Don’t Forget the NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig

As we write this blog, we continue to meet new people who love escape rooms and other types of puzzle adventures and entertainment.

Our hope with this event is to help our most avid escape room players find fellow teammates.

We are looking forward to hosting our first NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig!

Many hands raising glasses of liquor.

When

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

7pm – 10pm

Where

Shades of Green Pub (125 East 15th Street, New York, NY between Irving Place and Third Avenue)

Last week we had to change the venue, unexpectedly, as our original venue permanently closed its doors. Luckily, Shades of Green Pub is happy to host us instead!

We encourage all escape room fans in NYC to come, hang out, and purchase your own food/ drink there.

RSVP

Please RSVP so that we can provide a headcount to the venue.

RSVP on Facebook or via email (roomescapeartist@gmail.com)

FAQ

For more information, read the FAQ.

If you’re looking to meet potential escape room teammates, give/ get escape room recommendations, or just talk about these games, we hope you’ll join us and many of our friends on March 7th. We look forward to seeing/meeting you there!

The 2018 Room Escape Conference is in Nashville, Tennessee

The 2018 Room Escape Conference is going to be in Nashville, Tennessee July 27-29.

Transworld Room Escape Conference Logo

Best yet?

Last year’s show made a lot of improvements to the experience. Based on how early and thoroughly everything is being planned for 2018, I get the impression that this one is going to be the best one yet.

Plus… it’s in Nashville!

Review marathon

We are in Nashville this weekend playing many of the escape rooms in the area. We’ll publish reviews of these games throughout March and April. This will help conference attendees find the escape rooms that best fit their interests.

We’ve heard a lot of great things about the Nashville escape room scene. We’re excited to check it out!

Live on stage

We will be giving a talk about the state of the industry in the United States. In 2016 and 2017 we published industry growth statistics on this blog. This summer, hear us announce these numbers live on stage and discuss other trends that we see driving the business all around the world.

Register today

Buy your ticket now. We look forward to seeing you in Nashville this July!

Interview with Justin Nevins about the upcoming Prexcyt Quest (a Cryptex Puzzle Hunt)

We are pleased to announce the Cryptex Hunt.

Cryptex Hunt is a puzzle hunt created by many distinguished members of the escape room player community and presented by Justin Nevins, the creator of the Cryptex Security Box, the hands-down winner of our Cryptex Review Extravaganza.

We recently connected with Justin to learn more about this event and how to get in on all the fun.

REA: What is the name of the puzzle hunt?

Justin: Prexcyt Quest, The Lure of the Dragon.

Prexcyt Quest Cryptex hunt promo image, looks like the cover to an old RPG campaign book.

When will the puzzle hunt take place?

February 24 – 25, 2018: This is the warm-up weekend, where you can learn the hunt format through qualifying puzzles to get an idea of what to expect.

February 26 – March 2, 2018: The Daily Challenges will be released Monday through Friday.

Saturday March 3, 2018: Final Challenge (think “boss monster fight”) begins. It will last as long as it takes for someone to complete the challenge and win.  However, you must complete all of the Daily Challenges before you can start on the Final Challenge.

You can continue to play the hunt as long as you want. This way people who find out about it late can still be a part of the fun. We hope to keep it up and running maybe as long as a year or until we release another one!

Does it cost anything to play?

No, it is entirely free. We encourage as many people as possible to play and enjoy it. All time, efforts and costs have been donated in order to keep it free to anyone who wants to play.

What is the structure of the puzzle hunt?

Errol Elumir of Room Escape Divas fame designed a unique structure that none of us had ever seen for a puzzle hunt… and I won’t divulge anything else. It’s puzzles wrapped in a Cryptex, inside an RPG!

In terms of timing, the qualifying puzzles will be released on Saturday, February 24. You will find a number of qualifying puzzles to solve throughout that weekend. Once you complete the qualifying puzzles, you will be able to play the five daily puzzles, released from February 26 – March 2. The daily puzzles will be released at 8:00 pm Eastern each day.

Once you solve the fifth and final daily puzzle, released on March 2, you will have access to the Finale Puzzle Challenge when it is released at noon Eastern Saturday, March 3rd.

The first person or team to complete the Finale Puzzle Challenge will be declared the winner!

Do you recommend playing as an individual or a team?

We encourage small groups to play together for the camaraderie, but this hunt can be done as a solo event as well. A small group will help insure a wide variety of skills and still allow everyone to participate in each puzzle. Think D&D party size with players having different skills and talents.

You will register as one “player” and will not be able to split up to work on different puzzles in parallel. Teams will not have a major advantage over solo players.

Please note that there will be only one prize available per challenge. If you work as a team and win a prize, you will have to decide who receives the prize.

What are the prizes?

Everything is more fun with prizes and there are some nice ones for this puzzle hunt!

