Update: 2017 predictions

Peering into a Crystal Ball

Oh, we’re halfway there… so for a bit of fun I thought I’d have a quick look at how the 2017 forecast is faring. Back in January I made 10 predictions of things I thought would happen this year plus the big one: how many rooms will be open on 31 December 2017. Let’s see how we’re doing…

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear in more than half of the following locations: Falkirk, Stirling, Basingstoke, Bolton, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Colchester, Luton, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bridgend, Derry, Limerick

Of the 14 towns I named

  • 6 already have games: Stirling, Bolton, Colchester, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Derry
  • 3 have announced games (although, in this industry, that doesn’t mean they’ll open by year end): Basingstoke, Stratford-upon-Avon, Limerick
  • No progress for Falkirk, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Luton, Bridgend

A pretty good start, I think – not only are we already pretty close to making that target of eight rooms but it doesn’t look like I was overly cautious. It seems unlikely we’ll get to, say, twelve of them.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made soap opera or equivalent.
Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made nationally broadcast reality TV show.

I’ve not heard anything along these lines. The closest I’ve come across was some Arsenal footballers taking on a custom escape room for a Betfair advert. Still plenty of time for these to come true!

Prediction: A new escape-room-like venue will be announced in the UK similar to Boda Borg, the Crystal Maze or GoQuest.

We’ve already had Never Give Up in Newcastle open and Crack it Bolton announced so I think we can safely put this one to bed but I’ve heard tell of at least one other so this might be a prediction which over-achieves.

Prediction: At least four overseas franchises not currently in the UK and Ireland will open a room.

At the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this one has failed miserably with not a single overseas franchise appearing on these shores BUT there’s a silver lining. Claustrophobia look likely to open in a couple of months, There’s the vaguest suggestion that Escapology might open up in Manchester and, of course, Escape Hunt are looking to open a couple of venues in the country. If all three of those were to put down roots it would only take one more company to hit the UK for the prediction to come true.

But wait, who’s that rushing to my defence? SCRAP, the original escape room company [citation needed], came to these shores this month albeit only for three days. Yes, it would be a bit cheeky to count them but I’ll take my victories any way I can come December 😉

Prediction: At least one theme park operator will open a permanent escape room

Again, we’ve got a semi-victory with Merlin opening an escape room at the Dungeons in Blackpool. Whether you count that as a theme park is up to you but, by the letter of the law, it is being opened by a theme park operator…

Prediction: At least one company will have 50 rooms running across the UK and Ireland by the end of the year

Escape have moved halfway towards the target, Clue HQ have been shadowing them pretty closely but probably aren’t moving quite fast enough to overtake the leader. Breakout have been expanding fast in their existing locations with over 30 rooms now open and another few planned for the next few months. The big surprise, which I called as a long shot at the beginning of the year, is Escape Reality, who’ve gone from almost nothing to 29 already and have plans for a bunch more games in the next couple of months. I definitely wouldn’t it past them to hit 50 by 2018.

Prediction: At least 50 venues will close in 2016

Looks like this will be incredibly wrong, and if I had to be wrong about one prediction then this would most definitely be my choice. At the time of writing, I know of ten venues that have closed this year. Of those, half were always intended to be temporary rooms (Escape Mobile, Clockwork Dog, Escape this Room, the Portsmouth Naval Museum and the Eden Project) so, really, we’ve had very little attrition.

Prediction: At least ten new play-at-home escape rooms will launch and be available in the UK

This seems almost certain to come true however you look at it but if you’re willing to count multi-packs of games separately (such as Unlock from Space Cowboys) then we’ve already had ten launched this year and expect to have a good few more.

Prediction: At least 100 people will gather for an escape game industry related event

So far this hasn’t happened in the UK but there’s a very good chance we’ll hit that later in the year with a London conference.

Prediction: At some point during 2017, 1000 escape rooms will be open across the UK and Ireland.

This was a deliberately bold statement which I chose partly because we’ve continually underestimated the numbers of rooms and partly because 1000 was a round number. I stand by it though – I still think there’s a 50% chance of us exceeding 1000 by the end of the year. During the first half we’ve moved from 600 to 800 games, or a growth of 33%. Even if that drops off slightly, to, say, 25%, we should just scrape over the finish line. It’s hard to be sure in this industry but it still feels like a reasonable estimate. 1000 rooms. It’s a pretty good number.

A report from Up The Game 2017

Tim Horwood, co-proprietor of Derby’s escape game game Make Your Escape was one of several UK owners to visit the Up The Game conference in Amsterdam in the surrounds of the impressive Breda Prison Dome. He kindly wrote about his experience for Exit Games UK.

As escape room operators ourselves, last year’s inaugural Up The Game conference was a springboard for our business, which we opened just two months later. We had so many ideas from attending it, and gained so much advice, making so many contacts in the process. From advice of the legal side of running an escape room company, to the storytelling aspects and use of technology we subsequently incorporated into our games, it really was pivotal to Make Your Escape’s development.

