Our Currency is Memories
One of the things I love about the industry is the concept that our currency is our customer's memories. If we make a happy memory for a customer, then they'll want to feel that "happiness" once more so they may give us repeat business, they may share us on social media, they may bring more friends back for a larger event. At the very least they'll think of fond thoughts when they receive that marketing email from you later that week. Creating a fond memory is very, very crucial and the businesses that do it well, tend to receive more repeat business than others.
Think of it like this, if you don't make a memory, you're just another night of entertainment. You're a pool hall, you're an arcade, you're a bar that serves patrons asking for another shot of rum. There's nothing wrong with any of these things but unless I had really good friends and was having a really good time, the only thing I'll remember a few days later is that I had attended said place and it was enjoyable. Escape rooms are a unique manner of entertainment that transports people into a different city, imagination, fairy tale, universe, etc. Which is to say, it's foundation is already built to create your customer a memory. You've just gotta sell it.
The following points are not exhaustive, they are just the things that come up in my day-to-day while talking to escape room owners that may not have pondered the implications of some of the more standardized practices in the industry. Nonetheless, let's look at some ways to make a stronger memory for your very important customers.
How to Create a Memory
So how do we make good memories? It's tricky. Each store has its own methods of locking in that memory and some don't realize how certain mechanics are crucial for that fact. I'll share some opinions of how I believe memories are best created and in some instances, where opportunities to create that memory are typically fumbled.
The best part is: most of this stuff won't cost you any money at all. It's generally just staff training and can be applied to your business relatively painlessly.
When is a Memory Created?
This one is easy: it's in your escape room. There are, however, ways to leverage your chances of earning that memory and there are a lot of perspectives on how to do it.
Now I'm about to say something controversial here and every owner has their specific perspective on it and their own reasoning why they do it the way they do but nonetheless, I'm going to say it regardless.
Your customers will be happier if they escape
Almost all of the escape rooms I know lie about their escape rates on their websites. "Area 51's escape rate is 9%!" When in reality it's 89% because they push people through the game. Trust me, I know. My software records the actual escape rates and I've been doing this for years. The point being is that escape rooms want repeat business and if the customer is happy, they're more likely to get repeat business and/or social media shares. Nothing makes the customer feel happy quite like being one of the rare few, elite, intellectual beings with Macgyver-esque flair who just escaped a 9% escape rate room! Booyah!
There's something I've heard a handful of times that I really like to hear:
"The best possible experience we can give to a customer is having them escape at 59:59"
They are soooo right. Nothing locks in a memory quite like getting down to the last few seconds of a game and finally escaping while the pressure was on! It's a great feeling and I'm sure you've been there before. You'll want to keep this in mind when we get to "Adding some Intensity" later on.
Let's dissect it all for a moment. Why does a customer winning an escape room lock in a memory faster than anything else? It's simple. They feel smart, they feel exclusive. They feel damn well like Einstein reborn! In today's society where it's hard to stand out, you're giving that customer a way to do so and furthermore, the thing that sets them apart is their intellect which is so much more pure. They WILL remember when they were brilliant because it's possible that they don't get that feeling all that often. Why will they come back to play your escape rooms? It's because they love the way it made them feel and they want to feel it again.
Setting the Stage for the Memory
So we know that most stores aren't extremely accurate on the escape rates. We know that most players think they are walking into a harder game when generally we are going to help them along (if they allow it) with hints. We know that the higher the climb, the sweeter the reward. So why not sell it a bit further before they play?
One time I played an escape room in Florida. When we got there, we played a few games and wanted to continue through a few more. When we got to a pirate themed room they said that only 5 groups had ever beaten it after a year of being open. You have to understand that what they said to us translated to something to the tune of "If you can escape this room in 60 minutes, you are basically the second coming of Sherlock Holmes". I have never been so driven to escape a room in my life! It didn't matter that we had three people, it didn't matter that so many groups had failed it, we accepted that damn challenge and WE WERE GONNA WIN!
We didn't win.
Apparently the reason why so few groups have beaten it is because the gamemasters actually (and I swear this is true) didn't know how to complete some of the puzzles. I'm not kidding. That being said, we were so into that game and it taught me a very valuable lesson: set the stage. How do I know for sure? I can't even remember the other few escape rooms we played at that venue but I could tell you almost every detail about that damned pirate game.
