25 Mar The Front Row Perspective: A few things you may have missed at Transworld / Escape the City
The Front Row Perspective
Hello my fellow Escape Room Owners and Owners-To-Be! Just to be clear, my intentions here are two-fold. First, I want to highlight noteworthy points from the Transworld seminars for those not in attendance. Secondly, I would love to inspire and open the floor to ideas and topics that seasoned owners may use to better their businesses from future trade show opportunities.
Upon the convention announcement, my partner (Andrew) and I made a promise to ourselves that we would go to the Transworld in St Louis with an open mind and an excited heart, with the hope of walking away with a better understanding of where the Escape Room industry currently lies …and where it is heading. We chose to go all out, buy the VIP passes, all haunt events, tours, any extra curricular activity offered, and of course the entire Escape Room seminar pass with the direct intention of sitting in the front row. Thus, the front row perspective was born. Let us begin…
First, I applaud all the speakers who took the time and effort to present. The common thread between them was the collective goal of raising the bar of the industry and game development. While all seminars were interesting there were a few points I wish to highlight for those who did not get to attend. Here are some take-aways from this weekend’s speakers.
Elisabeth Garson (from SteelOwl) set the tone with a presentation on writing games. Not only did she present the information, but she provided a hands-on workbook mapping out a game writing process. I must compliment the workbook as it was very helpful in mapping out a writing flow geared towards reigning in and organizing the creative process. With her marketing background, I found her approach to be well thought out and effective in getting ideas on paper. Though a two hour seminar was barely enough time to scratch the surface, I encourage any one who wants to design their own games to reach out and see about acquiring a workbook from her. As game designers, sometimes the process can get overwhelming or even erratic as we struggle to find a starting place and flow for our ideas. Her workbook covered many pertinent bases that all game makers should keep in mind. Furthermore, she raised the question of “who is your REAL target market”… and do not say “everyone”. If you have a room based on Voodoo then perhaps you wouldn’t market to church youth groups… you catching what I’m throwing?? Good! Knowing your target market is crucial when it comes to writing great games and bringing customers in.
Just a side note… Elizabeth also provided an Escape Game Advertising Checklist! It is a great resource to have. You may want to sweet talk her into sending you one. 😉
The second bit of highlights come from Dr. Jason Kereluk and Shawn Fischtein of Escape Games Canada. These guys have run thousands of missions and after hearing them speak, I have no doubt that they have seen just about everything in terms of customer behavior… and that is one (of many) platforms that they chose to present on. They summed up their findings in three basic rules:
1.) Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.
2.) When composing a game, never ask “why” would somebody do that, but instead, ask what you are going to do “when” someone does that.
3.) If you flip a coin enough times it will land on its side and eventually the improbable becomes inevitable.
In other words, plan for things to be broken, plan for people to react ridiculously and do what needs to be done to prevent and/or overcome these issues quickly and effectively. No new advice for those of us currently operating rooms but a reality that those looking to enter the market need to keep in the front of there mind.
This Maple leaf dynamic duo also brought some specific resources to light for designing games. Video Games! A concept that is nothing novel BUT they provided some game examples they felt had great story telling and other attributes to help us formulate games with proper flow and theme. In their words “Don’t re-invent the wheel. …a number of video games can help inform your sensibilities for creating puzzles, integrating story, and refining user experience through an understanding of the player’s perspective.”
Here are the games they suggested:
- Half Life 2
Another side note… For some entertaining examples on the power of stupid people in large groups I encourage you to catch these guys next time they present. I particularly like the one involving a fire extinguisher… I will let them tell you the rest.
One last point from these two fellas was, “when to use technology”. As rooms pop up left and right and Gen 1 games are transitioning to Gen 2, a common question has been “when should I use technology?” Jason and Shawn answered this question by reverting back to the customer behavior theory and the three rules provided above. In essence, things WILL break… should you choose to use technology, make sure and have the resources to quickly and efficiently fix it once it breaks. If you are a tech guru and have the ability to fix it yourself, adding technology may be a great choice for you. If you are wanting to buy a turn-key room but have zero understanding of any tech involved, perhaps a more manual approach should be taken. It boils down to a “juice worth the squeeze” and “risk vs. reward” argument. How easy is the fix “when” it breaks and will it add a “wow” factor that warrants the risk? Knowing when to use technology is important. Would you put an iPad in a medieval prison?? I hope not!!! These points are obviously subjective from game to game and business to business BUT that being said, (in my humble opinion) the next generation of games are upon us and technology is advancing quickly for our industry. The days of scarcely decorated, weakly themed rooms are moving out and the generation of elaborate sets and physiologically designed games WITH elements of technology are quickly moving in. Do yourselves a favor and be diligent! Continually educating yourself on the technological options out there might very well be the key to longevity. (Ok that last part was my own rant and not a part of Shawn and Jason’s presentation.)
This leads us to our final presenter! Mr. Marty Lee Parker. Perhaps you know him as the creator of “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie” but let’s not paint him with just one brush. Marty is a showman with roots in theatre and production writing, while also creating and organizing large scale events… to name only a few. Marty had some great perspective on how to write a captivating and memorable game/ production that goes far beyond the surface level game play. His philosophy was putting on a show and entertaining the clients! This degree of game writing is accomplished by breaking down and understanding the functionality of the brains chemicals responsible for creating feelings of “happiness and connectivity”. In other words, writing a game that provokes happy chemicals in the brain is absolutely doable! Now, being a bit of a physiology nut myself, I couldn’t agree more with this concept!! For the sake of time, going into the full breakdown of how the provocation of serotonin, oxytocin, adrenaline, and endorphin can be triggered and utilized to keep your participants happy during game play is not feasible… However, I am writing a blog exclusively on that topic and will share with the owners group upon its completion. It’s coming very soon! I promise! Back to Marty… his seminar was a representation of the innovative minds in this industry. Game-play is no longer simply game-play. It is a physiological animal with incredible potential. The bar is being raised and this is a good sign that the escape room industry is headed in a direction of prosperity, acclaim, and longevity.
In summation: At the end of the weekend, I must say, it was frustrating that these speakers had to cater to the lowest common denominator. Each speaker was handcuffed by the inexperience of the collective groups and therefore were not able to cover much information beyond the basics and truly utilize their experience… To their defense, lots of potential ER owners and enthusiasts were in attendance so they seemed forced to provide information from a business start-up stand point. For those of us who are passed that, it would have been nice to have more meat and potatoes. The seminars were not especially beneficial for seasoned ER owners, BUT let us not look at the negative! In August we have our very first ER show in Chicago August 12 -14th! Please chime in on what YOU the OWNERS could use more of to increase your profitability, your creativity, and bolster this industry we have all fallen in love with. I have high hopes for the Chicago show! We have dipped our toes in the proverbial trade show waters and now it’s time for some specialized attention for those veterans who have been trudging through uncharted water and paving the way for the industry.
Hah… I almost forgot… I should officially introduce ourselves. We are Flummox’D Escape Rooms in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Andrew and I are the designers/handymen/tech savvy/owners that first discovered Escape Rooms abroad and instantly fell in love. Our love affair turned into traveling and playing over 35 rooms in 12 different states and 3 countries. Having siphoned through all our research on what worked and what we feel didn’t work… we jumped off the deep end and opened our own Gen II escape room and have been running games for the past few months. Though our business is new, we took the best from the best, made it our own, and are now experiencing great success within our area. Andrew and I look forward to growing with you all!