A while back we wrote about 5 things that can make escape room experience awesome – and now it’s time to look at the other side of the story. Let’s have a look at 5 most common mistakes in escape rooms design or experience, that can ruin it for visitors! We won’t be listing them in any particular order, as they are all (quite) bad for escape room experience, and it really depends to what extent they appear in the room.
Poor puzzles design
Poor puzzles design can represent many things and can be present in an escape room in different forms. The end result is usually similar – the visitor is confused, annoyed and unsure what the heck just happened.
- Reusing the same information or clues for more than one puzzle can be really confusing for visitors. When you figure out that you should not only figure out what book to use in a puzzle from a collection of pieces of paper you found scattered all across the room, but also who is the murderer, what is his shoe size and what he had for breakfast last January, which is the password to his computer account (yes, I’m exaggerating :)), it leaves far from a great impression.
- Involving props that shouldn’t be moved. That’s probably just the worst puzzle design flaw out there. Of course players will touch and move everything in the room – it’s part of the experience and what they are used to do. If them moving props in the room makes a puzzle unsolvable (without hints), it’s just bad design.
- (too well) hidden items can be really annoying. We visited a room where we couldn’t find the first key for almost 15 minutes – and we weren’t even the only ones, when talking to the owner, he said majority of visitors have problems with that. To make things worse, finding items was a big part of the rest of the game also – and was just there because of the lack of real puzzles. Searching for items =/= puzzles!
- Non-working puzzles is the risk that becomes higher and higher when more technology is used in the puzzles. It isn’t really limited to the high-tech puzzles though, it can happen with padlocks and low tech puzzles aswell. Technologically advanced puzzles can be great, and can really increase the “wow” factor of the room. However, when something goes wrong, it’s just a bad experience.
A bad introduction and debriefing
Introduction and the debriefing may not be a part of the room itself, but it’s certainly a part of the escape room experience. A good introduction and debriefing can turn a good escape room into an awesome one – and it works both ways. A bad introduction and debriefing can really hurt the overall experience when visiting an escape room. No matter how good the room is, it can just feel as if something is missing when you are promptly asked to pay and leave after you solve it.
As bad introductions go, we’ve seen all kinds – from room master just reading the instructions from a piece of paper to not even mentioning the story of the room. A good introduction is the first step towards immersion, and it can really put you in the mood and set the atmosphere of the story behind the escape room.
It’s even easier to pinpoint a bad debriefing – and those are not hard to come by. To be completely honest, we’ve probably had more mediocre or bad debriefings overall, than the really good ones. Way too many times it happens, that you are just escorted outside of the room back to the entrance hall, asked to pay, maybe given a chance for a photo or a few minutes of chat, and then asked to leave (or just stand there awkwardly).
The few awesome debriefings we’ve had included going through the room again, answering any questions you might have, commenting and debating the puzzles, maybe explaining a bit more how some puzzles are connected to the story of the room. Some rooms also offer refreshments after the room has been finished, that is not a must but it surely doesn’t hurt.
Way too many times it happens, that you are just escorted out of the room, back to the entrance hall, asked to pay, maybe given a chance for a photo or a few minutes of chat, and then asked to leave (or just stand there awkwardly).
Too many distractions
Whatever the reason might be – some room just use it to cover up the lack of real puzzles and prolong your escape room experience, some might overdo the story elements – some escape rooms just contain waaaay to many distractions. By distractions, I mean items of no significance to the game itself. We’ve had quite a bad experience in one of “solve the crime” genre escape room. A typical detective office, with loads, and I mean, LOADS of paperwork, images, notes all across the room. Not only does it take a very long time to get through all of them, it turned out they were of very little value to us in the end. Many rooms resolve the issue with a special marker that are used for items that are not part of the game. Even though it has a bit of a negative impact on immersion, it’s great for preventing visitors from wasting their time on parts of the scenery.
Badly prepared room
Tick, tock, time is ticking, the last group just left the room, and the room master has limited time to prepare the room for the next visitors. When it comes to preparing the room, there is no room for sloppiness. All the puzzles must be reset, all the locks locked, all the keys in the right places. We’ve had it happen a couple of times that some locks weren’t locked – mostly even the important locks like the doors to the next room. When you are politely asked that you go back to the first room because the doors weren’t supposed to be opened yet (and that they will let you know when you can go to the second room), it just demolishes the immersion.
The perfect hint system should help a group solve the room just in time, or in a couple extra minutes.
Badly timed hints
Timing hints properly can have a great impact on escape room experience. Experienced groups maybe don’t even need hints, but when it comes to beginners and visitors with a couple rooms under their belt, hints are an important part of their experience. Give hints to the group too early (or too often) and they will feel like they did nothing in the end. Give hints too late, and they won’t be able to solve the room in time – again, not a great option. We’ve had both extremes happen to us.
In one room, we were given hints before we could even try anything ourselves – and they lead us out of the room in about 40 minutes, with multiple hints one after the other.
The other extreme is being left alone for the first half an hour (with no means to request a hint as it was a one-side communication), and therefore not finishing more than half of the room in the end.
In our opinion, the perfect hint system should help a group come out of the room just in time, or in a couple extra minutes.
To sum it up…
Those five are the most typical mistakes we came across in escape rooms. Most of them can be easily avoided – and it’s really worth it, as it’ll tremendously increase the visitor’s satisfaction. What about you? Would you like to add something, make a comment about something? Let us know in the comments!