Grand Prize – The first person/ team to complete Prexcyt Quest will win a custom Nevins Line Cryptex Security Box, handcrafted by me from real stone and brass with 23k gold inlay (estimated value $3,500). This box has been specifically designed for this puzzle hunt and will be thematically appropriate.

2nd Prize – This will be determined by a random drawing of all people/ teams who complete Prexcyt Quest within a certain period of time. They will win a standard line Cryptex Security Box replica of the Grand Prize. This box will be made with polycarbonate and brass instead of real stone (estimated value $650).

Locked cryptex beside a $10 bill for size reference, it's a few inches longer and a little wider.

Daily Prize Winners – We plan on having daily prizes for the first person/ team to solve each of the daily puzzle challenges. (Note that each person/ team can only win one daily prize.)

How did the idea for this hunt come about?

A friend asked me if there was a “Cryptex Day” holiday to which I replied “Sure… it’s March 1st!” This was the day I created the first Cryptex back in 2004.  It became a running joke that I had declared March 1st “International Cryptex Day,” (Hey, if you are going to make up a holiday, think big. Why limit it to just “National Cryptex Day?”)

Then Errol said, “You should make a puzzle hunt for International Cryptex Day!” When I agreed that that would be awesome, he said “I’LL DO IT!!!” He gathered a group of really talented people and convinced them to volunteer their time. Together, I think we’ve all created a pretty cool and unique puzzle hunt!

Who is the team behind Prexcyt Quest?

Errol Elumir, Darren Miller, and Dan Egnor are the primary hunt creators and puzzle designers. David Lewis provided technical assistance. I provided Cryptex wrangling/ training and Cryptex technical consulting, as well as design and creation of the prizes.

Several other people contributed to this hunt as game testers, creatives, and consultants including Tyler Goen, Kari Maaren, Julie Nevins, Debbie Ridpath-Ohi, Mags Storey, Lizette Tanner, Alex Wai, Manda Whitney, Margaux Yiu, Michael Yuan, and Ruby Yuan. To them we owe huge thanks!

Why did you decide to create this hunt?

I wanted to give back to all the really awesome escape room owners and enthusiasts, puzzle hunters, and fans of the Cryptex. This industry and community has been so great to work with and I’ve personally had so much fun playing escape rooms and puzzle hunts. I wanted to be a part of developing something fun for you!

Who would this puzzle hunt be good for?

We think it will appeal to anyone who likes to solve puzzles.

If you enjoy escape rooms puzzles, but you’ve never tried a puzzle hunt, this will be accessible. It will be challenging, but since the puzzles are released at 24-hour intervals, you can spend a lot of time working through these puzzles without feeling behind.

Experienced puzzle hunters will likely solve the daily puzzles more quickly, but that will not diminish the fun of the puzzles.

How do I start playing?

Keep your eye on cryptexhunt.com.  We will reveal information there as the start date approaches.

Will there be future Cryptex hunts?

I certainly hope so! I’d love to make this an annual event, but it will really depend on how well this one is received and if people are willing to donate their time to help create more of these in the future (so we can keep it free). It’s been a real joy to work with the development team, testers, designers, coders, writers, artists etc. Everyone has been super generous with their time and efforts to make something I think will be really cool and fun to play!

ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS: Patent Troll?

Last week a number of escape room owners let us know that a guy named Howard Cutler of ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS dropped into the Mobile Escape Room Owners Facebook group brazenly announcing that he had filed a patent on the concept of “mobile escape room” and demanding that everyone get off of his lawn.

Screen shot of Howard Cutler's Facebook post: Full text printed below picture

“Ladies and Gentlemen. I have a patent pending for a Mobile Escape Room. It seems like the word ‘mobile’, gets used loosely. My Mobile Escape Room is indeed 100 percent mobile. We are not brick and mortar and we are not a trailer. We literally build the specific themes for each client, inside or outside, 100 percent turnkey system. If you are thinking or currently have a tent, pip and draping, inflatable frame, igloo or anything to make the actual room and place puzzles, locks codes or anything under the sun inside the room, you will be in violation of my patent. This is not a joke and I want each and everyone of you to be advised of this before you are thinking of pursuing this idea or may already be doing this. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call me at 3014247114 during business hours.”

The Community Reaction

The Mobile Escape Room Owners Facebook group responded with a mix of assertive clarification of facts and mockery… both of which seem well-deserved given the circumstances.

Patent Filings Are Serious

It’s easy to look at Cutler’s poorly written declaration of war and laughable claim to ownership of the idea of mobile escape rooms as a joke. If you know anything about the history of escape rooms, this should seem utterly hilarious.

A hairy in a viking helmet holding a shield.

If you know anything about patent trolls, the damage they can do, and the cost involved with killing even stupid patents, you’ll know that we as a community need to take this seriously.

