seattle

Why do all escape rooms do these things?

When Puzzle Break opened its doors in Seattle in August 2013, it was the first American-based escape room company. When we were designing our first rooms and the operating processes for our players, we didn’t have a lot of proven precedent to go on. The few international companies at the time gave us some inspiration (fun fact: the very first escape room I ever played was SCRAP’s Escape from the Mysterious Room), but the lion’s share of everything we did had to be figured out as we went.

Escape room entrepreneurship, Nickelodeon TV show edition.

Escape room entrepreneurship, Nickelodeon TV show edition.

As such, many of the early decisions we made were either arbitrary or driven by unique-to-Puzzle Break variables. We opted to deliver the pre-game briefing outside the room because our first location had access to a large lobby perfectly suited for the task. We designed our first room’s content & flow to take advantage of the massive square footage available to us. We started with a public-ticketing model that was vital to the success of a room that supported up to 14 players. We offered a comprehensive game debrief and walkthrough (intensively so for our teambuilding clients). We took a post-game photo and uploaded it to social media.

Fast forward to 2019. I’ve seen estimates that there are over 3000 escape room companies in the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is higher than that. And as the years have passed since Puzzle Break began in Seattle, a curious, if unsurprising, trend has emerged in the explosive growth of escape rooms: Arbitrary emulation.

Pro-tip: Save hours of time by using “ctrl-c”

Pro-tip: Save hours of time by using “ctrl-c”

Whenever a new escape room company launches, they can look to every escape room that came before them for inspiration. Thankfully, we haven’t seen too much evidence of outright content plagiarism (I’m tremendously proud of the industry for this), but there’s a staggering amount of process plagiarism. Escape rooms across the United States are riddled with operational processes that have been blindly copied and copied and copied. By and large, I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with the lion’s share of this (though you’ll find the exact wording found on the Puzzle Break FAQ page on a curious number of escape room websites), but I find some of these to be strange, if not downright stupid.

Examples of escape room operational processes that are often implemented for no other reason than “other escape rooms are doing this”:

  • Group photo – OK, there’s objectively several good reasons to do a post-game team photo, but it’s insanely ubiquitous. I’ve personally played ~400 escape rooms and I have always had a photo opportunity afterward.

  • Worded sign props for the group photo – 3000+ escape room owner-operators did not independently come upon the idea of offering whimsical slogans on 2’x1’ foam core. Literal meme made manifest. I hope to see an epidemiological study on this phenomenon someday.

  • 60 minute game length. I’d estimate that 99% of escape rooms have exactly a 60 minute time limit. 5+ years after escape rooms came to America, I’m deeply surprised I’m not seeing more 30, 45, 75, 90, or 120 minute games.

  • Confiscating players’ cell phones – This maddening practice needs to stop. Giving players a safe place to optionally store their valuables (including phone) is a great idea*. Arbitrarily forcing paying customers to give up their phones is pure nonsense that invites disaster. Doctors on call, parents with children, real-life obligations don’t always stop for 60 minutes on command. Obviously, we want to enhance immersion and prevent illicit photos of sensitive content, but there’s better solutions to these problems than mandatory confiscation.

Pictured: Game masters taking several kilos of dangerous cell phones off the streets.

Pictured: Game masters taking several kilos of dangerous cell phones off the streets.

 

-Nate


*NOTE: On August 5, 2017 I forgot the face of my father when I lost the key to our valuables’ locker at Wicked Escapes in Boston. I am deeply & forever ashamed.

Dubbed the "Founding Father of Escape Rooms," Nate Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, the first American escape room company. Puzzle Break is headquartered in Seattle with locations in Long Island, Massachusetts and on Royal Caribbean ships. Prior to Puzzle Break, he was a senior executive at Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He has shipped software used by billions of users as well as some of the most beloved video games of a generation. @GuyFromTomorrow on Twitter.

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Puzzle Break in Seattle's 40 Under 40

On September 28th I was formally inducted into the 2017 class of the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.  This great honor has significant meaning to both myself and the greater escape room / interactive experience space in at large.

The only known surviving picture of our very first room: Escape from Studio D.

The only known surviving picture of our very first room: Escape from Studio D.

