Here’s a perspective you won’t find elsewhere. This site has already discussed Escape Hunt, set to open in London in August. There are already three Escape Hunt sites open, in three different countries, and the locations list details the ambitious expansion plans around the world, particularly over the short-term future.
Accordingly, it’s exciting to be able to feature an interview with Paul Bart, the CEO and founder. There are very few brands with a similar global perspective and profile, so Paul’s take on the genre, and his background, will be distinctive. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Paul’s responses with PB below.
- EG: How did you get into “escape games”, Paul?
- PB: I was looking for a new business idea a while back and I noticed around a year ago that a few escape games were spring up and doing well in other cities. I decided it was worth looking at how they were being run and what the potential was to expand with them globally. Unfortunately none had a truly global vision and I decided I had to go it alone. Hence The Escape Hunt Experience was founded.
- EG: What is your background that could possibly relate to this?
- PB: There are many factors here and, without boring you, let’s just say I have always been fascinated and challenged by puzzles. I was the kid who would stay up late at night in bed trying to figure out how to solve a maths or word puzzle. I also have a good psychology degree specializing in several areas one of which is IQ testing and another is data analysis relating to statistics. Add in many years of corporate training, seven languages and a lot of other eclectic experience and that might tell you why I love what I do so much.
- EG: How do you see this market now and in say 12 months time?
- PB: Now it is growing fast and it will continue to do so. There are two main types of players now – larger companies like us of which we are the clear global leader and then local games with one or maybe a send branch only. As time goes on, this will get more blurred with regional players, more different styles and a lot of different ideas. We are clear where we will be in 12 months time – around 100 branches worldwide in our own style but maybe more advanced games as this changes monthly.
- EG: What is your current personal contribution?
- PB: I run the business so I have a lot of strategic responsibility. I also oversee all the global marketing and franchisee relations. Most of all I love game design so that takes a big chunk of my time leading our global game design team based here in Bangkok.
- EG: Which puzzles, games and other artworks have influenced you most over the years in your designs?
- PB: That is a hard one! I love art – everything from Renaissance to Modern and also sculpture. I also love languages. Add in some darker stuff like the occult and great literature and you can see its very eclectic. Most of all we try very hard to be logical and balance our games. Many game providers don’t see the need for that but it is very important especially as we operate in so many countries with so many languages.
- EG: If you could predict the future for escape games, what would it be?
- PB: Growth, growth and more growth! Then some diversification into new areas. We have huge plans here. Watch this space as they say…
- EG: Do you see it appealing to different markets in different geographies?
- PB: Of course. It’s a global phenomenon. At our Bangkok branch we have seen nearly 20,000 players and I can’t think of a country not represented. It is a fascinating anthropological study, believe me. Filipinos are so different from Thais, Brits from Americans. They all have fun in different ways. Doing as much corporate work as we do is amazing too as we see global companies bring their worldwide staff – all very different styles!
- EG: How, in practice, do different countries vary from each other in what their players are looking for?
- PB: They all want fun but some are more serious. It sounds like stereotyping but it is true that Europeans take it more seriously and Asians take more photos afterwards as just one example…
- EG: Have you identified any trends as to which nationalities prefer which styles of puzzle?
- PB: Actually Chris, it is fairly culturally neutral overall. I see no bias for different preferences actually but If you ask me about ability, that is a totally different question. Asians are renowned for their quantitative skills whereas Europeans and Western nations in general are more qualitative. This bears out in game play too but it is also about initiative. Asian players are generally better at solving puzzles once they are “shown the way” if you like whereas western races grasp the idea quicker but then don’t make such good progress in average. It all equals out in the end pretty much and then differences some done to social factors such as assertiveness, cooperation and leadership. It’s a long story; maybe I can answer next time in a specific chat on this point.
- EG: How do you deal with language issues, particularly in countries where there are a multitude of languages spoken or where tourists are such a high proportion of visitors that you cannot reliably make assumptions about what languages they speak?
- PB: That’s a great question, Chris. We run both multi-language games and single language depending upon the location. Our Asian branches are multi but London will be single language. It is not always obvious which language either! Phuket will run in English and…. Russian. Not Thai as you would expect. Overall, we adjust for cultural bias and language in our games so language plays a very small role in overall game play. Bangkok is another great example of this. We run in Thai and English but despite even messages in Japanese on our website to say “we do not speak Japanese. These games are only in Thai and English”, such is our popularity amongst Japanese locals in Bangkok and tourists, they still come and speak absolutely not one word of Thai or English. We still have great fun using sign language and they leave with a big smile!
- EG: Where are you based and how does that allow you to work?
- PB: I am based in Bangkok but travel all over the world. I am on the road a lot setting up our game centres and I install all games personally. I love that…
- EG: What is a typical day for you, Paul?
- PB: There is no typical day but overall it is around 30% game design, 20% franchisee support, 20% marketing, 20% technical things and 10% on Bangkok branch.
- EG: What are the most memorable reactions that you have witnessed?
- PB: I have to say that large groups of Filipinos are the most exuberant when they solve the puzzles and then they all get so happy in a huddle but for me it is the 3-4 occasions where an older player has personally shaken my hand and thanked me for the “best time they have ever had with their grand children”… Really makes all the hard work worthwhile!
- EG: What has surprised you in the last 12 months?
- PB: A lot of things but mainly for us how successful we have been and how we have adapted our proposition to all the different cultures and geographies. In Bangkok branch, we also developed a huge corporate following without a single call to a company. They all find us. Singapore has also been so successful only a short time after opening it shows the power of our global brand.
- EG: What have your years of corporate training experience taught you about how to tailor the experience when you offer corporate events?
- PB: Wow! OK, the short answer is always understand beforehand what the agenda is. We have hosted ExxonMobil and Shell at one end of the scale and small local travel companies at the other end. The key is to know how they want to play things. Our website has a sample corporate agenda in the FAQ section but actually it is the whole atmosphere that counts. We always keep it fun and stimulating but we can also get into some deep coaching too if needed. I try to personally host each corporate event as I have the skills but we even get into quite esoteric stuff at times like hypnosis and visualisation techniques. It is all about what the client wants and we do cater to all needs…
- EG: What would you say to anyone who feels they want to work in this industry?
- PB: Go for it. It’s a great and exciting place to be. Whether as a game designer, game master or even the administrator, its never a dull moment. There will be courses at universities soon on “Escape Gaming” or as we call it, “Experiential Entertainment”.
- EG: What misconceptions about the industry would you most like to dispel?
- PB: I think all the press and feedback is positive. The only things I would say that are unfair are the criticisms of games at number one on TripAdvisor. We have been number one in Bangkok since a month after opening and we deserve it as we offer an extremely high level of satisfaction. Sure, we are not a temple, but maybe we offer better service and satisfaction! I guess the only other point is that the industry is not only for geeks as is often assumed. We are a major international company operating in many countries so its hardly geeky anymore – no more geeky than working for Apple, I guess!
Thank you for your time, Chris, and letting me tell my story! For all those who want to be part of our future, we still have franchise opportunities available in many locations. For those who want to work with us, send us your resume via our website. We are hiring in all sorts of areas!
Thanks so much for that, Paul! This site very much hopes to feature more interviews in future as a way to get a variety of perspectives from behind the scenes. It also considerably adds to anticipation for the London opening, just a few months away.