So, it is with some trepidation, we attended the “difficult follow-up” of such a successful event for us personally. We had lower expectations – for a start, the venue had been switched from Amsterdam to Breda. The first thing I did was reach for google maps. Secondly, the conference was to be held in a prison – ok, it sounded a novelty, but would it actually work? Thirdly, we’ve been open almost a year, and I was concerned that many of the talks would go over old ground. Still, we all know the industry is an evolving one, so I was interested to see just how the conference had grown, if at all.

The venue was, quite simply, astonishing, and a vast improvement on 2016. The main criticism I had last year, was that it was often difficult to manoeuvre between rooms due to the narrow corridors and low capacities of the smaller stages. This year, there was no such problem, and it’s credit to the organisers that the capacities seemed appropriate. The only issue I found was that there was no central stage in the same way there was the previous year, so organiser Alexander Gierholz had to welcome the attendees in the huge, open foyer, whose acoustics were appalling and sounding like, well, a prison. Other than that, the foyer space served well as a communal area for escape room operators, enthusiasts and suppliers to mingle, drink, eat, buy, sell, and plan itineraries. The buzz felt much friendlier than the more clinical feel of 2016.

So onto the speakers, and there was a huge variety this year. Last year we had the team behind the Crystal Maze attraction talk about how they set it up. This year, Scott Nicholson opened proceedings on the main stage, discussing or, at times, defending how he’d been involved in setting up this year’s Red Bull Mind Gamers. For me, Scott was probably the main draw for the event, a great achievement having him sign up to the conference, and becoming involved in the discussion panels later in the day. Having said that, there were some great names on the bill, Stephanie Allen from the acclaimed Punchdrunk, the brilliant Jasper Wille, presenting utilizing actors in interactive experiences and, skilfully engaging the audience, and Room Escape Artist’s Lisa and David Spira.

Our very own Nick Moran from Time Run, arguably, gave one of the best talks of the day, on the tools of immersion used in escape rooms. As the industry grows, so too do the customers’ expectations and the standards we see. Time Run is a great example of a truly immersive experience, and for Nick to share his thoughts on the subject, interjected with bucket loads of humour, his was the standout session of the weekend.

In addition to the talks and presentations, the conference gives an opportunity for discussion, and panels of experts from various corners of the industry, from operators to enthusiasts to bloggers discuss various aspects and developments.

We also had talks on legalities again, how escape rooms are useful for team building, and the importance of set design…with Wilko Drews giving some brilliant advice on how to make your escape room set look far more expensive than it actually is, but then confessing to spending 80,000 EUR on his own room!

As escape rooms incorporated more technology, Chris Lattner and Malte Eiben’s tech workshops proved particularly popular, ranging from basic tech to advanced tech, and Adrian Bacanu of the quite brilliant Quest Mission gave an engaging talk on how escape rooms encourage personal development, are incredible tools to assess human behaviour, and shape people’s lives. For many enthusiasts, creators and operators, this could not be any closer to the truth.

Once again, Logic Locks and Real Life Gaming succeeded in creating an outstanding conference, bringing together the best of the industry – ‘Connecting Creators’ was this year’s motto, and Breda felt the perfect venue for this. Very much looking forward to seeing what happens next year…

Make Your Escape is the brainchild of Shelly Burton and Tim Horwood, perceived following a trip to Budapest in 2014. The two escape room enthusiasts wanted to mix storytelling, traditional puzzles and technology into their rooms, but also create games which offer a twist, and also set themselves within Derbyshire. Whilst the original idea was to introduce the escape room sector to their city, they also wanted to create games based around local stories and legends. 

‘The Signal’, based on a story that appeared in the local newspaper following a sighting of lights in the sky, is designed to engage players and then offer them a moral dilemma as to whether to do “the right thing” and the couple cite Up The Game 2016 as a major influence on the game.

‘Spellbound’ was designed for larger teams, again following advice picked up from Up The Game, and is based on the local legend of the Witches of Bakewell, who were hanged close to the escape room.

Two new games are being built ready for the Summer, with the promise of a unique premise…

Looking ahead to 2017: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site ran prediction features over the last three years, albeit penned (so to speak) by a different author, with varying levels of success. Time for this new author to put a stake in the ground so that in a year’s time we can look back and laugh at his naivety. It’s always hard to predict the future and even harder to put some level of certainty on those predictions but the following predictions are based on things that fall somewhere in the 50-75% likelihood range.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear in more than half of the following locations:

  • In Scotland: Falkirk, Stirling.
  • In England: Basingstoke, Bolton, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Colchester, Luton, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • In Wales: Bridgend.
  • In NI: Derry.
  • In Ireland: Limerick

At this stage, there are very, very few obvious gaps in the UK market. This site is aware of possible companies starting up in three of the above locations, but the rest have no activity.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made soap opera or equivalent.

We’ve seen them appear on The Big Bang Theory, The Middle and various other US shows but it feels like they’ve become mainstream enough in the UK that they’ll appear in some context on a nationally-aired soap.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made nationally broadcast reality TV show.

