Mid-April news


This site has got a little behind on news, so this post and the next will catch up on stories arising, some from within the country and others from overseas.

The most recent episode of Push Your Luck podcast features Prof. Scott Nicholson talk about, obviously, exit games along with one of his friends who used the exit game format to co-organise the very exciting-sounding Library Lockdown, teaching upper secondary students in Singapore about library skills. Every time Scott speaks, there’s something new worth listening to; he estimates that his white paper contained about 30% of what he learnt from the survey, and more and more of the remaining 70% is being revealed in different ways.

This time, there is a particularly interesting take on designing replayability in exit games, with mention of an unnamed but extremely exciting-sounding live-action adventure game in Wisconsin Dells – at a guess, Wizard Quest? Scott has a charming and practical take on safety as well; with hundreds of thousands or millions of players, we’re into the territory where one-in-a-million accidents will happen, and so it’s worth making sure that the worst consequences happen once-in-a-billion rather than once-in-a-million.

It’s clear that the podcast was recorded a few weeks ago, for there is mention that the MIT Escape Room Game Jam had not happened yet. (The #escapemit hashtag hasn’t revealed much for a while; has anyone blogged about their experience at the event? Have any of the game ideas been published?) There is also mention of an interview with Newsweek, which only in the last day or two has been published; it’s very good work, especially for a mainstream piece. The research is thorough, featuring not just Scott but Dave Spira of Room Escape Artist and two site owners. Everyone comes off looking good, not least the writer Stuart Miller.

Lastly for this post, Escape Reviewer of Toronto is teaming up with Escape Games Review and Escape Room Addict to run a Puzzle Contest, fresh off the global success of the puzzle hunt organised by the latter two web sites. This has attracted even more support from the Greater Toronto Area exit game community, with 23 sites donating over 80 prizes, some free games and others discounted games. The fun starts on April 25th!

Jamming the odds and ends in

Jars of jam

Right behind these lovely-looking jars of jam is a jar of game jam. (Maybe it’s more of a preserve.) Specifically, it’s the Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT, probably the world’s coolest university, in the Boston area this weekend. It’s organised by the MIT Game Lab in affiliation with Red Bull; the link is clearer when it becomes available that teams will be creating escape room content “escape room based around a moment in a upcoming film”, with the film being DxM, the “second project from Red Bull Media House’s recently launched feature film division CineMater“. The boffo Variety magazine calls the film a “high-octane thriller based around the possibilities of quantum mechanics“. Sounds cool, though it’s not possible to measure precisely how cool without changing how cool it is.

This whole Game Jam is really exciting, not least because of the articles it has already generated. One of the co-writers and producer of the film, Joanne Reay, writes that “the next generation of Escape Room will offer a compelling narrative in which an understanding of the story-world delivers an added advantage and insight into the solving of the clues“. Quite possibly so; this site doesn’t believe there is a single future for exit games, but this definitely sounds like part of the future and one that a great many players would surely appreciate in their games. If it’s an aspect that is to be emphasised in this particular Game Jam then the results will be enticing indeed.

Additionally – and this is particularly interesting – Konstantin Mitgutsch, Affiliate Researcher at the MIT Game Lab, writes, advancing the state of the art, on the topic of turning escaping from exit games into a competitive sport. There’s definitely scope for expansion in at least a couple of ways here: first, how might these general principles be applied to other sorts of puzzle-based live adventures; second, how might Escape Room Malaysia’s Escape Run 2014 event compare in practice to the theory? (Are there any other events that might be compared? This site can’t think of any, but you may well know better…) Certainly if you were an operator thinking of running something yourself in the future, there’s the theory to consider.

The speakers at the Game Jam have remarkable sets of qualifications; the same page suggests that the event is set to be filmed. The designs produced are set to be released under a Creative Commons licence; hopefully, the filming will extend to the speakers and their talks will be released as well. If the content released does go on to be used in a pop-up game supporting DxM, then Red Bull will have probably done quite well in terms of getting considerable development expertise at the cost of enabling a single Game Jam – but the Game Jam material’s release will mean that the world at large will have done well from it too, and gratitude should be given to Red Bull and the MIT Game Lab for that.

A couple of other odds and ends outstanding: thank you to everybody who made a submission to the site survey released to celebrate its first birthday. There were more than twice as many responses as there were for the previous such survey (after a hundred posts) and it represents greater commitment to go and fill in a survey on another site, so this does represent progress. Particular thanks to those who offered additional commentary in the text box section, which will not be addressed here, but the responses were very much appreciated.

