“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 little mid-April news

Rolled-up newspaperVery little, but more than none.

After yesterday’s post and a few nudges, the remaining tickets for the exit game unconference in London in a week and a half’s time have all gone. A waiting list has been opened and that’s already filling up quickly as well. If you have a ticket and end up not being able to attend, please cancel so that it’s possible to invite someone on the waiting list who really can make it. Thank you!

Further down the line, the eighth nearly-annual edition of Gamecamp on Saturday May 21st in London has started selling tickets. This too has an unconference, themed around games of all sorts and in all media, but “As well as talks and workshops, GameCamp has a lot else going on. The ‘Run What You Brung’ playtest/demo area is open for anyone with a prototype game to show off. There will be live games of all sorts kicking off around the venue throughout the day, and a library of board-games for anyone to use. Plus lots more to be announced before the event. Keep checking the website!

If you’re disappointed about not getting tickets to the exit game unconference this month then, honestly, this is likely to be better; on the other hand, (a) they’re bigger, (b) they’ve been doing this rather longer and (c) they aren’t specifically about exit games. (That said, Adrian Hon gave a talk about exit games at GameCamp two years ago, back in the days when there were only a double handful of them around.) Take a look at the Gamecamp site for details of the crazy stunts they’ve been able to pull in the past. They’re very good at this. Tickets are limited, but two more batches will go on sale at a higher price in coming weeks.

Lastly, Mark at Really Fun has started a podcast about exit games called Escape From Reality; the first episode was posted a few hours back. Guest starring Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, they provide a highly enjoyable half-hour-plus of listening. Hurrah!

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!

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 forward to the Unconference in Leeds next Wednesday

unconference

(Posted by Dr. Scott Nicholson from the Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015.)

This site has mentioned the “The Great Escape UK” unconference next Wednesday a few times; tickets are still available with registration open until at least Sunday. That ticketing page confirms the venue (a mile from the coach station, half a mile from the railway station) and sets the tone and suggests what might be in store. Definitely room for more owners, would-be owners, enthusiasts and those who just want to learn a lot more, myself firmly included.

Conversations I would be interested in having next Wednesday include:

  • What does the future of exit games look like? (I think there is no one future, but many different parts of the future…)
  • What does the UK market really look like at the moment – what is the survey (discussed yesterday) not properly capturing?
  • What other sorts of puzzle adventures are there to enjoy? I talk about quite a few on this site, but there must be others that I know very little about and would love to know much more about.
  • What are the characteristics of an excellent exit game employee, how might they be recognised and rewarded?
  • …and doubtless many, many more that I look forward to being pleasantly surprised by.

Hope to see you there!

Meetings of minds near and far

"Up The Game" adApril 2016 is set to be an extremely interesting month. The banner above is an advert for Up The Game, a conference focused not just on exit games but also other real-life games, which will take place in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, on Saturday 18th April 2016. “ As one of the fastest growing entertainment trends since the rise of cinema, real life gaming has taken the world by storm. ((…)) Where traditional games are a bit of a niche, real life gaming attracts a wide range of customers and people who exit a great escape room do so with shining eyes and a budding addiction- ‘where can I play more?’ But it doesn’t stop here, new games keep adding even more crazy ideas, more technology and more compelling interaction to the experience. We love to see all those new ideas as the better our games are, the more people will become excited about real life gaming.

That’s not April’s only attraction, though. Back in June, this site proposed that the UK industry meet up at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze live attraction. We have a date – Tuesday, 26th April 2016 – and an afternoon timeslot. (We don’t have a location, other than King’s Cross, London; this site’s uninformed guess is “somewhere within the Granary Square complex”.) There’s no guarantee who’ll turn up, but tickets have been bought by representatives of Escape Hour, Enigma Quests, Escape Quest, Archimedes Inspiration, Agent November, the The Escape Room chain, Breakout Manchester/Liverpool, Escape Live (both Birmingham and the forthcoming Southend branch) and the Escape chain, as well as by five fans with no business connection. 31 tickets have been paid for in total with a 32nd still available, plus potential resales from people who can’t make the event in the end. That 32nd ticket is available at cost price – £32.50 – which is rather cheaper than the £50 or £60, plus booking fee, you’ll pay for a ticket today. If the company appeals, as well as the price, then please get in touch by e-mail. ((ETA:)) Someone has called dibs on the 32nd ticket but if you’re still interested in going, I’m operating a waiting list in case there are resales.