There are plenty of UK escape room companies looking to expand rapidly and what better way than to get themselves into the limelight via reality TV? There are any numbers of ways that could happen but a few that spring to mind:

  • The Apprentice: Creating their own pop up escape room would be a great set of property/production/marketing challenges with the opportunity to laugh at contestants for coming up with outlandish ideas or not understanding the solution to simple puzzles.
  • Dragon’s Den: Plenty of companies are looking to expand rapidly so perhaps one of the smaller players in the market will look for seed funding and a fair amount of exposure?
  • TOWIE or similar: Want to see human interactions at their worst? Then throw people who don’t get on well into an escape room.

Prediction: A new escape-room-like venue will be announced in the UK similar to Boda Borg, the Crystal Maze or GoQuest.

Boda Borg’s recent expansion to Boston is proving popular while the Crystal Maze has shot to success in London and has a new location opening in Manchester. It seems almost inevitable that a company such as Boda Borg will attempt to expand into the UK.

Prediction: At least four overseas franchises not currently in the UK and Ireland will open a room.

It’s hard to predict which companies might find these shores attractive, but it feels like that at least a couple of the Russian franchises will choose to target the UK and Escape Hunt making a reappearance seems almost inevitable given its recent acquisition by a UK-based holding company. Perhaps SCRAP will see fit to bring one of their games across from the US or one of the other major US players will put some feelers out on this side of the Atlantic (where Escapology from Florida seems like a good bet).

Prediction: At least one theme park operator will open a permanent escape room

We’ve had a couple of Hallowe’en escape rooms open in the past in Alton Towers and Thorpe Park but this year feels like the one where they’ll go mainstream enough to open a permanent attraction.

Prediction: At least one company will have 50 rooms running across the UK and Ireland by the end of the year

Escape currently have 30, Clue HQ are on 28, Locked in a Room have 21 and The Escape Room have 19. It seems just possible that one of those (or maybe as a long shot, Escape Reality?) will open enough venues to pull themselves across the line.

Prediction: At least 50 venues will close in 2016

It can’t all be happy news, not that all closures are necessarily unhappy. We’ve seen around 20 venues shut their doors in 2016 but as the market hots up and the big players start throwing their weight around, this site expects to see a few companies decide to close the doors. Some will be sudden closures but I expect a fair number to just see out the end of their leases and then call it a day.

Prediction: At least ten new play-at-home escape rooms will launch and be available in the UK

With ThinkFun’s offerings proving reasonably successful and various other companies getting in on the act in 2016, it feels likely that the trend will expand in 2017 with new versions from the existing companies but also brand new companies piggy backing off the existing success.

Prediction: At least 100 people will gather for an escape game industry related event

Specifically, not an escape room experience but some sort of event that is aimed at owners and enthusiasts – a conference or unconference or just some sort of fun meet up. The UK unconference in London in July of last year saw around 50 people gather and next week’s looks likely to have around 70 so, assuming expansion continues and a suitable venue can be found, it seems reasonable to assume the industry can bring together 100 people.

And finally the big one:

Prediction: At some point during 2017, 1000 escape rooms will be open across the UK and Ireland.

1000 escape rooms across the UK and Ireland. Yes, One thousand. Last year saw the market more than double. I think we’ll see a similar level of new rooms opening but I think we’ll also see a huge number of rooms closing with the result that we’ll just scrape over the line in the last quarter. I don’t think the market will quite have peaked and I certainly don’t expect the bubble to burst. Sadly, for enthusiasts, I suspect a significant proportion of those games will be franchises expanding across the countries so there won’t be anything like as many as 1000 experiences. Perhaps “just” 700?

Looking back on 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

In early January of 2016, this site posted an article predicting what would happen in 2016. It didn’t attempt to predict the results of the referendum or the US presidential election but it did talk about puzzling and escape rooms. Since then, Chris, who ran the site at the time has moved on to exexitgames.co.uk but that doesn’t stop us taking a look at how those predictions panned out. Since the site has taken a fairly firm focus on escape games since his departure, this article looks at the escape side of those predictions.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016.”

Actual: In case you were in any doubt, this prediction came true. In much the same way as “Leicester City won’t be relegated from the Premiership” came true last season. On 1 January 2015 there were, to this site’s knowledge, 103 venues across the UK and Ireland. As 2016 draws to a close there are now 238 venues open. All in all, there were 152 venue openings in 2016 – almost exactly three times the prediction. Wow!

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland.”

Actual:  A total of 16 escape rooms closed in 2016, although (as the prediction made clear) it’s not always lack of business that prompts the shutters to come down. In fact, since this site is often asked why escape room closure occur, it’s worth going into a bit more detail.

  • 1 owner emigrated (Fathom Escape)
  • 1 lease expired (Enter the Oubliette)
  • 4 temporary hiatus – expected to re-open (Clockwork DogClue CrackerEnd GameTime Trap Escape)
  • 4 planned closures – game was temporary (A Curious Escape, Hide and Shriek, Code-X, Milestones Museum)
  • 6 permanent closures – reason unclear (Hidden Rooms London, The Lock and Key, Dr. Knox’s Enigma, EVAC, Sherlock Unlock, A Great Escape)

Prediction:  “At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016.