Based on Cutler’s statement, his refusal to answer basic questions, and a whole lot of evidence that I will lay out before you, it’s clear that to me that he is either a forum troll or a patent troll. All signs point to the latter.

My Conversation with Cutler

I called Cutler as per his posting to hear about his innovation, his intentions, and his timing.

When I finally got him on the phone a day after calling, he answered all but one of my questions by telling me that I’d have to ask his attorney.

When asked how long he had been in business, he answered, “25 years,” which was a cute response. When asked how long he had been in the escape room business… you guessed it: I had to ask his attorney.

His attorney could not be reached for comment.

About ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS

I did a bit of digging around ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS to try and learn where this company came from, and more importantly, when it came about.

All signs point to late November and early December of 2017.

Domain Records

According to the WhoIs record on the website’s domain, it was created on November 12, 2017.

Whois domain record showing that the entry was created on November 12, 2017.

Facebook Posts

A search of “ultimate mobile escape room” on Facebook brought me to Cutler’s company page ULTIMATE AMUSEMENTS. The oldest post mentioning escape rooms appears to be from December 3, 2017. There isn’t a lack of promotional content for other products on their Facebook page.

Ultimate Amusements Facebook promoting their games on December 3, 2017.

ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ Website

(We are purposely not linking.)

All 5 of the games listed on the ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS website are listed as “NEW.”

This further suggests that this company emerged in late Q4 2017.

IP Infringement?

When I perused ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ website I learned that they have a few games based on pre-existing intellectual property:

  • Da Vinci Code
  • Twilight Zone
  • Die Hard

Cutler didn’t stay on the phone long enough for me to ask about licensing, but I do know that these licenses take a lot of time and money. I would be surprised to learn that ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS negotiated deals with the appropriate rights holders.

I’m not the IP police and I don’t get particularly worked up over the subject, but given Cutler’s IP tantrum, in this case it’s worth noting.

Pricing & Quality

It looks like ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS’ business model is fundamentally different from most escape room companies in that they seem entirely focused on setting up temporary games for large events. It would cost an incredible amount of money to play these games.

Ultimate Amusements pricing for their mobile escape rooms ranging from $900 for 30 minutes to $4000 for 4 hours.
These prices drop a bit with volume… but wow.

I normally never judge an escape game by photos, but a quick glance at the Facebook post from December 3rd shows what looks like a bland retread of a lot of old cliches: blacklights, book safes, and uninteresting settings.

All of this suggests that ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS and its owner are neophytes to escape rooms.

Some Mobile Escape Room Facts

We’ve been tracking the growth of the escape room industry in the United States since mid 2014, before the overwhelming majority of escape rooms even opened in this country. There are a ton of different mobile escape games in the market and plenty of different definitions of mobile.

Trailer Escape Rooms

The first branded mobile escape room that we became aware of was Mobile Room Escape in Chicago. We added this company to our map in February of 2016. It opened in 2015.

There are plenty of trailer-based games all over the United States. We first played one at the Chicago Room Escape Conference in August of 2016.

Trailer games, however, aren’t the only portable or temporary escape games on the market.

Portable Escape Rooms

Back in March of 2016 while on our honeymoon, Lisa and I played 60 Out’s Quest in a Box, a game that existed in the lobby of a brick and mortar escape room, but could be broken down and moved about.

Tent Escape Rooms

We met the guys from Mindgames Productions at the Niagara Falls Room Escape Conference in May of 2017. These guys had a tent-based product that looked similar to what Cutler claims he has recently patented.

When I reached out to the guys from Mindgames I learned that they’ve been producing these experiences since April of 2015.

Tabletop Escape Rooms

There are also tabletop games, the first of which was Escape Room in a Box, which we played back in February of 2016 as well. These games made an appearance on the floor of the very same Chicago Room Escape Conference. They could certainly classify as portable or mobile escape rooms.

Train-Based Escape Rooms

In 2017 our Canadian friends from the Room Escape Divas ran a 3 hour escape room event on a moving train.

That’s pretty mobile.

Mass Escape Events

Then there is Real Escape Games, also known as SCRAP… the first company to sell a formal room escape product. They have been running portable, traveling mass escape games for longer than escape rooms have been in the United States.

Our first visit to a traveling SCRAP event was in June of 2014. This was also my first escape room review before this website even existed.

SCRAP has produced tons of games that have temporary and portable structures that hold puzzling content.

Prior Art

A patent can be denied or invalidated if there is proof of prior art. Prior art is essentially any evidence that the patented thing existed beforehand.

Unless ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS has been a sleeper silently making these escape rooms for years without anyone knowing about it, any number of posts on this website could invalidate their claim.

Mobile escape rooms isn’t a new concept. No one holds a patent on it… and that’s fantastic. It means that the idea is out there for all of us to enjoy and iterate on.

