In Season 4, episode 5 of Reality Escape Pod, we headed to Canada to chat with Jonathan Driscoll and Sacha St.Denis, owners of Escaparium escape games, Nuit de Terreur haunted attraction, L’Atelier resto-pub game cafe, and Ezkapaz immersive experiences. As you can tell from their list of businesses, Jonathan and Sacha have big ambitions. Not only do they have over 30 escape rooms under the Escaparium brand, they have recently expanded into a haunted attraction with escape room elements, a game cafe integrated into their Laval location, and an immersive experience at a local speakeasy bar.
It’s not just the number of experiences that are epically sized. Their flagship games Rain Corp., Wardrobe for Sale, and The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen are jaw-droppingly enormous, filled with endearing characters, immersive puzzles, and touching storylines that actually made me cry. When setting out to build a haunt, Jonathan and Sasha didn’t want a generic maze. Instead, they created a haunted attraction that’s part maze, with mini-escape room elements and private immersive interactions.
It’s no easy feat juggling so many different projects. Jonathan and Sacha are supportive leaders and are extremely appreciative of their large creative team. The owners of Escaparium have managed to stay humble and are receptive to constructive feedback, while maintaining their ambitious aspirations. Escaparium is an immersive gaming brand of epic proportions. It’s hard to put into words how massive their games are, and that’s why I highly encourage you to visit their locations in Montreal.
Thank You to Our Sponsors
We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season: Morty App, World Escape Room Championship (ER Champ), and Buzzshot. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.
ER Champ is a global competition for escape room players.
- Held virtually this year
- Free Entry
- Elimination round on November 5, 2022
- Each member of the winning team will receive a Nintendo Switch Lite
Buzzshot is ‘Customer Satisfaction Software’ for your escape room business. Streamline your marketing and grow your escape room business with pregame and postgame features including robust waiver management, branded team photos, and integrated review management.
Special Discount for REPOD listeners:
Use our link when booking a demo for 20% off your first three months.
Topics Discussed in this Episode
- Jonathan tells us that part of the reason why they build such ambitious games with high production value is because he takes into account the lifetime of his games lasting over ten years. [3:56]
- Peih-Gee mentions the enormous scope and scale of Escaparium’s three largest games: The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, Rain Corp., and Wardrobe for Sale. [5:43]
- Jonathan and Sacha tell us about how it all started with wanting to buy a giant boat. [6:17]
- Jonathan tells us about how 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and particularly Cutthroat Cavern, had a big influence on his games. [7:34]
- Jonathan gives us a behind the scenes look at how he managed to transport an 80-foot long ship from Florida all the way to Montreal, including how it managed to rip off the aluminum siding from their warehouse. [7:58]
- Jonathan tells us a little bit about his team at Escaparium, including creators originally from Codex, another escape room company. [12:23]
- Jonathan talks about how incorporating more active participation, such as acting, from his gamemasters made a difference in the enthusiasm of his team. [14:14]
- Jonathan mentions that sometimes, after one of the games, players will come out and applaud the game masters, and he talks about how inspiring it is for his employees. [15:06]
- Peih-Gee talks about how enthusiastic gamemasters can make or break an experience. [16:08]
- Jonathan mentions that getting their team more invested and involved in the player experience also helps with employee retention. [16:47]
- Jonathan talks about his previous life as a professional big stakes poker player. [17:52]
- Jonathan talks about his “risk tolerance” and says it’s actually less about risk tolerance, and more about running the numbers and taking a calculated risk. [18:43]
- Sacha talks about her ambitious ideas and working with Jonathan to achieve the right balance of dreaming big but staying realistic. [19:54]
- Jonathan says he travels to a lot of work related industry events. He feels that if he learns even one thing from the event it was all worth it. [21:57]
- David talks about Jonathan’s duality of having both arrogance and humility as a designer, and the ability to pivot. [22:55]
- Peih-Gee mentions the importance of being able to listen to feedback as a designer. [25:20]
- Sacha says that it’s easier to handle feedback when you’re used to working creatively with a team, as opposed to being a one-man show. [25:53]
- Jonathan talks about working with a large creative team and how ideas evolve. [26:56]
- Jonathan talks about buying escape rooms from Indestroom and the importance of putting your own twist on ready-made games. [28:27]
- David discusses his feelings towards purchased games and whether or not owners should disclose this. [31:16]
- David talks about giving credits to designers of escape rooms, just like the movie industry does. [34:05]
