Approaches to difficulty in exit games

GameCamp logoYesterday, at GameCamp in London, there was a talk on the exit game phenomenon given by Adrian Hon. It’s not clear what GameCamp etiquette is, whether what gets said at GameCamp stays at GameCamp, whether things can be reported under the Chatham House Rule, or whether there can be wider reports, but it would be great to hear more from the event. Failing that, Adrian discussed the genre towards the end of episode 41 of “The Cultures” podcast.

Some exit games take the approach that they will be very generous with the distribution of hints to their players, even making it clear that this is the policy right at the outset, in the discussion before players enter the room. As this was the approach taken by the first exit room site to open in the UK, this may well be the dominant approach nationally.

By contrast, there are other sites which offer some games where few or no clues are offered. The pitfall there is either that you set the difficulty level relatively high and have no or very few people crack the room, or you set the difficulty level relatively low and risk having people finish the game in less than half the permitted time, which can be something of a flat ending. There are plenty of other solutions, especially if players are prepared to enjoy the possibility of partial credit for solving some, but not all, of the game, but these appear to be less frequent.

Incidentally, the “deliberately very few winners” approach is the one taken by many of the games offered by SCRAP, considered the originators of the genre, among other operators. Befitting the Japanese origins of the “Nintendo hard” stereotype, as an example, their “What is the Real Escape Game?” page talks of a 2% success rate, and their Flickr photostream has a couple of photos of ongoing scoreboards suggesting victory rates not much higher than that. (Anecdotally, more recent games suggest an easing of standards to around 10%.) This site is not yet aware of any UK exit games that take quite such an extreme approach.

The issue of difficulty of exit games is an open one; there appears not to be a consensus on a single correct approach. As different players want to face different challenges, this variety of approaches may well be a good thing for the world. The difficulty is to match potential players up to the right game for them. This web site will do whatever it can to help in this regard.

The Keyhunter site in Birmingham takes a particularly interesting approach in this regard; it advertises its three games as having different levels of difficulty, and advertises its teams successes on social media not only in terms of the time they took but also by how many clues were needed. If you want the added challenge of completing an exit room and having “with 0 hints used” decorating your performance, perhaps Keyhunter might be the right site for you. There may well be other games that offer the same option and this site will make it clear when it’s available.


  1. When I played at one game site, I was told that no matter how many hints were delivered, it didn’t particularly affect whether a team won or lost.

    I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. I felt the number of clues rapidly increase as time began to ran out, and felt like the puppetmasters were pulling on the strings rather harder than before. With the sheer number of teams boasting “We made it with just [0..60] seconds left!!!], you figure there has to be an eminence grise.

    One way to mollify this is to ask the operators to only give you 5 hints, and it’s up to you when you ask for the next clue. I applaud the publishing of a time AND number of hints used as a way of allowing flexibility and fairness.

    Of the two London sites, I’ve heard that one very strongly hints throughout the entire hour and I’ll try to play the other one to see to what extent this is true.

  2. There was an exit game in Canada (can’t remember which one, and I can’t find it after a quick but targeted search – someone needs to start which offered the same rooms on a variety of difficulty levels. The easiest level would essentially have a walkthrough with as little prompting as required, the difficult level would only permit one hint and the extreme level (I cannot recall the precise name, and am going a bit X-Fire by default) offered no hints at all.

    If you’ve got a room set up so that it could reasonably feasibly be cracked with zero hints within the permitted time, then offering a zero-hint mode is very cool. It’s hard to imagine a room that could be cracked with zero hints within the permitted time, that might not also be cracked extremely quickly (possibly to the point of damaging the value proposition) by a team who permitted themselves relatively many hints. Not impossible, though!

  3. The Key Hunter approach is good in theory, but in practice the rooms are bit to small and simple for that. We beat the highest difficulty one in 45 minutes with no hints, and that included 15 minutes wasted because we missed some writing somewhere. That’s not to be critical of the site, we didn’t mind the fact that the rooms were easily beatable in half an hour, when they’re half the price of the London rooms – not sure how they stack up with the rest of the UK.

    Part of it is down to having a good operator I think – it’s in this way I actually think the sites where the game runners can observe you are far better. If we’re stuck on solving a puzzle, we want to be given the time to figure it out. But if we’re stuck because we’re missing part of the puzzle because we missed some writing, then I’d like a hint. But of course, we don’t know which situation we are in.

    ClueQuest are great at judging stuff like this – when we played the first room we were given the option of being able to ask for clues just three times, or have them feed them to us when we thought we needed them. We took the latter approach, and didn’t get given any clues, and made it out with just a couple of minutes to spare.


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