Last month we got the incredible opportunity to tour The Escape Game's Adventure Factory and meet many of the people who make The Escape Game (TEG) the best escape room company in America. The Adventure Factory is The Escape Game’s world headquarters, and it is where they design and build all of their escape rooms. The Escape Game has 17 locations, and they're adding more all the time. Each of those 17 locations have some combination of their 12 escape rooms. I've played 9 of those rooms, and the consistency with which TEG produces quality rooms is amazing. Three of the rooms on my top ten list are rooms at The Escape Game, and all of their rooms are good. They don't have any bad rooms.
Here are three reasons I believe The Escape Game is the escape room world's best hope to attract more players and grow the escape room world:
They consistently tweak their rooms to make them better. They track how long it takes teams to complete areas and puzzles. They track responses to questions about teams' favorite and least favorite parts of the room. They track room popularity and much more, and they use this information to improve their rooms and create better rooms in the future.
While much of the escape room world focuses a lot of their attention on making rooms scarier or more intense, TEG has focused on making their rooms fun for a wide range of audiences. Their themes are often light and playful, and they Their game masters (game hosts) cheer for teams rather than focusing on making the games difficult and equally fair for all teams. The quality of their props and set design are sturdy enough that the game masters can spend less time protecting the props and more time encouraging the teams. The Playground at TEG is one of the best rooms in the country, and the room is almost entirely light and playful.
Because TEG has the same rooms at multiple locations, they are able to have replacement set pieces and props pre-made to quickly replace aged and broken parts. Their high-quality website, creative designers, and convenient locations have positioned them for continued success because they have the resources necessary to make those things possible. TEG is owned by a team of investors who have provided the resources necessary to produce such a high-quality product, and because the escape room world so desperately needs to attract new players, I hope that they are willing to resist taking profit from the company by increasing the room prices.
Building New Rooms
The Escape Game has worked hard to create rooms that are impressively designed but are not incredibly expensive to build. I hope that this will allow them to grow without raising the price of the rooms. I also hope that they don't take this strategy too far. One of the first escape rooms I ever played was Gold Rush at The Escape Game in Austin, Texas. To this day, it is one of the best rooms I've ever played, and that is largely because it is surprising and memorable. It is a multi-level room with a few puzzles and design elements that leave players so entertained that they can't wait to tell their friends about them. When I contrast Gold Rush to The Depths (TEG's newest room), I can see that they chose to invest their resources on video production and large screens rather than impressive set designs. I assume that's because the cost of producing an impressive video is a one-time expense. Building an impressive, multi-level set is an expense at each location, but in my opinion, immersive sets do more to create memorable and exciting rooms. For example, Special Ops, another TEG room, uses creative videos, but those videos are integrated seamlessly into the impressively designed room.
There is one important area in which I believe TEG could improve, hospitality. TED is led by some incredible people, but the entry level employees who greet guests, answer phones, and brief/debrief players could benefit from some frontline training, Chick-fil-a style. Sometimes, when I arrive at a TEG location, it feels like the host is consumed by whatever is happening on his/her computer and barely recognizes we are there.
I recently played at Extreme Escapes in Franklin, Tennessee. Their pregame brief was done in an incredible theater room. The host was entertaining, energetic, and engaging. Best of all, in the debrief, the host used nicknames to remind us of funny things that we said and done during our game, and he gave feedback to help us see how we could have been more efficient. TEG may not be willing to make the financial investment that doing all of that would require, but some improvement in this area would improve the experience.
I recently played at Trapped! in Las Vegas, Nevada. When game hosts introduced the story of a room they donned a costume and became a character in the story. In some of their rooms, the host actually becomes an actor who plays the room with you. Many escape rooms have recognized the value of using hosts to immerse players in a story, but TEG has not yet chosen to use hosts in this way.
I do love that TEG gives a sticker to everyone who completes a room, but I wish they would give a pin or another wearable that is unique to the completed room.
Ruins: Forbidden Treasure
I can't end this post without talking about Ruins. It is without a doubt the best escape room I've ever played, and every escape room enthusiast should take a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to play it. TEG worked with Disney to build a room that has everything I love in an escape room with the added bonus of an engaging storyline. It's probably too large and complex to reproduce it in a cost effective way at other locations, but I hope that they will at least continue to keep it in good repair at their Berry Hill location. Players begin the room in a realistic airplane ride then are transported into a fantasy world of adventurous treasure hunting that could rival any Indiana Jones movie. There are only three generation-one locks in the whole room, and players are given the opportunity to interact with the props in the room in fantastic ways that makes the room as immersive as any room I've ever played. As we traveled through the room's numerous areas, it felt like the ruins went on forever. The puzzles range from exciting physical challenges to complex mental challenges, and the room moves in more exciting and impressive ways than any other room I've every seen. The room has its own lobby of Disney quality that begins the immersion before the players enter the room and provides a great place for post-game fun and pictures.
Ranking the Rooms
While we're at it, I'll give my ranking of The Escape Game's rooms (clock in each for reviews):