What's the worst that could happen? If they don't escape, they won't even feel bad because they came so close on the impossible game and almost got out. The odds were never in their favor anyway! Even when you don't escape you feel empowered because you know you still kicked butt.
Now I'm not saying lie to your customers (although we already are doing so with the escape rates) but do whatever you feel works within your business to set the stage properly before the game. Keep in mind your gamemasters are gonna have to sell it so make it realistic.
Adding some Intensity
While I won't get too far into game design theory and why this is better than that, I will offer one suggestion that is certainly within that realm that would help create a memory.
One time I played a game with Lisa and David Spira at Room Escape Artists (https://roomescapeartist.com
) and afterwards we all talked over lunch about how we felt about the room. Without getting too much into the theme of the room, the general goal was to escape before the monster got back and did horrible things to you. One concept that popped up in the conversation is that there was never a sense of urgency. From minute 1 to minute 59, you were carefully solving puzzles without anything but the timer motivating you to finish the game. Notice I said "finish the game" and not "escape the bloodthirsty monster". That's because you were just escaping a room (albeit a very fun room) but you never really felt a sense of urgency (or a presence) from this mythical beast.
I have seen very few rooms that actually try to impose a sense of urgency towards the end of the escape room, be it imposed by timer, theme or by the puzzle but when it does occur, it really sells you on the immersion.
So as a meager suggestion, towards the end of your escape rooms change the intensity of your music, bang on the walls, introduce growling, show a video of the villain coming home, or a bomb that's about to explode with the ticking sound intensifying. Use your imagination in however small or extravagant you want to devise but those moments leading up to the final conclusion of your escape room. Get players blood pumping, get their excitement soaring and makes it so much more awesome when they finally escape. The more intense the final moments of an escape room, the more of a memory it creates.
Cementing that Memory
I was talking to a potential customer the other day and they were thinking about getting a photo booth for their escape room business. It's not something I hear often but it was a long call and I had time to ponder how that made me feel as an enthusiast and nailing down that memory. I had taken photos in such environments before but it never really "felt right" so I wanted to ponder why. Eventually it hit me and I explained to them that a team photo is the way we cement the memory of the customer. It's your last chance to hold everyone's attention, to make them feel so damn brilliant and to make them understand they are with fun, smart friends that just achieved something very few people have achieved and because of that, they are unique, exclusive, special and right now having one helluva memorable event!
Click. Team photo taken.
A photo "booth" has a totally different feel to it that kind of undermines the integrity of the memory we are trying to cultivate and preserve. When I walk up to a photo booth I'm mentally transported to the mall or any one of the hundreds of different places I could take a photo with that device. Not only that, I'm no longer focusing on how friggin smart I was a few minutes ago! I'm focused on the photo itself, the user interface of the device and that warm fuzzy feeling is kind of starting to fade while I have my photo because all I care about is taking the photo and how to do it. It's more or less like pointing a person to the door and saying "have your memory out there!"
It may not be as polarizing for every group but there is a subtle undertone there that you've really gotta appreciate. How many other businesses have you complete a task and line up on the wall while putting on silly props, holding signs and feeling comradery as your game master who just watched your team kick so much butt then they take a photo of their champions? Not many at all. That's why it's unique. That's why it's personal. That's why it's memorable
Furthermore, if you've ever been on a dating site (I know, it's a cruel world, I feel you), you've seen countless photos of beautiful people. You know what people look the most beautiful? The ones that are laughing are in mid-action shot, someone showing some sort of flair, personality, a lust for life! While some people may get away with a simple smile, that same person looks 10 times more attractive laughing or doing something dynamic. Apply that same concept to your team photos. "Okay smile" just doesn't cut it. "Let's get an action shot, do something crazy!" Which photo do you think is going to be more memorable when they reflect on later? Which photo looks like they had a great time? Which photo will draw attention and stand out in a sea of social media imagery? The action shot. Every. Single. Time.
Leaderboards are Amazing for Memory Creation
WIn our industry we have some mechanisms that are dual purposes and they are often misunderstood. For example, waivers are seen as a means of shedding liability however a waiver's primary value is the gathering of marketing data. While our industry grows, as the business owners become more educated on the value of their marketing data, the primary purpose (and value) of waivers becomes more apparent. In the escape room industry, a leaderboard's role is often undervalued or generally misunderstood in a similar fashion.
