Universal and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Escape Rooms

The internet loves 💩 … but it’s rare that we feed that beast. This week, we gave the internet what it loves, in the form of 2 scathing reviews of Universal’s Great Movie Escape, authored by Theresa W.

I have to say, Back to the Future: OUTATIME is some of Theresa’s best writing. Internet, you’re welcome.

Art deco Back To The Future OUTATIME banner.
Image via @UniversalORL on Twitter

We Were Warned

Going into Universal’s Great Movie Escape, the reputation of these games preceded itself.

Literally every sign suggested that these games were rough. And from an editorial perspective, we thought that it was possible that these games were misunderstood. But the evidence was clear: The escape room community – and regular consumers – weren’t feeling these games.

Insiders Knew

On Morty, both Universal escape rooms rate “Mostly Negative” (Jurassic World) (Back To The Future).

We knew Universal had to build a high throughput model, which inherently makes it the game different from the traditional escape room. Plenty of folks in our community dislike 5 Wits for this reason.

We gave Universal the benefit of the doubt, but alas…

Even the Muggles Knew

Universal’s Great Movie Escape gets 2.6 stars on Yelp and 2 stars on TripAdvisor. These are remarkable scores.

On Yelp and TripAdvisor, escape rooms tend to rate highly. They rate so highly that both apps have long been seen as functionally useless to escape room players in-the-know. This has been true since escape rooms began popping up in the United States in 2013. The best escape rooms get 5 stars and the worst escape rooms get… 4 stars.

Seriously, if I look for an escape room to play in Orlando, the first 20 results (excluding Universal) are all 4.3 stars or more. I’m on page 3 before I find anyone else with less than 4 stars, and there two venues still rate at least 3.5.

Universal is alone on the island of 💩.

Opportunity Squandered

Universal presented an incredible opportunity for our industry. Universal gets 10 million visitors each year, passing through CityWalk on their way into the park. That’s a lot of people who have likely never tried an escape room, but are interested in an adventure.

The saddest part of this for our community is that it is perfectly reasonable for a first time player to assume that Universal’s escape rooms must be amongst the best in the business. After all, they’re Universal.

Recovery is Possible

The thing is, these games are fixable. Jurassic World is more workable than Back To The Future… but both have potential.

The question is… will Universal have the gumption to fix it? As an organization, do they have the capacity to own the mistakes that were made and pivot? Will they make these games as great as they could and should be? We have no clue.

If they follow the old corporate playbook, this experiment will be viewed as a flop. Universal execs will conclude that there’s nothing of value in escape rooms, and they’ll close the experiences.

Universal’s Great Movie Escape will be relegated an obscure trivia question for Universal nerds and a cautionary tale for the escape room industry. It will be a lesson to other brands that there is a craft to designing and executing escape rooms.

That’s Why We’re Here

We’re here because we can’t count on the entertainment titans to do this right.

We’re here writing about escape rooms so that more people will find them, and choose one they’ll really enjoy.

We’re here to think critically about experience design, and push creators to grow.

We’re all here – David, me, Theresa, and the whole REA team – because we can’t trust that new players will stumble into a great game and want to play more.

We’re here to guide them, so that the industry continues to expand and thrive.

Thank you!

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Special shout out to those who joined this month: Joseph Stamps, Jacob Sager Weinstein, Dino Paulo, Lavender Dawn Irven, Richard Chiou, and Amy Koo.

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