles types listed by a pretty wide margin.

I love logic puzzles! In my experience, however, more teammates shy away from these than embrace them. (More logic puzzles for me!) While my experience is anecdotal, this makes me wonder whether all of the respondents were operating with the same definition of “logic puzzle.”

As I think about a more broad definition of “logic” puzzle, however, I see an opportunity for escape rooms to stretch how we make connections and to reimagine logic for physical environments. This is an opportunity I’m really excited about.

Data

Read the full data summary here.

And check out the nifty interactive dashboard that our friend Randy Hum of Escape Rumors created with the survey data.

2 thoughts on “7 Unexpected Tidbits from the 2018 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey

  1. RE: Logic Puzzles. I was surprised by that too and wondered whether people interpreted it as “logical puzzles”. It wouldn’t really make sense in that context but surely no one thinks logic puzzles in escape rooms are a good idea?!

    On tech – the way I characterised it was that enthusiasts didn’t see tech as enhancing their game but they did see it as a place where a game could fall down so if you’re going to include tech you’d better make darned sure it works! You’re right about the subtlety – overt tech isn’t important but behind-the-scenes tech can still create smoother experiences.

    The other thing I picked out was that narrative was far down the list for enthusiasts. Designers seem obsessed with ensuring they put plenty of story into their game but I’ve come to the conclusion that (a) you need to have a very clear story to make the game consistent but (b) you need to be very careful about how much of that story you tell to stop overloading players and potentially including red herrings. I’m assuming that “normal” people will care about narrative less than enthusiasts but that’s entirely supposition.

    1. “Logical” seems like the only … logical… explanation there. It’s just crazy that so many people would have interpreted it that way.

      I agree 100% about tech.

      I have two positions on narrative. On the one hand, I think there aren’t enough games delivering narrative yet. Plenty of enthusiasts haven’t really experienced its potential. Or, they’ve only experienced it as reading long prose, which they didn’t enjoy. On the other hand, I think there is a large enthusiast contingent that got into escape rooms for the puzzles and they really don’t (and won’t) care about narrative. I do agree with though about the need for balance in narrative. It’s really hard and that’s why we so seldom see it really work.

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