If ULTIMATE MOBILE ESCAPE ROOMS wants to become a patent troll and declare control over the idea, they are going to have to fight a host of escape room owners who have been in the business for some time.

If the US Patent and Trade Office happens to approve this patent and start suing, give us a call. We’ll happily take the stand and testify to the variety of mobile escape rooms that exist, and have already existed, in the United States and all around the world.

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter

Roy Leban’s The Librarian’s Almanaq is a puzzle book that many trusted puzzler friends highly recommend. We haven’t played through it yet, but it is literally sitting on our table waiting for us to dive in. We’ll get to it soon and a review will follow.

Based on its reputation, we’re also backing The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book.

The Conjurer's Almanaq: Escape This Book cover.

The Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book

Leban’s latest Kickstarter has a few days remaining. It has already raised three times its funding goal and activated half a dozen stretch goals.

This sequel is another imaginative puzzle book designed for 1-3 players.

While there will also be a scaled back black & white print edition available, the Kickstarter one will use higher quality materials and contain extra puzzle content. If that sounds enticing to you, consider backing them… or wait for our review and the black & white edition when that comes to market.

Back the Conjurer’s Almanaq: Escape This Book on Kickstarter while you still can.

(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.)

March 7: NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig

We’ve met a lot of wonderful people who love escape rooms, puzzles, and other immersive entertainment. We’d love to get many of the locals (and anyone who happens to be in town) in the same room… just to hang out.

Please join us for our first NYC Room Escape Fan Shindig.

T-rex taxidermy in big green sunglasses and a bowtie.

When

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

7pm – 10pm

Where

Paulaner on Bowery, 265 Bowery, New York, NY 10002

Note the Change: Shades of Green Pub (125 East 15th Street, New York, NY between Irving Place and Third Avenue)

The Paulaner has unexpectedly closed permanently. This event will now take place at Shades of Green Pub.

RSVP

Please RSVP. We need to provide a headcount to the venue.

RSVP on Facebook or via Email (roomescapeartist@gmail.com)

Anticipated Questions

What does this event cost?

It is free to attend. We ask that you please purchase food and/or drinks from the venue, Paulaner on Bowery Shades of Green Pub.

If we have more than 40 people in attendance, we’ll have a minimum spend at the restaurant. We’ll deal with that if we have to.

Do I need to RSVP?

Yes. Please RSVP (and don’t flake) so that we can give a headcount to the venue and make sure we have enough space reserved for the group.

Will there be an escape room?

Nope. This is about community. Adding an escape room would make this not free, artificially cap the numbers, and add a lot of logistics.

Will you be giving a talk?

Nope. There will be no talk and no agenda. This is simply a gathering of people who love being locked in giant puzzle adventures and want to meet other people who also wish that their arch-nemesis was The Riddler.

Is there a minimum age requirement?

Nope. If you’re under 21 you simply can’t drink alcohol. Children are welcome if accompanied by adults.

I’m an owner. Can I come?

Absolutely. We’d love to have you. Just be cool and don’t show up hard selling.

Will there be food?

We’ll be in a restaurant. If you buy it, you can eat it.

Will there be alcohol?

If the bartender will sell you booze, it’s all yours. Please drink responsibly. If you’re younger than 21, no shenanigans please.

My name is Bill and I’ve designed a nifty new puzzle. Can I bring it for people to beta test? Yup. This is also fine if your name is not Bill.

Facebook’s Newsfeed Changes & Escape Rooms

I’m not the guy who complains about every little change that every tech platform makes. I’ve been designing complex software for years and I get the complexity.

When I say that the latest Facebook Newsfeed updates are terrible, I mean it.

They are a disaster for small businesses like escape rooms.

Painting of a man holding an iPhone to his head like a gun, and social media icons shooting out the other side like blood, bone and brains.
I saw this hanging in Berlin, Germany’s Final Escape.

What’s Going On?

Mark Zuckerberg did his 50 states tour and decided that Facebook needed to focus on creating “meaningful interaction.”

He said, “We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people.”

As a result, the newsfeed now supposedly emphasizes “friends and family” (NYTimes).

In practicality, this means:

  • Content posted by your family should appear more readily in your feed.
  • Content from Facebook Pages of companies that you’ve liked will appear less frequently.
  • News content will appear more often… so long as it’s been posted by a friend.
  • Content from Facebook groups you’ve joined will show up all over your feed.

For me personally, this means that my Facebook feed consists of humorless political postings from the people that I know, discussions from the various escape room-related Facebook groups that I’m a member of… and lots and lots and lots and lots of escape room post-game photos.

This means that I’m looking at Facebook a whole lot less. So maybe this is a good thing?

Back to the point.

What Does This Mean For Escape Rooms & Players?

