Business Update

UK and Irish escape room count over the past five years
produced by Ken Ferguson of Exit Games UK

The graph above reflects part of the state of the escape room industry. We are lucky to have Ken Ferguson keeping record so meticulously, and the graph comes from a recent statistical update he wrote; he is the Google to my Yahoo!, which is why my coverage has pivoted away from escape rooms to such a large extent. The trampoline park industry appears to have grown in the UK at a comparable rate to that of the escape game industry, probably even a quicker rate still, according to very limited data quoted within this Guardian article; it would really be useful to see more granular data on the trampoline parks for a fuller comparison. (Certainly the escape game industry has done relatively well at keeping itself out of trouble in terms of adverse news stories, which the trampoline park industry hasn’t.)

Nevertheless, past performance is no guarantee of future results, as the stock market disclaimer goes. Within the last month or two, I’ve seen two very respectable, puzzly people say “Are escape rooms still a thing?” and “I kinda feel like I’m over escape rooms now? Am I just getting old?”; no names, no pack drill, no trace on Google. On the other hand, someone else made unprompted negative comments about the ubiquity of the escape room genre in public as far back as GameCamp 2016, now almost 15 months ago. As I said at the time, “one of the ways you know your genre has made it is when there’s a backlash against it“. If you’re serious about starting your own room, don’t let me put you off; keep doing your research, and you might well get a lot from this seminar on the topic – though a lot of the legal specifics are from the US rather than from the UK.

I firmly believe that (a) escape room games have an awful lot to offer that other genres don’t, (b) we’re still only really scratching at the surface of what the wider escape room game industry has to offer and (c) I don’t think you’d find many people willing to argue that the overall quality of new games hasn’t gone up over time. I also firmly believe that the wider escape room game industry doesn’t have a right to exist and keep growing, and will need to keep innovating and reinventing itself over time, sometimes in large ways and sometimes in small ones, in order to remain in good health. So far, so very very good; I’ve privately called the top of the market in the UK at least three or four times – and so far, quite happily, I’ve been wrong each time. Ken reports that the number of closures so far this year has been remarkably low; it may be harder to track closures than openings, for things can just fade away, but this is another indication still of good health.

Ever since Escape Hunt was bought and floated on the Alternative Investment Market, because they have become a public limited company, much more of their business has to be conducted in public. The shares are neatly up from the price at which they were placed, which is excellent news; the price doesn’t seem to move too much and the market for them might not be all that liquid. The company’s web site’s investors section will be worth following over time. The statement at the recent AGM is interesting – “The key metric by which we judge our franchisee business is the share of revenue which we receive from our franchisees” – and the annual accounts will always be of interest. You can always follow the details of any UK company that’s a plc or a ltd. at Companies House, whether it’s an escape game company or not; for instance, Escape Hunt plc, Tick Tock Unlock Ltd., Clue HQ Ltd. and so on, and so on. (Many small escape game companies are operated by sole traders and thus cannot be found in this way.)

Lastly, purely for completeness, if you can buy shares in any publicly traded company and build up a long position in it in the hope that the price will rise, you can quite probably find a broker who will help you build up a short position in the hope that the price will fall as well. If you are sophisticated enough to know what you’re doing and were of a mind to do so, neither of which is true in my case, the likes of SpreadEx might be able to set you up with just such a contract…

People to meet, places to be

Meetup logoAs the previous post was about an exciting Meetup group in Manchester, it doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination to try to find out what other exciting Meetup groups there might be out there. There are a couple of other interesting links at the end as well.

I mentioned the Escape Rooms and Puzzle Rooms in and around London meetup in a post about a year and a half ago, but it doesn’t seem to have been the most active group, having organised two escapes in the middle of last year and one in February. There’s more activity in the Escape Roomers London meetup group, whose members went to The Crystal Maze earlier in the month and have two escape rooms planned for May. London’s Secrets Society meetup takes a slightly wider purview, including escape rooms but also treasure hunts, “theme parks, pop-ups and the occasional unusual bar“.

We’ve covered the activities of the Treasure Hunts in London group quite a few times and probably the best way to keep up with them is to join their Meetup group; as well as the titular treasure hunts, they have a plan to play The Million Pound Heist at Enigma Quests on Saturday. However, they aren’t the only treasure hunt group in London; the Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup of London has events every two or three months. The group has an impressive 800+ members so the hunts may well be popular. They’re free to play, though donations to the museums in which they take place are welcome. The group begat a sister group based around Cambridge.

