Major Updates to the REA Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017 … Register Today!

Come experience the best of New York City’s escape rooms and interactive entertainment with Room Escape Artist this November!

About Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

Join us November 3-4, 2017 for a tailored tour through many of New York City’s best escape rooms.

Escape Immerse Explore NYC 2017 logo

Major Updates

Thank you to our pre-sale supporters!

Based on feedback from pre-salers and other interested participants, we’ve slimmed down the event to focus on escape rooms and slashed the price in half.

What’s different?

  • We’ve cut the final day’s big event, Accomplice
  • We’ve added an additional escape room to everyone’s agenda
  • Only VIP ticket holders will have tour guides
  • The unlimited metrocard is no longer included

The Accomplice event and tour guides effectively accounted for nearly half of the ticket price.

We seriously want to host that Accomplice show, but we’re going to have to do it as a standalone sometime in the future.

Sign up today for this escape room exclusive: REA plans your day at the best escape rooms in New York City.

Lisa and David along the Hudson River, New York City in the background.
We would like to welcome you to New York City!

Escape Rooms

As part of the event, you will visit at least five escape rooms from some of the best escape room companies* in New York City including:

*Not every tour track will visit every company.

What else is included?

First Person Xperience’s RED in Long Island City is a 75-minute psychological thriller where guests are immersed in an apocalyptic story, interact with real actors and special effects, and work together to complete an objective. RED is a live action experience where your actions and decisions matter, because in this show, YOU control how the story ends!

Escape Entertainment in Herald Square will be our hosts for a morning of breakfast, networking, and escape games.

Lisa and David will be giving a talk by players for players. Lisa and David have been featured speakers at Transworld’s Escape Room Shows in Chicago in 2016 and Niagara Falls in 2017 and at Up The Game in The Netherlands in 2017. This presentation will be exclusively available to event participants.

Packages

Escape, Immerse, Explore  – $399

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a booked agenda of at least 5 escape rooms.

VIP Escape, Immerse, Explore – $549

This includes RED, networking breakfast at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk… and a guided tour of at least five escape rooms led by Lisa or David.

Particulars

The event begins on Friday, November 3rd at 5pm. The Friday evening event is in Long Island City, Queens, a short subway ride from Times Square (NOT on Long Island). Note that booking times on Friday evening will vary. You will have the opportunity to request an earlier or later booking time.

The event will wrap up on Saturday evening after a busy day of escape rooms.

Attendees will receive exclusive discount coupons to book their own escape rooms while they are in town.

Also Included

After you purchase your tickets, you’ll receive additional information about:

  • tour customization survey
  • discounted accommodations
  • travel and parking recommendations
  • discounted rates for booking additional escape rooms

FAQ

Are you guys selling out?

Between legal, insurance, food and the cost of sending people to all of the games… this is not an overwhelmingly profitable endeavor. If we were looking to sell out, we’d do something unethical like consult, or design games… and review them on our own site.

We’re hosting this event because we want to bring this community to New York City and share a few of the games we love with you.

Why New York City?

We live here. This city has outstanding escape rooms. We want to show them off!

Why November?

It’s not winter. It’s not summer. And the escape room conferences were back in May.

Why these particular companies?

We selected them because they showcase some of the best in escape rooms and immersive games.

How will we get from game to game?

Walking, subway, or taxi/uber/lyft. Your tour agenda will recommend how to get around.

Can I choose my teammates?

The escape room tours will be groups of 4 or 6. You may select a buddy or put together a full group.

I don’t have a team. Will that be a problem?

Not at all. We’ll put you in a group with other escape room enthusiasts from far and wide.

I’ve played most of the games from these companies. Can I still participate?

Contact us. There might be an opportunity. We’ll try to make it work.

Will I get to choose which escape rooms I play?

No, but you’ll fill out a survey and based on that we’ll put you into games that we think you’ll love. You’ll find out your escape room agenda far enough in advance that you can book additional games for yourself during the rest of your time in New York City.

I’m an escape room owner/employee and/or immersive experience designer. Can I participate?

Yes!

I have nothing to do with the escape room industry. I just want to play all the games! Can I participate?

Yes!

What should I do about airfare and hotels?