Actual: Achieved. In fact, two separate brands made it to nine locations:

  • Clue HQ with nine locations in: Warrington, Brentwood, Blackpool, Sunderland, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leicester and Coventry
  • Escape with eleven locations in: Glasgow, Edinburgh (two), Blackpool, Hull, Doncaster, London, Chester (Escapism), Livingston, Newcastle and Dublin. Even if you argue that Escapism is branded separately and Edinburgh is just a single location that’s still a healthy nine.

For the record, no other company made it past five locations.

Prediction: “Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.

Actual: Several companies launched crowdfunding campaigns this year with varying degrees of success but this site couldn’t have seen Hugo Myatt on the horizon which helped catapult Bewilder Box’s campaign to £5216, just breaking the prediction.

Prediction: “At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough.”

Actual: Well, given that the prediction for the number of new escape rooms opening was beaten by a factor of three, it’s perhaps not surprising that this prediction was also beaten, and some! In fact, of the seven locations suggested only one of them failed to open two venues and, even there addresses have been confirmed for a couple more that would fall inside the eight mile radius specified in the predictions.

Prediction:  “The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.”

Actual: This site has stopped making predictions but it’s safe to say that this has been beaten unless the slots at all these additional venues are being filled by experienced players!

Prediction: “There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.”

Actual: The biggest meeting, to this site’s knowledge, was in London with just under 50 participants. Within a couple of weeks of the new year, this site is confident that the 50 will be achieved with the unconference in London.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.”

Actual: No one that this site is aware of but it would be great to hear otherwise.

Prediction: “This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.”

Actual: Escape game staff couples definitely exist – this site isn’t aware of any proposals but would love to be contradicted!

Prediction: “Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)”

Actual: Sort of. Locked in a Room opened up in London with up to 8 teams playing the same game in parallel. That isn’t quite like SCRAP but, under the letter of the law, it probably meets the above prediction.

Prediction: “An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.”

Actual: This looked like a possibility with both A Great Escape in Milton Keynes and Enter the Oubliette in London closing their doors but neither appear to have sold on their game to another company (STOP PRESS: There’s a strong hint on A Great Escape’s site that a sale may have taken place!). When Escape Land in London shut up shop, Hidden Rooms took on some of their IP but since then the roles have reversed with Escape Land re-opening and Hidden Rooms closing their doors for good.

Prediction: “There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.”

Actual: Sadly no, as far as this site is aware.

Prediction: “This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community.”

Actual: Still none that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.”

Actual: Not that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays.”

Actual: Again, sadly not. We’ll have to make do with the Bristol Maze.

“The Great Escape UK” unconference in London today

"The Great Escape" unconference in LondonIn London today, the second The Great Escape UK unconference for exit game owners and enthusiasts took place at the Pavilion End pub. Though I do say so myself, I reckon it went pretty well.

The schedule started with an icebreaker and a panel where six attendees at the recent Up the Game conference in Amsterdam shared their highlights; the main body of the day had four rounds of discussions, each featuring four parallel discussions on topics devised by the audience. The photo above was taken between the third and fourth round of topics. There are just over forty faces on the picture above, and there were other people out of shot (getting drinks, using the facilities and so on) which feels about right.

The topics were as follows:

CROSS PROMOTION: collaboration, referral, team-ups, sharing resources and suppliers NARRATIVE AND WORLD BUILDING: making hints part of the narrative HIGH-LEVEL GAMES DESIGN: picking a number of players, linear and multilinear designs STAFF PLANNING AND RECRUITMENT
CORPORATE SALES: can small sites make them? Can big (20+ player) games work in the UK? MAKING ESCAPE GAMES A “SHOW” TECHNOLOGY IN ESCAPE GAMES: platforms, electricals, mechanics WHAT CAN THE COUNCILS DO FOR US?: planning and set-up challenges
MARKETING: when? Where? How? Social media, local ads and voucher sites MAKING LOSING FUN: what’s a good success rate? How do you balance a game? LIVE ACTORS IN ROOMS GAMES DESIGNED FOR TEAMS OF KIDS
LEGAL ISSUES FOR UK ESCAPE GAMES: health, safety and risk management TRANSITIONS: closing, selling, moving or expanding your escape room.
Also: Animal Facts.
HI-TECH VS. NO-TECH: rooms and puzzles without padlocks and combination locks GAME THEMES

Thank you very much to James, Ken, Jackie and Mark, to Liz Cable who ran the first such unconference in the UK, to the staff of the Pavilion End pub and to all the guests who came up and supplied their expertise. More details of the talks will be made available as soon as possible.

Apologies to people who wanted to go and couldn’t attend; despite a reasonably high no-show rate, the room was pretty cosy as it was. Keep your eyes peeled for the next event, likely to be back towards the north of England, probably in another three months or so; the UK Escape Room Owners will be one source of information and the blogs will surely be another.