When my co-founder Dr. Lindsay Morse and I started Puzzle Break in August 2013, we had very few expectations.  My personal goals with that first room:

  • Bring a unique experience to the people of Seattle, particularly the poor souls forced into corporate teambuilding activities.
  • If successful, hopefully create some jobs.
  • Do something a little bit wild and have some fun.
  • And If I’m being completely honest: I was stinging of rejection from some prestigious MBA programs, and I hoped to prove them wrong.

That was about it. The idea of growing Puzzle Break into the internationally recognized leader we’ve become was far beyond my wildest expectations. Becoming a 40 Under 40 Honoree is a wonderful validation of the work we’ve accomplished. Not only by traditional business metrics, but also in the sense that I’ve been lucky enough to be at the vanguard of creating an entire industry from thin air.

We've come a long way since the beginning.

We've come a long way since the beginning.

I’m deeply honored and I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful team, including the creative powerhouse and relentless work ethic of Dr. Lindsay Morse. Special recognition must also go out to my leadership team of Erica Hankins, Dana Grant, Naomi Smith, and Suzanne Haws. When I give talks & interviews, I like to joke that my primary job as CEO is to take responsibility for the hard work of others. The fact of the matter is that there would be no Puzzle Break without all of us working together. Speaking of which…

Here’s some high level milestones since we opened that first room in Seattle’s Capitol Hill:

  • Puzzle Break has opened a new headquarters in Belltown, Seattle, locations in Long Island and Boston, and a year run in San Francisco.
  • Our corporate teambuilding offerings have serviced so many clients we had to stop adding logos to the website for loading concerns.
  • We run a successful off-site adventure program, where we bring Puzzle Break experiences to teambuilding events of all shapes and sizes anywhere in the US.
  • In partnership with Royal Caribbean, we have several Puzzle Break games (including the world-famous Escape the Rubicon) aboard six cruise ships and counting, with many more on the way.
  • On a personal note, I’m tickled to have been tagged with the nickname: The Founding Father of Escape Rooms. There’s a number of exceptional people growing this industry, and I’m proud be a part of that legacy.

And most importantly, we continue the Puzzle Break mission of doing something a little bit wild and having some fun.

They let me bring a prop to the photoshoot!

They let me bring a prop to the photoshoot!

-Nate

Dubbed the "Founding Father of Escape Rooms," Nate Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, the first American escape room company. Puzzle Break is headquartered in Seattle with locations in Long Island, Massachusetts and on Royal Caribbean ships. Prior to Puzzle Break, he was a senior executive at Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He has shipped software used by billions of users as well as some of the most beloved video games of a generation. @GuyFromTomorrow on Twitter.

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New Puzzle Break Escape Room in Seattle: Escape the Lost Temple

I am so very excited to announce the grand opening of our newest Puzzle Break experience: Escape the Lost Temple!

Quick Highlights:

  • Located at our Belltown, Seattle HQ: 2124 2nd Ave Seattle, WA 98121
  • Optimal for 4-8 players
  • Public & Private bookings available (more on this below)
  • Players will be tasked to return a valuable artifact to the lost temple of the Etruscan Civilization and escape before a deadly volcano eruption!
  • Tickets available NOW at www.puzzlebreak.us/tickets
Does your team have what it takes?

Does your team have what it takes?

With this room, there were several goals we set out to achieve. First and foremost, it was absolutely imperative we maintain our unparalleled standards of puzzle and game flow design. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or tech-heavy an experience, if the puzzles aren’t great, it’s not a great room. I couldn’t be happier with the puzzles we’ve put together.

By popular demand, Escape the Lost Temple will feature both public and private booking options, enabling he perfect escape experience for teams of all shapes and sizes! This will allow both:

  • Private groups will have the ability to play with no strangers.
  • Smaller groups can join forces with other adventurers as desired.

Be sure to check which time slots are Public & Private on our ticketing page.

puzzlebreakescapethelostempleseattle

Starting with Escape the Midnight Carnival, through The Eventide Departure and now with Escape the Lost Temple, we have created an interwoven thread of narrative across Puzzle Break games, featuring a common nemesis who has again reared his head.

Puzzle Break stands proud as an international leader in escape rooms & immersive entertainment. It is critically important that, in addition to game quality and story, we continue to push the technology envelope. With Escape the Lost Temple, we’ve outdone my highest expectations. One example:

Historically, the Etruscan Civilization was generally superstitious, and one of the ways they tried to predict the future was using a thing called a "brontoscopic calendar."  They would predict that certain events would occur if there were a lightning strike on a particular day.  We're using that concept a bit in the room, with a puzzle that has players using weather to create lightning strikes in a pattern. Historically appropriate & never-before-seen technology? I cannot wait until folks experience the magic.