Your ticket does not cover travel or lodging. However, we will send you recommended hotel accommodations and information about travel to NYC after you purchase a ticket.

Are meals included in the ticket price?

The ticket includes brunch at Escape Entertainment on Saturday. Saturday’s escape room tour will have a meal break where you can purchase food.

I can’t make it that weekend. Will you run this again?

If it goes well, we’ll consider running it again in New York or elsewhere.

Can I buy a ticket for someone under 18?

Unfortunately, no.

How long have you been planning this?

A very long time. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something great here.

Can I sponsor this event?

Contact us about sponsorship opportunities. We are not accepting escape room companies as sponsors.

What if I have other questions?

Contact us.

We look forward to seeing you in New York this November!

 

Three Years of Room Escapes: The Growth of the US Market

We’ve been tracking the growth of the escape room industry since 2014. After two years, the US market was still growing rapidly. Now, one year later, that hasn’t changed. If anything, it intensified in year three.

US escape room growth over time

Here is last year’s report.

At the end of 2014, there were 22 escape room companies in the US.

By mid 2015, there were at least 100.

At the end of 2015, there were 450.

Today, in mid 2016, there are over 900.

By the end of 2016, there were over 1,400.

At the end of Q2 2017, there were over 1,800.*

Industry growth chart shows the US market grow from a few games in Q1 2014 to a little more than 1800 in Q2 2017.

These days we’re making daily updates. If we spend a long weekend escaping rooms in Los Angeles or Philadelphia, we come home to a mountain of directory updates. We’re still adding over 200 new escape room companies per quarter; that’s companies, not games.

*1,800 is of the end of Q2 on June 30. As of today, that number is just over 1,950.

Why don’t those numbers match the REA directory?

The REA directory covers the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean. It also covers Canadian escape rooms that are just across the US border.

One year ago, we knew of multiple escape rooms in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico.

In the past year, we’ve added listings in Colombia**, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, and Panama.

**Colombia is technically in South America, but this company really wanted to be the southern point on our directory, so… why not?

Are all those rooms still open?

Most of the escape rooms we’ve added to the map are still there. We’ve removed 45 escape rooms, or 2.3% of the total rooms added.

Some escape room companies are folding, but they are still opening far more quickly.

How do you count 1,850?

Locations

These numbers count individual locations as different companies. A company with a dozen locations is counted 12 times. Multiple locations can be across the country or just down the street.

Soon-to-open

These numbers count companies that aren’t officially open for business, but are clearly establishing a business that will open soon.

These numbers do not count companies who might open some day. A social media page does not count as “open soon.” Companies need to have a physical address publicized on a legitimate website. Because map. And because links.

Permanence

These numbers include permanent entertainment establishments. We do not list one-time escape room events, even if they are open for a month or two. To the best of our ability, our directory (and this study) includes permanent established businesses.

Business Model

Escape rooms are diversifying as they are influenced by other industries.

We include some interactive puzzle experiences that take place outdoors, as long as they are permanent and predictably operated.

We include some escape rooms set in stores, bars, restaurants, and even a frozen yogurt shop.

We include some escape rooms established in (or by) summer camps, churches, and resorts, as long as they are open to the general public.

So far, the directory includes 13 mobile escape rooms. These companies will come to your business, parking lot, home, or other venue and set up an escape room-style adventure, whether or not exiting a room plays a part.

So which company has the most locations?

In the US, these*** are the companies with more than 5 locations. (There is no measure of quality implied by this list):

Company Count
Key Quest 37
Breakout Games 36
Escape the Room 18
Escapology 16
The Great Escape Room 14
Epic Escape Game 10
Amazing Escape Room 8
Escape the Mystery Room 8
Room Escape Adventures 8
PanIQ Room 7
Texas Panic Room 7
The Escape Game 7
Escape this Live 6
Mastermind Escape Games 6

***Due to the url-based methodology used to find multiple locations, it is possible that we missed some.

The vast majority of escape rooms – almost 1,500 of the 1,883 – are single location operations.

As mentioned above, this counts locations that aren’t fully operational yet, but are clearly in development.

Methodology

Following last year’s study, we published more detailed information on our methodology for tracking the growth of the industry. That information will give you some additional perspectives on this data.