A report from “Up The Game”

"Up The Game" adTim Horwood, co-proprietor of forthcoming Derby exit game Make Your Escape was one of several UK exit game owners to visit the Up The Game conference in Amsterdam in the Netherlands last Monday. He kindly wrote about his experience for Exit Games UK.

The first International Escape Room and Real Life Gaming Conference in Europe, Up The Game, was held last Monday in an impressive venue in Amsterdam, attracting operators and enthusiasts from over 30 countries. Ahead of the opening of their own escape room in Derby this Summer, the Make Your Escape team travelled to the Netherlands to review the conference and chat to some of the speakers.

Taking advantage of the influx of enthusiasts were several local operators keen to advertise their wares and services. We took the 40-minute train to pretty Maasland near The Hague to try out the “Escape Bus“. Its proprietors, Dennis Hunink and Peter de Vette, ardent followers of all things Arduino, kindly met us at the station, offered us a couple of free drinks before the game, and then locked us on their bus, parked in the middle of the beautiful setting of a farm/campsite. The lights went out, and 60 minutes ensued of what might be best described as a Speed movie with flashing LEDs. The Escape Bus was, truly, inventive and exciting… despite our failure at escaping although, in our defence there were two of us and was aimed at four as a minimum. Then, when it was all over, the guys showed us how it all worked – a nice touch from operators clearly loving the industry and proud of their work.

So, onto the conference and, I must admit, prior to attending we did think the price might be a little expensive for a one-day event. However, greeted by mobile escape room, Fenomena Logica, a freaky circus caravan nestled unconventionally at the foot of the steps to a modern building, we ascended into a bustling hive of what felt like the cream of the world’s escape room industry. There were not as many vendors as we expected, and it was very much about the speakers giving advice, and talking about their experiences. That said, it took a few brave souls to try out the “Famous Deaths” real-life art/research project, where the aim was not to escape from the confined, un-lit coffin-like space but, rather, experience the sense of smell surrounding famous deaths. We were told JFK’s was particularly popular.

Derby’s escape rooms will have particularly strong narratives, as well as incorporating technology into their games, and so two of the talks we were most looking forward to were “Storytelling in Escape Rooms” and “Talking Tech”. These were two of, quite possibly, the most inspirational talks I’ve witnessed. Elles Van Asseldonk’s bubbly persona and passion was hard not to like, and she kept her audience gripped in the very same way she expressed that an escape room should. A co-designer behind local company “Logic Locks“, Elles gave away a series of spoilers from one of her games to give us an insight into how to ensure the story flows through an escaper’s experience. Gloeidraad are a technical puzzle company, based in the Netherlands, but working with customers worldwide, and Raymond Reints expressed how player experience can be enhanced with a little Arduino here and there, the emphasis being firmly on stability, reliability and durability. Of course, we’d experienced Hunink and de Vette’s Escape Bus the night before where everything, tech or otherwise, had been reliable other than our own success in escaping!

The UK was represented in the speaking department too. Alastair Hebson, a designer for video games such as Grand Theft Auto, talked about “Game Flow and Pace” in games, likening the experience of a game to a movie, where players need to be hooked and then entertained throughout the game. Again, this was an inspiring talk fitting nicely on from Elles’ storytelling earlier in our itinerary.

The main stage featured some of the most influential names in the industry, and one thing which was clearly evident was the welcome and gratitude they received from the audience, both in awe of them and thankful of their playing a part in an industry we love. There was perhaps no-one quite as influential as Attila Gyurkovics, the founder of “Parapark” and the inventor of the Escape Room that we see across the world today. Due to timings and clashes between talks, we missed Attila, but the applause for him might well have been heard in the tulip fields around Amsterdam.

Escape room games in education and training is, we know, a growing trend. Mark Hammons presented his concept of an open source project for educational purposes, “Breakout EDU” in one of the most enlightening talks. Rather than placing a group of children in a locked room, something which would certainly be frowned upon in the British Education System, children are invited to work together, logically, to unlock a series of locks and open a box – an ingenious idea no doubt coming to a school near you soon. Lisette Hendrikse’s “Legal Issues in Escape Rooms” advice Q and A session was popular and insightful, and Anna-Maria Giannattasio’s “Marketing for Escape Rooms”, incorporating her views on social media, certainly gave us at Make Your Escape food for thought.

So, back to the UK’s representatives, and we welcomed Tom Lionetti-Maguire, and the team behind the The Crystal Maze tourist attraction in London. After a humorous false-start of a video intro, and blank faces from an audience largely made up of people who’d never heard of the Maze’s retro TV show, Tom won the crowd over with his charismatic charm, and the best presentation of the day. From an idea conceived in a pub, to finding premises, to getting the money together, to launching the business with no idea as to how successful it will be, Tom’s story was met by a wave of nods of recognition from the auditorium. It was when we caught up with the Crystal Maze guys in the bar afterwards that they revealed even more tales of changing Building Use issues, handling the media, and legal issues. Down-to-earth and incredibly helpful, the Crystal Maze team are clearly proud of what they have achieved; whilst many of us won’t be selling out for the next year as they have, or seeing the footfall of thousands of customers per month, they were inspirational and their presence in the UK can only help the escape room industry at a local level.