Pictured: Magic.

Pictured: Magic.

Assemble your team of adventurers, head to Puzzle Break in Seattle, and Escape the Lost Temple!

-Nate

Dubbed the "Founding Father of Escape Rooms," Nate Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, the first American escape room company. Puzzle Break is headquartered in Seattle with locations in Long Island, Massachusetts and on Royal Caribbean ships. Prior to Puzzle Break, he was a senior executive at Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He has shipped software used by billions of users as well as some of the most beloved video games of a generation. @GuyFromTomorrow on Twitter.

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How to start your own successful Escape Room Company for only $7,000

In August of 2013, Dr. Lindsay Morse and I co-founded Puzzle Break, the first American-based Escape Room company. We opened our first room in Seattle with an out-of-pocket investment of just $7,000 and it’s not unreasonable to conclude that we changed the world for next to no money. Our story has become something of a legend. From a public relations and vanity perspective, I couldn’t be happier with our story being told again and again. Unfortunately, there’s context to our journey that is often lost in the telling and I’d like to take a moment to reach out to the folks thinking about starting an escape room after hearing about Puzzle Break.

In July of 2015, Marketwatch published a historic article on the explosive growth of escape rooms. The author and its sources (including yours truly) offered some breathtaking stories and figures of outrageous growth with minimal investment.

“Nate Martin…invested $7,000 of his own money in 2013 to get the business off the ground. He recouped his initial investment within a month. Since then, the business has been profitable every month and, conservatively, is on track to gross over $600,000 in 2015. ‘Some months are record-breakingly fantastic,’ he says. ‘Some are only very good.’”

Pictured: Many folks' perception of Escape Room entrepreneurship.

Pictured: Many folks' perception of Escape Room entrepreneurship.

It's a very exciting article the importance of which cannot be overstated. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of escape room operations began with future entrepreneurs reading about the get-rich-quick-and-easy stories outlined in the Marketwatch piece.

Regretfully, many of the folks entranced by this and similar articles failed to fully comprehend exactly how different the escape room landscapes were when we started Puzzle Break in 2013, when this article was written in 2015, and what things look like today.

I’ve written comprehensive annual updates on the history of Puzzle Break. I cover a multitude of topics ranging from general entrepreneurship to nuance game design elements and everything in between.

From my second year update, I explicitly addressed the gold rush I had inadvertently helped create:

“In many ways, the gravy train is already over. I touched on this in my reddit post last year, and went into a bit more detail in an interview with Market Watch July this year. In late 2013-early 2014, it was the wild west. Anyone with $10,000 could open the first escape room in their city (in the US, where we have been shockingly late adopters on this) and bask in the glow of buckets of free press & hordes of first-time players. The landscape today is very different. Most cities have several escape rooms. There's still enormous room for growth in the industry, but the increased competition has A. dramatically increased the barrier to entry and B. stripped away some of the extreme novelty. The local paper of record isn't beating down the door of the 6th escape room to write an article.”

Pictured: Those same folks if they open an escape room without ample market research.

Pictured: Those same folks if they open an escape room without ample market research.

I wrote this in September 2015. It was true then, and the situation today is even more severe. Saturation is here in many American markets. There’s an arms race to create the biggest, baddest escape rooms around and its progressing at a break-neck pace. Individual Puzzle Break rooms can now cost upwards of $100,000 to create. Consumers are becoming educated and sophisticated, and they no longer automatically respond favorably to bargain-basement or poorly designed offerings. There are absolutely still opportunities in the escape room industry in America, but they must be carefully chosen, strategically planned, and skillfully executed. And it’s (almost certainly) going to cost a lot more than $7,000.

Related reading: The Biggest Myths in Escape Room Competition.

So, how can you start your own escape room company for only $7,000? Easy: hop into a time machine to 2014 or before!

-Nate

Dubbed the "Founding Father of Escape Rooms," Nate Martin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, the first American escape room company. Puzzle Break is headquartered in Seattle with locations in Long Island, Massachusetts and on Royal Caribbean ships. Prior to Puzzle Break, he was a senior executive at Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He has shipped software used by billions of users as well as some of the most beloved video games of a generation. @GuyFromTomorrow on Twitter.

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