Growth spikes

As mentioned in the methodology outline above, there are notable spikes in escape room growth. This is because we track the date we added a company to the map, which doesn’t necessarily match the date the company opened for business… but we’ve been very on top of this for a long time.

Note the growth in Q3 of 2016. Many of the escape rooms added that quarter, and so many more that we’ve added since, are thanks to Melissa from Connecticut. Since Melissa found our directory last summer, she has devoted countless hours to finding new escape rooms, updating current listings, and investigating questionable information. She volunteers an enormous amount of time to this directory. We cannot thank her enough.

Where are we going?

We will see a lot more openings, both by people who have done careful research and those who have not.

We will find more companies offering experiences sort of like an escape room and we will have to figure out whether they belong in our directory.

We will also see the investment and skill gap start to take its toll on the lower end of the market. This means we expect to see more closures as we know that there are companies that have failed to produce fun games, market effectively, or competently operate a business. Please let us know when companies near you close so that we can continue to track the industry accurately!

Although we will see companies close, that doesn’t mean the industry will come crashing down. In the next year or two, we expect to see the industry expansion slow, but that will not be a sign of impending doom. Every region will have a saturation point and it will not be identical from city to city.

For owners who are worried about local over-saturation harming their business, a word of advice: close your old, low-end games. We frequently hear of players visiting a single game that opened 2 or 3 years ago at an established company and walking out saying, “I can do this.” These outdated escape rooms contribute to the fact that new companies continue to pop up without doing their homework.

In the meantime, no one knows where the saturation point is. If the United States progresses as many other international markets have, there will be a boom, there will a retraction, and then the companies that are strong enough will shift into sustainable models of innovative design.

We’re hopeful for what the next year of innovation and creativity will bring.

Thank you to Melissa from Connecticut for her dedication to the REA directory.

Thank you to our good friend Chris for his enormous help making Excel do our bidding.

Presale Signup! REA Exclusive Event – Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

This announcement is now out of date. This has all of the updates.

*****

This has been in the works for a really, really long time… and it’s finally happening!

Come experience the best of New York City’s escape rooms and interactive entertainment with Room Escape Artist this November!

If you don’t need to hear any more… sign up for the presale.

About Escape, Immerse, Explore: NYC 2017

Join us November 3-5, 2017 for this first of its kind high-end escape room and immersive experience tour.

Escape Immerse Explore NYC 2017 logo

During our weekend-long event, we will be taking participants on a largely personalized journey through some of New York City’s most interesting escape rooms and immersive games. 

Escape Rooms

As part of the event, you will visit at least four escape rooms from some of the best escape room companies* in New York City including, but not limited to:

Your escape room tour will be led by an experienced escape room player who knows how to get around New York City.

We worry about the logistics of this city and you escape the rooms!

*Not every tour will visit every company.

Group Events

First Person Xperience’s RED in Long Island City is a 75-minute psychological thriller where guests are immersed in an apocalyptic story, interact with real actors and special effects, and work together to complete an objective. RED is a live action experience where your actions and decisions matter, because in this show, YOU control how the story ends!

Escape Entertainment in Herald Square will be our hosts for a morning of breakfast, networking, and escape games.

Lisa and David will be giving a talk by players for players. Lisa and David have been featured speakers at Transworld’s Escape Room Shows in Chicago in 2016 and Niagara Falls in 2017 and at Up The Game in The Netherlands in 2017. This presentation will be exclusively available to event participants.

In Accomplice’s The Cabinet of Curiosities, only available for large group bookings, guests enter a mythical establishment like no other, with an upscale carnivalesque steampunk atmosphere and inventive games and puzzles, led by a colorful crew of misfits called the Curiosities. In this immersive party, you are also invited to participate in a hunt to uncover a secret moonshine recipe, sure to make your morning all the more extraordinary. That is, of course, if you succeed!

Packages

Escape, Immerse, Explore  – $829

This includes RED, Networking at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk, a guided
tour with at least four escape rooms, and The Cabinet of Curiosities.

VIP Escape, Immerse, Explore – $999

This includes RED, Networking at Escape Entertainment, Lisa and David’s talk, a tour
with at least four escape rooms led by Lisa or David, and The Cabinet of Curiosities.

With this ticket, you will have either Lisa or David as your tour guide. (Only 12 available!)