Organic Reach

The organic reach of Facebook pages has been slashed.

This means that the Facebook content posted by businesses will surface naturally at a much lower rate.

Facebook wants businesses to pay to have their content surfaced. This isn’t new. While they’ve been operating this way for years, they’ve kept the organic numbers at least reasonable while regularly pummeling the page-owner with notifications about the treasures that will come if and only if they give Facebook some money to promote their content.

To me, these notifications always read like Nigerian Prince emails without the charm.

Update 11:45AM – This is a high performing post! Facebook wants money to make more people see it.

An email from the Facebook ads team suggesting that this post is high performing and that we should pay to boost its presence in Facebook.
This is not a joke.

The Effect

The Facebook user clicks “like” on pages of interest. The user is literally asking for the content. Facebook, however, algorithmically withholds it because it’s an easy chokepoint to generate revenue.

For players this means that when your favorite local escape room business announces that it has a new room, you won’t see this unless the escape room pays enough money that Facebook chooses to grace your eyeballs with the announcement.

It means that if you follow Room Escape Artist or other blogs through Facebook, you will see our content less frequently.

More importantly, it means that your local escape room businesses will likely have to spend a lot more money with Facebook to get the results that they need to operate. This will dramatically favor larger businesses who can more easily absorb the added cost.

What Can I Do About It?

You – as a player, a fan of escape rooms, and a reader of this site – have a few options to limit the damage that this shift will create:

  • Use your web browser as a browser and favorite your local escape room companies and Room Escape Artist.  Click over to them from time to time. Visit on your own terms, not because an algorithm selected the content for you.
  • Subscribe to emails. A good portion of our readership subscribes to receive emails when we publish content. Just about every escape room company out there sends out promotions and information via email.
  • If you can’t kick the Facebook habit, and believe me, I get that too… click “like,” leave a comment, or share content that you support. Boosting the signal helps.
  • Another option for those committed to Facebook is to use their oddly buried subscription feature to make sure that content is served up:

When you like a page’s content, go to the page and next to the “Like” button you’ll find the “Following” button. Click that and update your setting to “See First.”

Facebook's following dropdown, set to "Default" with "See First" highlighted.

Advice For Owners

So far, we haven’t seen a significant dip in traffic as a result of this because we’ve never put a heavy emphasis on Facebook as a distribution platform. Our feeling is that we distribute to all sensible channels and let our readers decide how they will interact with us. Facebook happens to be one channel.

Our site is built on open source technology. We distribute easily to RSS and our email subscription is simple. Our preference is that people use the website as a website because that’s the only thing we can control.

We’ve taken this approach because we don’t trust Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, and others to put our interests first. We’ll use them, but we won’t count on them.

Advertising and marketing is a lot of work. Make a conscious strategy. Don’t rely on one platform. Measure your results and refocus on the things that work. Don’t let yourself get lulled into a false sense of security with a single platform.

If one thing is certain about tech companies, it’s the promise of endless change… which may or may not be in your favor.

2017 Golden Lock-In Awards

We played and reviewed 258 room escapes in 2017.

Our escape rate was 96.12%. That’s 10 losses, including one game that appears on this list.

We traveled more than 58,000 miles in search of the finest escape rooms in the world. Our journey took us to:

  • 75 cities and towns
  • 15 US states
  • 7 countries
  • 3 conferences

We played more escape rooms this year than we have in all other years combined.

We also put a heavy focus on hunting down top games wherever we traveled, so in addition to playing more games, we mostly played games that ranged from good to phenomenal.

2017 spoiled us. These 17 escape rooms were the games that we enjoyed the most.

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.

There is no such thing as the perfect escape room, but these are the ones that we wish we could play again.

There were plenty of other amazing escape rooms, but we can’t honor them all. In the end these 17 rose to the top.

Rules

  1. We only considered games that we both played in 2017. (We did not consider either Time Run or any of the Polish games because only one of us visited these companies.)
  2. We both had to agree to award the room the Golden Lock-In.
  3. We established no arbitrary minimum or maximum number of rooms that could appear on the list.
  4. A company could only win once for the year.

2017 Golden Lock-In Winners

Listed chronologically in the order we played them.

Lab Rats

15 Locks – Austin, Texas

Visually simple, yet deceptively complex, Lab Rats was the most phenomenal large-team game we’ve played because this colorful experiment optimized for collaboration across separated spaces through inventive game mechanics.

Dead Air

The Crux Escape  – Niagara Falls, Canada

Rock & roll might be a shambling corpse, but this rock & roll zombie apocalypse was alive. Dead Air was cohesive, elegant, humorous, and perhaps most shockingly… it made sense, story included. We sent so many attendees of the Room Escape Conference to visit this low-budget masterpiece and they all returned smiling.

