Every once in a while, I get a reminder about how the overall customer experience is more important than any one aspect of an escape room. I’ve shared before about how a strong game master can elevate an average experience and an inattentive one can ruin a world class game. I recently got a reminder of exactly why this is so important.
In 2018, I was in Memphis, waiting in an escape room lobby for my game to start. There were three gentlemen standing in the lobby, looking slightly uneasy and dissatisfied. From a quick chat, I learned these guys considered themselves “escape room pros” with dozens of games under their belts and the utmost confidence in their own skills. They left and I started my game.
Only after my game did I learn from the game masters what had happened with those guys. The room was a creepy motel, reasonably well-lit through most of it but with shadowy corners everywhere. In spite of explicit instructions during the intro, the three “pros” all pulled out their phones and used their phone flashlights to explore the space.
At one point, completing a puzzle causes the lights to turn off in the room. At this point, players are expected to see glow-in-the-dark writing on the wall and use the message to solve the puzzle that turns the lights back on and continues the game. This team continued to explore using their flashlights, rendering the secret message invisible.
When they asked for a hint, the game master told them to turn their lights off. They declined. A few minutes later, they asked for another hint, and the game master said “no, seriously, turn your lights off.” They declined again. The “pros” thought the game master was being obstinate about sticking to a rule they wanted to break, when really, obeying the rule was the only way forward.
I’m not sure what happened after that. Judging from how the “pros” were acting in the lobby, I’m pretty sure they didn’t get out of the room, and I’m not sure if they ever got an explicit hint to get them past that point.
I’ve held onto this story for quite some time as a funny tale of how people can get burned by thinking they’re too good for the rules. But when I shared the story with Matt from Challenge Accepted (Bloomingdale) recently, he had a different take that served as a reminder about the importance of customer experience.
Matt saw the humor in the situation, but as a business owner, he was horrified about the experience the customers had. Even though the “pros” probably deserved a penalty for flaunting the rules, they came to the business looking to enjoy themselves, and they left upset. Regardless of how they got there, those guys aren’t going to return to that business, and they may even leave bad reviews online. Telling them early that some puzzles require darkness, and therefore there was a good reason to turn the flashlights off, would have been beneficial for everyone.
Matt’s reaction also made me realize about other cases where a great game master saved us from similar situations, where we didn’t necessarily “deserve” to be helped along, but by helping us, the game master kept us from feeling frustrated. One example that comes to mind is a case where upon entering the room, Christina set her purse down directly in front of a clue we needed on the wall. The game master noticed and gave us a slight nudge about it, and we felt great about the experience. Though we weren’t flaunting the rules, the situation wasn’t that different in that the game master technically had no obligation to help us around our self-inflicted challenge, but doing so really helped us have a great time.
This whole situation is a form of the adage “the customer is always right.” If the infraction isn’t enough for the game master to stop the game and eject the team from the business, then it’s also not serious enough to let the players suffer a bad experience based on their own mistakes.