Particulars

The event begins on Friday, November 3rd at 5pm. The Friday evening event is in Long Island City, Queens, a short subway ride from Times Square (NOT on Long Island). Note that booking times on Friday evening will vary. You are welcome to request an earlier or later booking time.

The event will wrap up at 1pm on Sunday, November 5th. At the conclusion of the event, you will be near Times Square.

Presale

By signing up for the presale, we will send you a PayPal invoice to purchase your tickets before they are sold to the public. I’m in!

After purchasing tickets

After purchasing tickets, you’ll receive the link to a short survey about your experience with New York’s escape rooms. You’ll also receive additional information about:

  • Recommended accommodations
  • Traveling to New York City
  • Discount codes for additional escape rooms with some of the participating companies for the week before and after the tour

FAQ

Why New York City?

We live here. This city has outstanding escape rooms. We want to show them off!

Why November?

It’s not winter. It’s not summer. And the escape room conferences were back in May.

Why these particular companies?

We selected them because they showcase some of the best in escape rooms and immersive games.

How will we get from game to game?

It will be a combination of walking and subway. Because New York. So you need to be relatively mobile to participate. You don’t need to know anything about New York. You’ll have a guide.

Can I choose my teammates?

The escape room tours will be groups of 4 or 6. You may select a buddy or put together a full group.

I don’t have a team. Will that be a problem?

Not at all. We’ll put you in a group with other escape room enthusiasts from far and wide.

I’ve played most of the games from these companies. Can I still participate?

Contact us. There might be an opportunity. We’ll try to make it work.

Will I get to choose which escape rooms I play?

No, but you’ll fill out a survey and based on that we’ll put you into games that we think will work well for you. You’ll find out your tour schedule far enough in advance that you can book additional games for yourself before or after the weekend.

I’m an escape room owner/employee and/or immersive experience designer. Can I participate?

Yes!

I have nothing to do with the escape room industry. I just want to play all the games! Can I participate?

Yes!

What should I do about airfare and hotels?

Your ticket does not cover travel or lodging. However, we will send you recommended hotel accommodations and information about travel to NYC after you purchase a ticket.

Are meals included in the ticket price?

The ticket includes brunch at Escape Entertainment on Saturday and brunch as part of The Cabinet of Curiosities on Sunday. Saturday’s escape room tour will have a meal break where you can purchase food.

I can’t make it that weekend. Will you run this again?

If it goes well, we’ll consider running it again in New York or elsewhere.

Why can’t I purchase tickets right now?

We are hammering out a few final details. If you sign up for presale, you’ll get to purchase your tickets very soon.

Can I buy a ticket for someone under 18?

Contact us.

How many tickets are available?

There are 50 tickets available. They will go to the first 50 people who either sign up for presale or purchase them when ticketing opens.

That’s an expensive ticket…

We know. It includes 4 escape rooms, 2 immersive games, 2 meals, an unlimited metro card, a tour guide, a talk, and a mystery… and we’re taking care of all the logistics. Plus, New York is expensive. You know, it’s a pretty good deal!

How long have you been planning this?

A very long time. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something great here.

Can I sponsor this event?

Contact us about sponsorship opportunities.

What if I have other questions?

Contact us.

We look forward to seeing you in New York this November!

Sign up for presale now!

Lisa & David on the Up The Game Podcast

Up The Game Logo - A keyhole in an arrow pointing upwards.

Shortly before we delivered our talk at Up The Game in The Netherlands, we sat down with Anna-Maria Giannattasio for a lovely 3.5 minute interview that reveals my most annoying trait as an escape room player…

(UTG2017 | Speakers – Lisa & David Spira)

Ours is the second podcast of the series to post. A great interview with Professor Scott Nicholson is already live and there are many more to come. Stay tuned.

Help us find closed room escapes

We could use a little bit of help…

We’re gearing up to run our 2017 escape room industry growth numbers (2016). One of the big questions that we will be addressing is the number of closures.

While our incredible team of map maintainers has done an amazing job of finding new escape rooms companies on nearly a daily basis, nothing beats local knowledge when it comes to finding closures.

Stylized photo of a map of the north eastern quarter of the United States

Help us share the knowledge

Would you be so kind as to look at our map or spreadsheet and tell us if anything in your area (or areas that you’re familiar with) is missing or incorrect?

