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Not just special effects - puzzles are still the core of an escape room

Not just special effects - puzzles are still the core of an escape room

Jakub Witosławski |

The global boom in escape rooms caused the industry to go from underground to mainstream in just a decade, and once small, innocent entertainments became real investments. However, the race in the area of novelties, advanced technologies, special effects, and movie sets has not changed one thing - the heart, the core of an attractive puzzle room is still engaging puzzles.

Escape rooms in 2022 are already so popular and profitable that companies can afford to make serious investments that give players the feeling of almost full participation in the storyline and the ability to influence it. "Open world" elements known from modern video games, robots that need to be controlled to complete a task, elevators transporting participants from one room to another, almost movie-like special effects or actors - these are just examples of solutions used in the most advanced rooms. Despite this, the industry - fortunately! - has not forgotten its roots. The majority of our community, when creating or visiting puzzle rooms, still places engaging puzzles that are cleverly woven into the gameplay at the top of the hierarchy.

Evolution of customer expectations

In 2010 or 2012 nobody had high expectations when going to an escape room. From the point of view of construction and individual elements of scenography the rooms were, it's safe to say, quite provisional - but nobody expected anything else either. These projects were often created in free time and conducted as an additional occupation. Both the creators and the clients formed a relatively small, quite well-acquainted group - and the owners of the escape rooms regularly visited and supported each other. However, the market grew very quickly, and as with any new but maturing industry, it evolved from cooperation to competition, and rivalry in particular aspects emerged. And the visual aspect was the key here.

This arms race resulted in a change in customer expectations and the creation of a certain branch in the industry. Many escape rooms have become something like incredibly polished and advanced "quest rooms" and the customers come to them no longer for the challenges and puzzles, which have to be solved to pass the whole game in a given time - but for the experiences.

- Many escape rooms nowadays have budgets close to 6 figures in euros, they've been created for months, not to say years, and are multi-room, sometimes multi-level structures, which allow players to move into a created world. Such an approach - focused on bombarding the participants with stimuli, effects, and actors entering the game - makes the focus on puzzles go away to some extent naturally. They are no longer the core, the heart of the game, and they are not what "satisfaction" is based on. They are more of an element that guides the story, sets its pace, and provides a way to uncover the mystery of a room. This has its pros and cons. However, in my opinion, it has simply broadened the escape room industry offer, more and more strictly puzzle rooms are created and the clients have more choices - says Grzegorz Cholewa from Exit19.pl company from Wrocław, whose escape room "Opuszczony Hotel'' took 9th place in TERPECA world ranking in 2021.

Where are we heading?

It can be suspected that two trends will emerge in the industry, which will gradually diverge more and more from each other. On the one hand, rooms will continue to be created that focus primarily on puzzles and base the challenge of completing a given game on them. These are the roots of the industry, and the sentiment for them is still alive - especially among the most experienced gamers, and anyway, which will probably never change, there are still many customers who are passionate about puzzles and brain teasers. Such rooms may have smaller budgets, but they require more intellectual engagement from their creators.

On the other hand, there are more and more advanced rooms, which are more like quest rooms. These rooms are all about immersion and pursuit of the greatest possible "wow" effect. Here on the starting line are set designers, special effects artists, more and more often recruited from the film industry, and 3D printing operators or actors, who often perform on stage every day. This branch of the industry also allows you to create rooms for the needs of big business - cinema premieres, marketing, or HR activities, which are to check, for example, the cooperation of the group in an appropriately created reality.

Jakub Witosławski

Jakub Witosławski

PR expert

15 years of Public Relations experience. Worked for brands such as Allegro, Microsoft, Lock.me, Global e-Mobility Forum, Martin Kaczmarski, Rochstar TV Production. Communication manager of the team participating in the Cross Country FIA World Cup and in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. Organized events around TV series premieres, was responsible for the media coverage of skydiving events and records. Works for the escape room industry since 2017. Hobby? In a free time skydiver, enduro biker, freeride skier and party animal.

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