Chicago Room Escape Conference - A Round Table Discussion

5 Things I Learned at the Room Escape Conference From Other Owners

The Escape Room industry is very young here in North America. In August of 2016 Transworld held the inaugural industry specific trade show and conference in Chicago. This event known as the Chicago Room Escape Conference 2016 was the first of it's kind in North America. Escape Room owners, enthusiasts, designers, and vendors gathered for 3 days and shared a wealth of knowledge and ideas. One evening a group of owners got together to have a round table discussion about the Escape Room industry and shared some true insights about the current state of the industry. Thanks to Tone Purzycki for hosting the discussion and recording it to be shared.

The participants in order of appearance: Tone Purzycki & Frank Giglia - of Trap Door Escape, NJ; Will Azess - of Mission Liberte’, Canada; Jason Richard –of Steal and Escape, CA; Jason Stroud – of Think Outside the Box Escape Room, England; Bruce A. Smith – Enthusiast, US; David and Lisa Spira – Enthusiasts (reviewers extraordinaire) RoomEscapeArtist.com; Larry Weinstein and Adam Delana – Creative Duo from The Great Escapist, Fl. Here are five things I learned from other escape room owners. 

In a previous post I had written 5 reasons you should attend the chicago room escape conference: HERE
UPDATE: 04/16/17 New for 2017: Countdown to Room Escape Conference 2017

#1 takeaway from the room escape conference. The Escape Room Industry is Growing Exponentially! –

When my family and I did our first Escape Room in October of 2015 we were so enamored with the idea that we decided nearly simultaneously that we were going to bring Escape Rooms to our area that is in dire need of entertainment options. Since we opened Cracked it! Escape Games in January of 2016 at least five other companies have opened in our region. A startling statistic: Nearly 3000 Escape Room LLC’s have registered to open in the 3rd Quarter of 2016. An incredible amount of growth in an extremely short amount of time. This statistic alone further illustrates why events like the room escape conference are crucial to our industry.

A great tip from David and Lisa is to get listed as early as possible on EscapeRoomDirectory.com Why should you get listed on EscapeRoomDirectory.com? First, it’s FREE!  and  it’s good for your marketing Second, The site is a front end listing site for at least 6 other listings so your site will be listed automatically across multiple domains with international reach. Third, you become very easy for escape enthusiasts to find on the internet.

The Great Immersion Debate! –

There is currently a debate raging across the Escape Room Industry. How immersive does an experience need to be? A leader in the industry is a company known as 5-wits. They are masters at designing and building immersive experiences for their guests. They also have very deep pockets.

 

Most escape rooms are started on a shoestring, including our own Cracked it! Escape Games. As a result the initial experience may seem a bit slap-dash and in a word seem “cheap.” However, our first game, A.I.R. In Search of: Episode 1, has an incredible fun factor and has helped us build raving fans and create true enthusiasts.

We built the room on a very limited budget and with very limited knowledge. But as our experience grows so too does our immersiveness.

Regardless of your level of quality you can build your scenery to, if you have a game that is all scenery and no substance that is far worse than a game that has really good puzzle flow and really good game play and weaker scenery
— David Spira

From our own experience we invested time and money into our second game, Queen Anne’s Revenge, to make it more engaging and immersive. It includes a beautiful environment, sound effects and scents that make you feel as if you are in an 18th century wooden ship. As we mature as a company and learn new things our experiences get better and more immersive.

All of this said the discussion boiled down to this point – WHEN IT COMES TO IMMERSION, A LARGE BUDGET ≠ AN OUTSTANDING GAME.

A great point was made by David Spira, “Regardless of your level of quality you can build your scenery to, if you have a game that is all scenery and no substance that is far worse than a game that has really good puzzle flow and really good game play and weaker scenery”

One of the key lessons I took away from this part of the discussion was illustrated by Jason of Steal and Escape. Essentially, when it comes to immersion, have an extremely fun game and don’t sweat the small things because the players rarely take note of them. For instance, the fire exit sign that is required by law as a safety measure cannot be hidden, or dismantled. Video monitoring systems and microphones, they are part of the game and as such are difficult to camouflage, and most often times go unnoticed.

The bottom line when it comes to immersion in escape rooms is this. “If you can thrill someone for $500,000 of $5,000, a thrill is a thrill and that is what we should be aiming for – Will Azess”

How do I market this, what is marketing? –

Most of us who open Escape Rooms do not come from a business background and as such we have no idea what we are doing. We need to spread the word and get known in our community. We spend many thousands of dollars putting the word out there through Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor and a litany of other advertising streams, yet every day we hear we didn’t know you were here! We have very limited budgets for advertising and stumble around in the dark hoping that a blind squirrel will find a nut.

One of the great daily struggles in any business, especially a business where only about 30% of the population has ever heard of it, is cutting through the clutter that is in peoples faces every day. Some great advice from this discussion with regard to marketing revolved around “word of mouth” advertising. Our players, guests, and enthusiasts are our biggest and sharpest tool in our tool box.
Some Tips:
1. Know your audience and cater your message to that audience. Through experience, we at Cracked it! Escape Games have identified our ideal guest. Who that guest is compared to who we thought that guest was when we opened are completely different. As such, we have rethought how we engage with our community, and guests.
2. Build a mobile game to take to fairs and festivals and have a strategy to engage those customers on site and invite them to come to your facility at a later date with a DISCOUNT CODE SPECIFIC TO THAT EVENT.

There were quite a few other good tips on the marketing front that

Know Your Strengths. –

Learn to become a J.O.A.T. at the room escape conference.

One of the great bits of advice from this discussion is take a good inventory of yourself and identify those skills that you are good at and find a partner or people to bring in who compliment the skill sets you are missing. None of us are great at everything and it is incumbent upon us to know what we are good at, and farm out all those tasks that we are not so good at.

As business owners we only have so many hours in a day. Every task we undertake is possibly taking away from something we can be doing to grow our business. We have to budget our time wisely and focus on the activities that will help us grow our businesses. Whether it is marketing, web design, set design, accounting and the list goes on and on and on, there are so many facets to this business that it can be a bit overwhelming at times.

Resources for Escape Rooms –

There is a common misconception that the Escape Room business is in itself a new industry and has very little information available on how to get into, set up and run a business for the long term. This is a myth. In its current form it is a new industry but it pulls from so many others that have been around for centuries. Set design, lighting design, sound design, game design, marketing, accounting… There are many overlaps between the Escape Room industry and many others that the knowledge is available, you have to seek it out and learn it. You don’t have to become a master at everything.

Learning in this industry should be continuous. If you fail to learn you will learn to fail. The industry is changing rapidly and you will be left behind.
 

Unlike many other entertainment industries there is a sense of community and sharing information right now. My fear is that as the Escape Room market grows the flow information will slow to a trickle and eventually stop. So thank you Tone for putting on a great discussion. See you at Escape to the North in May of 2017

Updated 11/29/2016:

Are you looking for more information on the steps to take to build and open your own escape room business. The folks over at Now Escape have written a great guide to help you take those first steps. Check out this article: HOW TO OPEN YOUR OWN ESCAPE ROOM: A SIMPLE 22-STEP GUIDE