That’s all, Folks

No posts for a month and a half? It’s become obvious to me that despite the fact there’s plenty to talk about, I’ve rather lost interest in saying it in this blog in its present form.

  • The UK team at the World Puzzle Championships considerably exceeded expectations, finishing a national record fifth and taking some impressive scalps along the way. Many congratulations!
  • The UK’s own Escape Room Industry Conference was a tremendous success, though I wasn’t there. However, I did meet David from Room Escape Artist when he was making a flying visit and he was very sweet; if he lived over here, he would absolutely fit in and it would be a joy to see him more frequently. That said, this is not unusual at all; I’m struggling to think of anyone I know in the UK escape game community (including those who have come to visit from abroad!) who isn’t very near the top of my list of favourite people.
  • In July I mentioned the then-upcoming Hunt for Justice; it did happen and brought great joy as well as raising a hefty four-digit sum for The Innocence Project. A good excuse for not blogging about it in more detail is that there is discussion of rerunning it, at least in person in some communities, but do see Larry Hosken’s spoiler-free piece from behind the scenes.
  • In other puzzle hunt news, I’m on a team making extremely gentle progress through Puzzle Island 4, and the puzzles there are a great deal of fun. Quite wordplay-heavy and a fair bit of US pop culture, but recommended nevertheless. Pretty sure you can still buy access, though if you care about finishing first, some of the fastest teams cracked it within a long weekend.
  • There’s also an online puzzle hunt running through December and January connected to the Solver independent movie, with a number of star constructors.
  • Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt starts in December for its thirty-something’th iteration and I’m sure it’ll remain as worthy as ever of the deepest of attention; other events may be more accessible, but are also much more shallow by design, and it’s a joyous development as ever that the world of puzzles is able to reward you however near or far you choose to dive in at any particular moment.
  • There are a couple of interesting-looking Kickstarter puzzle projects on the go at the moment, which have even funded despite their high ambition, but I’m not sufficiently convinced about the ability of the unknown people behind them to fulfil their high promises to link to them.

Adding it all up, there are a lot of exciting and relevant ventures happening at the moment, maybe more than ever. That said, I don’t really feel like writing about them here, and I haven’t felt like writing about them for some time, and it’s becoming ever clearer that this blog (silly name and all!) isn’t working for me any more. The escape game industry is flourishing ever more dramatically still; its appeal for me waned considerably when it became clear that it’s more and more a marketing business these days, but it’s clear that the world at large is becoming sufficiently familiar with the escape game industry premise that there must surely yet be more of the interesting, weird, brave offshoots to come. There are a couple of dozen different little puzzle-ish hobbies out there in the UK which aren’t really interacting with each other and that number can surely only grow.

I’m building up something of a track record of starting blogs and then shutting them down, or handing them over to someone who’ll do a better job, within a year or two; more evidence that running my own blog isn’t right for me after all – at least, at the moment. There are still things to say which other people aren’t really saying, so perhaps I’ll see you around.

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss

"Welcome Back" graphicHere we go again“, as Stakka Bo’s number 13 hit Here we go from 1993 starts. “Here we go again, here we go go go as we warble up a Top Shop.” That’s a more accurate transcription of the lyrics than most.

I’ve moved from exitgames.co.uk to exexitgames.co.uk because what was working for me in 2014 and 2015 wasn’t working for me any more in 2016. Why not? In two words: mental health. In slightly more words: as much as I love infrastructure, I put so much of it in place that it became unwieldy in practice, and a fresh break suited me better than not. The wheels were falling off the wagon by the start of March – see the Intermission post – and it was very tempting to leave it there, but I thought I could have one more decent month with DASH, the unconference and the trip to The Crystal Maze meaning that I could leave on… not a high, but not completely petering out.

I made well over 500 posts at Exit Games UK, with grateful acknowledgements to those who provided guest posts to add to the fun. During that time I was quoted at the BBC, CNBC, in two books, at the Financial Times (possibly behind a paywall?) and was a talking head in a video on the FT site, which was fun. I helped organise an unconference and I organised a trip for 32 people to The Crystal Maze. I provided data used (without attribution, hmph) on Channel 4’s What Britain Buys, with The Logic Escapes Me‘s Ken playing a game on-screen – and if that’s not a metaphor for the way things turned out for blogging then I don’t know what is.

