This year, Ethan and I decided to check out some of the Escape Room conferences that happen around the world. We just got back from “Up the Game” in Breda, the Netherlands — 2 days of presentations, social events, mini-games, and other shenanigans, all hosted in a real, historic panopticon: the Prison Dome, or as some would call it, “the Hell of Breda.” It was awesome!
By far the biggest highlight was the amazing group of 600 or so people this event attracted. If you’re at Up the Game, it’s because you take the concept of Fun very seriously. You might like business, or engineering, or marketing, or money, but you love having fun and enabling other people to do the same. This came across in all parts of the conference, from the presentations, to the vendors, to the social events, and even during the unscheduled downtime.
If I had to summarize most of the presentations we saw, it would be as follows: “You remember that crazy escape-room-related idea you had that one time? I actually tried making it happen last year! And it was awesome! You should do it too, and call me if you want some tips!” The presenters were enthusiastic, eager to share their experiences, and genuinely interested in propelling the industry to push the boundaries of immersive entertainment. I came out of each talk feeling inspired to do something awesome, and refreshed with enough confidence to actually follow through on those inspirations. Even the vendors on the main floor were inspiring. Sure, they each wanted us to buy their products, but they were also legitimately excited to talk about all the other products and speakers as well.
The Social Scene:
The meals, parties, and informal outings were equally intense and affirming in their own way. Everyone wanted to talk about the coolest presentation they’d seen, or the best escape game they’d played that week, or the craziest customer they’d ever encountered, or where the industry would be in 2, 5, and 10 years. Some were discussing what kinds of games they could produce if they had an unlimited budget. Some were recounting what games they did produce when an eccentric billionaire client gave them a basically unlimited budget. This went on until about 3am for 3 nights in a row, which was especially impressive since most of those people were presenting the next day, or they had early tickets to an escape room in the region.
The unofficial finale event was Breda’s notorious 3-hour Prison Escape. Part escape room, part theater, the game hosted 150 players and 80 actors, in the same historic prison where the conference had been held. The first hour of the event strips you of your real-world identity and you become your prison-self. You forfeit your belongings at the door. The guards yell at you. The other prisoners intimidate you, or try to make alliances. The game is as much about navigating the bizarre social scene as it is about actually developing an escape plan. In fact, it is impossible to do one without the other. It was an awesome way to spend 3 hours, and resulted in yet another late night of great conversation with all of our new buddies from prison, swapping stories and highlights, as well as general praise and ideas for improvement on the concept.
The overall takeaway from Up the Game: tons of great new people (dare I say . . . friends?) with whom I hope to collaborate in the near future. That, and a severe case of narcissistic paranoia in which I suspect that my whole life up to this point has been one giant escape game, and all my friends and family are actors giving me clues and bits of plot.
Until next time,
-Max (and The Escape New Haven Team)