Maze of Hakaina

Komnata Quest, Manhattan – New York, New York

Maze of Hakaina dropped us into a Japanese-inspired and video game-esque labyrinth that came to a very pointed climax.

The Vault

Sherlocked – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We raced from a parking garage to Amsterdam’s historic Beurs van Berlage and talked our way past a guard into a hidden and majestic basement. The Vault captured the heart-racing, blood-pumping feel of a Hollywood heist.

Girl’s Room

Escape Room Netherlands – Bunschoten-Spakenburg, The Netherlands

Girl’s Room felt alive… and angry. The extensive and thoughtful technology made it feel like we weren’t alone in this dark and twisted thriller. While it was a trek to get to Escape Room Netherlands from Amsterdam, if you’re brave enough, it’s worth the journey.

Zoe

Escapade Games – Anaheim, California

F****** terrifying. In Escapade’s haunted house with escape room mechanics as gates, we were mind controlled and at the mercy of Zoe as she paralyzed us with fear… then made us solve puzzles.

Clock Tower

Escape The Room NYC – New York, New York & Boston, Massachusetts

Peak puzzles: Clock Tower was a love letter to escape room players. It looked beautiful and played even better. Technology seamlessly connected brilliant and occasionally devious puzzles and props, making us earn our victory.

Utopia

Riddle Room- Minneapolis, Minnesota

Utopia was an illusion. When we first entered the gamespace, we worried we’d hate it. Behind its deceptively simple facade we discovered brilliant physical and digital puzzles that carried a narrative and challenged our assumptions of what escape rooms could or should be.

The Lost Treasure

The Room – Berlin, Germany

The Lost Treasure was a masterpiece of game and adventure design. The energy, effects, and beauty of this game made us feel like we were Indiana Jones. When we won, we didn’t want to leave. Months later we are still amazed by how much detail The Room crammed into this game, yet it never felt distracting or misleading.

The Great Room

13th Hour Escape Games – Wharton, NJ

Slightly creepy and seriously playful, The Great Room impressed us on multiple levels. From the dynamic introduction, to the puzzles, to the gamespace itself, it was a great room.

Spellbound

RISE Escape Rooms – Tickfaw, Louisiana

Spellbound’s witches vs vampires drama brought together the old and new: hefty locks and magical opens, common puzzle types and new twists, all in a beautifully weathered set that gave way to so many surprises.

Tomb of Anubis

13th Gate Escape – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I cannot think of an escape room moment more dramatic than the opening reveal of Tomb of Anubis. The scale of this adventure was as daunting as it was enchanting.

Inventor’s Attic

Escape My Room – New Orleans, Louisiana

Escape My Room’s themed facility, the DeLaporte estate, captivated us with its decor, characters, and eccentricity. Inventor’s Attic pinnacled their unified aesthetic through elaborate mechanisms, interconnected oddities, beautiful reveals, and smart puzzles.

The Man from Beyond

Strange Bird Immersive – Houston, Texas

Strange Bird Immersive’s theatrical escape room hybrid was so powerful that we teared up. In The Man from Beyond, the push and pull of actors and puzzles didn’t compete; they intertwined. The performance was as moving and fine tuned as the mechanical puzzles.

Time Chasers: Race for the Cure

Trap’t – Stamford, Connecticut

Time Chasers linked four seemingly unrelated escape room worlds into one grand adventure. Each segment was loaded with compelling details that enriched the story without bogging it down. Any individual room within this game could have carried a stand-alone escape room.

The Elevator Shaft

THE BASEMENT – Sylmar, California

The Elevator Shaft was exhilarating and loaded with edgy practical effects. THE BASEMENT’s latest thriller locked us inside of a menacing elevator shaft reimagined in the image of the Death Star trash compactor.

The Parlour

Puzzalarium – San Diego, California

The Parlour combined puzzles with resource optimization, creating an intriguing hybrid tabletop game and escape room. Presided over by the puzzle purveyor, Puzzalarium’s abstraction was as peculiar as it was pleasing.

Congratulations to the 2017 Golden Lock-In Winners!

2016 Golden Lock-In Winners

2015 Golden Lock-In Winners

About Room Escape Artist

Wild Optimism: Behind the Success of the Kickstarter Escape Room in a Box

This never should have worked.

In early 2016, the women behind Escape Room in a Box asked us to promote their play-at-home, tabletop escape room. We thought this was a terrible idea so we said, “only if we can review it.” They sent us a prototype. We played it, enjoyed it, and reviewed it.

Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin have come a long way since then:

  • 2,353 backers pledged $135,429 to bring their project to life.
  • The Kickstarter product shipped. We reviewed that one too.
  • They sold their game to Mattel.
Escape-Room-Photo
MATTEL DEBUTS NEW ADULT GAME — ESCAPE ROOM IN A BOX. New Game Inspired by Escape Room Experiences Available This Fall (PRNewsfoto/Mattel, Inc.)

