The UK Escape Room Conference 2017

Wow, what an experience! Those of you who were lucky enough to get tickets to Nottingham on Monday will know just what I mean. It was an action-packed day from the moment the conference attendees arrived till when I left late in the evening (and well beyond by the sound of it!). As a non-owner, I always feels a bit strange attending these events. I’m an impostor, flitting from design talk to design talk and steering clear of the more mundane aspects of running escape rooms but maybe that means I can step back and look at things from a different perspective.

For me, the highlight session was the Daves from Bewilder Box and James from Deadlocked in Reading talking about in-game interactions. I had no idea what to expect but I really liked the clear way their messages came across. Dave Middleton’s comments around “the ancient art of dressing up” were particularly inspiring. Whatever aspect of escape room design you’re thinking of, consider whether you can put a (potentially metaphorical) costume on it to help aid the immersion. Their use of D.A.V.E., the in-room AI to dispense hints but also entertain and, when necessary, control the players showed just how creative you can get. In some rooms, the clue system is a necessary evil. A break from immersion that most players are happy to accept but the purist in me still wishes could be improved. In Bewilder Box it becomes the central pillar of the game, controlling the experience to a level that other games rarely attempt.

James, on the other hand, talked with passion (and humour!) about adaptable experiences. It was one of those great presentations where you go away thinking that what you’ve been told is both obvious and entirely new. The central theme there was how you could make games that appealed to the full range of teams from novice couples to large enthusiast teams and everything in between.  How? Well, adaptable experiences obviously but what I liked was his explanation and examples of how they’d done that. His overriding principle is the need to keep the interventions invisible, in-game and in-character. I told you that it was obvious but I still went away excited about what that might mean for other games in the future. Totally unrelated to what he was saying in the session I’d also like to send kudos his way for placing a strong female central character in their first game. The gender-balance of in-game characters in escape rooms is shocking, especially given the seemingly well-balanced demographics when it comes to players. It’s great to see another game with a non-male characters front and central.

Common to both those talks was a sense of interaction which was a more general theme I picked up on throughout the day – gone are the times when sticking a few puzzles in a room was enough. We’ve moved on to a new stage in the industry where you need to be doing more to engage your players. There were plenty of talks to help you with that, not least from the Escapement. In the morning David and Lewis were showing how they’d seamlessly integrated technology into Pirates of Polaris (via the most unbelievably advanced portable escape room kit, a live demo and members of the audience) while Mica took the afternoon slot to talk about set design.

One of the sessions that I couldn’t make it along to was Alasdair from History Mystery talking about how they’d managed to build on local history to tell stories and create games. Fortunately, I managed to grab some time to chat with him and his partner Lisa later in the day covering some of what he undoubtedly said in the talk but also hearing more about their plans. If you’re ever thinking of creating a game with a strong historical backdrop then I’d highly recommend getting in touch.

Most of those people were probably talking at an escape room related conference for the first time and made a fantastic job of it but there were, of course, some of the stalwarts of the industry for whom this is old hat. Nick from Time Run opened the conference with a rerun of his Up the Game presentation on the Tools of Immersion (good news – if you missed it you can catch it on YouTube here) which was universally well received. Mink of Enter the Oubliette fame took on the controversial topic of Doing Away with Padlocks. Or was it controversial? Perhaps she wasn’t so much saying you should get rid of padlocks as think more about where they belong and whether there are ways of camouflaging padlocks in other forms. Stuart from Tulleys kicked off the downstairs conference stream with the tale of how Tulleys had taken their experiences from being a huge force in the haunt industry and applied it as new entrants to the escape room market. James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, was the one non-industry speaker at the conference, covering the experience economy and how that played into the escape room industry.

It didn’t end there though. Simon from Escapologic, one of the hosts of the conference, somehow managed to find time to put together a session on tailoring the game to the individual alongside one of his managers, Conrad. Brendan from Escape Plan in London hosted a well-received interactive session on dealing with difficult situations. Alex from the Panic Room gave us his insights on how to take your ideas and make them a reality while Jane from Norris Box and Jason from Thinking Outside the Box joined forces to talk about how to involve children in games. I loved the simple advice Jane offered of locating child-friendly puzzles as low as possible to make them appealing to kids and unappealing to their parents! It wasn’t just owners, though, Sarah Dodd (the other organiser) teamed up with me for a session on players’ perspectives while the other half of S², Sharan, headed up a panel with Mark from Really Fun, Amy from Brit of an Escape Habit and another appearance from me (I’ve got two blogs, so it’s only fair I get to talk twice, right?). Finally, there were a couple of owners’ panels to round out the conference and let everyone get a few insights from the great and the good of the industry.