  • Did something new open?
  • Do we have a name or address wrong?
  • Has a company closed its doors or moved?

Our directory covers escape rooms in the United States, Canada near the US border, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Please email any updates in your area to RoomEscapeArtist@gmail.com or fill out the contact form. In your update, please let us know the company’s website url and physical address.

We appreciate your help keeping this directory up to date, and plan to fold these updates into our next report on the growth of the US market.

 

Should you Crowdfund an Escape Room? A Data-Driven Look

Most crowdfunded escape rooms fail… but does the data reveal ways to improve the odds?

kickstarter-logo

Hypotheses

  • Most crowdfunded escape rooms fail.
  • Crowdfunding escape rooms has had diminishing returns over time.
  • Most successful escape room crowdfunding campaigns set a low monetary goal.

Methodology

Since 2013, there have been 84 escape room Kickstarter campaigns. We collected the following data points for each campaign:

  • Campaign Name
  • Close Date
  • Location
  • Success/Fail/Cancel
  • Campaign Goal
  • Earned Money
  • Number of Backers
  • Tabletop?

We converted all local currencies to US Dollars using the conversion rate for the date that the campaign closed.

We removed Kickstarters for tabletop escape room games from the analysis below. In doing so, we removed the most significant outlier from the data.*

We focused this study on Kickstarter, the most widely used crowdfunding platform for escape rooms. This limited the variables in the data set. Note that there have also been escape room campaigns on Indiegogo and GoFundMe.

Analysis

Of the 84 escape room Kickstarter campaigns analyzed, 20 completed successfully. That’s a 25% success rate.

Over time

Crowdfunding Campaigns Over Time, shows a regular increase in campaign, but diminishing numbers of successful campaigns.

Each year there have been more Kickstarter escape room campaigns. (Note that the data for 2017 is only for the first quarter.) On the flip side, each year fewer of these campaigns have been successful.

Geography

Crowdfunding Campaigns by Country shows campaigns in Germany, The Netherlands, the UK, the US, and other. Most campaigns were in the US. UK campaigns were more successful by ratio.

Escape rooms in the United States used Kickstarter the most. This was followed by the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Germany, in that order. There was one campaign each from Australia, Belgium, and Canada.

Money

Average goal vs earnings: Shows that the average goal runs around $15,000 while the average earnings for escape rooms hovers a little over $2000.

Most escape rooms didn’t even come close to achieving their campaign funding goal. In this regard, the United States was no different from any other country.

Gap in Goal vs Earnings: Shows that most campaigns miss their goal by a very wide margin, while the successful campaigns just barely exceed their goal.

Successful campaigns set lower goals. On average, the goal of successful campaigns was 1/3 of the dollar value of campaigns overall.

Most successful campaigns barely achieved their funding goals. On average, successful campaigns met their funding goal with 119%. More than half of these made their goals with less than 110%.

Inference: This likely means that many of these campaigns were pushed past their funding threshold by the game’s creators. It’s likely not a coincidence that most successful campaigns just barely exceeded their goal.

Backers

Average number of backers shows that most campaign receive an average of 25 backers, while successful campaigns receive an average of 65 backers.

On average successful campaigns had more than twice as many backers as campaigns over all. They were likely reaching beyond their family and friends.

Canceled campaigns

5 campaigns were canceled prior to failure. In one instance, the company relaunched a new campaign after the canceled one. The original campaign set a goal at $7,500. When they tried again, they set a more attainable goal of $1,500. They successfully raised $1,520. To succeed, they lowered the goal and then just barely attained it.

Kickstarter’s stats for all industries

According to kickstarter’s published stats (which are continually updated), 35% of all launched campaigns have successfully completed.

A general category, “games” is right in line with this at a 34% success rate.

I initially thought that it may have been the limited geography of escape rooms that resulted in a lower success rate, but the theater category seems to disprove that assumption. Kickstarters for theater complete successfully 60% of the time.

My assumption is that escape rooms are less well known and not viewed as an inherent public good in the same way as theater.

There are a lot of reasons why Kickstarter campaigns fail. Given the general Kickstarter trends, escape room campaigns have room for better performance.