Indeed, there’s no reason why London should have all the fun. As well as the Manchester group mentioned last time, Bristol is in on it; it has its own local escape room addicts group, which does not yet seem to have attracted a critical mass despite the efforts of the organiser, and also an exciting-sounding Rare Duck Club whose focus is more generally on live games – often of considerable, impressive scope.

A couple of other links unrelated to the Meetup site: Dean from Escape Review mentions Secret London Runs in passing; they have a variety of running tours, many of which involve several legs of running to interesting locations punctuated by encounters that go together to create a puzzle to solve. Many of their events are centred around 10 km runs, including breaks, so you’ll know whether that’s a surmountable barrier to entry or not. Lastly, Play Exit Games is currently running a giveaway competition with the prize being free tickets to Modern Fables.

What would, could, should an escape game world championship look like?

STOP PRESS! More DASH 9 London tickets are set to be released tomorrow!

A somewhat abstract champion among their competitorsImmediately after the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show was broadcast, some people declared the games played on the broadcast to be “not escape games”. Most of the most excitable responses were apparently made within Facebook groups. Manda Whitney, of the Room Escape Divas, forcefully and articulately made the (small-l) liberal case for the breadth of the term.

You know how much I write about topics around escape games here: puzzle hunts, puzzle competitions and the like, as well as writing about games like Boda Borg, Koezio, The Crystal Maze, GoQuest and so on. I also note, with great amusement, that many of the best-received escape games deserve their praise in part because, rather than despite, how different they are to so many other games that reviewers have played. Accordingly, I absolutely take the viewpoint that the games which were played in the Red Bull Mind Gamers semi and final were very much on-topic here, and I would have no problem describing them as escape games. (Is there an agreed definition on what an escape game is? In some ways, I rather hope not.)

I will say that the games played did seem to have rather more in common with some escape games than others. Although I haven’t played it, I would draw comparisons in format to the global Adventure Rooms company’s Original Swiss rooms, and I’ve heard other people draw slightly more distant comparisons to Time Run‘s new The Celestial Chain. It’s probably also fair to say that the games in the final do not nearly fall in the centre of the set of games which are felt to have the escape game nature, and I don’t mind that in the least.

The impression I get is that the game was designed first and foremost as a standalone Red Bull Mind Gamers experience, and had the description of “escape room world championship” appended to it rather later. It was a competition that declared a champion, so I’m happy with the “championship” part, and it had notably decent global representation for a first try, so calling it a “world championship” is not at all unreasonable. It tested skills that could entirely reasonably be tested when playing an escape room, so I’m happy to see the words “escape room” in there. Put them all together, and do you get “escape room world championship”? Well, I can see why people feel not.

While the games at Red Bull Mind Gamers (hereafter RBMG) final was a competition testing skills that are called upon in escape rooms, it was also a competition not testing other skills that are tested in many, maybe even most, escape rooms. (Searching and prioritisation/sequencing of multiple solution elements, to name just two.) If you take the approach that an abstract escape room world championship “should” test skills relatively frequently found in relatively many escape rooms, implemented in ways similar to those found relatively frequently, you might well find it harder to get to “escape room world championship”. It seems quite possible that those complaining most strongly about the world championships adhere most strongly to those views.

I say “let a thousand world championships bloom”! There is no governing body for escape rooms; as I said in passing last June, I’m very happy about this. The term escape room refers to an experience that is, joyously, so broad that the escape room championship experience can be just as broad. At one level, every single escape room that keeps a record of which team escaped most quickly holds its own championship; should a team from the UK go across to Vienna or Budapest and break those records, then they are international championships. Trying to work out which championship might be considered most prestigious is another matter entirely.

A really interesting part of the joy and fascination of escape rooms is the way that surprise is, under most (? All? Almost all?) current implementations, part of the challenge. You don’t know what you’re going to face once you enter the room, and don’t know in advance what skills will be tested. In practice, most escape rooms will follow the good practice of somewhat trying to set players’ expectations in advance, to ensure that teams will be guided towards choosing to play the room that they will most enjoy.

