Tech or no tech?

Gen 1? Gen 4? Come on this might mean something to the escape room die hards but if I asked 99% of my customers they wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about. And across over 5,000 reviews I don’t think even one says either “that tech was awesome” or “I didn’t like the fact it had no tech”.

Not all reviews are good of course but I’ve never had a complaint about tech or no tech. If I look back through history - recent of course as this is all still a bit brand new - our most popular game - with reviews to match - has been Antidote. And apart from some very simple tech - I guess the die hards might call it Gen 1.5, it’s still extremely popular and we have no intention of ramping up the tech just to ‘keep up’ with some of the tech pace-setters in the industry.

What I do watch extremely carefully, is the reviews being posted for us and our competitors and I often see that games/companies with the most tech don’t review as well as those with much less. Maybe it’s because it sometimes breaks? My map of Cuba in Cuban Crisis has never broken once...

In my opinion, tech is one of many parts that make up a successful experience. And I put ‘experience’ before ‘game’ for a good reason, as it’s the overall experience that guests will remember. Cinemas are not all the same. I try to spend my summers on the tiny island of Guernsey just off the coast of France and their biggest cinema is smaller than our Orlando venue. Watching a film there is hardly the same as watching the same film in a state of the art iMax or a cinema where I can recline and have quality food and drink delivered to my seat enjoying the multi million dollar sound and vision. Anyway I digress but needless to say it’s the whole experience that counts from the first interaction with your website to the after-game personal email following up with a thank you and their personal photo.

But back to the film. I mean the game. Because no one wants to watch a crappy film right? So what’s your favorite film? Is it a Hollywood blockbuster or a cool cheap production that won all the prizes at the Cannes Film Festival? Whichever it is I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all enjoyed a wide range of films from the local ‘I know that bloke’ productions to the Tom Hanks hundreds of million dollar blockbusters.

But the ones we enjoyed have a common thread. They all have great stories that we get totally wrapped up in. And an escape game needs to be the same. Our first Cuban Crisis had zero tech but it had a great story and people still love it. It’s well produced, it’s authentic and the overall experience, according to our customers is great. In fact it’s so good that when Santa needed a well earned rest after a very busy season - Cuban Crisis went back in!

So I think it’s easy to agree a great story is critical. And it must be authentic. Let’s add to that that it must be ‘cool’ (which is of course subjective) and, here’s where my ‘other life’ comes in - it must have something to appeal to all audiences. My ‘other life’ has been spent creating training and marketing programs for car companies where studying people’s behavior and creating programs to appeal to all audiences is essential. I’ve lost count of the various ways to ‘categorize’ people but what I have learned is that everyone wants something different and we all learn or get satisfaction out of different things in different ways.

I’m going to use the very first example of different learning styles as my example here as I still have fond memories from the experiment of which I was part. I was an ‘activist’ and my best friend, who I believed to be exactly the same as me, was, to my shock, a ‘theorist’. And it transpired that parts of the experience of the training program which followed our ‘categorization’ appealed to me but not him, and vice versa. Thirty years later we still laugh about the fact we’re not identical at all and I’ve relied upon that expedient (and evolved it many many times over) to appreciate my audience and make sure we consider ‘everyone’ when we design our games.

As a small example I recently had a meeting with a great escape gamer and he really doesn’t like crossword puzzles. He can’t see the point as those can be done anytime outside of a room and he wants to find stuff inside the room that’s not available outside. Whilst I’m not a massive fan of them either I see plenty of people who love them when they see them in a game. If you were one of those people who filled in a crossword in the newspaper everyday, or better still someone who bought a crossword magazine, which one of the following are you most likely to say: “oh no not another crossword I’ve been doing them all day” or “step aside, this has got my name written all over it”! Personally I think if they love crosswords outside the room, they’d love crosswords in it.

Physical puzzles are actually my favorites but that likely goes back to my roots as being one of the ‘activists’ in the group. Just to put your mind at rest that meant I had to be ‘hands on’ to learn things and I was a poor listener (and still am according to my wife). Warren my best friend hated the hands on stuff - totally couldn’t see the point. We were learning about cars by the way - and he wanted to read, read, read so he knew every single feature like the back of his hand, so he demanded more and more manuals and reading materials so he could swot up. The only way I’d work out how big the trunk was, was by filling it up with luggage. Then the ‘400 liters of boot space’ (we were in Europe remember), meant something to me and I’d remember it. So likely Warren would head straight over to the crossword puzzle and start reading everything to work it out, and I’ll be looking at any physical challenges and want to build stuff to solve a puzzle!

So we need to be conscious of Warren, me, my escape game friends and even our younger audience. I love the ‘quick wins’ for them. Just hide stuff all over the place for the kids - they love that and it’s another box ticked. And yes we have the techies and we need to show them we’re pretty cool and throw in a few surprises to demonstrate we know what we’re doing.

But don’t forget the historians, the pragmatists, the athletes, the young, the old, the girls, the boys and anyone you can think of. But remember they’re all looking for something different. Except for one thing: they’re all looking for a great story.