Success stories

These were the 5 most successful escape room Kickstarter campaigns:

Chart depicting campaign outliers; the only 5 campaigns to exceed their goal by 150% or more.

With one exception, they had modest goals relative to the data set.

The earliest one from 2014 was Sherlocked, which we visited in Amsterdam and loved. Most of these were more recent. Perhaps they looked at the data before they dove in?

The outlier of the outliers

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment has been the most successful escape room Kickstarter campaign to date. It raised an impressive $135,429, which is 695% of the original campaign goal.

Escape Room in a Box co-creators Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin spent 3 months researching and preparing their Kickstarter campaign before it launched. They looked for resources within the established board game industry. They recommend the following:

Juliana and Ariel also recommend that before launching a Kickstarter, you join the community, both locally and on the internet. If you engage with the community, you’ll have a better idea of what the players want and how to differentiate your experience from what’s already available.

Conclusion & recommendations

Three quarters of crowdfunded escape room attempts on Kickstarter have failed.

Most successful crowdfunding campaigns set a low monetary goal and barely achieved it.

The successful crowdfunding campaigns reached a larger audience of backers.

This leads us to believe that crowdfunding might be most efficient as a marketing and pre-sale tool for escape rooms.

Think twice about crowdfunding your entire escape room venture. It’s a lot of work and you certainly aren’t guaranteed success. Do your research and use crowdfunding strategically; it’s not a lottery ticket.

Thoughts on Up The Game 2017

We’ve had a lot of incredible experiences over our nearly three years of escape room blogging. Among the most memorable: being flown to The Netherlands to deliver a talk to a packed audience from the stage of a chapel in a retired prison.

Lisa and David standing in front of the castle-like gates of the Breda Prison Dome
Time to go to prison.

There weren’t a lot of North Americans in Breda for Up The Game 2017, so I’m going to do my best to fill people in on the happenings of the European escape room conference.

Before we begin… an unnecessary explanation of The Netherlands vs. Holland:

The games of The Netherlands

Over the next month or so we’ll publish reviews of the 10 escape rooms that we played in The Netherlands.

Spoiler: There wasn’t a dud in the batch.

We played based on enthusiast recommendations, as we usually do when traveling, and not a single game let us down. The weakest room escape that we played would be a mighty game in any market that we have visited to date. I am so excited to publish these reviews and share our experiences and observations.

Each escape room that we played was clearly a labor of love. Some were commercialized and designed to drive revenue while others were passionately crafted hobbies or side projects. We did not encounter any low quality cash grab experiences (although we have been assured that they exist in Europe as well).

Unprompted, almost everyone we spoke to eagerly told us which they felt were the best room escape companies in either The Netherlands or Europe. The recommendations were staggeringly consistent. This is a phenomenon that we have not encountered in North America.

People were also eager to tell us which companies were dreadful. Again, the results were similarly consistent. This is a phenomenon that we regularly encounter in North America.

The venue

Up The Game was hosted in the Breda Prison Dome.

Image of the massive and beautiful dome of prison cells.

The Netherlands reformed their drug laws many years ago and started treating drug addiction as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. As a result, their prison population has shrunk dramatically leaving them with a lot of empty prisons. Some of these prisons, like The Breda Prison Dome, have been turned into escape experience venues.

The prison dome's floor with lots of people standing about conversing.

I used to work for a district attorney and I’ve seen the inside of a couple of prisons. This was the first one that I would describe as beautiful. It made for an intense and incredibly cool surrounding for an escape room conference.

A puzzle & an Easter egg

The conference organizers broke a puzzle into many pieces and hid it among the attendees’ badges.

A successful solve of the puzzle resulted in a map of the Prison Dome with a distant room X’ed. This room housed a freakshow photoshoot.

For your viewing pleasure:

David's head on a platter surrouned by fruit. He looks dead.

Talks & recordings

We weren’t quite as busy at Up The Game as we were at the North American conference (on account of far fewer people knowing who we were), so we attended more than a couple of talks. These talks were recorded, but I do not yet know how or when they will be released.

Lisa and David on stage speaking to a full house in the chapel on the prison dome.