As much as there can be escape rooms that have a relatively high emphasis on physical aspects, or a relatively high emphasis on horror aspects, I would not invalidate a world championship that chose to place such emphases in their own rooms. (Compare with Boda Borg‘s “Quest Master” title for a team who completes all their challenges in a single visit, or the Autumn 2015 £1,000 competition held by the three-month pop-up Panic! room.) On the other hand, they would feel like championships of some subsection of the wider escape room experience at large… and quite probably that’s how Red Bull Mind Gamers feels, as well.

Does playing in a world championship mean that participants need to be ready for anything that might come under the purview of the field in question? Suppose RBMG had heavily focused on horror elements, or even more heavily on physical elements, would that have been a problem? It’s tempting to look at the examples of courses in adventure races, which might test (from Wikipedia) “a range of disciplines including navigation, trekking, mountain biking, paddling and climbing”. Imagine that an adventure race choose to throw in, say, a tightrope walk, or a race through a cave. Would that deviate from the core adventure race experience? (This has happened in practice, as recently as last year.) Setting expectations in advance, and suggesting what skills may be tested, may well make for a player-friendly experience. If it’s intended that picking an ideal team for the test is part of the skill set to be tested, which seems reasonable, then let people know in advance if their self-selected team needs to include the fit, or the brave, or those with perfect colour vision, or the able-bodied at large.

It’s hard to know what’s on the record and what’s not, but specifically taking Red Bull Mind Gamers into account, I am inclined to give the very strong benefit of the doubt to Dr. Scott Nicholson, who was one of the principals on the creative team, but not nearly as personally responsible for the design, implementation and particulars of game organisation as the show implied. I get the impression that he included a very great deal of original, imaginative, thoughtful and player-friendly practice in his design that was not brought to life in the product that made it to the TV show. He also included a great deal of practical science, as befits the association with a science fiction movie, in the gameplay that fell along the wayside. His intentions, and the results of his tests and designs with his students, came up against the practicalities of what might be realised and what Red Bull thought might make for good TV and the results of this multi-way clash were… variable.

That said, Scott definitely deliberately designed for something that was not at the very centre of the current escape game experience, not least in terms of the extent of the involvement of story (expressed in terms of the unfamiliar associated media franchise). The inclusion of a co-operative section in the final is particular evidence of this; it’s hard to imagine many other world championship competitions with co-operative sections. (I can think of one moderately obscure one; perhaps you know others…)

I get the impression that he designed for a Red Bull Mind Gamers event first and foremost, rather than for a straight-down-the-middle escape room world championship; I’m not sure if he would have designed things the same way if he had been told to prioritise the world championship nature more highly and the movie association less highly. That’s fair enough. Crucially, I don’t know if Red Bull would have funded a relatively conventional escape room world championship without a link to a media property of theirs. Going back several paragraphs, I come down on the side of concluding that these design decisions make the event no less credible or valuable a world championship.

I don’t agree with all Scott’s design decisions. I’ll quote Scott as saying “In Escape Rooms, knowing when you are in over your head and need to get assistance is an important part of the play.” This is generally a wise, player-friendly policy, appropriate in 99% of cases. I would be inclined to say that world championships are among the 1% of cases that are an exception to that general principle and would have preferred a different treatment of the hint process in the semi-final.

It’s tempting to wonder what other approaches might work; the only explicitly competitive one I am aware of to compare against is Escape Run in Malaysia in 2014, held by the chain known here as Escape Room UK, as described at Enigmatic Escape. There wasn’t a media property to associate with; the business case for the event is that all the participants were drawn from branches of one particular business. I find it relatively easy to imagine a single chain with wide international visibility, like Escape Hunt or Adventure Rooms to name just two, hosting a championship to raise visibility of their own brand.

All the assumptions I’ve made in this post are easily capable of being played with, but this is long enough as it is. Another post to follow – possibly the next, possibly not – is one I half-finished months ago playing with one of the biggest assumptions of them all.

Mazes and Crystals

It all started with a big CrystalThere is much more to say about the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show, much of it very positive. Not tonight. I am still bitter about my Internet access here yesterday, and how resetting a router can make things worse when every other time – including a measly ten minutes after the show finishes – it makes it better. That’s not important right now. (At least I got to see the show, even if I have used up half my mobile phone data for the month.)