There was so much packed into one day that, ultimately, the event proved great value. The Make Your Escape team brought a lot away with them, and have certainly discovered new technology that can be used in the Derby rooms, marketing techniques, and legal advice. The sheer sense of community, escape rooms working together, was very clear, and is a principle we hold strongly to grow this industry in the UK.

One final word is for the organisers, who were courteous, helpful, and worked hard to make the event run smoothly, and the free bar at the end of the day was welcome! My only criticism, if there are any, was that some of the breakout rooms were a bit on the small size, but we’d love to see the event grow to a two-day one. Host Alexander Gierholz, an affable and keen presenter who welcomed and thanked the audience, but was also interacting with as many guest as he could, including us. His passion for the industry was clear, and he smiled optimistically when I asked if he’d put the event on again next year. We left him as he headed to try out the JFK experience, and after a long but fascinating day, we decided it was time to make our escape.

Make Your Escape is the brainchild of Shelly Burton and Tim Horwood, perceived following a trip to Budapest in 2014. Since then, escape rooms have grown across the UK. The two experienced escape room enthusiasts, working alongside experts from the escape room and the movie production sector, are about to open their unique escape room game in Derby. Set to open in May, there will be a strong emphasis on storytelling, traditional puzzles mixed with technology. Two original games are penned, “The Signal” and “Spellbound”, with games aimed at 2-6 players in a former Derby College building in the city centre.

The Signal at Make Your EscapeFollowing reports of strange lights in the skies over Derbyshire, your team intercepts a distress signal, which leads you to an abandoned military bunker.
 
Once the door closes behind you, you quickly realise the signal was not all that it seemed, the bunker was not abandoned and you are not alone.
 
Work together as a team to solve the puzzles and escape. The truth is in there….

Upcoming Unconferences

The Great Escape UK topic board

There will be an unconference about exit games and related topics happening in London on the afternoon of Monday 25th April. It’s a sequel to the one in Leeds in January, with further quarterly-ish editions around the country (and maybe beyond, some day?) to follow.

You might have seen the announcement already. This site hasn’t talked about it because only now have the details been absolutely finalised. Some people have registered already only knowing that it’s in central London on Monday 25th April. Those haven’t changed. Other changes have been forced.

The venue has had to be changed. The event now has a basement bar to itself in a lovely pub. (It’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, so it’s easy to vouch for the pub, its staff and its food.)

The time has had to be changed. The event will be happening from 1:30pm to 6:30pm, because the room is only available for certain hours.

The number of places has had to be changed. There is a limit, but it’s rather higher than the limit was in Leeds. (Again, because it’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, it’s clear how many people can fit in in practice, as well as in theory.)

The organisers have had to be changed. The event volunteer team is, well, most of the UK exit game blogging community: Jackie from Exit Games Scotland, Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, Mark from Really Fun and me.

The price has had to be changed…. downwards. A hat will still be passed, and there’ll be a request for a voluntary contribution to pay for the venue and associated costs. What this will be will depend on how many people turn up (if people buy food and/or drinks from our private downstairs bar then this will help considerably) but it’s now possible to put an upper limit of £14 per person on it.

Considering the number of tickets that have gone already, the limited number of tickets may well be reached, in which case there’ll have to be a waiting list. If this sounds like your cup of tea, please register as soon as you can. Site operators and staff are very welcome. People who want to get into the industry are very welcome; there will be few better opportunities to get the chance to pick the brains of many different site operators at the same time. Players who just want the chance to talk all afternoon in good company about these games of ours are also very, very welcome!

The event is on a Monday, mostly because it’s traditionally the quietest day of the week for the industry. Whether you can make it or not, the more general Gamecamp has said that it’ll be running on Saturday 21st May this year, after a year off. That should be spectacular, too!

Dates for your diary

weekly calendarThis site has got somewhat slack with updating its events calendar to the point where even linking to it in this article would feel wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few things worth looking ahead to already.

  • The first leg of this year’s WPF Puzzle Grand Prix is in progress already, starting about half a day ago. You have until Monday evening, UK time, to identify a clear block of 90 minutes and earn as many points as possible by solving pencil-and-paper puzzles set by a team from India in the first leg of a metaphorical race around the puzzling world. Some of you may know that the puzzles are always very fine and the contest is reliably great fun; this year’s competition has an added twist to make it more accessible and help more people find their level of fun. More about that very soon, hopefully while the first leg is still in progress.
     
  • The Coney troupe of interactive theatre makers are holding a Scratch and Salon session at the Camden People’s Theatre from midday on Sunday. The “Scratch and Salon is an open event making play on the line between public space and corporate space, and exploring the ideas around the commons“. At midday, “A map will be unfurled of scratch adventures and other playful experiences to be discovered in the neighbourhood of CPT. You’ll need a mobile phone with credit to send text messages in order to play. From 3pm – We’ll reconvene in the Theatre and host a salon – first curated with provocations from speakers segueing into an open space discussion – on what it means to make play in this space, and the politics of public space and the commons“. Not immediately puzzly, but very likely to be relevant somehow; their shows always inspire interesting thoughts.
     