Sometimes I have conversations with escape room owners about Escape Games Global and during that conversation the topic of leaderboards come up. Most of the time a few cursory questions are asked and we move on but not uncommonly I get an owner who is dead-set against leaderboards because they don't want to have a "competitive" feel within their escape room. The value of leaderboards doesn't really mean "competition" at all.
I do not think it means what you think it means
Now I won't deny that an extremely small portion of your customer base will be interested in the leaderboards because of their rankings and that's all and good. You just have to appreciate the other portion of your player base kind of cares too but just in a different kind of way.
Now I know that the escape room industry is nothing but studs and babes so I assume you've gone out on a date at some point in your life. When you were on that date, did your date value compliments? When you said their eyes looked pretty, did they appreciate it? I'm sure they did! They may even remember it long after the date! Not only was your effortless Don Juan conversation piece appreciated but it gave you something to talk about and it was about their unique and amazing qualities. I consider that a win/win.
This is a leaderboard's true value. A good leaderboard (when used correctly) will give your gamemaster ammo to start a conversation on how brilliant your customers are. While I'm not advocating that your gamemasters look longingly into your customers eyes and tell them they are pretty, they can instead tell them how amazing they performed compared to other players. That they earned achievements, that they were special.
You see, most leaderboards give you the top x escape times for a room but how many people actually get value out of that? I'll give you a hint: it's 10. That's a VERY exclusive list and we want to make the player FEEL exclusive without actually BEING exclusive. So how do we do that? We create niches.
Leaderboards should be broken up into group sizes. There is a different leaderboard for 8 player groups versus 2 player groups because, let's face it, it's not a fair comparison. What we are really doing is making two separate leaderboards and if we do it for all group sizes, 2 - 8 we actually have 70 valuable slots that teams are working for. It doesn't stop there, we can wring even more value out of this setup!
So let's say we have had 1,000 groups play our Prison Break room. A group of four finishes it and has the 14th top slot in a traditional leaderboard. They get no recognition. Now let's go ahead and say that we're specifically looking at 4 person leaderboard, statistically, they're most likely in the top 4 of the leaderboard and tell them how unbelievably amazing they are!
Let's take a further step back, let's say they ranked 14th out of 1,000 four player groups so even then, they aren't in the top 10. How do you brag about it? You'd say something to the tune of:
"Wow, out of 1,000 groups, you placed 14th!"
Yes, it's just a marketing spin but it's still effective. All I'm trying to do is help you understand how important it is to remind players that they are special. Leaderboards are the easiest way to factually translate that information to the customer. When you've got a gamemaster that may not be the most creative of individuals, with a good leaderboard and verbiage script, they'll have the ammo they need to complement each team.
You can even take it one step further and add Achievements! Achievements are a video game solution to a very specific problem: it takes us x months to create a level for the players to play but once they finish it, there is no value for them to play it again and due to this we can't keep up with their content creation demands. Thus achievements were created as a means to replay existing content in challenging ways to reward the players. How does this translate to escape rooms? Well aside from rewarding players for things such as escaping with fewer hints, more time remaining or just escaping at all, it allows your gamemasters even more conversation points to make the players feel special!
So going on the above examples, let's say that same group of 4 actually placed 97th out of 1,000 four player groups. Now it's a little hard to tell them how great they were, it might be a bit tricky to sell. So how do we do this?. Use achievements to do the heavy lifting.
"Wow, you just got the achievement for finishing the game in less than 50 minutes! Not many people earn that one!"
It's just another way to stroke the customer's ego and rightfully so, they did a great job!
Once again, we found a way to brag about the player using leaderboards and achievements. Your customers feel smarter. When they feel smarter they're more likely to create a happy memory. They'll want to feel that way again thus potentially earning you repeat business.
Putting it all together
Memories in our industry are paramount. If you're not trying to create a memory, you're not interested in return business or referrals. It's our job to put the players in another world so we're already one step closer to the finish line. Since you've already set the stage, I'm just advocating the setting of expectations and follow-through to finalize that memory.
Don't underestimate the value of telling your customers how intelligent they are and tools/software you use to do so. Whatever your solution, it should help in some of the processes like leaderboards and achievements. You want niche champions! You want to make everyone feel special, to brag, to make your customers feel exclusive. Breaking leaderboards down via group size or awarded achievements allows most of your players to feel the accomplishment and retain a unique experience and hopefully a fond memory.
Most (if not all) of the pieces of advice I've given you above are inexpensive. Most won't require any investment other than staff training but the benefit you'll receive from really locking it in, is exponential.
Good luck on making memories!