Today, the Mattel version is available for purchase.

We looked at the data: Most escape room Kickstarters fail. This one, on the other hand, sounded like the fairytale Kickstarter story.

We sat down with Juliana and Ariel to get their story of wild optimism, long hours, and creative perseverance.

Room Escape Artist: Where did the idea for Escape Room in a Box come from?

Juliana & Ariel: We’ve always been into board games and Juliana was frequently hosting game nights. We were increasingly spending a lot of money going to escape rooms in sketchy neighborhoods. (This is before anyone could afford prime real estate for escape rooms.) So we figured we’d just buy an at-home one for Juliana’s next game night. We searched the internet, but we couldn’t find one to purchase. When we couldn’t find one, we decided to make one. We figured we couldn’t be the only people out there who wanted this.

Juliana & Ariel at a conference in front of an oversized wooden box labeled, "Escape Room In A Box."

Once you had the idea, how did you seed the market for the Kickstarter?

We reached out to lots of reviewers, both of escape rooms and board games. We were lucky to have a number of major influencers (like you! and Joel Eddy) respond in the first wave. Even though neither of you thought the game was going to be any good, you still agreed to play it. Once you knew it was awesome, your support brought us more reviews and press coverage.

We reached out to any media outlet that we could think of that might want to cover the game. We personalized our emails, pointing out specifically why their audience would want to learn about this project. (Yes, it takes forever to watch/read a good bit of their content, but it proved to be well worth it.) We emailed or tweeted any journalist or blogger or podcaster we could find who had ever covered escape rooms and tried to convince them that this would make a great follow-up story.

Note that for every article or review you see that we DID get, we probably reached out to twenty more who (mostly) never responded, or who said they didn’t want to write about the game. It is, in some sense, a numbers game.

We also sent a personalized thank you email to every single backer, which we think made people feel appreciated and more likely to share the project with their friends and on social media.

We paid attention to who the backers were. When we saw that Elan Lee (creator of Exploding Kittens and Bears v. Babies) had backed our game, we reached out to him and offered to let him play the game immediately. He was incredibly gracious, inviting us over to his house for a play test and giving us excellent feedback and advice on both the game and dealing with Kickstarter.

Once the Kickstarter was successful, we followed up with people who had never responded to us, sending them a second email to let them know how well things were going. We received more responses that way.

So at that point, while the Kickstarter was running, you already had samples to send. We haven’t seen that all too often. How did you get to that point?

We approached this as a board game Kickstarter (since that was a well established model) and most of those would never dream of launching without independent third party reviews, especially for first time creators.

The Werewolf Experiment - Revisited 2

To get to that point, we were continually testing the game. We started by reaching out to our friends and asking them each to bring a friend we didn’t know. We also needed to find escape room-minded testers, so we tried different ideas. We went to a Puzzled Pint and asked everyone there to test the game. They all said yes and they were great. We also reached out to people who had reviewed escape rooms on Yelp, but the vast majority of them never responded to us. (We maybe got one playtest out of that.) Some ideas worked and others didn’t.

We were testing all the time. We started splitting up so that we could have two test groups running at once.

We asked the playtesters what they liked and didn’t like about the game, but they usually couldn’t articulate that well. We got more out of simply watching them play the game. People don’t know what they’re good at. They always suggested ways to make the game harder, but that wasn’t the feedback we sought.

How much did the game change during testing?

At first it changed rapidly. The first group took three hours to complete the game, with generous hinting. So, we iterated. We knew everything was fixable.

For example, we originally included a challenging logic puzzle. First we simplified it. Then we added step-by-step instructions for how to do it. However, people didn’t want to read the instructions. We found that people like to figure things out by themselves rather than read and follow instructions.

Originally we relied on a lot of paper puzzles, but we noticed that players enjoyed the physical interactions more, so we leaned into that. We wanted people to have more energy while they played and that was the solution. More innovative and more interactive.

As playtesting continued, we learned not to get hung up on everything. Gameplay wasn’t a problem until multiple groups had the same issue. In some cases, these repeat issues led us to add hinting, or clue structure, into the game itself. When testers repeatedly failed to find the same thing… we won’t tell you what we added, because spoilers!

After a while, the rate of change plateaued.

Once the testing completed and the Kickstarter funded, was it smooth sailing to a finished product?

There was another round of more testing after we got the artwork back from our artist. We spent hours sitting with him, making him get rid of beautiful things that we all loved because we knew they would come across as clues when they actually meant nothing.

Then we did a bunch of play tests with the artwork, which led to more changes. This was stressful because he does amazing work, but he also has a day job so it was tricky for him to meet our manufacturing deadlines. At one point we literally bought him an automatic cat feeder so that he wouldn’t have to worry about his cat and could focus on getting the work done. It sounds completely illogical, but we had to do what we had to do to get the artwork!