Image of Ken Ferguson of The Logic Escapes Me & Exit Games UK

A few highlights:

  • Scott Nicholson passionately chronicled his experiences and trials as “The Creator” of the Red Bull Mindgamers Escape Room World Championship. His presentation was a lot more open and raw than I was expecting, and it was great to hear his perspective on the event.
  • Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames gave us context for SCRAP in her discussion of trends in the different Asian markets.
  • Pop-ups, obsession with technology, the lure of replayability, standard and stable pricing, and the growth of escape room marketing are not only North American trends, but also European ones.
  • Stephanie Allen from Punchdrunk gave us a finer appreciation of Sleep No More… and the packed audience demonstrated how closely interactive theater and escape rooms are intertwined.

We also missed a talk about intellectual property in escape rooms from Matthew Lee of Enigma Room Sydney, a 2016 Golden Lock-In recipient. I really wish we’d caught that one.

Meeting new folks

As with the North American conference, the highlight for us was meeting people. We had so many wonderful conversations with new and old friends alike. These conversations with owners and players from across Europe added fuel to our desire to see more of what the European market has to offer.

There were a number of people like Ken Ferguson, writer of The Logic Escapes Me & Exit Games UK, whom we’ve known for a couple of years over the Internet and finally got to meet in meatspace. For those who are interested… yes… He is spectacularly British.

A thank you

The organizers of Up The Game did a marvelous job of taking care of us. From the escape room recommendations to the travel and lodging accommodations, they made us so comfortable. We are deeply appreciative and hope that we lived up to their and the audience’s expectations. We had so much fun and hope that we can return next year. There are so many more escape rooms to play and conversations to have.

Trapdoor UNLOCKED: Controversial Escape Rooms

Does Trap Door’s newest escape room, Witch Hunt, portray controversial subject matter?

Promo image for Witch Hunt shows a pair of hands holding a noose.

After we’d just hanged a woman for witchcraft, we sat down with Tone and Jess of Trap Door to discuss Controversial Escape Rooms for this episode of Trapdoor UNLOCKED.

The 15-minute video covers the following topics:

  • Is it common sense to avoid controversial topics?
  • Political relevance
  • Escape rooms as education on a topic
  • Trap Door’s Witch Trials
  • Advertising
  • How close are you or your players to the topic?
  • Prepare for the backlash
  • Abortion as a theme
  • Holocaust room escapes
  • Branding and marketing
  • Make purposeful decisions around controversial topics.

For more on this topic, read Genocides, Serial Killers, Tragedies, & Edgy Escape Room PR Nightmares.

Thoughts on the Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference

We spent the opening days of May at the Niagara Falls Escape Room Conference. This gathering of over 1,000 people from across the escape room world was a wonderful experience.

A packed crowd for the room escape artist seminar
Thank you to everyone who came out to our talk. (Photo by James Cobalt)
Transworld, the show organizer, was completely prepared for the crowd this year. With their full staff, the lines, bottlenecks, and confusion that frustrated so many show attendees in Chicago in 2016 were, as far as I could tell, not present this time around.

With that out of the way, here are a few of my observations from this year’s show:

Tech-obsession

We saw an insatiable thirst for technology. It was off-putting how often we heard people say something along the lines of, “I have a gen 1 game and I’m looking to make a gen 2 game.”

When we interviewed Shawn Fischtein of Escape Games Canada last year and published that discussion about his generational definitions, we were publishing an interesting conversation. No one involved intended for this to become industry-wide jargon.

At Room Escape Artist, we have never referenced “generations” once in a review or commentary. These generations are a basic construct for thinking about technology, but technology in an escape room does not have inherent value. There are brilliant room escapes without tech and there are terrible room escapes with tech-heavy builds costing over $100,000.

We were surprised to hear so many owners reference these technology generations as if they were incremental steps in escape room progress, and therefore something to strive for.

Our message has always been: focus on fun and gameflow. Tech and set design are tools to help with these. The core mechanics must be present, however, or all you have is a very pretty, very expensive room with a crappy game built into it.

Marketing & differentiation

More than at last year’s conference, we heard a lot of angst about market definition and differentiation. As local markets fill with similarly named companies, it has grown increasingly difficult to stand out.

Our panel on collaboration across companies within local markets was abuzz with discussion about how to better work together and how to deal with bad actors within the a local community.