The live The Crystal Maze experience is clearly a hit, selling out months in advance in London and sufficient to inspire a second official maze in Manchester. (There are some very positive reviews of the Manchester maze previews at Escape Game Addicts and at Brit of an Escape Addict!) When the show comes back to TV, after the one-off Stand Up To Cancer celebrity special, it will come back further into people’s consciousnesses and be a rising tide to lift all boats further. Hurrah!

Here is a statement which I don’t think reflects any great insight, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else yet make. The world of escape games is already enough that there can be reasonably well-established subgenres within it: a zombie game, a prison break game and so on. Aside from the issue of whether the live The Crystal Maze experience “counts” as an escape game or not, I think there is room for the existence of a “The Crystal Maze” subgenre of escape games, and that there will be more escape and related games in the UK that, for want of a good adjective, have some degree of the essential The Crystal Maze nature.

This is a gradual scale, with shades of grey, rather than being a binary distinction. There have long existed scored games, an early example (and probably the most famous?) of which is Clue HQ‘s The Vault. Some use the score element to reflect how quickly you were able to solve the regular puzzles in the game which you must complete before you can get to the scored activities. Others use scores in different ways; I enjoyed reading The Logic Escapes Me‘s reviews of the Ruby Factory at Trapped In and Bad Clown, as was, at Escape Quest. More topically, Time Run’s new The Celestial Game game is a scored game; from what I know about it, I thought it sounded quite crystalline, though Escape Review’s, er, review (which is spoiler-y for format alone, though certainly not for content) tended to differ.

The Bolton News recently wrote about an upcoming site called Crack The Maze, in which “teams between two and six are tested in physical, mental and skill challenges to win time for an ultimate final challenge. There will also be escape the room challenges in the huge complex.” So there are plans for an explicitly labyrinthine game on site and escape rooms as well. Exciting!

I also enjoyed reading about Never Give Up which opened in Newcastle-on-Tyne about a month ago. “Take on various challenges to successfully complete each type of game. 1 or 2 players can play each game while the rest of your team shout instructions through the doors or windows to help. ((…)) Successfully completing a game will earn your team a “clue sphere”. Collect as many of these precious sphere’s as possible to win clues for the epic centre-piece of the game, the escape from King Tut’s Tomb. ((…)) The various Egyptian themed rooms- mental, skill and physical games are up to 3 minutes long and will last for approximately 35-40 minutes in total. The final challenge, the King Tut’s Tomb will last 15-20 minutes.” So it’s two parts The Crystal Maze, one part escape room. Thumbs firmly up from here… and it has a great name, too.

Part of the reason why escape games have done so well in the UK, I am convinced, is the high esteem in which The Crystal Maze is held, even decades after the fact, and the extent to which people can relate to it as an immediate cultural touchpoint. (Escape game owners, raise a toast to Challenge TV. I’m not kidding.) It strikes me as logical to wonder whether Fort Boyard, the French predecessor show, might have a similar effect in countries where it is beloved. For instance, Oslo in Norway has a game called Fangene på Fortet, which is also the name of their local version of Fort Boyard. The game seems slightly more Boda Borg than anything else, but that’s another game that… if not quite along the same axis, is another asteroid in the same cluster.

Flying slightly into fantasy, it’s tempting to wonder whether other game show properties might ever see the light of day. Given the popularity of the Knightmare Live theatrical shows, I find it easy to imagine that there would be people who would pay to play a Knightmare experience – and that certainly could be replayable. (LARP is a whole different topic, but one not at all far away.) Flying considerably into fantasy, I’d rather like to visit the alternate universe in which John Leslie is providing a star guest appearance at the opening of the (1994 ITV one-series smash-miss) Scavengers experience…

It’s World Championship week with Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock ENOCH

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbHMonths ago, this site posted about the then-upcoming UK qualification rounds for Red Bull Mind GamersMission Unlock ENOCH campaign. National qualification championships were held in 22 countries around the world, though mostly in Europe, which each qualified a national representative team for the finals, along with two wildcard teams, each of which featured four players earning their places via additional online competitions. These 24 teams are making their way to Budapest in Hungary this week for the world championship.

