Many escape room businesses offer some kind of prize for winning. Whether it be a small prize like a sticker or a big prize like a T-shirt, or even proof of victory like a digital leaderboard or a stamp on a “passport,” there are a lot of prizes out there right now. So what makes a good prize? I’ll break down my thoughts on a few of the prizes I’ve encountered:
Stickers – Honestly, stickers are one of my favorite prizes for completing an escape room.
If I can make use of one sticker, I can make use of 50. I personally slap them on the back of the Chromebook I take with me on trips. Sure, each sticker eventually gets covered up, but each has its day in the sun and it builds a nice picture of a number of the places I’ve been to. It’s also probably one of the cheapest options. I’m sure a lot of them will get tossed, but the same can be said of anything the room is giving away.
Buttons – Also a nice cheap solution, but I find them more difficult to find a use for. They don’t stack and I pretty much have to put them on clothing, or maybe a backpack. I suppose putting them on a backpack isn’t a bad option, but I use my backpack for work and travel and I’m a little hesitant to add any more attachments that might snag under a seat when I fly Frontier or Spirit.
Wristbands – Admittedly, I’ve never been a wristband guy. I hate the feeling of a loose ornament on my wrist (I keep my watch pretty snug), and you can only really get away with 1-2 at a time. I’ve got a dozen plus wristbands sitting on my shelf collecting dust now.
Coozies – Beer and soda coozies are a common giveaway item that I’ve never found a use for, but I know a lot of people like these things. They don’t stack well, so they’re one of the few escape room prizes I either just wont take or I donate to Goodwill shortly after.
Trophies – I actually really like mini trophies when escape rooms give them away. It’s unique enough to earn a spot on my shelf in the living room.
I don’t even remember what Christina and I specifically did to earn the above- I believe it was clearing the room in under a specific time while using zero hints- but it’s a cool little thing to collect. This kind of thing is something that would draw me to an escape room.
Pens – I’m adding this one because it would be really easy to implement, even though I’ve never been awarded a pen in my ~350 escape rooms solved. A pen is definitely something I would keep and probably something I would use. It’s probably the least likely of all the above options to be tossed in the trash. There can be multiple designs for winning, losing, record breaking, etc. If I were to open an escape room, I might experiment with going this route.
Coffee Mugs – Granted, I’ve only ever gotten one coffee mug from an escape room, but it’s a prized possession of mine. I got it from Xcape Singapore which rewards successful teams with a draw out of a loot locker. I’m sure I’d be overwhelmed if I got more, so I don’t necessarily think more businesses should follow suit, but it’s definitely something I love using and it’s one of my top two most treasured mugs (the other being from Lick Observatory near San Jose).
T-Shirts – It’s surprisingly common to be awarded a T-shirt for clearing an escape room. It’s not a bad investment, though, because when people wear them around town, it becomes free advertising. I know my dad and my friends wear some of the ones they’ve won quite often. I personally rarely wear T-shirts, but it’s still not something I’m likely to toss. Given the higher cost, I believe most of the ones we’ve won have been from setting records, which isn’t a bad idea for distribution, since enthusiasts who set records are also more likely to wear the shirts to places where others will see them and consider visiting.
Under Armor – This one stings a little. Lost SG had a special Under Armor shirt for clearing all of their games. Owners of the shirt could tag along free of charge when their friends try the games. That was also a clever move on Lost’s part since it meant that enthusiasts would have an extra incentive to recruit additional players even after they’ve already played all the rooms themselves.
Sadly, one of their rooms required 3+ players, and I was in Singapore with only one friend. Lost wouldn’t allow us to book with strangers, so I never got my hands on this one.
Lucky Giveaway – One neat idea I saw at Challenge Accepted was to give winning teams a chance to pick a number between 1 and 10. Teams picking the correct number would get a special prize. In the case I recall, it was a decorative pumpkin, but this same concept could potentially be a hook for giving teams a one in a thousand chance at winning a valuable item like a gift card or a gadget.
That sums up the physical giveaways I can recall off the top of my head. I may write a follow up article breaking down each of those prizes more rigorously.
Digital / Esteem Rewards:
Passport Stamps – I’ve encountered three different passport/stamp systems. The digital / app version never got off the ground after I saw it demonstrated at the Schaumburg escape room conference a few years ago. Escape Room Wisconsin had their own physical passports and stamps, but after I paid $10 for it, they discontinued the program and left me hanging. Now there’s a new multi-business passport being used at a few businesses in the area, but it’s hard for me to get enthusiastic about it.
The one nice thing about the multi-business passport is that it gives businesses the option to get creative with marketing / rewards. In Lake Geneva, getting an escape room stamp gets you a discount at a nearby fudge shop. It’s nothing that couldn’t be done without the passport, but the passport is a nice touch to also track progress.
Ultimately, passports are still going to be most effective for cases where one business has multiple rooms. Serious enthusiasts with at least 50 games under their belts are going to be hard-pressed to get excited about having a piece of paper showing them they’ve completed a random handful of participating rooms.
Leaderboards – There’s something satisfying about earning a spot on a leaderboard. I’ve noticed a few businesses I frequent regularly have noticed the same and often reset their leaderboards to more achievable numbers to give more players the notion that they’ve done a great job. It’s a white lie that makes players happier, so I’m not complaining!
The downside with leaderboards is that many of them use time as the only criterion for making the board. The problem with this is that it unfortunately rewards the use of hints. Rooms often cap the number of hints a team can use, so it’s ultimately part of the game, but I’d much rather use zero hints and finish at 59:59 then to use three hints and finish with the record. I’m paying to play the game, after all!
My favorite solution to the problem is with the business that runs Escape MKE, Escape MSP, etc. They have a scoring system which punishes each hint and rewards finding bonus objectives within the room. My only criticism of their scoring system is how heavily it penalizes additional team members (or rewards fewer team members), because additional team members don’t necessarily make things faster.
Digital Achievements – A few businesses have started using a vendor to track customer achievements by tracking identifying information entered on waivers. It was a neat idea in concept, but after going to a few businesses that use it, I’m no longer enthusiastic about it.
Ultimately if you have a small group and you clear each room you play, you’ll get a perfect score. If you have a large group, you’re already disqualified from getting some of the achievements, which zaps my enthusiasm from the get-go.
When I first encountered the system, I was excited to try setting the achievement record at the business (City 13 Escape), but a group of six first-timers joined my group of three at the last minute, and from that point onward, we weren’t setting the record even if we blew away the previous best time.
Strengths – Another reward that some businesses use is to point out what each member of the team did well. Usually it comes in the form of the game master jotting down a puzzle solved by each of the team members or who communicated well. It’s a nice touch to close out the experience.
My favorite variation of this was at Mobile Room Escape where a mad scientist observed us and not only commented on our personal styles but also came up with nicknames related to how we acted. It was unexpected and required a VERY involved game master, but it stuck with us.
I’ve seen a lot of different prizes given away, and every single one of these things will appeal to a different kind of person. For my personal preferences, stickers and commentary on strengths give me the most bang for the business’s buck, but unique prizes like trophies and mugs have an easy in for becoming items I use regularly.