puzzle pieces

Escape room games are at an exciting point in their development. At this point escape rooms have made their way into the mainstream lexicon, and most people are at least somewhat aware of what these games are, even if they themselves have never participated in one. Millions of people globally have now played at least one escape room, and thousands more join them every day. Even in the last six years since escape rooms first began to show up in North America, what exactly an “escape room” entails has changed a great deal. The earliest escape rooms were often rudimentary, stark rooms sparsely decorated, with combination locks spread out around the room. Often the puzzles in these rooms would be derivative of older puzzle types, be they sodoku, crosswords, or other math or logic puzzles. Over time as the number of competing escape room companies grew, so did the drive to create a better product. Escape rooms began to put more effort into creating immersive sets that were really capable of making the players feel transported to another place entirely. They began to develop new and novel puzzle concepts that would only be possible in that particularly environemnt, and demanded the players think in new and interesting ways. In the last couple of years technology has taken on a greater role in the world of escape rooms, with games often including elements of VR, doors and platforms that open and close on their own for players – and all sorts of other surprises, often entirely uniquen to just that one escape room. It’s no longer enough to just spread locks and puzzles around a room, players (even those who have never played an escape room) have come to expect more, and the market is doing its best to provide. Part of these expectations may be due to the Hollywood depiction of escape room gameplay, which is sadly not usually accurate. These aren’t terrifying death chambers. No matter how many cool effects are stacked on top of the room, the ultimate nature of an escape room to this day remains solving puzzles, for an hour. Solved puzzles often have a much larger payoff now than they used to – but it’s still a puzzle solving activity.

So, now escape rooms are becoming ever more specialized and more dependent on expensive and complex technology to operate. This is an industry entering the stage wherein it becomes increasingly difficult for a newcomer (without substantial financial support) to make much of a dent. The initial investment of R&D and time into rooms has grown exponentially from the days of scattering lock boxes around a room. However the core gameplay remains the same. This begs the question, where do we go next?

One potential concept that some companies are starting to embrace is the idea of longer form experiences. These are adventures that can run even longer than the standard one hour, and take you through a broader range of locations and experiences. Often experiences like this blend in elements of live theater, which is another area many escape rooms are starting to dabble in, in order to provide something fun and unique to their customers. Many of these experiences, due to their length, will reduce the number or complexity of puzzles that players must solve to progress, replacing these puzzles with hands-on activities of a variety of natures, to keep players invested, without becoming frustrated. This does mean that for the puzzle enthusiast looking for a challeging gauntlet to tackle, these experiences may not push all the right buttons. For those less interesting in puzzles, and looking more for the “experience” then a longer form game could be ideal. Unfortunately at the moment these longer form experiences are very rare, and to the best of our knowledge such an experience does not exist in NYC. The closest would perhaps be Sleep No More, but that is an immersive theatrical experience, and does not entail any puzzle solving.

Another area that some escape room companies are begining to explore is the design and production of custom escape room games for corporate events or product launches. There have already been numerous examples of escape rooms successfuly partnering with film and media companies in order to create these interactive experiences for their premieries. Some examples include HBO and Game of Thrones, and South Park. Cruise Lines and even large office complexes are also installing their own custom escape rooms to keep their guests or employees entertained. Projects of this nature, being funded by third parties, are potentially one of the most reliable ways, moving forward, for the intrepid escape room designer to continue to practice and hone their craft, without having to dump a fortune out of their own pocket in order to do so.

The last area for potential future growth we’ll cover today is VR, or Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is still in its infancy as a technology, with very few people posessing the necessary hardware at home to experience true room-scale VR with the full freedom of movement that entails. Escape room designers are uniquely positioned as developers and designers in this new industry, as they have already been focused on creating tactile gaming experiences that require players to be extremely hands-on with the game, within a limited space. We don’t necessarily believe that escape room companies are going to be investing heavily in VR themselves, the escape room community has made it broadly clear that they’re in this for tactile “real” experiences – they can get video games at home. However we do feel that the design constraints placed on escape rooms (Often just one or two rooms contain the entire game, building sets within the constraints of available office rental space, finding ways to keep people entertained and invested for an hour working on spacial and logical reasoning) are the very same constraints a lot of VR developers are running into. After all, players in VR are often playing in their livingroom or apartment, limiting their range of movement in much the same way players within an escape room are limited. We’ll be interested to see how these two genres of game continue to blend and mix and build upon one another as time progresses.

That’s all from us for now – we do hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of theorycrafting into the potential future paths escape rooms might take. We do hope you’ll check back within us again soon for the next in our ongoing blog series!

All the best,
Clue Chase