As I understand it, the 24 teams will take on the same room, one at a time, over Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th March. The two fastest teams face each other in the overall final, set to be broadcast online on Red Bull TV live from 7pm UK time on Saturday 25th March. (It’s not clear how, or if, we’ll be able to follow the action on Thursday and Friday, but Red Bull’s social media would seem like a good place to start. There have even been some suggestions that everything will be kept pretty much locked down until the start of the live show on Saturday; we’ll see.) What else do we know about the room? “It’s the first escape room based on quantum logic, and is designed to challenge 4 problem-solving skills: creativity, logic, visual thinking and strategy“, the titular ENOCH to be unlocked is a quantum computer, and you can see a six-part vlog series about the design of the event.

The UK team looks very strong to me. It is made up of Ken Ferguson, of The Logic Escapes Me fame as well as a little blog called Exit Games UK, Mark Greenhalgh of Really Fun as well as Sera Dodd and Sharon Gill. The team is hugely experienced, having played a total of 1,000 escape games between them – possibly not far from 1,100 by the time of the finals. Ken wrote about the qualification experience in detail and I look forward to seeing and reading more about the finals in the fullness of time. Ken admits that they weren’t as well-prepared for the qualification event as they could have been, and some amazing qualification times came from teams who analysed videos frame-by-frame in preparation. However, this week will test raw escape game skills; it would seem unlikely that the UK team will be out-experienced in this regard.

While this is the first event of its type and so there cannot be a form guide, there are some very familiar names on the other teams. The US qualifiers include a US Sudoku champion, ahead of some very stiff competition, and if you search for the other names on that team, it’s clear that they have some extremely serious puzzle chops as well. Speaking of which, the wildcard winners team includes four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang and ClueKeeper co-founder Rich Bragg; I’m sure the other two members are likely to have very considerable skills as well. Long-time US Puzzle team captain Nick Baxter is on the DxM wildcard team, as well. And those are just the names I recognise! I’m sure that representatives of other countries are just as accomplished in their own ways, too.

There’s so much that we don’t know, but it’s going to be great fun following the week and finding out!

On podcasts

A microphone by a computerI recently very much enjoyed an old podcast about escape rooms and haunt attractions. (Haunt attractions are the generic name for haunted houses, noting that they’re not necessarily restricted to houses, whereas the term “escape room” seems to have won out over “escape game”, despite a related issue.) It’s episode 11 of No Proscenium, and one of the reasons it’s delightful is because it dates back to July 2015 and yet people who don’t seem to be in the escape room community seem, even then, to have independently reached the same conclusions as the rest of us.

It also has some really exciting ideas at the end, which I’m reasonably sure haven’t caught on in the UK and I’m not sure have caught on elsewhere. If you own a game, or series of games, and pride yourself on a continuous narrative, or set of characters, or game world in which they take place, there are interesting things that could be done to provide what this podcast refers to as “additive narrative”; your games would still stand alone, but there could be optional extras for people who want to dive further into the game world if they wanted to. The podcast suggests the possibility of an optional scavenger hunt beforehand, visiting a series of local businesses or locations, with the promise of extra information about the game world. It also points to the different escape-room-like-boxes-by-mail / puzzle-crate games that exist, and suggests that this could be a good way to extend a game world and hence a brand. There’s at least one game world where I’d love people to try this and surely others as well.

No Proscenium covers all manner of immersive entertainment, thus features escape rooms, their creators and their bloggers reasonably frequently, though the other topics they cover – while less familiar – are often at least as enticing. I discovered the podcast first through episode 73, an interview with Lisa and David from Room Escape Artist; they go in-depth on a particularly interesting room which I’ll never get the chance to play. They’ve cropped up on other podcasts in the past and are always worth listening to, notably the most recent episode (at time of writing) of Room Escape Divas.

Speaking of which, the previous episode of Room Escape Divas features an interview with Ken, who runs The Logic Escapes Me and also runs Exit Games UK much better than I ever did, and me. There are points in it where I give Ken quite a hard time for no good reason whatsoever. Sorry about that!

Dyson with death

Dyson "Smart Rooms"Dyson, manufacturer of remarkable cyclone-generating motors and devices in which they might be found such as vacuum cleaners, have been involved in some unusually interesting projects over the past few months. The first was a deliberately short-lived ARG called Rethinkers and the credit list contains some of the most celebrated names when it comes to integrating stories and games, one of whom was responsible for a very highly celebrated escape room. While the game is now history, probably the best place to find out about it is the appropriate subreddit.

