After playing over 30 remote escape rooms from all over the world, I figured it was time to do an update on the previous blog - "Remote Escape Room - A Player's Perspective". I'll cover similar points to the previous blog so you'll be able to see a comparison on how the industry is evolving.
What is a Remote Escape Room?
Our initial encounter of remote escape room was merely an avatar acting as our eyes and hands. We would direct him/her to walk to a certain location, use items to solve puzzles and input codes. It felt very robotic. Now we are discovering companies making this into a production. There are cinematic intros, prerecorded interludes, special effects, avatar performances, etc. It's really amazing to see what creative minds could put together in this short amount of time.
Does it feel like a real escape room?
Although some of our friends are still telling us that the remote experience is not for them, we are getting quite addicted. The best part about this experience for us was to be able to meet up with friends from all over the world and have an enjoyable hour together. It really uplifts our day. As companies continues to improve on camera quality, inventory list, and immersive elements, it definitely takes our experience one step closer to a real escape room. And honesty, it feels great to have someone else do the searching while I sip my coffee...
How can remote escape rooms improve on player experience?
1. Website Description – We've seen a huge improvement on the companies'
descriptions on remote escape rooms. Pretty much all of them have information on their site stating that you'll be in an actual escape room setting and controlling an avatar. This is definitely very helpful as there are a lot of different types of online escape games (ie. audio-led escape games, live stream puzzle games, etc...) and can be very confusing to players.
2. Know Your Players – Since we've been playing as reviewer/tester, we are unsure how players get their introduction. Companies already know we are experienced players so our avatar usually do not nudge or hint us unless we asked for them. We haven't seen surveys being sent out with our booking confirmation so I'm assuming they normally ask the players prior to the game but some games starts right away so I'm not sure how the survey would be conducted. We still feel like this is very important as you'll get more satisfied customers if you know the way they will like to play the game ( with or without hints, move slow or fast, nudge or no nudge, etc.).
3. Accessories – For most remote escape rooms, a good camera and a stable video conferencing platform are required. These are the platforms we've seen used so far: Zoom (most popular), Google Hangout, Jitsi, and Discord. Sometimes you'll also need a phone that has a QR scanner. There are so many variations of cameras being used in the industry right now. We've seen camera that's on a harness, handheld on a selfie stick, just a plain Iphone, etc. Some were pretty shaky and caused dizziness for us during and after the game. This can definitely cause displeasure for players. The harness ones seemed to be the most stable but they also restricting the avatar's movements. In that case, it would be great if the puzzles could be designed around the height or areas that the avatar's camera would be accessible to. Some companies also provided a 360 view of the room. Some even had multiple cameras. This definitely helped us visualize better but when there were too many choices provided, it also took our eyes away from the real action in the room and became confusing.
We are also seeing most companies pairing the remote experience with a link to a website in which the players would have access to during the game to be able to visualize the room and items clearer. We will refer this as the "inventory list". There are many different types of inventory list. We've seen ones that provide just selected items that have more reading materials or puzzles that you would need to work on. We've also seen companies that provide pretty much everything that you can see in the room with separate zoomed in photos. Also, a still shot or 360 view shot of the room would also be provided. The inventory list definitely opens up doors for companies to design puzzles in a less linear way so more players are able to simultaneously work on different things, just like in a real escape room. Our favorite type of inventory list was the simple ones that provided a 360 view of the room and items that needed a close look. The real time input of items discovered and removed after we used it made it felt like how we would organize clues in a real escape room.
Players's accessories for remote escape games normally would include a computer/phone/ipad with camera and audio, the video conferencing platform, paper, pen, calculator, headphones (great for audio puzzles) and of course your brain!
4. Set Design – In the last blog I felt that we were not able to experience the set design (especially lighting and sound) that we would in a real escape room. I was wrong. I was able to feel these missing elements in several really well designed rooms. Some companies even went for the extra mile and added special effects such as laser, fog and smoke into the games. It was definitely a tease to see it on camera. I wish I was playing these games in person.