  • February 27th and 28th see the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Tournaments taking place at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon; since the World Championships were held here a couple of years ago, this has surely become the spiritual home of competition puzzles in this country. The company is always excellent and it’s as close to the World Championship experience as you’re going to get.
     
  • Closer to the usual core of this site, Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are hosting a Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12th March. “Join us on Disabled Access Day between 10.30 and 12.00 to take a look around Operation Odyssey our space themed mission, giving you a chance to check if the room is suitable and have a go at some puzzles (not the ones in the room – that would be cheating!) ((…)) People taking part in Disabled Access Day can also get 30% off bookings on the day or bookings made on the day.” Clearly Can You Escape? takes accessibility seriously; see the entry in the FAQ, but also the site’s inclusion in Euan’s Guide for disabled access reviews. While it’s far from the only site to do so, Exit Games UK is not aware of anything quite like this Disabled Access Day before and this would appear to be an instant example of best practice, well worth consideration by sites up and down the country. If you want to see whether the site is right for you, e-mail Can You Escape? first because only a limited number of spaces are available.
     
  • April is set to be busy, busy, busy, though in a very good way. From 1st to 3rd April, Now Play This returns to the New Wing of Somerset House in London. It’s not clear what will be on the line-up this year as the open call is in progress; “This year we’re particularly keen on things with interesting controllers, games which deal with utopias, play in a city context, and work which encourages player creativity – but games outside these themes are also welcome.” The event is part of the larger London Games Festival, “running from 1 to 10 April 2016, the festival includes 15 official events across 10 different locations” – perhaps something exit game-related might be appropriate for the Festival Fringe?
     
  • The Canadian Caper will be running on April 9th at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. “A one-day only escape experience for up to 15 teams of six ((though it’s not immediately clear whether it’s 15 teams per show or 15 teams total over the three shows.)) This is very much an escape game. There will be puzzles to solve. Solving puzzles will allow you to progress through the space into new rooms where you will find new challenges and new puzzles. Ultimately your goal is to physically escape the space. Unlike a traditional escape game though there will also be actors that teams will need to interact with to gain information.” The first episode in the series was put on by a number of bloggers and their very talented friends; us UK types can just dream and be jealous, for it sounds hugely cool and it is delightful that the first episode is not just a one-off.
     
  • We don’t have it so bad in the UK, though; Saturday 16th April sees the Springtime Hunt in Shrewsbury organised by the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club. “Everyone is welcome to come along and compete, whether you are a member of the club or whether you just enjoy competing in treasure hunts. Gather for the hunt at 10am for an 11am start, and it’ll probably be about tea time when the treasure is unearthed. The £25 entry fee includes lunch as well as the hunt and its prizes. Go to the club’s website for more details of how to book your place.
     
  • Never enough, never enough; Up The Game happens two days later. “On the 18th of April Amsterdam will host the first international Escape Room & Real Life Gaming Conference.” Their speaker list is extremely exciting with speakers from several countries. While the early bird tickets have sold out, you can still buy Advance tickets at €100 each, plus a small booking fee, plus the Dutch version of VAT, which by the way has the charming acronym of BTW.
     
  • Last year, this site proposed an industry meeting at the forthcoming live The Crystal Maze attraction; while all 32 tickets have been sold (and there are already names at the top of the waiting list) it’s going to take place on Tuesday 26th April. Maybe something else interesting might be happening around that time too, you never know
     
  • And that’s not even referring to DASH 8, set to take place in cities around the world on Saturday 30th April!

What other events is this site missing?

The great day of The Great Escape UK

The Great Escape UK topic boardOn Thursday, I attended the first unconference in the UK dedicated to exit games and related topics, The Great Escape UK. Being an unconference, the attendees were invited to pitch discussions they wanted to lead, or to have. The board above shows the sessions that were pitched; it’s difficult to read them, so they were as follows:

Using Excel to write a budget forecast Social Media marketing “beyond the victory selfie” Back room equipment (cameras, systems) What other puzzle adventures exist?
  What is the future of escape rooms?   Mobile escape games
Ideas for “upselling” Outdoor escape rooms = geocaching Where does digital fit in escape rooms? Timetabling (illegible bullet point list)
What does a great employee look like? What is missing from the EG community? “Pimp my game” – high-tech and other ideas  

Slightly over 40 attendees booked places at The Cross Keys in Leeds; not everyone turned up, but there were walk-ins as well, so the final number of attendees is not yet known, but there were representatives from over twenty sites. Particular thanks to those who had come from afar to attend: not just London or Scotland, but all the way from Germany or the Netherlands. We had the private area upstairs, which was very good and an easily adequate size for us; the staff were attentive and extremely polite. (The fish and chips were excellent, coming with a particularly good home-made tartare sauce.)