  • About a quarter of respondents are in the exit game business and another quarter have their own blog on the topic, so the proportion of “pure players” is just under a half. The suggests that no matter how many people visit the site just for the big map at the top and to find a site location, it takes quite a degree of commitment to scroll further down and read the blog articles, let alone respond to the poll.
  • Nearly 60% are more interested in exit game posts than anything else, nearly 30% are more interested in puzzle hunt posts than anything else, with some clicking both and some neither, which is fine; plenty of reason to keep things varied, but good to get such a clear indication of what you think the main attraction is.
  • The geographic questions were not so well-designed on this site’s part, but it looks like nearly a quarter of respondents are from Greater London, nearly a quarter from the North-West of England, just under 20% from the UK or Ireland but outside both hubs and just over a third from outside the UK and Ireland.

Finally, this site has captured a second quarterly set of live price data towards producing an estimated exit game inflation rate, and with rather a better idea than it had three months ago about what should be in the basket. Still far too early to attempt to quote a meaningful inflation rate, though, but the general trends based on very few data points are that London launch prices are varying at both the high and low ends compared to prior practice, and provincial launch prices are trending slightly lower.

An academic approach to exit games

scholarshipOne of the most interesting developments in the world of exit games over the last few months has been the scholarly investigation undertaken, as discussed, by Dr. Scott Nicholson, a Professor at Syracuse University in New York state. Dr. Nicholson has a long history in research with a focus (among others!) into different forms of play in the context of informal learning spaces such as libraries.

Late last year he launched a survey of exit game facilities, discussing the thinking behind his survey at his site Escape Enthusiasts. This has developed into a Google Group for discussion of the genre, with a counterpart Facebook group as well. The highlight has been publication of (at least an early version of) the white paper arising from the survey, which gets this site’s highest recommendation as a must-read for business owners and players who want to see behind the scenes.

One particular highlight of the white paper is the very neat way that it handles the claim that exit games date back to Silicon Valley in 2006. Additionally, it presents remarkably comparable prior art dating back at least a decade further to (as discussed) a series of games run at the LARP-themed International Fantasy Gaming Society’s “Once Upon A Con” events, which created a series of temporary rooms through hanging up tarpaulins and challenged teams to make their way through within time limits. It’s always an exciting possibility that there are other, similar games from decades ago that time has forgotten and that might present themselves again some day.

The demographic information that the white paper presents is fascinating, with the most robust attempt yet to compare self-reported practices in exit games around the world, with the best corpus of data yet collected from English-speaking Asia, as well as Australia, Europe and the Americas. This will inspire and inform those looking to set up their own new business, as well as those looking to develop their existing one. There’s plenty of information collected, too, about what might be found inside these rooms as well as who might be playing them, and about what just might be possible and practicable inside a room.

This site has always deliberately erred on the side of being relatively liberal in its focus with discussion of near-topic games such as True Dungeon, but did so on a vague sense of it being hand-wavily interesting. The white paper takes the scholarly approach that these things are not just interesting, but they are relevant because they have identifiable influence, even if at a remove or two, on the way in which the world knows exit games today and how it might know exit games in the years to come. Six different influences are identified and it takes a real breadth of ludic knowledge to pull them all together.

Jumping from the start to the end, the notion in the white paper that most excited this site is the counterpart way that exit games are put in context as a subset of live-action adventures. Look at it another way: if you look up an exit game on TripAdvisor, it’ll be ranked in the context of “Fun Activities and Games”, and it’ll compete against – for instance – paintball, go-karting, casinos, laser tag and soft play. Is this a rag-bag assortment or are there lessons to be learned for exit games from some of them? Not so much from casinos and probably only tangentially (in the briefing-with-instructions, activity, debriefing schedule) from go-karting – but, as for the others, maybe there’s more in common than you think. If people like laser tag because they want to be inside a video game like Halo, perhaps they like exit games because they want to be inside a video game like Myst.

This site enjoys reading about live-action adventures, though sometimes hiding behind the sofa. This site isn’t going to become a live-action adventure blog, though. (Laser tag, although it will always be cool, is moving in a direction that this site does not appreciate so much; it’s becoming much less Half-Life and much more Call of Duty. No thanks.) Additionally, this site has always considered interactive theatre to be on the border of its remit, with playable theatre (if that’s a term anybody else uses, noting the many meanings of the word “play”…) definitely on-topic.

Putting it all together, this site loves puzzle adventures; they might involve being in a room, they might involve being in a puzzle hunt (whether online or in person), they might involve being part of a competition. However, it’s much easier for a puzzle competition to feel like an adventure in your head if there is some structure, context and persistence to them, rather than just being one-off tests – for instance, the adventure of being part of a team and helping your team advance through your progress. If this breadth of approach isn’t to your taste, other blogs are available. You should start your own; this site would link to it!

Looking forwards, Dr. Nicholson will be the keynote speaker at an upcoming “escape room Game Jam” held at MIT in greater Boston. Teams will have (nearly) 48 hours to “create puzzles and games to be played within a pop-up escape room (…) based around a moment in an upcoming film“. (It’s not clear which film; a film will be screened at the start of the event, so that would seem likely to be the inspiration.) Intriguingly, this is being held in association with Red Bull and winning participants get an expenses-paid trip to Comic-Con 2016. Not bad! The event has sold out, but will be filmed and the material generated will be made available under a Creative Commons licence.