5. Avatar – This was the biggest improvement we've seen since our last blog. We are surprised at how many game masters or owners who normally are behind the scenes are stepping out of their comfort zone and now have all became actors/actresses in front of the camera. As players, we really appreciate the hard work they have to put in to adapt to this new role. The transition with companies that already had live actors in their games seemed to be easier and you are able to see how natural these actors are in the remote escape rooms. They also tend to spend more time on the acting rather than solving puzzles with us. It is a bit frustrating for us as we're anticipating mostly puzzle heavy rooms and worry that we might not finish in time.
We hope to see more avatars become "movie stars" during this time frame as many player's feedback have been that a great avatar was what made their game awesome! You definitely play a major part in this remote escape game world! A wise woman once said: you never know who's on the other side of the computer screen. You might be discovered to be the next Hollywood star!
6. Puzzle Design – We are seeing improvements on puzzle design from our previous blog. Due to the usage of the inventory list, many puzzles are able to be completed in a "divide and conquer" way like in a real escape room. Most of the feedback we are getting from players on what types of puzzles they enjoy the most are puzzles that take not too long to solve, clear logic, and stick to the story line. As puzzle lovers, we always enjoy a room that give us an abundance of puzzles. This might also be a preference thing as we realized that some countries are more focused on immersive theater type of experience rather than puzzles. There is a common consensus that we hear from players on what they don't like and that is searching. I'm already terrible at searching in a real escape room. In a remote escape room, the restrictive camera view paired with dim light source makes searching even harder. In some games, we felt that by the time we finished searching, we almost didn't have time to finish the puzzles. In addition, we notice puzzles that would require time to put together or calculate (jigsaw, logic, physical challenges...) might lose the player's attention since they are not physically doing it. When they watch the avatar solve the puzzle, the camera is usually focused on one position and it feels boring after after especially if the room is silent.
We love a nice intro (some companies use video, some use avatar to tell the story and some just go right into the mission...) and a memorable ending. You need a highlight in your game so the players will always remember and talk about even after the game.
7. Language – After playing remote escape rooms in 13 different countries, I'm surprised that there were no issues with the puzzles in the games. We did notice that some avatars from different countries were not able to act out their character at his/her full potential as responding to our requests was clearly an issue. Our suggestion with that would be to add some prerecorded audio elements to better enhance the player's experience.
8. Pricing - We are still seeing a wide range of pricing on these remote escape games although it's becoming more apparent that the popular games are now increasing their prices due to supply and demand. You should also take into consideration that the labor and rent may be cheaper in some countries than others. In that case, players will have a chance to enjoy some great games at cheaper prices. If you love these remote escape room experiences, you should probably consider booking them ASAP as we do foreseen an increase in prices in the future as more people start to try them. It's definitely harder for the companies to run these remote games than the real escape rooms so companies will probably chose not to do them if the price doesn't cover their cost.
I hope this was an enjoyable read on our thoughts on the remote escape room market right now. We hope to report back with more interesting findings on these online game experiences before we can roam freely again in the outside world. I'm pretty sure we have most, if not all of the remote escape room games on our "stay at home game list". If you are able to find ones that are not listed, please do let us know!
There are so many great games out there and we just simply can't name them all. Below are some of our memorable ones with some particular categories that stood out for us (In alphabetical order). These are just our opinion according to our preferred game types, themes, etc.:
Agent November - Virtual X-Caper: Avatar
BreakOut Escape Room Milano - The Haunted Hotel: Avatar, Set Design
Can You Escape? Malta - The Pub: A Puzzle Psychopath’s Trap: !Avatar, Inventory
Escape One Algarve - Atlantis: Set Design, Inventory List
Escape 60 - Shagadelic Super Spy: Puzzle Design
Fuzzy Logic Escape Room - Vet Office: Avatar, Puzzle Design, Inventory List
Hourglass Escapes - EVIL DEAD 2™: Set Design, Puzzle Design
LOCKED ROOM - Motel: Price, Puzzle Design
Logic Locks - The Secrets of Eliza's Heart: Set Design
Looking Glass Adventure - Myystery at Maryweather Mansion: Set Design
Mystery Mansion Regina - Night Terrors: Puzzle Design, Avatar
Red Lock Escape Room - Bank Heist LIVE: Puzzle Design, Inventory List
Sky High Escape Room - Casino Mortale: Set Design, Puzzle Design
Stratton Escape room - Set Design
Trapped! Escape Room - Operation: X-13: Puzzle Design, Inventory List, Avatar