Getting down to business

A few pieces of news arising:

1) Insider Media reports that “An AIM-listed investment vehicle has agreed a £12m reverse takeover for a live escape room business, with plans to bring the brand to the UK. Dorcaster has agreed to buy Experiential Ventures Ltd, the holding company of the Escape Hunt Group.” If you search for Experiential Ventures in the news, you can find other analysts’ viewpoints on the development; for instance, there is a slightly sourer opinion from Shares magazine.

I’m not sufficiently business-savvy to know the ins and outs of how the procedure works, and whether it’s all done and dusted and the cash-register bell is ringing or whether people are still relying on other people to supply money to make things happen. (If there is someone who can interpret, that would be very welcome.) I do like the thought of someone from the escape game industry Getting The Loot, though; while this deal might have arisen from what is, to some extent, an escape game franchise business, rather than an escape game business, I can’t imagine you could have a credible escape game franchise business without having had an escape game business first.

This site featured a couple of interviews from May 2014 and November 2014 with Escape Hunt principal Paul Bart. There’s more analysis to be done somewhere of this (and of business in general) down the line, but that day is not today; today is a champagne graphic day, as far as I’m concerned.

2) The much-missed Oubliette‘s Minkette kindly pointed to this thread on Twitter, in which Lee Shang Lun, also known as Harry, livetweeted (and translated) a talk given by Baptiste Cazes on escape room games at the Pompidou Centre. The thread is well worth reading.

3) Archimedes Inspiration‘s Kou Tseng is running the London Marathon a week on Saturday in support of Mind, the mental health charity, in an escape-themed padlock costume. You can donate directly to his fundraising effort. Alternatively, the site’s Facebook page states that “Book one of our games between now and 30th April and we will donate all the profits to Mind, an amazing charity that provides help and support to anyone experiencing an mental health problem.” Kudos! Immense kudos!

4) Shortly after that, the next UK escape room unconference will take place. “April’s UK Escape Room Unconference will be held at Summerhall in Edinburgh – a quirky and original venue close to Edinburgh Waverley train station and the bus station. The lovely peeps at LockedIn are running free sessions from noon on Monday to noon on Wednesday if you’re staying over, and on the evening of the event as well.” It starts at 10am on Tuesday 25th April; tickets are still available for under £34, including Eventbrite fee. Sadly I’ll be working the day shift and have to miss out this time, but some highly-regarded London types have suggested that the standard of games in Edinburgh is (almost entirely consistently) remarkably high, with the highest highlight at least matching anything England has to offer. A ringing endorsement, and these unconferences are always great days. Judging by the names on the Eventbrite, there’ll be easily enough brilliant people there that it’ll be worth your time and effort in terms of who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn, and not so many people as to overload the venue and become overwhelming.

5) A little further down the line is the next Up The Game conference on Tuesday 9th May at a remarkable abandoned prison venue in Breda in the Netherlands. Tickets are still available and won’t leave much change from €200, plus all the usual costs of travel to attend a conference, but the speaker line-up is stellar. I hadn’t realised quite how big the first Up The Game was – of the order of 500 attendees from 40 countries – and I’ll eagerly be awaiting news of this one from afar.

Charitable Connections

Breakout Manchester Charity Day detailsBreakout Liverpool Charity Day detailsThis industry-wide call to arms has kindly been written by Del from Breakout Manchester and Liverpool, to whom questions should be directed (see below for details!) but everybody is welcome to join in. Exit Games UK finds the idea of a focused, cross-site, charity initiative extremely promising and exciting, even if it might take a good chunk of planning ahead to execute to its full potential.

The exit games industry is such an exciting place to be for all involved. Customers love doing something different with their day, they like being challenged, they like feeling accomplished. As the company bringing them that, it is genuinely heart warming to be part of that experience and get to share that buzz with them.

Because of all this excitement around what we do with our various companies, it gives us the opportunity to help people outside of providing them an hour (or hour and a half, as is the case with some of your games out there) of entertainment. I don’t know about other companies, but at Breakout Manchester and Liverpool we are always receiving emails from local charities and fundraisers asking if we can donate a game for a raffle or auction as it’s something different to offer people and drive the interest up. There are obvious parameters we have to set, but on the whole we can agree to these requests and help the people these charities are supporting with their time and often limited resources.