And breathe… It’s hard to believe that so much was fitted into one day. 16 full sessions given by around 30 people from all aspects of the industry. What’s all the more remarkable is that all these people did it out of the goodness of their heart – they didn’t even get their expenses paid. It’s great to be part of an industry where companies are happy to support each other without expecting anything in return. Where people are willing to get up on stage and explain the secrets of their success to strangers. It leaves me filled with hope that the UK escape room industry will continue to move forward rapidly but, even better, do that cooperatively rather than competitively. Long may it continue!

To the old friends that I caught up with on the day – it was, as ever, a pleasure. To those of you who I met for the first time (at least in person!) – thanks for taking the time to chat and make the conference a great experience. To those of you with whom I didn’t manage to connect – I’m sure it won’t be long before we get the chance again but please do feel free to drop me an email and say hello.

The only question that I was left with at the end of the day?  When can we do this again?

Watch this space…


Coming soon to Nottingham: Cryptology

cryptologyNottingham will shortly get its third exit game! Opening on the 8th of June, Cryptology will be situated in the city centre, between the Old Market and Lace Market tram stops. Locals will apparently know its location as “thirty seconds from the Left Lion” (oh, that explains it) – another way of putting it is “just down the road from the Five Guys“. The location will be opening with two exit games, both of which take teams of two to five players and have time limits of an hour.

One of the games is named Cypherdyne and concerns a fictional modern technology company of the same name. “You and your team are completing your first day at your new job at Cypherdyne. What seems like a normal induction takes an unexpected turn. Can you and your team pass the test to become an honorary employee?

If your heart races more for historical scenarios than modern-day ones, perhaps The Crypt is more for you. “Pharaoh Rameses has sent you and your peers to The Crypt where you will starve. Some of his minions are sympathisers and have given you the means to escape. Can you and your team unshackle and free yourselves before the guard comes to make their first inspection?” It is not yet clear how literally the word “unshackle” should be taken, but anything is possible!

As well as featuring two exit games, the site is also set to host Detective City Tours for groups. Here you can “Discover a different side of Nottingham with a Detective City Tour. Answer riddles, solve puzzles, track locations, map out the crime: discover Nottingham’s secrets. An interactive, clue-solving mystery based in and around Nottingham city centre. The tour will take between 2-3 hours to complete. Fancy yourself as Sherlock Holmes?” The link between exit games and detective tours has always seemed like an intuitive one to this site; Bath Escape have done something similar and it seems like a tie-up that would have a good crossover.

The exit games are charged at £40/team to £75/team depending on team size, the detective tours are a flat fee of £30/team. Lots more fun to be had in an increasingly busy city!

Coming soon to Nottingham: Escapologic

Escapologic logoEscapologic is set to blend escapology with logic when this new exit game opens in Nottingham on May 1st. Situated on Castle Gate, a couple of hundred metres south of the Old Market Square tram stop, the site will launch with two games – and correspondence suggests two more may well be on their way.

The site promises movie-quality special effects and completely realistic set and sound design, with machines to build and operate, hidden switches to find and codes to crack. The first two rooms have one-hour time limits and are designed to be played by teams of two to five; prices have not been revealed, but it has been suggested the price range will be £40 for two players up to £80 for teams of five. You are invited to choose between an abandoned steampunk inspired laboratory or a horror-filled crypt for the first two games.

The former of these, entitled Con-trap-tion, sets the scene like so: The room is dark. A single beam of light illuminates a key on a desk… In the shadows, strange machinery creaks and groans. Half-blinded by the spotlight, you make your way towards the key, stumbling on unidentifiable contraptions, apparently left in haste by whoever has been here before you… In the deep darkness at the end of the room, something is crouching under a huge tarpaulin…

Alternatively, Crypt-ic is the second game, where Stepping in to the room medieval age seeps through the draping and tapestries adorning the castle stone walls. Weaponry and Armour dating back centuries hold their own dark secrets and stories, however; it is the ominous looking machine that dominates the room and captures intrigue. To the right are shackled doors, which offer a glimpse through to a further chamber which can only have dark intentions…

These sound like remarkable places to play and this site is really intrigued to see whether the puzzles and challenges match up to the atmospheric surroundings. The coming soon page‘s countdown timer shows the attention to detail, happily following up on this site’s opinion on the most steampunk things in the world. Definitely one to watch very closely!

