Escape rooms have taken the world by storm, popping up in most cities as a fun activity you can do with your friends, family and colleagues. What you may not have noticed though, is that most rooms are designed more for individual gameplay than the group.
The Current Trend
The numbers vary, but some larger cities can have as many as hundreds of escape rooms. Whether or not this is something that is consistent for 2, 3 or even 5 years later remains to be seen, but what’s clear now is that it’s something most people have done at least once.
And from those players, a growing number decide to start their own. Escape room owners come from all walks of life—former technology professionals, haunted house owners, and even accountants are exploring and opening this new interactive business.
A common trait amongst some owners however is that more often than not, the game design that goes into their escape rooms is not informed by formal game design experience or training, directly impacting the quality of experience their rooms offer.
What happens is that most game designs interpret creating a game design as a template for inserting puzzles that challenge the mind, logic, spatial reasoning and whatever else that is difficult and not fun to do. A narrative is made and the pacing and progress is not thoroughly considered.
The easiest way to gate progress it to lock things—normally this would be a figure of speech but due to the frenzied profilication of escape rooms around the world, you’ll find a lot of them default to actual locks. But that’s just one part of it.
Typically the game flow, or the sequence of events in which things happen, is typically very linear. Solve a riddle to get some numbers (even though it has no relevance to the theme) to open a lock, which gives you another clue for your next lock. If they are creative, it’ll be a combination lock and not need a key.
But above all, and the reason for my writing this, is the lack of regard for the group and not the individual. More often than not, players are left standing around if the particular logic puzzle isn’t their idea of fun while the enthusiast in the group has all the fun.
When your group is in a linear room and is stuck on a particular cipher, riddle of logic puzzle, it’s basically an insurmountable wall until someone with the right aptitude (if you’re that lucky) is able to solve it. Everyone has to wait.
Puzzles that can be solved by individuals neglect those who may want to participate in coming up with the solution but have a harder time understanding it. This kind of game design rewards the ambitious overachiever but not the rest of the group.
The lack of positive feedback can add up to a frustrating experience for some members of your group, and create an unwillingness to attempt later puzzles simply because it’s not very fun to be reminded repeatedly that you’re not fast enough at solving it.