This isn’t Dyson’s only adventure, though. At least some of the people involved in that campaign are also involved in a follow-up campaign called The Smart Rooms. This saw Dyson release a video featuring snippets of code that could be assembled (both literally and figuratively) to generate a password which might earn you access to visit The Smart Rooms themselves. These rooms will be in place in Brixton over the coming two days and every place has been booked. In context, these rooms are set to bear some similarities to a traditional escape game, but there will be an “Internet of things” / “connected house” theme and an unusually heavy focus on software engineering challenges. Indeed, the presumed reason why Dyson are going to these lengths is to capture the attention of talented software engineers and inviting them to apply to work for them. Success in either game does not guarantee employment but would surely be a feather in the cap.

This weekend’s play has another twist – and, very unusually, the best place to find out more is an article in The Sun. The players’ progress will be streamed live on Twitch as they take part; struggling players may ask viewers for help, indirectly, by indicating four words or four objects and inviting the world to vote on which appears the most relevant in the situation. Hopefully the world will decide to be helpful.

So even if you aren’t getting to play in person this weekend, perhaps you can still get to play along. Follow Dyson and their social media this weekend for the action as it happens!

Industry advertising at the UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo 2017The UK Games Expo describes itself as the largest Hobby Games Convention in the UK. It has taken place in Birmingham for each of the last 11 years and attendance is in the low tens of thousands annually. It’s a three-day event, so the figure might have some triple-counting, but that’s still very impressive. It features organised tournaments and open gaming across a wide variety of genres: board games, trading card games, miniatures war games and RPGs, both tabletop and live action. Increasingly it features game-themed entertainment events as well. (It’s almost easier to define it in terms of what sorts of games it doesn’t focus upon: traditional mind sports, physical games and digital games.) While far from all exit games players have interests in these fields, enough of them do that this seems to pose an obvious opportunity: people who go to the UK Games Expo have a much larger-than-average chance of being interested in exit games.

There is a plan to have some sort of industry-wide presence at the event. Potentially there will be a bespoke game to play, showcasing what a number of different exit games have to offer, but which will need considerable manipulation to fit into a convention context. There would also be the scope to heavily advertise your exit game brand at the event. More on this may emerge at the next unconference on 10th January, as previously discussed, but there may be no spaces left for it, so the best way to find out more would be to get in touch with Liz Cable.

Could there be a really good puzzles and games pub?

Scenario bar in Dalston by Loading. Used without permission, adapted from unknown photographer.I took a bus, earlier today, that went down little White Lion Street, right past The Crystal Maze; this will always make me smile.

I’m dreaming out loud here, but is the world now ready for a really good puzzles and games pub? If someone were to make one, would it be able to stay in business? This flight of fancy comes from observing a number of different, apparently successful, business models:

  • Loading Bar, as pictured above, has a couple of examples which support a business model which intersects “games” and “pub”;
  • Lady Chastity’s Reserve has a couple of examples which support a business model which intersects “escape room” and “pub”;
  • Draughts and Thirsty Meeples, among others, support a business model which intersects “board games” and “licensed cafe”;
  • Noughts and Coffees doesn’t have a fully developed web site, but has two locations, one of which is a straightforward board game cafe, and the other of which hosts escape games and also features a board game cafe, though currently only at the weekends.

Putting it all together, I’m envisioning something that isn’t a pub but is in fact a licensed cafe with board (and potentially, subject to appropriate soundproofing, digital) games very readily available, at least one escape game on the premises, at least a couple of regular quizzes, room enough to host interesting events like a Puzzled Pint and encouragement and sponsorship of game-themed clubs who want to meet there – chess, Scrabble and the like – and so on.

A licensed cafe would mean that there would be no minimum age restrictions on the participants, and it’s not unknown for cafes to host the types of event commonly known as pub quizzes. There’s also a cultural difference in that a bar (and, even more so, a pub) has a connotation of the function of the trip being repeated purchase of drinks, whereas a themed cafe has a connotation of the function of the trip being purchase of food and drinks, as well as participation in enjoyment of the theme – here, by playing games. Could you hang out at a cafe in good company for hours? Certainly so.

Could this survive and make money in the long term? Certainly it would need the right hand at the tiller, and that hand is not mine. Getting the atmosphere right would take some careful balance; the atmosphere would need to support playing games – quite possibly, people who are at the venue with quite different sorts of games in mind – and also support the continued existence of the venue as a cafe, selling enough food and drink (and paid-for gameplay, and games, and other ancillary products) in mind.