I was particularly pleased with my coverage of the 2014 World Puzzle Championships held in Croydon in the UK, and of DASH. The very good DASH 7 got more coverage (and even a cheeky one-off podcast!) than the very, very good DASH 8; it may be a sad truth that there was less to say about DASH 8 because it ran more smoothly and, frankly, was probably better overall. The interviews I performed were always fun; it was an especial thrill to get to talk to the team behind the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze of the mid-’90s and beyond. I have also tagged my longer reads and a very small number of posts about things which were particularly pleasant surprises to learn. Lots of fun stuff where I’ve barely scraped the surface, and that’s why I’m keeping going over here.

Everyone I’ve come to know through my time at Exit Games UK has been pleasant at worst and delightful at best, both site owners and blogger friends. There clearly are some… sharks at best in the industry who I haven’t yet come to know, but at least I know to keep away from them. I owe apologies to people who have started sites since February this year, for I have not updated the map (though Ken kindly has!) or the list of games to reflect their launches, and that’s their livelihood that I’m not doing as much as I could be to help. That’s part of the reason why I’m disassociating from exitgames.co.uk and associating with exexitgames.co.uk from now on.

The single biggest mistake I made with Exit Games UK was the title. When I started there were only a handful and no accepted term for them, so I stole the term from the wonderful exitgames.hu. In practice, almost nobody in the UK calls them exit games, and I take the blame that the term is used at all. There still isn’t a completely satisfying term for the genre – Room Escape Artist has a good take on this, though Scott Nicholson reflects that a good 30% of games don’t really need to be associated with the word “escape” at all – but exit games really isn’t it.

I recommend every source of online escape games except Ajaz Games, to whom I will not even link. They know why.

The content of exexitgames.co.uk will be similar to that of exitgames.co.uk since March. I tried to keep professional, businesslike and neutral with Exit Games UK, and am proud of my record of never having taken any free games in association with Exit Games UK. (I did take a free can of Diet Coke at one point, but I was offered a drink of water and was given the Diet Coke instead. I’d rather have had the water; I don’t like Diet Coke.) With Ex Exit Games, all bets are off. I may start taking freebies and I might even start having opinions on the record about the games I play! I will also feel a lot happier about writing “I…” sentences rather than trying to write “Exit Games UK…” third-person sentences 90%+ of the time. In short, this will probably not be as good as Exit Games UK was, but it’ll be better than nothing, and it’ll be as good as you’re going to get from me.

FAQ: There actually was one question that I was (relatively) frequently asked when I was running Exit Games UK. Obviously it’s more fun to let you guess at what that question was than actually tell you, but – at the time of writing – the answer is two.

Jamming the odds and ends in

Jars of jam

Right behind these lovely-looking jars of jam is a jar of game jam. (Maybe it’s more of a preserve.) Specifically, it’s the Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT, probably the world’s coolest university, in the Boston area this weekend. It’s organised by the MIT Game Lab in affiliation with Red Bull; the link is clearer when it becomes available that teams will be creating escape room content “escape room based around a moment in a upcoming film”, with the film being DxM, the “second project from Red Bull Media House’s recently launched feature film division CineMater“. The boffo Variety magazine calls the film a “high-octane thriller based around the possibilities of quantum mechanics“. Sounds cool, though it’s not possible to measure precisely how cool without changing how cool it is.

This whole Game Jam is really exciting, not least because of the articles it has already generated. One of the co-writers and producer of the film, Joanne Reay, writes that “the next generation of Escape Room will offer a compelling narrative in which an understanding of the story-world delivers an added advantage and insight into the solving of the clues“. Quite possibly so; this site doesn’t believe there is a single future for exit games, but this definitely sounds like part of the future and one that a great many players would surely appreciate in their games. If it’s an aspect that is to be emphasised in this particular Game Jam then the results will be enticing indeed.

Additionally – and this is particularly interesting – Konstantin Mitgutsch, Affiliate Researcher at the MIT Game Lab, writes, advancing the state of the art, on the topic of turning escaping from exit games into a competitive sport. There’s definitely scope for expansion in at least a couple of ways here: first, how might these general principles be applied to other sorts of puzzle-based live adventures; second, how might Escape Room Malaysia’s Escape Run 2014 event compare in practice to the theory? (Are there any other events that might be compared? This site can’t think of any, but you may well know better…) Certainly if you were an operator thinking of running something yourself in the future, there’s the theory to consider.

The speakers at the Game Jam have remarkable sets of qualifications; the same page suggests that the event is set to be filmed. The designs produced are set to be released under a Creative Commons licence; hopefully, the filming will extend to the speakers and their talks will be released as well. If the content released does go on to be used in a pop-up game supporting DxM, then Red Bull will have probably done quite well in terms of getting considerable development expertise at the cost of enabling a single Game Jam – but the Game Jam material’s release will mean that the world at large will have done well from it too, and gratitude should be given to Red Bull and the MIT Game Lab for that.

