While I love to pompously pontificate on how-oh-so-much I know, it belies my tremendous capacity for mistakes. Here’s some of the many I’ve made in my Escape Room, and what I learned from them.
1. It takes much longer to manufacture than it does to design. Coming from Board and Card game design, I didn’t realize how much longer it takes to make cool looking stuff in the real world. I certainly can’t do it, and I underestimated how long it would take others to do it too. Even if you are a maker of real-world things yourself, there are a few sub-lessons I would take from this.
I would try to limit the ways your décor directly impacts the puzzles. When puzzles are so tightly tied up with the décor that a puzzle change necessitates a décor change, it’s a recipe for delays or going over budget.
Working on décor and the story/puzzles at the same time. While I tried to do this, I waited until the puzzles were finalized before I moved on to making everything. With elements of décor that are tied up in the puzzles, I should have been more aggressive about ordering the décor pieces that involve the puzzles. While this may seem to contradict what I just wrote about not having décor and puzzles too tightly fused, if you are going to have them fused, you need to test these elements early and decisively, so that you can move on to commissioning or making the pieces.
2. Fixed and great are two different metrics. During the initial testing of our room, there were obvious things that needed changing. Using an iterative process, we moved to change the things we didn’t like. This mostly worked, but I realized later that I evaluate things which went from bad to good differently than I evaluate things which started out good. I was far more likely to be satisfied with “fixing” a problem and moving on to something else than to stay working on it until the problem had become one of the best parts of the experience.
I think this is something that’s relatively common psychologically. The pleasure of improvement releases the mind from wanting to work on it.
3. Play more rooms. I had played about 8 Escape Rooms when I designed my first room. This seemed adequate to me, but I didn’t realize that the range of Escape Rooms is much broader than I thought. I should have played closer to 25 rooms to get a feel for what was out there. I don’t think it affected my Room design, as what we made is pretty unique, but there are small things in the non-Escape Room department that would have benefitted from seeing other examples. Things like website design, briefing areas, and business modelling all help from seeing other's work, even if their Escape Rooms aren't helping you design your own.
4. Timidity for new things. I am naturally conservative when doing things I have no experience with. Employees or marketing or designing a website were terrifying to me when I began this Escape Room adventure. I was pleasantly surprised how many resources there are online and otherwise to learn how to do things you don’t know how to do! Don’t be afraid to jump in! You’ll either realize you can’t do it in which case you’ll hire help and know more about what you need or you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your competency. It’s a win-win. Jump in!
5. Make new friends. Almost every business is made and run by more than one person. Escape Rooms are particularly so. While you need hosts to run the games, you’ll need designers to make the game and decorate the rooms. Contractors, scenic designers, and digital makers make the creations real. Business and marketing needs abound as well. While some Escape Rooms are owned and operated by one person or a couple, a lot more hands went into it to get it to reach its potential. This is why having friends in the industry is big. Don’t know how to use an Arduino? Someone you know might. What about setting up your booking software? Or Google Analytics? How about hiring hosts?
Escape Rooms are also unique in that the level of direct competition between businesses for customers is very low compared to other businesses. This helps foster an atmosphere of cooperation between owners. I wish I had met and befriended other owners prior to opening. It would have made a big help!
Brian Hacker, whose parents say he wasn't a mistake despite having September 1st as his birthday, has been in the games industry for over 20 years, first as a professional Magic player. He went on to become a professional poker player and game designer. In an effort to understand obscure technologies and lose what remaining free time he had, he opened Enigma HQ!