- Peih-Gee tells a story about the time she sent her Survivor friend Gabby Pascuzzi, who was on season 3 of REPOD to a terrible escape room with the same name of Blind Tiger, thinking it was a different game. [34:40]
- Jonathan tells us about their haunt Nuit De Terreur, or Night of Terror, and how they incorporated escape rooms into it. [38:46]
- Jonathan walks us through some of the changes they’ve made to the haunt now that they’re into their third year hosting it, including more actors and more immersion. [40:29]
- Jonathan and Sacha tell us in more detail how they’ve incorporated mini escape rooms into the haunt. [40:59]
- Jonathan teases us with a story about hiring outside help with the haunt that he later shares in our bonus AfterShow (which you can access as a Patreon member). [42:55]
- Jonathan talks about managing the pacing of his haunt so that teams will stop in certain places and experience a scene, as opposed to being shepherded through in a continuous line. [44:23]
- Sacha shares with us their experience and the challenges in opening a bar/ restaurant/ game cafe within their Laval escape room location. [44:55]
- Sacha tells us about the themed dinner they created especially for Spooky Season, complete with Halloween decor, a four course themed meal, and spooky interactions. She also tells us about the ticketing structure for this event. [46:05]
- Jonathan discusses Sacha’s vision for shaping the restaurant into a more themed, immersive concept. [48:12]
- Jonathan talks about the challenges of designing games in a bilingual province, where legally businesses must make everything available in French. He says storytelling that generally avoids dialogue is the easiest. [50:21]
- Jonathan shares some of his favorite escape room companies in Canada including Immersia (who we interviewed in Season 3 of REPOD), Cabinet Mysteriis, Sauve Qui Peut, and Crypto Escape Rooms. (See resources below for links to reviews of the games mentioned.) [52:34]
- Jonathan tells us about Ezkapaz, a company they purchased about five years ago, and how the Ezkapaz team has helped introduce more acting to the Escaparium brand and helped train their employees. [55:16]
- Bonus Story: Sacha tells us about the time she was so terrified in a horror escape room that she made Jonathan play the room all by himself while she watched from the first room. [1:00:00]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Escaparium properties:
- Escaparium Social Media:
- Indestroom escape room supplier
- REA review of Jumanji from Bust Out Escape Room in Albuquerque, NM
- REA Montreal, Canada Escape Room Recommendations
- Recommended Canadian Escape Room Companies:
- Immersia Escape Games
- Le 4e Mur (The Fourth Wall): speakeasy bar with cocktail puzzle/ murder mystery created by the team at Ezkapaz
- Braquage (only available in French): Murder Mystery Immersive theatre
About Jonathan Driscoll and Sacha St.Denis
My name is Jonathan Driscoll. I was born in the northern part of Canada. I went to university for computer engineering but didn’t end up working in that field at all. In 2014, we watched the movie Maze Runner and after watching that movie, we started developing an experience that had you do puzzles and tasks in one room which when solved would allow you access to the next room. Despite thinking our idea was really awesome, we didn’t have the guts to take the next step.
Then in 2015 we heard about escape rooms, which were similar to what we had thought about the year before and loved the idea. While in Orlando we played our first escape game. We got instantly hooked, played all the games there and said the infamous, “we can do much better.” Once back home we started thinking about games and looking at locations. We didn’t find anything interesting and somewhat gave up on the idea until my friend pushed us to look again and we finally opened in early 2016.
After just a few months of being open, we knew this was much bigger than we had thought. In 2016, we started looking for another location and started looking into investing much more into our games to give a much better experience. In 2017 we opened our Dorval location and started hiring to have a full time team to work on our games. In 2018 we decided to look for a new location, one that wouldn’t limit us in ceiling height and walls. We decided to rent a 45,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
We added to our team and started building experiences that I would’ve never thought we would be doing. Having won multiple awards for our “big three”: The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, Rain Corp. and Wardrobe for Sale, we are incredibly proud of everything we’ve done here and can’t wait to release our next experiences.
My name is Sacha St.Denis. I am the proud co-owner of Escaparium, Ezkapaz, Nights of Terror Haunted House, and L’Atelier board game resto and bar. Prior to opening Escaparium with my husband Jonathan Driscoll, I was an elementary school teacher.
In 2016, when Jonathan and I opened our first location, we quickly began challenging ourselves to create bigger, better, and more immersive games for our industry. With each new game, comes the big question: “How are we gonna top the last game we created and built? What does the future hold for me and these entertainment industries I am involved in?” For me, the possibilities are endless, and my goals and aspirations are set high.
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