Coming soon to Nottingham: Logiclock

Logiclock logoIn the last day or two, a long-time “Coming soon” splash screen has been replaced by a very enticing-looking web site for an exciting-looking forthcoming exit game, Logiclock, due to open soon in Nottingham. The site’s Facebook presence suggests that the project has been under construction, or at least has existed as a name, since before this web site started, so it’s good to know that there’s been extensive development involved.

The site will open with one room, Pirates of Nottingham.

There has been a secret pirate house discovered in the heart of Nottingham which is full of treasures. Many people have tried to acquire the treasures, however the pirates have always caught them during the mischief and threw them into prison. Up until now, no one has left the pirate shelter alive. The time has come for anyone to outsmart the pirates’s leery mentality.

Intriguing. Has there really not yet been a room in the UK or Ireland with a pirate theme? Apparently not, so originality points for spotting a gap in the market. The game is for teams of 3-5 players and scheduled to last one hour. Prices have not yet been confirmed, but start at £16 per person depending upon team size. The site also hints at a second room under construction and more might yet follow.

The location is reasonably central within Nottingham, between the Victoria Centre for shopping and the Royal Centre tram stop. It’s also a couple of minutes’ walk from one of the stops of the free Centrelink electric bus service, so certainly very easy to get to. With great pleasure, there is another red “not yet open” dot in the map, and Nottingham has always been one of the most prominent gaps in the market, so this might well turn into a major player in the market. No opening date has yet been announced, but if you’re interested, start following the site’s social media. Perhaps there’ll be some opening discounts too!

Looking a long way ahead to more exit games

Enigma Escape bannerNormally this site can announce concrete details of an exit game reasonably shortly before, or reasonably soon after, it opens. This time, this site doesn’t have so much to go on, or knows that this is a longer-range preview. Nevertheless, these titbits are far too interesting not to share.

As previously hinted at, this site recently learned of another exit game planned for London, but whose operators have made it clear that they’re not in a rush to hit a deadline and will work long and hard rather than push out something before it’s ready. Nevertheless, with early social media campaigns under way and some gorgeous graphic design, here’s the story behind the team behind Enigma Escape.

We are two young cousins with a passion for video games, and in particular room escape games.
After playing some live room escape games in Hong Kong, Budapest and London, we felt that we could do a better job in creating the ultimate live room escape experiences.
It didn’t take too long to decide that we would quit our jobs and set up Enigma Escape.
Our mission statement is to be the best in room escape entertainment, by introducing well designed and innovative escape rooms, backed up with our outstanding attentive customer service values.
The perfect room escape experience is a blend of an intriguing storyline, innovative theme, challenging team-building oriented puzzles, and attentive customer service.
We have analysed many room escape businesses and far too many lack in at least one of these areas.
Our first location will be in London. We are in negotiations in securing a lease on a premises and hope to open by the end of the year.

This site applauds their lofty ambition and looks forward to the long haul of following their progress.

Three months ago, this site touched upon the crowdfunding campaign for QuestRoom, also planning to launch in London. While the crowdfunding was not a complete success, the campaign announced “Our goal is to reach £15,000 which would cover the start up the game and the first couple of months’ essential costs. The plan is flexible; we’ll find a bank loan for the missing amount if we need to.” The continued development of their web site suggests that they are making good on that part of the plan and this site also looks forward to seeing their plans come to fruition. More news as it becomes available.

The next story is from further afield. Very little to go on at the moment, but there’s a very early web site up for Logiclock, which intends to establish itself in Nottingham. Sounds wise; the East Midlands may well have a gap in the market, especially with the continued hiatus of Cipher Entertainment of Leicester. One noteworthy piece of cunning from Logiclock is that there also seems to be a web site pointing to their work, arguably an allusion to, the web site of the US subsidiary of SCRAP Entertainment, who started things off.

In late-breaking news, the proprietor of the very successful Escape of Edinburgh has announced on Facebook that they plan to establish a second venue in Glasgow, with a target opening date of August 15th. This site has been looking for someone to open within Glasgow for a while; it’s surely fertile territory and the proprietor’s track record is well-established, so the prospects are about as strong as they come.

These have all been added to the “Announced but not yet open” list; when there are definite addresses and web presences, this site will very much enjoy adding more dots to the map!