Mobile Escape Rooms: The Journey from Face-to-Face to Online Events
It is hard to imagine a time when Escape Rooms did not exist.
In 2019 The Guardian Newspaper reported over 1500 escape rooms were operating in the UK and, since then, that number has grown at a steady rate. Escape Rooms transcend boundaries by transporting players into a fantasy world, offering 60 minutes of distraction away from our everyday lives and, as a result, have become firmly rooted in popular culture. With a secure position in the leisure industry, it is no surprise that escape rooms now play a pivotal role in the live events sector. According to Eventbrite, the UK events industry is now worth a whopping 42.3 billion pounds and, it would be fair to say mobile escape rooms and live escape room experiences are owning their share of that figure. The fixed location escape room has diversified so rapidly since it swept across the globe in 2015. From mobile escape room trailers to escape rooms set up in offices: on television screens and, at festivals, escape rooms have become a part of our everyday lives.
Fast Forward to March 2020, and the events industry and many others experienced a big hit and continue to suffer at the hands of the Coronavirus. The virus has forced an entire industry to do what they do best: adapt and, it is times like this that test how flexible your business is. With nearly all events companies adopting an online and virtual presence, the mobile escape room has had to keep up with this change. With an already thriving gaming industry claiming its billions globally, the face-to-face and mobile escape room providers have faced no small feat in claiming their section in the online marketplace. For many pre-Coronavirus virtual escape rooms on the market, their target audiences reach far and wide, including casual gamers, professional gamers, families, and young people aged 12 to 15, who according to Statista in 2019, were spending on average around 11.6 hours per week playing games on and off online.
So how have mobile escape room providers diversified from face-to-face to virtual? It seems that many have shifted to either app or web-based services, both of which offer the design and usability functions required to host a virtual escape room. App-based escape rooms have proven to be a popular consumer choice, with apps such as Escape Adventures and The Room played globally by escape room and gaming enthusiasts alike. Selecting the right media platform for creating a virtual escape room is possibly the first decision that will be mostly influenced by the skills and resources available to the creator. Developing the mobile escape room experience in a virtual environment can be time-consuming and costly but is merely the starting point. Defining an escape room is simple, typically described as game in which people are locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles and clues within a certain amount of time to accomplish a goal. But how can a virtual escape room simulate a face-to-face escape room experience, especially when players are not in the same room and communication along with active listening cannot be achieved?
Many of us had never used Video calling platforms before the pandemic but, one thing is for sure, they have kept us ALL in touch during this period. Equally, this was somewhat of a revelation for many businesses and employees experiencing video conferencing for the first time, surprising, considering Zoom started back in 2011. These platforms offer budding virtual and online escape room providers the essential tools needed to recreate the key elements of an escape room experience, which is typically facilitated by an escape room host and allows participants to work collaboratively. Screen sharing, spotlighting and breakout rooms are all tools that can be utilised on video communication platforms and are particularly useful for mobile escape room providers. Companies that operate in the corporate events market have taken full advantage of these tools, allowing them to continue to offer corporate team building and entertainment. In many ways, the transition from a mobile escape room to a virtual escape room provider seems achievable overnight. With infrastructure and resources widely available, what are other factors to consider?
Who is the target audience? Will our existing customer base adapt to this change? How much do we charge? Do we have the hosting skills? Do we have the knowledge and skills to design and implement a web-based or app-based game? How do we achieve key objectives through virtual gameplay? How do we connect with our clients? The list goes on and external considerations suddenly become more apparent, like managing players' engagement and expectations, especially when so many of us have an aversion to organised fun. The staff Christmas party or quarterly team-building activity is suddenly avoidable; your internet is down, your laptop has frozen, you are in the middle of a power cut, suddenly become viable raincheck excuses. In addition to this, there has been a rise of virtual meeting blunders landing the not so au fait with video calling in awkward situations. For example, the woman who turned herself into a potato at the start of a video conference and could not figure out how to correct it. This resulted in her being stuck like a potato for the entire meeting.
Of course, the virtual escape room can never replace the immersive experience face-to-face gameplay offers. Escape rooms are inclusive and should be collaborative. Often, the unsuspecting ones come out on top and people cannot seem to get enough of these problem-solving pressure-cooker experiences. So whether you fancy yourself as a bit of a DanTDM or you are more of a Joe Bloggs when it comes to online escape rooms, have no fear, escape room professionals have thought of everything. Just remember to take part in a virtual escape room setup is crucial; a PC or Laptop with audio, a reliable internet connection and a sprinkle of enthusiasm are a must.