The Great Escape UK #EscGamesUK

You can almost hear the ice breaking!

You can almost hear the ice breaking!

A big hello to any first time readers borne out of our meeting on Wednesday. I used to post here quite regularly. Please have a rummage through the archives, you might find something of note. An only slightly smaller hello to everyone else.

What happened on Wednesday? I attended the first ever UK Escape Games Unconference, dubbed The Great Escape UK, and tweeted about using #EscGamesUK. Heading there with intrigue but unsure what to expect, I was delighted to find a couple of familiar faces and a whole group of new friends keen to talk about all kinds of interesting topics. Exit Games has already given a great account of how the day played out, so instead I’ll summarise some of the discussions I was involved in (the ‘official’ accounts will hopefully follow soon):

0. Icebreaker

How else to start than forming into teams and solving puzzles? Mainly mentioned because our team won. *gloat* With thanks and props to Ed from Breakout, Brad from Escape Newcastle and John from Museum Games.

 

1. What other puzzles adventures exist?

AKA, what are other fun things that you’re aware of that fellow escape enthusiasts might like?

Puzzle hunts – Like treasure hunts, but with all the answers/next instructions locked behind puzzles. The MIT Mystery Hunt is perhaps the most famous example, but I know from having friends who have played (and won) it, it’s at a difficulty level beyond mere mortals. Maybe one day. Much more accessible are things like DASH, which is hopefully returning to London in April (in which case hopefully I’ll be returning as well, if I can find some team-mates).

Puzzled Pint – Like a pub quiz, but with puzzles instead of questions. It happens in London and many other cities around the world. There seemed to be some genuine interest in expanding it to other cities. I might even be taking it on in Manchester…

Megagames – It’s a loosely defined term, but it’s basically trying to play some kind of game with a crazy number of players (20-300). Some of them are wargames, some are political. Some are historical, some are fantasy/sci-fi. They happen quite frequently in London. In the future they’ll be more frequent in the North of England. They happen in other places across the UK and all around the world as well.

 

2. Mobile Escape Games

People are making them work in all kinds of different ways. Agent November can take a game to any room or play in the great outdoors. Pop Up Puzzle Rooms has been offering experiences at county fairs or can even come to your home. Our German visitors from Exit Games (no, not that one), Mystery-Rooms and Exit Ventures are having success with corporate clients, setting up at their offices or other venues to suit. Time Games have worked with universities in both a social and educational capacity.

All great examples of what can be achieved by slightly tweaking the idea.

 

3. Escape Rooms and Geocaching

This topic could possibly have been included in discussion #1, but did allow us, thanks to Exit Games Scotland, to go into a bit more detail. Geocaching is about finding things hidden in the world all around us. Usually a little book to write your name in and say you found it. But beyond just scavenging via GPS there are hunts you can go on, and puzzles to break both online and in the real world. Those make it even closer to the world of escape gaming.

Enthused by the idea, I actually went geocaching as part of my bike ride on Thursday. Unfortunately, despite looking for two separate caches, I still haven’t found my first. But I’m interested enough to try again at some point.

 

4. What’s missing from the Escape Game community?

Probably the highlight of the day for me (and not just because I came up with the heading). We have escape game operators. We have news sites. We have review sites. We now have an unconference. But what don’t we have what people would like? It turns out quite a lot actually:

A trade show – A chance for operators, suppliers, possibly-related industries and enthusiasts to get together on a grand stage. It turns out a venue in London has already offered to host something like this, so now we just need to fill in the blanks.

A national/international competition/championship – A chance to claim the title of best escapers in the UK/world, and gain publicity and interest for the topic. Not sure exactly how it would work but seems interesting.

An escape game social network (Strava for escaping) – Publicise your escapes and their times to your friends and vice-versa. Add ratings for difficulty and enjoyment and start to generate more reliable crowd-sourced rankings rather than just Trip Advisor reviews or one particular reviewer’s thoughts. I’d be happily rendered redundant by this as it sounds awesome. Just need someone with the knowhow to take it on.

A UK-specific community – There are a number of Facebook groups already but they tend to get a little US-dominated (it’s almost like there’s more of them). A UK escape room owners group has been created already. I’d like to see a UK Escape Enthusiasts group follow it shortly. I’m not sure what we’ll talk about but I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

A podcast or video channel – Not sure if there’s an audience for this or not, but it sounds like fun so let’s make it happen!

 

And that’s just what I picked up from the tables I was at. Lots and lots to think about and discuss further (please continue the discussion below or on Twitter). Thanks to Liz and Toby for organising it. It really was a great day.

4 Comments:

  1. UK enthusiast group sounds good – although we’d need someone to take on the Scott Nicholson role of policing it. I’m sure Chris would do a good job. What difference would it give? I guess it might encourage the enthusiast community to meet up in the UK, allow questions on planning and other legal stuff, and attract people who might be a little reticent about joining a worldwide community. Also, probably more tutting.