Perhaps, in time, the world at large might get to play the winning, or a composite, pop-up exit game when the film gets a wider release; it wouldn’t be the first film to have a pop-up exit game associated with it – the one associated with The Purge: Breakout showed what might be possible. It’ll be extremely interesting to see if anything ever develops as a consequence of this Game Jam and to follow additional developments as they arise.

Exit games have taken off so rapidly that the world can hope to attract attention from all sorts of different sources and to be intepreted in all sorts of different ways. The exit game world should be very grateful to have someone who has professional academic expertise casting an eye over it, as well as us amateurs; that might sound dismissive, but it’s intended as a compliment – remember, an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it.

(Unrelatedly, if you haven’t done so already, please would you consider filling out this site’s survey? Thank you!)

English language exit game blogging is one year old today

rsz_first-birthday-309189_640After celebrating yesterday’s twenty-fifty anniversary for The Crystal Maze, today this sites the first anniversary of the inception of exit game blogging – at least, among English-language bloggers – for Intervirals had its first post a year ago today. Congratulations, Essa! The site started through an attempt to compose continental exit game lists for Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region and has grown through a set of forums to a full, frequently-updated, weblog.

Blog author Essa comes from the Alternate Reality Game tradition; the site’s hundredth post was made at the start of February, the beginning of Blog February, a series emphasising the breadth of topics that there are to be covered. Intervirals has long been really strong at covering new site openings, but also media stories and discounts. Many other blogs have followed – and surely there was coverage in other languages beforehand, though this site will leave it up to your discretion as to whether to count exitgames.hu, the long-established Hungarian-language site about the ~66 games in Budapest and others all around Hungary, as a blog or not.

It’s exciting to see how many exit game blogs there are that have arisen from the tremendously well-developed Toronto area, and also that QMSM and Escape Game Addicts have both got off to such a strong start here in the UK. Around the world, Room Escape Artist covers the US and Escape Rooms in Sydney covers, well, where it says. Singapore is covered by escaping.sg and S-capegoats, Malaysia and more by Escman League and Enigmatic Escape. And that’s just English-language blogging! Any more for any more? Unless you know otherwise, history will record Essa as having been first up onto the dancefloor; we all follow the trail that she blazed.

One excitement development is the establishment of an Escape Enthusiasts Google Group (so it can be accessed as either a web forum or a mailing list) by Scott Nicholson, Associate Professor at Syracuse University and director of Because Play Matters. Scott has been discussed here previously in the context of the survey of the exit game genre that he launched at the very end of 2014; he discussed the survey’s purpose in an accompanying video, and noted at the start of February that he received responses from 188 different escape room facilities from around the world. Exciting times!

Here’s to many more discussions, and many more years to come!

Mid-January exit game news

Newspaper with spectacles and pencilCongratulations to The Escape Room Manchester, which opened yesterday and is rolling out the last three of its five rooms today and tomorrow. More news from them, surely, in the weeks to come!

This site greatly enjoyed the coolplaces guide to exit games in London, comparing and contrasting the approaches taken by London’s five oldest indoor sites and declaring superlatives without picking a single superlative. Fingers crossed that they keep exploring what else there is on offer and continue to share their opinions. Similarly, a welcoming tip of the hat to the attractively-designed Escape Rooms London; no clue who’s behind it, but they’re clearly off to a good start. This site’s blogroll needs attention shortly.

Further afield, Dr. Scott Nicholson, a Professor at Syracuse University in upstate New York, launched a large-scale academic survey of exit games last year; he has released a video about the intentions for his survey. One key question: do exit games have lessons for interactive learning experiences within libraries and museums? What an interesting question, and it would take someone with the breadth of knowledge of games in so many different media, and such an accomplished academic pedigree, to look into this. If you run a site, want to participate in the survey and haven’t been contacted yet, see Scott’s recent tweet and get in touch with him.

This site very much enjoyed this presentation and discussion of their design principles from the people behind the Spark of Resistance exit game in Portland, Oregon. Going further, it’s probably a must-watch (though not necessarily a must-agree!) for anyone interested in, or in the early stages of, putting their own location together. The team also discussed their facility on this podcast episode so it’s great to get to see some pictures and enjoy more of their thoughts.

From factual exit rooms to fictional ones: this site’s favourite librarian was enjoying a recent Publisher’s Weekly book deals report, which is surprisingly relevant. Scroll down two-thirds of the way to the report of deals signed by Denis Markell. He’s writing a young adult novel about a scenario that seems to have a lot in common with an exit game. Exciting!

Saving something very strong and close to home for last, Clue HQ made a very interesting announcement on Wednesday, with further developments in the last day. More on this story next!