As many of our fans are well aware, Puzzle Break has had a close partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line since 2014. Less common knowledge is the history of the partnership, the evolution of our offerings, and the current Puzzle Break escape rooms and games available on the Royal fleet. In this first part of a series, I’m going to discuss how it all began.
Not only is Puzzle Break the first American escape room company, we also have the proud distinction of being the first escape games on the high seas! In 2014, there were fewer than 10 escape room locations in the U.S., and two of them were Puzzle Breaks. As we were figuring out our next move as a business, I had coffee with San Francisco based game designer Rebecca Power. She designed The Racket, a famous experiential/social/gamified event for large groups. We were discussing how we could further expand immersive entertainment to unlikely markets, and cruise ships came up in the conversation. I *love* cruising, and immediately seized on the idea that escape rooms could be the next entertainment revolution in that industry.
Not only are escape games the the most fun that anyone can have doing anything, they are a fantastic way to both share an unforgettable time with family and the perfect activity to make new lifelong friends. Instant cruise hit, for sure. I just had to make it happen. Nowhere to start but at the beginning, I started cold calling. With the almighty power of dumb luck on my side, I almost immediately found the perfect partner in Royal Caribbean with newly minted Vice President of Entertainment Nick Weir. He immediately grasped the limitless potential of the concept, but he understandably needed to see it in action first.
We hatched a plan to quickly convert one of our Puzzle Break escape rooms into a portable experience and run a pilot-by-fire for the toughest audience in the world: Ship Captains. These CEOs-of-the-sea have countless responsibilities of paramount importance, are fully responsible for teams of thousands, and might not take too kindly to surrendering their absolute authority in an escape room environment.
In late 2014 while the newly minted (and impossibly gorgeous) Quantum of the Seas was docked in Bayonne, New Jersey, Puzzle Break descended onto a rare conference of Royal Caribbean Ship Captains. We were nervous. The context:
- Nick Weir repeatedly told that this would be the toughest audience we’d ever encounter, and we suspected he might be right.
- The activity was scheduled at the end of the day. We were the last thing standing between folks after a long day at a conference and their dinner/drinks/sleep. Never a comfortable spot.
- Designing the perfect escape room experience is an art. For this event, we Frankenstein’d some of our designs into a new portable experience that didn’t have an established pedigree of balanced perfection.
- The stakes were high. I saw a future where Puzzle Break was on every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet and a household name enjoyed by millions…
- …But that’d be a tough sell if we didn’t nail the two pilot games.
I’ll never forget the first 5 minutes of the first pilot game. Mine and Nick Weir’s team were crammed into an observation booth as the team of captains filed into our makeshift Puzzle Break room. Silently, they began circulating the space and observing our setup. After what felt like an eternity (but was probably closer to 2 minutes), a few of the captains excitedly made a connection on a puzzle. They loudly and clearly explained what they did, how they did it, and what they recommended the team focus on. The excitement in the room exploded, and they were off!
The two pilot groups of captains both successfully escaped the room with about 5 minutes left on the clock and they had an absolute blast. As they headed to the elevators, I heard some of them discussing how they hoped they could get the game on their ship.
In the observation booth, everyone was elated. Instantly, our vision was validated. We had literally witnessed the birth of a new chapter in the entertainment industry, and we all knew it. My team headed home and immediately began executing plans to open the first escape room on a cruise ship.
Just a few short months later, a modified version of the very game played by the Royal Caribbean ship captains made its public debut: Escape from the Future on Anthem of the Seas.
Next up: Good to Great.