On October 16th over 150 people gathered for the first Escape Room Industry Conference in Nottingham. If you missed this event, then I wholeheartedly suggest you make sure you don’t miss the next – because it was wonderfully worthwhile.

Primarily the attendees were escape room owners, but a collection of enthusiasts and bloggers were also present. Organised by Simon Stokes (Escapalogic) and Sera Dodd (enthusiast extraordinaire), the event was supported by a very kind and attentive group of individuals who were determined to make the Conference a pleasurable experience for everyone.

A full itinerary of talks was scheduled across two presentation rooms and content was varied enough to be of interest to everyone attending. I would have loved to have been able to be present in every guest talk, because right from the very start of the day it was clear that the talks were going to be interesting, informative and valuable in content for everyone. Let me share some insights of what I was able to absorb:

Stuart Beare of Tulleys Escape Rooms

Tulleys is an established event location in Sussex that already offers seasonal festivities, mazes and wedding venue facilities. In July this year they opened their first two escape rooms, which are gaining considerable praise and recommendation from enthusiasts for design and immersion.

Stuart explained they have plans for two more escape rooms in 2018, and another two to follow in 2019. He considers their rooms to be “tech heavy” and the budgeting for the rooms was top end – £50,000 for each room, £30,000 for the lobby area, and a commencing marketing budget of some £15,000. That is likely to be every owner’s dream budget for building and launching their escape room. It also indicates the level of build quality, technology and engineering that’s going into current day escape rooms to ensure a high quality customer experience.

Tulleys have managed their business very well, and Stuart said their projections show that their initial investment should be returned within eight months. That is however, on the basis of Tulleys already owning their buildings.

I spoke to Stuart a little later and particularly mentioned their marketing campaign. I had watched it closely as it emerged into the escape room arena, and it was very well done indeed. Their social media flow was particularly good, and they have done their SEO brilliantly. Managing a good marketing cycle always pays off, and Stuart commented that they reached a good level of bookings within a very short time of opening.

Overall, the true value of Stuart’s offering at the Conference could be measured by his comments on customer service and focus. “We believe in bringing people together,” he said “we do this by creating unique immersive experiences.” In particular, he said that Tulleys Escape Rooms are “edgy, but not scary. We stay with mainstream themes which then open up a Pandora’s box of twists and turns.”

His tips included “be your best in your market –  for customer/visitor service; quality of experience; and exceeding your visitors’ expectations”. I think one very poignant moment was Stuart saying “don’t sell on price, sell on value.” It’s clear that Tulleys have a strong business model based on sound knowledge and experience. I’m sure we can expect more delights from them as they expand their portfolio of escape rooms. But in the meantime, they have their Shocktober Fest running – http://www.halloweenattractions.co.uk/locations/crawley/shocktoberfest

Dave Davis and Lewis Hunt of The Escapement

The Escapement is based in Margate on the South Coast and these two, very fun speakers, were sharing what they term “Tescapehnology” and they brought along a puzzle to share and to demonstrate integrated technology.

Lewis and Dave had some very interesting things to say about using pre-existing home automation services such as Amazon Echo Dot, Google Home and Kasa. They were using these to automate certain parts of their escape room puzzles. They had brought along a full-size demo puzzle, especially for the Conference, and showed us all how to get a lovely reward of rum 😊 with “Echo trigger me drink”. And that continued on pretty much all day in the refreshments area!

It was clear that Lewis and Dave are willing to try and fail, and then try again. “Customers do things differently to what you expect them to do,” said Lewis “and after 15-20 test games, you realise how wrong you were.”

They have done considerable development work on the escape room owners’ pet horror – technical failure. “There is an override on every part of the game. We look to build in 4 layers of back-up” said Dave. “We have a failure rate of about 1 in 100, but the customer must never know.” As a player, I appreciated that because technical failure can spoil a game, but we have to accept that occasionally it will happen. In fact, they had so streamlined their technology and back-up systems that they said they have super-quick reset times, with one being done in just 2 minutes!

Dave and Lewis were entertaining and future thinking. They consider that future developments will include software run online that can be used in multiple locations, for example, the same puzzle room running in three different locations, but managed from a single point. Other ideas they mentioned were TechGM’s which could offer a ‘many eyes’ approach to customer activity within the room; instant reward mechanisms; and features that provide less wear and tear on the room components.

You can visit their rooms at: https://escapementmargate.co.uk/

The morning sessions were jam packed with interesting titbits of information and insight. I also had a short time in the presentation of the two Davids from Bewilderbox (David Middleton and David Staffell). They shared some creative and common-sense approaches to making the delivery of the customer experience more theatrical and interesting. “Dressing up” they called it. They gave a great demonstration of ‘D.A.V.E.’ – the talking A.I. through which they gamemaster their games. It was a sophisticated interface for clue delivery and personal interaction with players which they said, “provides better immersion and world building”.

James Hammer-Morton of ‘Deadlocked’ (Reading) and ‘Thinking Outside the Box’ (Peterborough) gave some great tips for “training people to interact by getting the gamemaster to do the first example”. His insights into guiding people to respond by example was very forward-thinking. He considers the initial brief should be part of the interactivity, with the GM in character. James said, “Interactivity allows for adaptability within the game. This adaptability needs to be invisible and in-character.” In his experience, it can offer mid-game adjustment after the GM has assessed the speed and skill level of players. He said it could also offer potential for different endings and last puzzle adjustment. My sense was that this talk in itself could be expanded into numerous informative sections that would help gain insight into understanding the player’s capacity to interact and ‘play’.

Phew!…. And then it was time for lunch……

Part Two is available HERE

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