A couple of other odds and ends outstanding: thank you to everybody who made a submission to the site survey released to celebrate its first birthday. There were more than twice as many responses as there were for the previous such survey (after a hundred posts) and it represents greater commitment to go and fill in a survey on another site, so this does represent progress. Particular thanks to those who offered additional commentary in the text box section, which will not be addressed here, but the responses were very much appreciated.

  • About a quarter of respondents are in the exit game business and another quarter have their own blog on the topic, so the proportion of “pure players” is just under a half. The suggests that no matter how many people visit the site just for the big map at the top and to find a site location, it takes quite a degree of commitment to scroll further down and read the blog articles, let alone respond to the poll.
  • Nearly 60% are more interested in exit game posts than anything else, nearly 30% are more interested in puzzle hunt posts than anything else, with some clicking both and some neither, which is fine; plenty of reason to keep things varied, but good to get such a clear indication of what you think the main attraction is.
  • The geographic questions were not so well-designed on this site’s part, but it looks like nearly a quarter of respondents are from Greater London, nearly a quarter from the North-West of England, just under 20% from the UK or Ireland but outside both hubs and just over a third from outside the UK and Ireland.

Finally, this site has captured a second quarterly set of live price data towards producing an estimated exit game inflation rate, and with rather a better idea than it had three months ago about what should be in the basket. Still far too early to attempt to quote a meaningful inflation rate, though, but the general trends based on very few data points are that London launch prices are varying at both the high and low ends compared to prior practice, and provincial launch prices are trending slightly lower.

Exit Games UK is one year old today!

Birthday cake with one candleHappy Birthday to this site! Please help the celebrations by spending 45 seconds or so to open this page and fill in a very quick survey. Just mark as many or as few of the boxes as are appropriate, and the results will be summarised in the last week of March 2015.

The survey arises because this site doesn’t really trust its hit counter and statistics package. The number of visitors that this site attracts fell by about half a few weeks ago. It seems a little unlikely that the number of humans visiting this site has actually fallen hard; every WordPress blog attracts masses of spammers trying to leave comments advertising their products – at a guess, maybe 90% or 95% of the traffic to this site – and almost every blog puts a number of anti-spam measures in place. This site is counting on the (probably fairly small) number of humans visiting not having changed much, but the number of spammers having halved, for whatever reason.

Too much blogging about blogging can make those who don’t blog go “bleurgh” – better write about the topic itself. However, on the birthday itself, it’s probably reasonable to take stock. It’s been far more successful and exciting than even wildest expectations; many thanks go to those who have contributed to the blog, to those who have spent their time, effort and so-o-o-o many resources putting the games of so many types in place for us all to play, and very much to readers like you for taking the time, trouble and interest to read and follow what’s going on. Updating this blog has got much easier over time, simply because the rate of developments is so rapid that there’s so much to talk about – the posts often, more or less, write themselves.

The biggest highlight has been the people; it’s been a thrill to get to know some delightful and singular people through the blog over the past year. It’s really exciting to see all the blogs that have sprung up both in the UK and around the world, and people helping the industry by writing more enthusiastic and insightful reviews than this site ever could. The interviews have been great fun, particularly when they’ve given me the chance to meet amazing people in real life. If there’s been a lowlight, it’s that the site’s busiest day came on the only day with bad news so far.

It’s a thrill that there are so many games out there, but more importantly, it’s a delight how many ideas there are out there and the exciting variety of ways in which people are developing the exit game concept. Last July, a prediction of reaching 20 games by the end of the year seemed a little ambitious; just a few months later, the truth way has way outstripped that. This site cares slightly less about how many games there are out there than it does about how many games can thrive; it would rather see 40-80 games flourish for the long term than a bubble of 100-200 games that oversaturate the market.

So to the future. The frequency of posts may well decrease slightly over time; contributions are always welcome. The layout may well change again, as there are some significant ways in which it is sub-optimal, though it may require some outside expertise and additional WordPress-wrangling skills; if you have the knowledge and willingness to assist, please pipe up. (For instance: this layout seems to eat tick-boxes whenever you try to embed a poll in a post, which is why this site has had to use an external polling service. Grrrrr.) The map at Play Exit Games is amazing in the way that it clusters nearby sites together; if anyone can explain, as if to a five-year-old, precisely how to produce a stunning clustering map like that, please get in touch at once.

