From Quake to Fortnite to Escape Room: Learning From Your Players

I pretty much grew up with video games. I mean that in both senses of the phrase: 

  • I grew up playing video games
  • Video games grew up as I did

Obvious Controls

When I first started playing first person shooters (and suffering through them while they made me motion sick because they were choppy as hell), the arrow keys on the keyboard were the movement standard.

The arrow keys made sense. They were the obvious input mechanism for controlling motion. That was, until “WASD” came along. 

Close up of glowing WASD keys on an keyboard.

“Thresh” Hold

From Half Life and Counterstrike, to Portal and Fortnite, the movement control standard for first person games has been the “WASD” keys on the left side of the keyboard. This button mapping wasn’t obvious… and it didn’t come from a video game designer. It came from a player. 

Dennis “Thresh” Fong was the top Quake player back in game’s heyday of the mid 1990s. WASD was his button mapping; he went undefeated with it. Thersh was basically a folk hero among gamers back then. This layout caught on, partially because of his notoriety, but mostly because it worked. 

I remember being super skeptical of WASD as a button mapping, but it made everything more fluid and easier. Those keys were laid-out perfectly and the hand position gave access to plenty of other buttons, enabling complex actions that simply weren’t possible when your fingers were isolated over by the arrow keys. 

This story is beautifully told in this video: 

Why is this relevant to escape rooms?

Good escape rooms are built on top of decades of knowledge from other industries. Video games are certainly one of the biggest influences. 

I’ve encountered plenty of companies that learn from watching their players. Some learn from aggregate player behavior, using their games as large experiments and iterating on them based on player trends. 

I’ve heard of other designers taking inspiration for new puzzles or puzzle iterations by listening to the wrong ideas that players cook up while attempting to solve a challenge. 

As a player, I’ve adopted plenty of tactics from other players… and I’ve invented a few of my own. 

Two Questions

Players: What tactics have you learned from other players? 

Owners: What have you seen your players do that you think would make for great standards? 

I think that there is a lot to learn from great players, both in terms of improving one’s abilities to play, and as in the case with WASD, improving the way that games are designed. 

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