Selling Hints in Escape Rooms & Puzzle Games is Bullshit

It’s time to discuss something that’s dumb, but necessary. 

It has come to our attention that there’s a tiny minority of games that are making their players buy hints. 

I’m not really sure who’s doing it, but someone asked a question about this behavior to the panel that I moderated at the Escape Summit in Canada in May. 

So, let’s get this out of the way once and for all. 

Selling Hints is Bullshit

There is an assumption of fairness in escape room design. While some companies pull this off better than others, at the core of escape room play is the idea that these games will be fair even if they are difficult. 

Selling hints undermines that fairness by introducing a financial feedback loop that encourages bullshit puzzle design. I’ll explain:

If a company sells hints, then they make more money from bullshit puzzle design because bullshit puzzles necessitate more hints. 

This in turn encourages the company to include more bullshit puzzles, which drives more bullshit revenue. 

Bullshit leads to hints, hints lead to cash, cash leads to more bullshit. The cycle loops until collapse.

This loop repeats recursively until the company strangles the life out of their business and closes because they suck. Along the way they will hurt the other local escape rooms by convincing the local player base that escape rooms are filled with bullshit puzzles, and thus depleting the potential customer base.

Digital Games

We’ve seen some this kind of nonsense from digital escape games like the point-and-click mobile escape room Spotlight: Room Escape (that’s not worthy of a link.) We’ve refused to review them.

We just assume that if the game is selling hints, the puzzles are probably bullshit.

We have better things to do with our time and so do you.

What Do We Do About This?

If an escape room company is selling hints, beat the hell out of them on Yelp for it.

Be fair. Don’t hit them with a 1 star review, drop something rational, but explain why this is a problem. Shame them into changing.

Also, alert the local player community. If you have a regional Facebook group, leave a note in there about the company.

The Exception

The one time that I can see “selling hints” to be a viable option is if, and only if, the money is going to a good cause, in the name of the players (not the business).

Same goes for something like a blood drive.

Then even if the puzzles are bullshit, at least there’s a good cause to support.

But then again… maybe check out the cause on Charity Navigator first?

7 thoughts on “Selling Hints in Escape Rooms & Puzzle Games is Bullshit

  1. As an owner/operator and a player, I completely agree that it’s bullshit. However, you may be very surprised that after 3 hints (and honestly our hardest room is a 27% success rate…) people are begging me to let them pay for additional hints…So there’s that out there too. I have never engaged in this bribery (lol) but it does make an owner wonder if they are missing out on something.
    I do like the idea of a fundraiser for it!!

    Also, please, please, please…never suggest Yelp to business owners. There are the worst company out there for businesses and reviews. They are dishonest, harassing, and completely unfair. Do your research. In knowing how they operate with businesses, I refuse to use them as a customer. Google and Facebook are much more transparent.

    There’s my ahem- free thoughts…
    Thanks 🙂

  2. Long time reader first time responder. Just came on to second the ‘screw Yelp’ sentiment. If you want to talk about bullshit, extortionist money-grubbing feedback loop, then Yelp is at the top of that heap. You can’t even trust their recommendations because they are financially derived, paid for, rather than earned.

    My 2¢

  3. I fully agree with both of you that Yelp is hot garbage.

    My desire to kill off bad business practices within the escape room world superseded my desire as a reviewer to destroy Yelp… Unfortunately Yelp has reach.

  4. I have a question for the first commenter. Why do you not provide your customers some type of hint if they are stuck and begging you? I ask because I have only run into this a few times and each time I left very unsatisfied, along with the rest of our group. Maybe the only thing worse than paying for a hint is not getting a hint, standing around until the clock winds down and finding out the puzzle/game is BS (in the player’s opinion) when the gamemaster does a walk through after time has expired.

    We agree: selling hints = bad, Yelp = bad, strict limitation on hints – need an REA perspective on this one.

    1. We preface before entering that you get 3 hints and that using them strategically is part of the game. I will add that none of the Games are hard. 65, 47, and 27% are the true escape percentages with most people using those 3 clues. All of them are logical and linear (which we also divulge). Now, if someone is super stuck and have 1-2 more things to do, sure- Gamemasters throw them the extra hint. We make our games very logical and linear so they are not stupid hard. We are avid players too! We dislike when Gamemasters feed us hints or give us more than they say they would. This industry is riddled with “everyone needs to escape to leave happy” which just isn’t true. The only time I left unhappy was because the puzzle was crap. We don’t have crappy, irrational, too-hard puzzles.
      And guess what! We don’t reveal the ending (which we also warn them about). We offer a 50% discount and private room to come back and solve it. We are usually busy enough that allowing players to finish is not an option. Also we wouldn’t do it anyways. Why should people get to know if they didn’t earn it?? From Facebook groups, I know we are the minority here but we are 2 years old and still going strong even with 2 other businesses that popped up in our mid-size city. We do plenty of entertaining in our rooms but escape games are just that – games!
      The lesson here is that if you create well- thought out, logical puzzles with great immersion, design and service your customers will leave happy.
      Thanks for reading!

  5. I am surprised to see this still exists in the escape room community. I remember seeing a few companies selling “tools” that could help you along the way (read: make the game actually playable without trial and error) but not for hints. That seems extremely underhanded.

    The more that I thought about ‘selling hints’ the more that it reminded me of a carnival game business model:

    The game is inherently broken but sells itself under the guise of being achievable and fair but only to the talented few. Players who don’t know better can be swept up and effectively are continuing to pay-to-play a bad game.

    I guess advocating for use in charity situations works, but it might leave new players with a bad taste in their mouth for escape rooms.

  6. Kudos to Sprice4883 for responding. I appreciate the dialogue even though I have a hard time wrapping my head around 2/3 of your rooms having less than half the players escaping or learning how the room works in the end. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned by reading this blog for years, there is more than one way to be successful so thank you for the perspective. May you have continued success.

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