Future emphases for the year to come include:

1) A change in focus from “helping people to find a game to play” to “helping people to find the right game for them“. With sites from Aberdeen to Plymouth, it’s a reasonably safe assumption, to an acceptable degree of approximation, that people will be able to find a game to play. The fact that so many people will have a choice, and wildly different preferences determining how they would make that choice, is the next step to deal with.

2) Help people find all sorts of different puzzle adventures to play. Perhaps people will want to go to the near-freezing Czech Republic in autumn and be part of a thousand people running around looking for clues; perhaps people will want to pull up a cosy chair in the comfort of their own home and let the puzzles take them to all sorts of different places in their minds. If you like one sort of puzzle adventure, you may well like all sorts of others – but only if you know they exist, and if you know how to get into them.

3) Keep the bureaucracy going. Maybe the statistics that this site collects will turn out to be valuable and useful in the long term; maybe they won’t. If it turns out that they are of use, or if people can find some statistics that would be useful to collect, then stopping keeping track won’t help anybody.

Tomorrow won’t be a Mechanics Monday post, as more exciting site openings push the less time-critical posts into the slightly longer grass. Plenty of time for them to come over the next year… and beyond!

First Crowdsourced Awards Show

Graphic of a shiny cartoon trophyApparently 3% of the population of the UK will be at work today – mostly in the health profession and other essential service workers, but plenty of chefs as well. A busy day for the clergy, too. This site believes that at least one UK exit game is in business today and wishes workers there well. Have an unbelievably good birthday, Chris Kamara.

This is often the time of year at which award shows are held, reflecting on the nearly-finished year. Time will tell whether this is a good idea or not, but this site suggests it might be a good time to perform its own awards show. However, we’re crowdsourcing it; please post your own categories – whatever you like! – and winners below. Here are some examples:

  • If you’ve played a game which had a particularly good celebration when you won, recognise it below.
  • If one location has a car park that made you feel that your car was especially safe, holler.
  • If someone giving a game briefing did such a good job that you instantly developed a crush on their competence and charm, they’re well worth a shout-out.
  • If you’ve played a puzzle which had a prop that made you squeal with delight… that might actually be a bit spoilery; maybe best to either keep that one to yourself, or award them the prestigious “Best Thing – you know the one, under the thing, with the other thing that did that really cool thing” award.
  • That should give you a sense of what you’re after.

Site proprietors feel free to give credit to other sites where it’s due, and there’s never any harm in being funny, though do please keep it all in the holiday spirit. Oh, and this site doesn’t need to receive any awards – at least, ones which you’d have thought that this site might like to receive. 🙂

Introducing the multi-submitter

Four contact iconsThere are several different attempts to produce directories of the exit games that exist. This site has a directory of sites in the UK and Ireland, along with a timeline tracking the dates of openings, closures, moves and more. However, there are also larger-scale attempts to track the field, including a European map and global listings at Intervirals and Escape Rooms Directory. If you have a new exit game, you’ll want to submit the details to all of them.

This site has produced a form where entering your new exit game’s details into the form will submit those details to all four listings at once. The listings are processed manually, so it may take some time to see the listings updated. (You might also want to submit this to other global listings which are also available – e.g., Escape Game List and EscapeFan – but they are not currently within the scale of this form.)

Raising an unrelated matter, which doesn’t refer to any specific recent incidents, but does crop up from time to time. This site has always had a policy of not accepting paid advertising, sponsorship, free games, deals not available to the public at large, hospitality or other commercial considerations. Accordingly you can be confident that this site does pay its own way and doesn’t play favourites. Offers from sites are gratefully received, but never accepted, no matter how impressive the site.

(Full disclosure: a site operator offered me a glass of water once, which seemed to me not to constitute hospitality, but ended up giving me a Diet Coke instead…)

Milestone 100: a quick survey

Milestone showing the number 100Depending on whether you count the post with the map or not, either there have been 100 posts on this site already or this is the 100th post to this site. This has taken about four months, though this site has always been a “posts every now and again” site rather than a “new post every day” site. Grateful acknowledgements are due to Iain and Phil for their excellent posts along the way and potential contributors are warmly invited to get in touch.

It’s hard to know quite how many visitors the site gets. We have hit count statistics, but – for all WordPress blogs – it’s difficult to know how many of them arise as the result of automated spammers, whose attempted contributions are largely blocked; it might be 75% of our many hundreds of visitors per day, it might be 99.75%. Accordingly, it would be very much appreciated if you would take 45 seconds or so to fill in this anonymous survey, and a hundred posts is as good a milestone point as any. Tick as many or as few boxes as you like for each question; all the questions are completely optional, though participation may set a cookie on your computer.