    Podcast, Trade Show and Championship? Not really bothered. I guess an unconference with a trade show would be fine, but going to an EXPO seems quite dull, and hard to justify. I can imagine having designers and suppliers setting up their stalls at the end of an unconference, to allow owners to wander round while ad hoc conversations continue. I’m not a podcast person (although I wasn’t a social media person till this…) and championships in escaping would be hard to make fair and the right length (plus pretty expensive). I favour just posting your times and seeing what others get.

    Strava for escaping. Not quite sure how it would work. I like the idea of aggregated rankings from enthusiasts, but there are other people trying to make it happen, so I’m not willing to put any effort into it. For my part, I’m looking at putting together a London metacritic page – dragging together ratings from people who’ve played a number of London games. My hope is that people will place more faith in the aggregated ranking, see which games are polarising (Room 33?) or consistent and perhaps get favourite “reviewers” who they trust.

    Geocaching is good fun, but I eventually got bored. Most are pretty unexciting, but I’ve done a few up trees or under bridges that make it a little more extreme!

    Mobile escape games are something I find interesting. I love the idea of them becoming a bit like travelling circuses or theatres – visiting all the small communities, and giving us a greater variety of escaping entertainment. They’d need strong actors/hosts and a good plot, but Agent November convinced me it was possible to do it well. They’re also cheaper to set up, so great for new entrants.

    Other puzzle adventures? I’d mention Door in a Wall and CityDash. The former sit between escape rooms, puzzle trails and immersive theatre. I think they’re amazing at what they do. The latter don’t really do puzzles, but I think they’ll move a bit more in that direction and I like the mixture of careering round a town and thinking.

    Thanks for the update – sounds like a lot of fun. Shame I didn’t go, but hopefully catch up with you at some future point (maybe DASH, if I can convince some team mates to head along!).

    • I’d actually like to keep the owners (or at least owner-specific discussions) out of the enthusiasts group. All the chat about insurance and building use classes is completely irrelevant to me. I’m more interested in ‘does anyone actually like…’ or ‘do you think it’s appropriate for…’ type conversations. I’d also welcome praise for particular rooms (or parts of rooms) that people thought were exceptional, as if it’s within the UK there’s a reasonable chance I could make it one day. Once the conversation has started, I’d like to think a couple of regular contributors could serve as admins.

      The Strava thing could go in a number of directions, but at it’s simplest, being able to see some other people who have played the same room as me and then chatting about it seems fun. If people want to compare times and have leaderboards and the like then great for them too. I think it has a lot of potential.

      I think CityDash did get a mention at some point in the day, but perhaps didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.

      • UK groups: different people want different things, really, and I’d be keen to avoid over-fragmentation. All the owners at the unconference were enthusiasts of the highest order; while there’s an argument that it’s hard to know when an owner is speaking with their business hat on and when they’re speaking with their enthusiast hat on, I’m not so sure that you can always make the same distinction for non-owner enthusiasts either.

        At first when I heard discussion of escape game championships, I thought that it would be a competition between room *creators* and a room that had won a prize for being the best creation would surely be a room that people wanted to play. I rather like the idea of having both a creation contest and also a solving contest, though – teams might get to play (e.g.) 3 or 4 of the six finalist rooms and offer their feedback on the creations, as well as having their performances at them measured for the solving contest.

        Geocaches: there was a fair bit of discussion of puzzle caches, which do sound rather spectacular.

        Community website: the big question, really, is is there a community? There are certainly plenty of people who have escaped a room, enjoyed it, and then gone on to attempt a much-more-than-incidental number of further rooms, but they may not identify as being part of a community, because they may not know that there is a community for them to join. What Exit Games Scotland is doing in terms of organised large bookings is fantastic, and there’s an argument that Thinking Bob do (among many other things) something a little similar in London; other than that, there’s a handful of bloggers – and what else community is there?

        • I don’t want to exclude owners from any conversations by any means. I’m just drawing from my own experience of facebook forums, where as soon as the number of topics that I’m not interested in equals or surpasses the number I am interested in, the less likely I am to read or contribute to anything. The existing Escape Enthusiasts group being an excellent example of this.

          Any awards/championships could go in a number of ways. A creation contest is pretty close to ‘escape room of the year’. A judging panel of experienced players travelling the country to play, review and ‘grade’ doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. Obviously there’s a cost involved, but this could be part sponsored (don’t know by who) and part covered by a participant’s entry fee (which I’m not a massive fan of ethically, “the best wotsit that bothered/could afford to enter the competition”, but that seems to be how it works in most industries).

          I’m a bit confused by your final point. The community may be small (it could just be you, me, Exit Games Scotland and Logic Escapes Me!) but everything starts somewhere. I have to think that those people who are playing multiple rooms and/or playing regularly (of which there are far more than I can name, based on random tweets I’ve seen) might like to talk about their experiences and/or general points with other like minded people, just as I do. We just need to give them opportunity for those conversations to happen. Whether a Facebook group will do that I don’t know but, again, we have to start somewhere.

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