Why wait until April, though? On Wednesday, 13th January 2016, there will be an exit game unconference in Leeds at a central venue to be announced. This has been discussed previously and the discussion of the counterpart unconference in Canada sounds intriguing. Be sure to grab yourself a ticket today.

Why wait as many as five and a half weeks, though? This Tuesday is Puzzled Pint day, and the December theme is Mad Men – though, as ever, no knowledge of the subject is required. The location puzzle has been posted; solve it to find out where the event will take place. My partner and I will be helping to run the London East location; being December, we’ve had to guarantee a high minimum spend so that they don’t pass us over for another Christmas party, so we really hope to see you there on Tuesday night!

Unconferences and other fun conferences, then onwards to an International Escape Game challenge

Abstract conference graphicAfter the Escape Games Convention in Stuttgart last month, yesterday saw the Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 in Toronto. Hopefully the Facebook group will get better-populated; Exit Games UK very much looks forward to reports of the event from those members of the extremely popular local exit game blogging scene who could attend, and the #oeru15 Twitter hashtag has exciting-looking titbits.

So if meetings can happen in Germany and Canada, why can’t they happen here? That was part of the thinking behind the industry-wide meetup at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze attraction, though the attraction’s delay in opening until 2016 is putting that on hold. Before then, an unconference in Leeds between 2pm and 7pm on Wednesday 13th January has been announced on Facebook, or at the very least, suggested. Hurrah! Exciting times; hopefully the Canadian model (and reports of how much its attendees got from being there) will drive lots of people to such a UK event, for its effectiveness will strongly depend on how many people turn up to take part.

The suggestion was made by Liz Cable of Time Games, a university lecturer in social media and digital narratives. Time Games have fine form, having organised pop-up exit games at speculative fiction conventions in the UK and in the Netherlands and combination exit game / scavenger hunts for universities as well – and who have such a varied background in other types of games that they can bring plenty of other experiences to the table as well. Most excitingly, as Essa at Intervirals pointed out, they’re responsible for this very exciting tweet: “We’re planning an International #EscapeGame Challenge for 2016“. Definitely one to follow!

Liz has a number of other provocative thoughts as well, for instanceThis lunchtime I am mostly thinking about how to combine laser-tagging and escape games“. A small part of the solution could be the rather cool-sounding Survive The Night large-scale outdoor archery tag (which uses proper bows and heavily foam-tipped boffer arrows) game recently discussed at Escape Rooms in Toronto; a bigger part might go along the lines of “who knows, but it certainly sounds amazing“!

Late October news round-up: the Foreign Office

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightCloser each day… Home and Away. Following on from yesterday’s home news, here’s the remaining news from around the world.

  • Today sees the sold-out Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 at Ryerson University in Toronto. It is being chaired by the irrepressible Dr. Scott Nicholson, the foremost academic in the field – but, being an unconference, all fifty ticketholders are expected to actively participate. While unconferences don’t stream well, there’s a Facebook group, the Twitter hashtag #oeru15 and hopefully documentation to follow. If the unconference model proves to work well, perhaps it might be the first of many.
  • Carrying on from yesterday’s discussion of bespoke amateur games (and that’s no insult at all; the word amateur essentially derives from the Latin verb amare and refers to someone who does something for the love of it), while MIT has been famous for its annual global-cutting-edge Mystery Hunt for decades, it was delightful to see that the Next House dorm at the university have their own two-storey pop-up exit game, within a basement, over Hallowe’en for a second year. It could well be fiendish!
  • Speaking of student puzzle hunts, hadn’t previously seen mention that registration is now open for the 2015 SUMS Puzzle Hunt for teams of up to five, run in the traditional five-daily-rounds-of-increasingly-difficult puzzles Australian style with the first round being released on 2nd November.
  • Sanford, FL is a part of the Greater Orlando area possibly best known for its airport. However, they also have an exit game on a cycle limousine. Say what, now? Up to fifteen people bring their own beer and wine (in plastic containers) or soft drinks onto the human-powered vehicle and must pedal with their feet, as if on a bicycle, to propel it along. (A pilot steers the contraption.) While they’re doing that, and drinking, they have two hours to solve the pirate-themed puzzles – and get the clues from the locations to which they will pedal along the way – which will lead them to save their kidnapped captain. Can’t say it’s not original…
  • Finally, many belated congratulations to Lisa Radding and David Spira of the excellent Room Escape Artist blog on their engagement! Mission Escape Games of New York City helped by hiding a custom box made for Lisa as they (and their team!) played the location’s brand new Nemesis game (see their review) – but the fun only started there. Happily, the second half of the story has been impeccably caught in a series of photos. The very best of joy and health to you both!