In 2015, Breakout decided that we could do more than provide free games and having donation pots in our reception area. We contacted some local charities and game them our rooms for a day. This altered nothing from our end of the arrangement as these would be running anyway, we just took them off the booking system, told the charities our prices and let them book the slots themselves and take the money we would have received as a direct donation. The sales from any games we sold ourselves got donated to the charities. It wasn’t without its problems, as no first time event ever is, so we addressed these and addressed these and created a charity evening 6 months later, working with only one charity this time in Manchester and several in Liverpool. We’ll continue this biannual charity event, because it’s great to give something back to the communities that support us in whatever way we can.

BUT, for this April, we’re proposing something different. We’ve decided to go NATIONAL.

We want to see if you other exit games in the country want to join us, on Thursday 21st April, in giving some or all of your games to charity with us… We’re working with The Christie (a cancer specialist hospital charity) and Joining Jack (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy) in Manchester and Imagine If Trust (fighting poverty through education), Barnardo’s (helping vulnerable children and young people) and Parkinson’s UK (supporting and funding better treatments for Parkinson’s), but ultimately this event could benefit any charity of your choosing. The groups we’ve worked with have been so happy about being involved in the event and being able to offer a distinctive product in exchange for donations. They’ve sent us buckets, balloons, T-shirts, stickers for the day and they’ve even come along to be part of the greeting team for customers and give a big thank you to them. The customers are happy as well, as they get all the benefits of playing a game whilst also knowing their money is going somewhere worthwhile.

If you’d like to join us, give us a shout on hello@breakoutmanchester.com, let us know who you’re supporting and definitely let us know of any interesting plans you have and how you get on. Feel free to contact us with any questions as well!

Can’t wait to hear from you and build our community further.
Breakout Team

Good news for mid-December 2015

Cartoon of people reading newspapers and a bookToday feels like a day where three cheerful news stories would not go amiss.

The Room of Glasgow are distinctive for reasons including the sizes of the largest games that they offer; their Mansion Room game is designed for teams of 8 to 16 (though there may be some wiggle room) and their Party Room for teams of 10 to 16. Throughout December, there are a number of promotions being launched “by the resident elves”, notably a discount code available for those playing up to December 20th. The most delightful initiative is this one; as discussed on Facebook: “On the 16th of December, we will be hosting a Charity Day. We are offering 3 Party Room games for free for groups of disadvantaged children (from an orphanage, care home, or from poor families). We would like to give the gift of fun to these kids for Christmas, the way we can. We want to give back to the community, and thought it would be great to surprise kids with some caring and fun.” How kind! Exit Games UK commends the site on this thoughtful – and original! – gesture.

Breakout Manchester have launched a second site within the city centre, on the High Street near the Arndale shopping complex. (It’s about eight minutes’ walk from their first location, which remains open.) The new location will feature another John Monroe’s Detective Office, with a new room entitled Vacancy opening tomorrow – “Exhausted after a long journey, you place your bag down on the freshly made bed, ready to relax. Suddenly, an ominous sixty minute countdown begins. No matter what you try, the door will not open. Welcome to Crimson Lake Motel. You check in, but you NEVER check out…” – and a horror-themed Facility X room for players aged 16+ opening soon. “You arrive at an unknown location for a once in a lifetime opportunity; a conference held by the critically acclaimed, Dr. Andrews. His work is widely known throughout the research circles, but he has remained hidden in the shadows for years. What you don’t know, is that Dr. Andrews has gone mad, creating a string of tests that have gone disastrously wrong. He has brought you here for his final experiment.” A fourth room on the site is promised for January, and that’s not all; this new location is a big old space and there may very well be more to come.

Jackie from Locked In Edinburgh got in touch to enthuse about their second room. “Our theme has stemmed from having Pickering’s Gin Distillery sited directly below our escape rooms.” Exit Games UK loves games with local flavour, no pun intended, so the localism here is hard to beat. “The distillery reported a breakin which is thought to be an inside job. Which employee is plotting the distillery downfall and to where are Pickerings planning to move their gin stock for safe keeping? ((…)) A tour of the distillery can be incorporated, although probably best after players escape as the tour includes gin samples which may cloud people’s thinking heads!