Our hope is that more companies will focus on providing an exceptional player experience, co-promote other great companies in the region, and grow strong, eager player communities. Ultimately this industry will live or die based on everyone’s collective ability to foster regular gameplay.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin:

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Still no puzzles

I still wish that there had been a greater focus on puzzle design and game mechanics in the talks and on the tradeshow floor.

On the other hand, we didn’t have tons of people approaching us and expressing their total dislike of puzzles, which happened a lot last year. #Progress

Greater maturity

In Chicago last year there were a number of owners and prospective owners who heckled speakers and were painfully cynical in conversation. This year that wasn’t an issue. I think I only spoke to one person who was looking at escape rooms as a cash grab opportunity.

The attendees at large felt a lot more calm, thoughtful, and mature, which made our many conversations so much fun.

It is possible that the cynics just avoided us… and that’s fine too.

How to support Room Escape Artist

Last year a lot of owners asked how they could support us; we didn’t have an answer. While we would happily accept money, we don’t want to know where it comes from, as this could compromise our commitment to neutral review. This year we showed up with a solution that we have been beta testing for 6 months.

If you want to support us, simply use our Amazon link to purchase goods for your escape room (or anything else). It has zero effect on your Amazon experience and we pick up 4-10% of the sale depending upon the item.

We don’t know who’s buying what, so we cannot be in a position to play favorites. This solution allows escape room owners as well as enthusiast readers to support us without direct financial relationships.

If you’re willing to favorite this link and use it in the future, please know that we will never know who you are, but we deeply appreciate the support.

http://amzn.to/2rhfGV9

If you’re in Canada, we’re working on a link for you. Stay tuned.

Props 4 sale

Like last year, there were a lot of prop makers selling Arduino and Rasberry Pi driven props. They looked great and cost a pretty penny.

I continue to worry about the lack of  a substantive service model for these devices. The folks buying ready-made props lack the technical know-how to build these things in the first place, so I don’t understand what they plan to do when these props fail.

Every single escape room operator should have at least one backup plan for every single element of the player experience. Shit happens. Please be ready for it.

Locks

At our booth this year we set up a pair of lock trees to demo many interesting padlocks. We ran little crash courses on the finer points of lock design, as well as how to identify locks that will be less likely to break. For those who are interested, these are some of the crowd favorites from our booth:

Commando Marine Brass Lock (which we recently reviewed)

Clear Trainer Lock

Trick Lock (which we strongly discourage you from using in an escape room, but could be a nice lobby puzzle)

Atlas Lever Lock

The strange but entertaining line of Mindy Locks

  • http://amzn.to/2qAyxGW
  • http://amzn.to/2psuQW8
  • http://amzn.to/2psINDv
  • http://amzn.to/2psHyUV

Stay tuned, we’ll be writing reviews of each of these and more over the coming months.

Seeing old friends & making new ones

Over the past few years, we’ve met so many wonderful people through this industry. These conferences are like reunions.

To all of the people that we spoke to (except for that one cynical dude), it was a pleasure chatting with you. We were so insanely busy, but we had so much fun.

Also, we extend a special thank you to our regular teammates and dear friends Jason Lisnak and Lindsay Froelich for running our booth and making sure that we could eat. We could not have done this without you two.

The next conference location and date have not been announced yet, but we are looking forward to it nonetheless.

Until then, we wish everyone a productive, fulfilling, and profitable year.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

Update from The Netherlands

Greetings, Breda! A few months ago we didn’t know you were a place (sorry), and now we don’t want to leave.

Trip To Do List:

✔ Talked our way onto an earlier, nonstop flight… thanks Delta!

✔ Completed flight without violent re-accommodation… thanks Delta!

✔ Admired Van Gogh paintings

✔ Consumed too many stroopwafels

✔ Played 10 wonderful escape rooms

❒ Reviewed 10 wonderful escape rooms… stay tuned!

✔ Debated game design and the definition of art over beers

✔ Escaped with owners and enthusiasts from around the world

✔ Played a real life game of Ticket To Ride

❒ Presented to an audience in Breda about The Perspective of the Player’s Experience

❒ Spoke on a panel about the role of bloggers in the escape room industry

If you happen to be in the area, help us with these last two checkboxes; we’re on our own for the reviews.