Thank you for considering it!

Milestone 100: a quick survey

Milestone showing the number 100Depending on whether you count the post with the map or not, either there have been 100 posts on this site already or this is the 100th post to this site. This has taken about four months, though this site has always been a "posts every now and again" site rather than a "new post every day" site. Grateful acknowledgements are due to Iain and Phil for their excellent posts along the way and potential contributors are warmly invited to get in touch. It's hard to know quite how many visitors the site gets. We have hit count statistics, but - for all Wordpress blogs - it's difficult to know how many of them arise as the result of automated spammers, whose attempted contributions are largely blocked; it might be 75% of our many hundreds of visitors per day, it might be 99.75%. Accordingly, it would be very much appreciated if you would take 45 seconds or so to fill in this anonymous survey, and a hundred posts is as good a milestone point as any. Tick as many or as few boxes as you like for each question; all the questions are completely optional, though participation may set a cookie on your computer. Thank you for considering it![wwm_survey id="0"]

Welcome to readers from Larry Hosken’s blog

"Welcome" sign boardSo Larry Hosken recently linked to this blog! If you followed his link and clicked through, welcome. There is a moderately heavy UK emphasis, but not completely so; most of the online competitions I mention are global, and I like to write about especially interesting or relevant non-UK matters. Larry is one of the foremost documentors of puzzle hunts, with plenty of evidence to back up his long-held contention that Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere. (And everywhen!) I always appreciate his research into exit game history from a knowledgeable source.

There is a focus on exit games, because they’re making quite an impact over here, with both the flourishing number of them and the extent of their popularity as measured by towns’ Tripadvisor attraction rankings acting as evidence of this. (Jumping outside the UK for a moment, I was delighted to see that a new site has opened in Chennai, India featuring four games, the most delightfully unusual theme of which is “90 degrees cricket fantasy”.) However, over the last month or so, I’ve discussed puzzle hunts such as the upcoming DASH in London and the “Top Secret” hunt in Essex, online puzzle competitions such as the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle Grand Prix, the Armchair Treasure Hunt’s free online competition (the start time of which has been put back to 11pm BST tonight) and even some April Fool’s Day silliness.

A couple of news items: the World Puzzle Federation’s Sudoku Grand Prix contest’s fourth round, set by Russian authors, is now in progress until Monday evening; you can read the Instruction Booklet and see whether you want to spend 90 minutes on it, wherever you are in the world.

In UK exit game news, Cipher Entertainment of Leicester’s Facebook page has an offer of half price for kids until they close on April 26th for renovations to launch their brand new “season two” – though look down to their March 31st entry for a discount that applies on weekdays for full teams of eight. I was also rather delighted to see on Cryptopia of Bristol’s Facebook page that Puzzlair of Bristol came to visit. Sounds like both site representatives had a good time!

Why not leave a comment here if you’ve surfed on in from Larry’s blog? Sadly the spam-to-actual-comments ratio is literally thousands to one, so it’s possible that the spam trap has been over-zealous, but I’d love to hear from you!

Welcome!

Hello World speech balloon
Welcome to the exitgames.co.uk blog!

The focus of the site is exit games, which you might also know as escape games or locked room games. However, this blog will look a little further afield, covering related events such as puzzle hunts and also other puzzle games as and when news arises.

Exit games have been available within the UK, in their modern incarnation, since 2012, but it would be fair to say that 2013 saw a massive expansion, particularly towards the end of the year. Further afield, Japanese Wikipedia suggests that the first such games of this type were promoted by the company SCRAP, previously known for a free newspaper, in Kyoto in July 2007. The genre has spread around the world; at time of writing this post, the tremendous exitgames.hu site suggests there are over 60 such games (or, at least, rooms…?) in Hungary, of which 44 are in Budapest alone. Last December, the Wall Street Journal reported on developments in China, suggesting the existence of 120 games in Beijing – which, in the context of Budapest, seems plausible. Currently this site is aware of eight sites in the UK and Ireland offering a total of sixteen games, so we have some way to go to catch up.

Nevertheless, there have been interesting games with some degree of similarity in the past, more of which some other day. The degree of technology required to produce such a game is not necessarily particularly high, so it’s tempting to wonder whether Lord Baden-Powell, or other Boy Scout leaders, might have produced a comparable diversion as an alternative to the long history of wide games, scores of years ago. If there’s ever evidence to suggest this, this blog will be one of the first to let you know!