Here’s a bonus cheerful news item, not related to exit games: while the shortest day of the year doesn’t happen for nearly another week, we’ve already reached the point in the year where the sun is starting to set later and later. Indeed, the UK is at a point in the year where both sunrise and sunset are getting later in the day, and which one is moving more quickly determines whether the day is lengthening or shortening. Take it as a sign that we’re already making it through the winter!

Late October news round-up: the Home Office

News round-upAfter the recent round-up of sites adding new games, there are plenty of other stories that couldn’t fit in there but are far too interesting not to print. There are so many stories, in fact, that there’s got to be a home-and-away basis, so here’s the domestic news.

  • Breakout Manchester had a charity night on October 13th in association with The Big Do for The Christie cancer centre. It looks like there were two or three rounds of play, each with multiple teams taking on the rooms, and all the proceeds going to charity; in the end, the @ideasbymusic team were declared the night’s winners. Congratulations all round!
  • Exit Games UK really loved this Facebook update by Clue HQ‘s original Warrington branch. By way of backstory, in The Vault, their third game, “Your heist appears to be going smoothly until the security system comes back on! You’ve got 60 minutes to grab as much cash (in casino chips) as you can and escape!” Teams were scored by how many chips they were able to grab. Several teams were able to grab all the chips in the game except for one particular high-value jackpot; it appears that one team was so enchanted by the challenge fo trying to find all the chips that they came back again and again and were the first team to perfectly clear the room… on their fourth attempt. Kudos to them – and to the site for a game that perfectionists want to come back and play again and again.
  • Geeks in Wales have a fine article that addresses the long-standing anomaly of the principality being an exit game-free zone; Escape Rooms Cardiff have their web site up and suggest they’ll be opening in December, with early-bird discounts available by booking through their crowdfunding campaign; Breakout Live Swansea haven’t announced an opening date but may not be far off either. The Escape Rooms Cardiff has a really sensible and appropriate question that was new to this site: “What language is used? It’s kind of an international game really, as most of the puzzles and codes work without using any language.” No reason why English has to prevail, after all.
  • Also on fire is the stunning The Logic Escapes Me blog, having all sorts of fun. (Find your previews here and your reviews there… works for both of us!) Drawing attention to just two articles, you’d have had to have a heart of stone not to fall for the story about creating a tiny little game so that some kids might break open their pocket money (though, admittedly, if my folks had done that when I was six, there would probably have been tears) and the puzzle hunt created for work also sounds like a beautiful pieve of craftsmanship. Super cool!

ClueQuest open second game

ClueQuest number one ticketClueQuest, of happening Shoreditch in London, opened a third room at the start of March. They now have two rooms available for their original game, “Unit 52”; the third room hosts a new game, “Operation Black Sheep”. If you’ve played ClueQuest in the past and proven your skills to Mr. Q. in their first game, Mr. Q. now faces his archenemy, Professor BlackSheep, and needs your help. The two games are of similar difficulty; there is some storyline progression from Unit 52 to Operation Black Sheep, but they can be played in either order.

While this was available to the public from March 1st, a charity auction was held, for the benefit of the Over The Wall children’s charity; the winners paid £120 to charity in return for the first ticket to play the game the previous night. A lovely touch! ClueQuest have recently had to start adding VAT to ticket prices (current rules require this of businesses with an annual turnover in excess of £79,000) so this represents a very reasonable premium for a very good cause.

Initial reports are very favourable! The TripAdvisor reviews are as good as ever; when you look more closely, there’s no discrepancy between those naming one game and those naming the other. It’s particularly reassuring to see this review of Operation Black Sheep from someone who had previously played and reviewed Unit 52 at ClueQuest – and, in fairness, had been just as positive about HintHunt.

This site would be happy to feature news about new rooms from all exit games in the UK and Ireland, whether additional rooms at existing sites or new sites opening their first room.