You’d also have to be very careful about whether the venue were to develop regulars or not, and what effect regulars might have on those who are attending and less familiar with what the world of games offers. This is a known and solved problem at board games cafes already, so I don’t consider it insurmountable. It would definitely need some deliberate welcoming policies to keep the atmosphere convivial and accessible to those who consider themselves more casual attendees. In my mind, I don’t want an exclusive Private Members’ Club – and, as much as I enjoy reading about the likes of San Francisco’s Jejune Institute (see also HuffPo and The Bold Italic; the write-up is amazing), that’s not what I’m after either.

There’s also the potential that I could be falling for at least one or two of the Geek Social Fallacies – would people who regard themselves as gamers of one sort or another really want to share a space with gamers of a different sort? That might be trickier. I used to attend a games club which featured people playing minatures wargames, RPGs, trading card games and board games under the same roof – often, in the same large hall. I get the impression that that’s pretty rare. Adding more into the mix – escape games, quizzes, clubs for specific games – might only make things trickier. While there are plenty of examples of business models with the intersection of two different things, perhaps there’s good reason in practice why the limit seems to be two.

Lastly, what might be a good name for the whole thing? How I Met Your Mother got there first with a fictional bar called Puzzles

Thank you… and I’m so, so sorry

brexit graphic (CC0 but by stucco on pixabay)Speaking purely personally…

I like the vast, vast majority of people who run escape rooms. It doesn’t have to be a great room, you’ve just not got to rip people off in order for me to like you. Don’t rip off the paying public, don’t rip off your employees and don’t consciously rip off other games. (Similarities are inevitable and there are only so-o-o-o-o many different accessible puzzles in the world.) Thank you for taking the chance and setting up your game; I think you have done a good thing for the world and I wish you every success.

Many of the first few escape rooms in the UK were founded by people who had run games in other countries and emigrated to these shores. I don’t know everybody’s story; many games don’t make their owners clear, and – in a sense – it doesn’t matter all that much. Some of the earliest game owners are immigrants from Hungary, some (I believe) are immigrants from an east Asian country (probably China, but I wouldn’t swear to it), some are people who played games overseas and thought “why couldn’t this happen in the UK?” and many I don’t know about.

Two days ago, a UK referendum voted by a margin of 52% to 48%, with pretty good turnout, for the UK to leave the European Union. This makes me horribly sad. Nobody can know what the consequences will be as a result of this vote, though some sets of consequences are a lot more plausible than others. It would seem logical that companies who pay their staff well moving from the UK would lower the amount of disposable income in the UK economy. One of the things I really hate is the way that people seem to have responded to a campaign that encouraged them to turn their back on expert opinion, apparently purely for the sake of doing so.

There is already evidence of people taking the result of the referendum as an excuse to be ever more overtly hateful than before. It’s definitely a sign that large parts of the UK are not welcoming to those who have come, and those who would come, from overseas and made our lives better. I voted to remain in the EU, and I particularly want to thank – and ashamedly apologise to – those who brought their games from overseas, particularly in the early days. You fully deserve your very considerable success; your bravery, imagination and competence have made our lives better, and this is a horrible way to repay you for it.

As a counterfactual, I tend to believe that escape rooms would still have been a success in the UK if they had been started only by those who had played them overseas rather than those who brought their expertise from EU countries to the UK, but not nearly such of a success yet. At a guess, we’d be perhaps twelve months behind where we are today without them… without you.

I would imagine that some UK escape room enthusiasts and owners may not feel the same way as me, particularly those for whom self-interest must take a much higher priority over a global perspective. I don’t know quite what the impact of the EU is on small business owners, though I have a strong suspicion that much will be blamed on the EU that is not actually the EU’s fault. Nobody can know what the impact of the vote will be, but I find it likely that the sad, horrifying and counter-productive consequences may have a much bigger impact than any good ones that might arise.

To all honest escape room owners: thank you. To all honest escape room owners who came from overseas: thank you especially, and I’m so, so sorry for the way we’ve reacted.

(Comments are off for this article. Maybe some day I’ll be in a mood to discuss the issues, but I’m just hurting at the moment, and will be for a long time to come.)