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How Most Everyone Gets it Wrong on Private Versus Public Ticketing

As I did last post, I’m going to spend a moment to correct an alarmingly prevalent misconception amongst many in the room escape community. But first, some quick definitions:

Magnifying glass probably not required.

Magnifying glass probably not required.


Public ticketing: Individual tickets are sold for a room escape event. Example: Game’s capacity is 10. You buy individual tickets for $30 each, up to 10. If you buy fewer than 10, other folks might buy tickets to the same game and you will be teamed up.
Private ticketing: One ticket for the game. Example: Game’s capacity is 10. You buy the entire room for a single ticket of $300, sometimes with discounts. You are guaranteed to never play with strangers.


Now, there is a dangerous myth being propagated by many in the enthusiast community: “Private ticketing is better, I hate playing with strangers.”


It’s certainly true that if you cannot stand strangers, you’d probably prefer a private ticketing system. Or, if you’re able, simply round up a full group and buy out a room at a public ticketed room. “But Nate!” you exclaim, “I am unable to round up a full group to play a particular public ticketed room, therefore private ticketing is best for me!” My reply: Your scenario is exactly why private ticketed events are often completely un-accessable! This is the exact place where many folks stop thinking, so let us continue thinking.


If you cannot round up enough folks to buy out a public room, you have the option of being teamed up with strangers. If you cannot round up enough folks to play a private room, you do not have the option of being teamed up with strangers. If you cannot assemble a team of sufficient size, privately ticketed rooms are literally unplayable. I see players trying to overcome this hardship constantly not even realizing it’s a huge burden. “Hey my significant other and I are going to be in City X this weekend and I bought a private room and you need at least 6 people to play, will someone please play with us!!”

Don't have a full team? You're locked out of most privately ticketed games.

Don't have a full team? You're locked out of most privately ticketed games.

There are multiple privately ticketed room escape experiences all over the country that I have literally been unable to play because I don’t have the time to assemble a local team myself. I hear they’re great, guess I’ll never know.


Now, a couple notes on the above:

  • The smaller the room’s player capacity, the more successful a private ticketing system can be. Take a look at my discussion on big versus small rooms for more information.
  • On that point, there certainly exist greedy companies out there billing their "small" rooms incorrectly as "large". Selling up 16 tickets to a game designed for 4 is a separate problem we unfortunately see.
  • Neither ticketing system is objectively better than the other.
  • Historically at Puzzle Break, our rooms have been absolutely massive with enormous amounts of content. A public ticketing system has been the best option for our players.
  • That said, our next two rooms are going to be much more intimate, and we will be using a private ticketing system for those experiences. This way, our players will have many options to find the experience right for them.

Last but not least, I have watched thousands of groups play Puzzle Break. The groups that have the most fun? Strangers. The groups that do the best? Surprisingly, strangers. The groups that forge new friendships that last a lifetime? Take a wild guess. =)

-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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Escape Rooms Big and Small

An oft-discussed (and nearly as oft-misunderstood) topic in escape room design is size. Proponents of small rooms debate hotly with proponents of large rooms over which is the better design, and which is the better experience.

 

In my view, this debate, without greater context, is nonsense. There are amazing small games out there. There are amazing large games out there (See: Puzzle Break's current offerings). And if I may read your mind for a moment, you're wrong. This isn't going to be a strawman argument about execution, at least not in the way you're thinking. Of course there are piss-poor escape rooms out there that are small, and large, and every size. However, many of these games are kneecapped by any number of problems unrelated to their size, ranging from terrible customer service, to low quality puzzles, to puzzles that are way too easy/hard (or worse: both), to gadgetry that fails left and right, and everything in the middle. These are rooms outside the scope of today.

 

What I'd like to discuss here are rooms that are bad because they are big, or because they are small, and why. These rooms definitely exist, and I'm sure the escape room super-veterans out there can think of a few examples of both. NOTE: Overcrowding is a problem agnostic to room size, and I'll get to that at the end.

 

First, small rooms that are bad because they are small. As it happens, real estate ain't cheap. Having several acres of escape room isn't an option for most operators, so, folks make do with what they have. And sometimes, the end result is playing an escape room in a glorified elevator. The most frequent problem with these tiny spaces (aside from overcrowding, which I promise to get to) is there's only a finite amount of physical content you can get into a place without warping space & time (note: if you've got a guy that can warp space & time, send him my way). One of the chief virtues of an escape room experience is a wonderful assortment of activities. Strictly speaking, less space = less content. I've played a handful of rooms with no more than 3 puzzles, and each puzzle was unfairly obtuse to draw out the experience to an hour (and in one case, 30 minutes). How can these problems be avoided from a design perspective? Ensuring there is sufficient puzzle content, and it is tuned properly for difficulty. And if the experience is less than an hour, scale down the price.

 

Next, large rooms that are bad because they are large. The most frequent problem with these (aside from overcrowding) is rampant "I have nothing to do" disease. When you've got 9 people staring at a single puzzle, and that single puzzle can reasonably be worked on by a maximum of 3 people, you've got 6 poor jerks sitting there with nothing to do. Worse, if this trend repeats itself for the duration of the experience, those same 6 folks are going to be in for a pretty bad experience. This can sometimes be a symptom of shoehorning an experience flow designed for a small group onto a large group, but this is an entirely separate conversation for a future post on various game flows. How can these problems be avoided from a design perspective? Ensuring there is sufficient puzzle content, and it is tuned properly for difficulty.

 

Notice a trend? Bottom line: Having the right amount well-balanced content for the right amount of players in the right amount of size will cure what ails ya.

 

NOTE: All rooms of all sizes can suffer from overcrowding. All too often I see operators "cheat" the number of players that should be in the room by various margins. A room that is a great experience for 2-4 players will allow up to 6. A room ideal for 3-6 will cap at 8. Rooms for 6-8 will allow up to 10, etc. This has burned a number of experienced players, and is particularly frustrating to me at Puzzle Break.

 

Our rooms are enormous with vast amounts of clue & puzzle content. Our largest room is bigger than some small houses, and has content for up to 14 people (I don't think any group smaller than 8 has ever escaped).  And every week, we get a mail from someone: "Hey I have a group of 4, can we play your largest room with no one else?" These poor souls have been burned one-too-many times and are trained into thinking a room for up to 14 is going to be better played with 4, and I can't say as I blame them.

 

Last but not least, be extremely wary about rooms with enormous player ranges. A room for 2-4 players makes sense. A room for 6-12 players makes sense. A room for 2-12 players is absurd. There's no experience (in my experience) that can possibly be a good time for both 2 people and 12 people.

 

-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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