The day started with an introduction to the unconference format; as an ice-breaker, we were split into five teams, each of which had to solve puzzles to crack a four-digit code to unlock a box. The main meat of the day was the four sessions of discussion; the end of the day was my presentation of the “state of the nation in 2015” and discussion on what might happen next to the community.

In the end, there wasn’t the demand to make every proposed session happen. Generally people would congregate around two or three tables and the discussions might have fifteen or twenty people each, though there were some smaller ones and happily some people found more use from talking to each other, perhaps in continuation of previous discussions rather than attending the sessions at all. The best news is that everybody was constructive, generous with their input and came across really favourably as far as I am concerned. If you were there, you’re straight on my strictly metaphorical “plays well with others” list – not to say that if you weren’t there then you’re on my “doesn’t play well with others” list!

Scribes took notes from each of the talks that took place and notes will surely be collated and published shortly, quite possibly in the same Google Documents format as used at the Ontario unconference so that other recollections will be shared. Certainly I’m interested in seeing what was said at the other sessions I missed, and there were usually two tracks that I wanted to attend in every session. Possibly the most exciting one concerns what is missing from the community; more on that before too long.

My presentation of the state of the nation and the 2015 survey results didn’t get too big a response while I was giving it, so I may need to rethink how I present the data. (People were kindly polite to me about the talk afterwards, but it didn’t feel like I had hit the mark at the time.) I shall publish the data in full within, hopefully, a week or so for you to perform your own analyses.

Lots more arising from the event to come over the weeks and months. A spectacular day; when the book on exit games in the UK is written, today will go down in lore!

Looking ahead to 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site has ran predictions features over the second half of 2014 and over the whole of 2015, assessing the accuracy of the predictions each time so that the world can have a giggle at just how wrong the guesses were in the first place. Let’s have another go for 2016, more because it’s fun than for any other reason. (Compare to the 2016 predictions for London by The Logic Escapes Me.)

That said, predictions are only so-o-o-o interesting. It’s more fun to think about plausible edge cases; it’s more fun to predict a long shot than something more obvious, but who’s to say what’s obvious and what isn’t? This list of predictions will also attempt to minimise the extent to which it covers previously-trod ground, as “this was an entertaining long-shot that didn’t happen last year and remains an entertaining long-shot this year” isn’t particularly exciting. A couple of other starting-points for predictions: this site will steer clear of predicting things it believes to be foregone conclusions already, and this site will attempt to make the most ambitious predictions that it feels confident making; this site would set over-under lines for the numerical predictions only a little above the figures quoted.

This site considers each of the following to be at least slightly more likely than not:

  • This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (Not part of the prediction, but this site suspects that at least 40% of the openings will come from brands and people already in the business in 2015, with a decreasing number of people starting from scratch. Deliberately short-lived pop-up games are not included in the count.)
  • This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland. Not every closure is a catastrophe: some businesses have decided to deliberately run a game with a finite duration, possibly with later sequels in mind.
  • At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (This is perhaps the most marginal of predictions, but eight seems just a little too safe to predict.)
  • Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.
  • Many of the biggest gaps in the market will close. At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough. (This site has heard people talk about possible sites in two of these, but that’s far from a done deal. Other possible cities have been rejected from the list for being too safe a prediction.)
  • The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.
  • There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.
  • This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.
  • London and at least two other UK towns will each hold at least four Puzzled Pint events in 2016. (This site has six possibilities in mind.)
  • There will be a UK DASH event and it will sell at least 25 team spaces – or sell out completely if the organisers choose a lower capacity – within 12 days.
  • There will be at least 18 locations in at least three countries around the world at this year’s DASH.
  • Ulrich Voigt will win the World Puzzle Championship this year for his eleventh victory in seventeen years.
  • David McNeill of Northern Ireland will defend his over-50s title in at least one of the World Sudoku Championship and the World Puzzle Championship; hopefully both!
  • This site will finally predict the WPC winning team after picking second place for the last two years.
  • This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.

This site considers each of the following to be less likely than not – maybe something like 30% likely each? – but nevertheless these are interesting possibilities.

  • Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)
  • An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.
  • There may be a single-day puzzle hunt in the UK and Ireland that is not the continuation of a series run in previous years and that attracts at least a hundred players.
  • There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.
  • This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community; the rooms do exist, as well as the Boda Borg centre at Lough Key and doubtless other things far too cool to exist in the UK yet, so it would be a delight for someone to start a blog with an Irish focus and maybe even get meetings going as is starting to happen in the UK.

This site considers each of the following to be much less likely than not – maybe something like 15% likely each? – but nevertheless these are entertaining outside possibilities.

  • There might be a TV puzzle show made in the UK or Ireland to match up with the best puzzle shows that we’ve had in the past; if someone were to commission a local version of The Genius and it were to live up to its potential, that would count, or if someone were to make a really good exit game TV show, that would count too.
  • There might be a puzzle competition (as opposed to an armchair treasure hunt or puzzle hunt) launched in the UK or Ireland which is designed to be played in teams – maybe even an inter-town league or an inter-university championship. This site really misses the Croco-League.
  • Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.
  • Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays