As much fun as escape rooms are, an escape room venue is a for-profit business and the amount of effort a venue puts forth to ensure their customers are getting a quality experience in every possible way is what we refer to as Care. What many proprietors don’t realize is that the sincerity (or lack thereof) in their attempts to ensure customer satisfaction leaves a distinct impression on players strong enough to ruin an otherwise entertaining game.
One of the better ways for players to consider a venue’s Care would be to think of how they would feel if they brought one of their friends to that venue for that friend’s very first escape room experience; chances are that if the player would feel embarrassed by the idea, its probably because the venue needs a little more Care. It is precisely this overlooked emotional impact that separates Disney World from a traveling carnival.
Every venue owner out there naturally assumes that they are doing a great job in this area; after all, it’s in their own best interest to ensure that your customers have a good time. But players can tell the difference between a venue that genuinely wants players to walk away with a photo of a memorable outing with friends and one that only wants them to give them some free social media attention.
As escape room experts, designers, players, and future owners, the Partly Wicked team fully understands the struggle that entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. On the one hand, happy customers are good for business. On the other, maintaining a well-cared-for facility is time-consuming and expensive. Knowing where exactly to draw the line between art and commerce can be tricky, but when a venue utterly misses the mark on Care, players feel not only cheated but exploited; we’ve actually seen venues make their game incompletable unless players submit proof in real time that they’ve posted on social media (with the correct tags) before being able to get their next clue or puzzle piece.
Everybody makes mistakes. Accidents happen and props break unexpectedly. But how a venue’s staff has been trained to handle the situation and how much authority they are empowered to exercize by the owners goes a tremendous way in making sure the customer feels both respected and appreciated. But even when things are going smoothly, a business’ general attitude toward its customers is readily apparent. Does each game have its own dedicated moderator so that the player is getting their full attention? Does a scrape of pain on the floor ruin the surprise of a secret door? Do players have to ask for a hint only to spend time explaining to the moderator that they’ve “already done that”? If a venue isn’t making your experience their first priority (after safety, of course), then they probably don’t deserve your money.
Care also comes across in the debriefing that happens at the end of every game. Different groups have different dynamics. Some want to talk about every aspect of the room they just encountered and some want to go home; the staff’s ability to pick up on and play into that tends to be pretty good in the escape room industry. But some venues seem to have a positive gift for going over the puzzles in a way that’s light, fun, and makes everyone in the group feel like they contributed (even if they were secretly worried that they didn’t do much to help.)
Conversely, there are some venues whose staff seem to delight in making players feel awkward and inept with their acid, sardonic recaps of everyone’s goofiness. Other poor employees are almost eager to argue with players with phrases like “no, the puzzle’s not broken, you’re just not getting it.” That’s rare, thankfully, but people should be warned, if only so that you know where not to take that skeptical friend of yours. After all, if your new recruits don’t have a good time, they’re not going to become regular members of your escape room team.
Care is the most common sense attribute any room can have, but it’s also the one that most struggles with. As designers, we should be remembering the different physical limitations of our players and limiting the use of those materials that are constantly degrading. As proprietors, we must remember to put the player first and trust that a genuinely happy customer will have an experience they are excited to recommend to others. As players, we must realize that we are being entrusted with other people’s property and that there is only so much an employee can reasonably do to fix an unanticipated situation but still deserve to be treated with respect.