We also had to work through manufacturing. We needed to make sure the manufactured product matched our prototype exactly.

The Werewolf Experiment - Revisited 3

At one point we were convinced that some of our locks were breaking in transit… but only the red ones. When manufacturing didn’t believe us, we had to devise a test to prove it. We put 5 black locks and 5 red locks through a dryer cycle. All the red locks broke, but the black ones were fine. We knew this would be a problem for shipping our game, so we changed all of the locks to the black version. Problem solved.

What tips do you have to help people do Kickstarter right? Any blog or podcasts suggestions?

Understand how much work you need to do both before and during a Kickstarter. You can not rely on Kickstarter to bring you an audience. You must bring in your own audience. Some people do that by building up a huge mailing list before launch. We did that by gathering a ton of press that all hit within the first week of the campaign. They all brought their audiences to our game.

Independent reviews of your product make all the difference in the world, especially if it’s an expensive product. We’ll gamble $20 on an untested puzzle game, but have a hard time parting with over $50 if all we have is your word that it’s going to be awesome.

Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe have excellent blogs filled with useful information about how to run a successful Kickstarter. They cover absolutely everything. This includes huge things like how to build up an audience or do worldwide shipping for the best price and smaller tips such as: don’t launch on a weekend or a holiday because people aren’t sitting at their computers browsing Kickstarter at that time.

What are the differences between the Kickstarter version of your product and the Mattel version?

Not a whole lot.

The biggest difference is that the Mattel version doesn’t include any destructible components.

We included one element that gets used up. Mattel replaced it with something that doesn’t get destroyed and is easily resettable. It’s also super cool!

There are other things a big company like Mattel just can’t do. For example, Mattel replaced the pen in our original game with a pencil.

Now that Escape Room in a Box is for sale, what are you working on?

With Mattel, we are working on the next game in the series. Unfortunately that is about all we can say about it at this point.

We sold the Escape Room In A Box trademark to Mattel, so we are now the Wild Optimists. We create custom escape room-style experiences for a variety of clients. This ranges from a centerpiece puzzle at a gala to a completely personalized escape room for an epic marriage proposal. Designing puzzles is our absolute favorite part of this entire process, so this allows us to have a steady stream of new and interesting projects to work on.

Juliana & Ariel posing in front of a mural of an umbrella shielding pink rain. They appear to be holding the umbrealla.

Puzzles are such a great way to bring people together, get them laughing, talking, and bonding. That’s why we’re incorporating them into more unexpected environments where you want people to meet each other (like galas and weddings). The beauty of these puzzles is that they are one-time use, so we can design things you could never do in a traditional room (like having a puzzle that involves mixing up a cocktail). We love getting to personalize our creations to our audience.

We love the name “Wild Optimists.” Does that name capture your mentality at the beginning of the Kickstarter?

We didn’t think it would be easy and it certainly wasn’t. It WAS doable.

A hand holding a locked tin labeld "Biohazard. In the background is a table covered in paper and physical puzzles.
The prototype

However, we literally did not stop working during the time we created the game and ran the Kickstarter. We couldn’t sleep because we were working through puzzles while lying in bed. We would slap together meals while responding to comments on Kickstarter. We barely saw our husbands, ignored our children more than we should have, and focused everything on the game. After the Kickstarter was over, we agreed that we would never work like that again because it had been totally insane and was not sustainable. There was zero work life balance.

All that being said, we are continually pinching ourselves at how well everything turned out. We now have a career where we get to design puzzles, play games, bring joy to people, and still be home as the primary caretakers for our children. It’s been a really epic journey and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Purchase your Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment.

(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.)

Room Escape Artist talks about the end of an exciting year on the REDivas Podcast!

Room Escape Divas Logo, a cartoon representation of the four hosts.

We adore chatting with the REDivas (Room Escape Divas), so of course, we couldn’t say no to another invitation to appear on their podcast.

The REDivas are Torontonian escape room enthusiasts/ podcasters Mike, Ruby, Manda, and Errol.

In this episode:

54 – Room Escape Artist and the Escape Room Industry

We apologize for the poor audio quality… Our microphone threw a tantrum. 

0:00 – Parody of “Bear Necessities”

1:00 – The proper pronunciation of our last name

My name is pronounced Spira

2:15 – WroEsacpe, the Polish Escape Room Conference, and Polish escape games (read more)

18:00 – Escape, Immerse, Explore NYC 2017 (read more)

31:40 – Holiday Buyer’s Guide (see the guide)

35:30 – Golden Lock-In, escape room trends, and interesting things that we’ve seen this year

In summary

“Some of these owners are so insane, and us players are going to benefit from it… incredibly.” – David Spira