Sometimes we adapt because we want to. Sometimes we adapt because we need to. In this case… it’s a little of both.
Digital Escape Room Review Requests
With the quarantine shutdowns happening all over the globe, many escape room companies have created digital variants to make money or simply keep their player audience engaged and entertained.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been inundated with requests to play and review these games from fans and creators alike.
Most people don’t realize this, but Room Escape Artist is not a full-time job for either Lisa or me. While we’ve been consistently publishing daily content for years without missing a day, Room Escape Artist was never built for speed.
This site was designed around the notion of detailed, thoughtful analysis that embraces the subjective nature of immersive gaming experiences. We put a silly amount of time into our reviews… and we work weeks or months ahead to keep our content flowing.
Digital popup games are not the time for any of that.
We need to review a lot of games quickly. Given the less nuanced medium, a less nuanced format is needed.
The Hivemind Pilot Program
We reached out to a diverse collection of brilliant and articulate escape room players from all over the United States and asked them to help us try something unlike anything we’ve done before. We currently have 11 Hivemind writers. These are people we know and deeply trust.
For any given Hivemind Review, we’re asking 3 to 5 people to play a digital game and fill out a form.
They each rank the game on the following 3-point scale (more on that below):
- I recommend this game to escape room players at any time.
- I recommend this game to escape room players in quarantine.
- I do not recommend this game.
Then they write a short reaction to the game. Their reactions are guided by the following ideas:
- What was your favorite part?
- What was your least favorite part?
- How do you think the game could be improved?
- What was novel about the game?
- Are you interested in playing more games of this type or by this creator?
- How similar to or different from an escape room was your experience?
Finally, they tell us a bit about the format of the experience.
We pull all of their thoughts together into one blog post. The first of these Hivemind Reviews will publish tomorrow.
REA is using a Rating System?! 🤯
We have a well-established dislike of rating systems. In this particular instance, however, we feel it’s wise to lay down our sword.
If we aren’t letting/ asking our Hivemind Reviewers to dive into the deep end, then we need quick systems for readers to get a sense of the situation.
The system that we have is less about judging the particulars of a game and more about keying into how evergreen the reviewer feels the game is. There will be disagreement between reviewers and we like that.
If the Hivemind finds something that they feel is truly driving the format in a special direction, then Lisa and I may elect to follow up with a detailed REA Review of that game, in addition to the Hivemind Review.
The Hivemind Review Scale
Read more about our Hivemind Review format.
Bylines & Reviewer Voice
Each of these folks is writing under their own name or pen name.
We believe that voice and authorship is an important part of reviews. Our philosophy is that it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with a reviewer. It does matter that the reviewer establishes a perspective that is consistent (even if it evolves). If I’m reading a video game review from someone who cares a lot more about graphical fidelity than I do, I can comfortably understand that those portions of the review don’t really affect me, while still understanding the merits of their perspective.
Over time, you may find that you agree with some of the Hivemind Reviewers more than others. Either way, we’re embracing the subjective nature of games design and play.
Our hope is that this approach allows us to build a strong team of reviewers who can rapidly inform the community about this new form of puzzle entertainment without asking too much from any individual review.
It’s a lot of work to review escape games… and that’s why you see review sites come and go… and reviewers on established sites disappear all of the time.
We want to create a stable, sustainable team. The best way that we know to do that is to value our people and streamline the process for them.
Contact us. We’ll add it to the ever-growing list and try to get to it as soon as possible.
Not immediately, but please contact us anyway. If this type of content is useful to the community, then we’ll look into slowly expanding the Hivemind. We don’t want to scale past the point that we can responsibly manage, so we’ll take things slowly.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ we’ve entered a brave new world. Six weeks ago we never imagined that there would be a scenario where physical escape rooms around the world were closed and pumping out digital experiences at a rate that we couldn’t keep up with.
However things shake out, our hope is that we’re assembling a team that we’ll continue to work with in one way or another into the future.
Hopefully, this project will result in a REA post regarding best practices. In my limited participation I have been amazed how creators of good escape rooms are not automatically good at the digital variant. Tutorials, Onboarding, Ramp-Up, and Variable Hinting seem to be the biggest disappointments in my limited experience. Might be more opportunities for improvement farther into the experience but I wouldn’t know as I am rarely successful enough to get there.
You know us too well. That’s absolutely in the plans.
We will probably do a couple of rounds of learnings as the Hivemind levels up their experience and observations.
That’s wonderful- As a (physical) escape game designer I’d love to learn more about creating digital games for 2 reasons: A) To provide our customers a fun and themed on-board to their experience before they arrive. B) To be able to beta test puzzles before we build them. I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with with!
Lesson learned from the one I went to yesterday – it doesn’t matter what you’re used to doing in the privacy of your back-room – the players can now see everything the game masters are doing, so maybe eat that lunch off screen? Continue the illusion that you’re always paying attention?
Oh my. Yeah… this is good advice.