Escape Rooms and Partnerships [Commentary]

If you’ve played escape rooms for a while or are in the industry, you’ve probably seen or come across rooms ‘inspired’ by prominent intellectual property such as Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Resident Evil, Walking Dead, Lord of the Rings and so on. Some are good, some are average, some are just horrible.

There is a some discussion in the escape room industry on the merits of building rooms using such inspirations versus original ideas. Whilst we don’t disagree with the concept of ‘inspired’ rooms (although some have been known to be tacky), we do see a problem with the ones which conduct blatant copyright infringement and use the names of movies/films/copyrighted characters and ripoff the source material. We also think that:

  • In order to be successful, the quality of a room will have to be high regardless of whether the story behind it was original or well known.
  • Bad rooms which outright ripoff major franchises do double the damage – they deter escape room rookies from trying new rooms and reduce the credibility of the venue (and potentially the industry) as a bunch of cheap hacks.

This issue can be seen to a certain extent in Australia, where we play more often. As of July 2016, six of the approximately 50 escape room venues in the country (more than 10%) host rooms which shamelessly use names, stories, artwork and imagery of well known fictional franchises.

In our recent visit to Brazil, we saw that there is potentially a good way to do escape rooms based on significant copyrighted material properly without costing an arm and a leg – official working partnerships. As we discussed in our reviews for Escape 60’s Assassin’s Creed and Escape Room SP’s Harbinger, it was interesting to see how some Brazilian venues have taken this approach to work collaboratively with copyright owners or distributors with pretty positive results.

 What is a Partnership?

A partnership with a company is not the same as buying a license from them to produce products. These are typically mutually beneficial commercial relationships where the escape room company and the copyright owners work together for the goal of creating something (in these cases escape rooms) that would expand the customer base of both parties and promote their products equally.

In the case of Assassin’s Creed, Escape 60′ (in partnership with Ubisoft) delivered an escape room synchronised with the release of Assassin’s Creed SyndicateFor Escape Room SP, Harbinger was synchronised with Galapagos Games’ release of the board game Elder Sign in Brazil.

eldersign
Copies of Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror board games on display at Escape Room SP

The method of product release synchronicity is something Escape Room 60′ has adopted with success in previous partnerships. They made an escape room promoting the movie adaption of Dan Brown’s Inferno for a Brazilian comic convention, did a temporary Goosebumps room for the release of the movie’s DVD and have also recently worked with Playstation Brazil to synchronise an Uncharted 4 escape room with the video game’s release. Furthermore, they have been working with Universal Channel to release a Bates Motel escape room at their venue in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, in time for the season 4 start in Brazil as well as the influx of tourists for the Olympics. Talk about marketing savvy!

Bottom line is that partnerships should promote both the intellectual property and the escape room venue. Niche customer sets, demographics not exposed to escape rooms or people who were previously hesitant to go to one might give them a try if an escape room has a theme they like and official backing, thus lending an additional air of legitimacy.

In the case of Harbinger, that’s just tapping into a market already positive to the idea of puzzle games in the first place (Cthulhu fans and specialist board game / role playing game players).

What do you need to get there?

Escape room venues already need good escape rooms for starters. Copyright owners have a vested interest in not associating themselves with rubbish product and any existing escape rooms a venue has essentially become their product demonstrators.

According to Escape Room SP, they invited folks from Galapagos Games to try one of their rooms (which are very good as we experienced) and a natural collaborative relationship developed into a full partnership.

Another thing we noticed from both Escape 60′ and Escape Room SP is that they hired excellent media liaisons. Pa was formerly a high ranking journalist in some of Brazil’s top media organisations and she indicated that the speed and quality of the responses we received from these media liaisons were excellent. What does this have to do with escape rooms and working partnerships?

  • If an escape room venue is working on a project associated with a large franchise, it will get questions from media organisations (eg. gaming websites). Answering these questions take time away from doing other work like running the escape room venue or working on the franchise-associated escape room. A media liaison takes care of all such correspondence.
  • A media liaison can also acts as the intermediary with the copyright/franchise owner in dealing with joint responses to media. This saves escape room venue owners having to run around and do this themselves.
  • Good media liaisons will seek out opportunities to promote escape room venues across a variety of different mediums. A quick glance of media articles associated with Escape 60′ and Escape Room SP indicates that they have been able to promote their businesses though major Brazilian TV channels, prominent gaming websites, pop culture blogs and so on. This accumulated positive media profile can help build confidence in copyright owners to take the plunge in working with an escape room venue.
  • According to Pa, businesses who have good media liaisons also benefit from having timely media releases by enabling journalists to get the information quickly.

Things to consider

If product release synchronicity is going to be a thing for a working partnership, the first thing to consider would probably be the deadline. Copyright owners typically have slick marketers who want to ensure maximum exposure for their product. This means that escape room venues might have to consider the release date of the product and whether there could be delays.

Another thing to consider is the theme of puzzles and gameplay. Using Harbinger as an example, Escape Room SP ensured that the feel of the decor, background material and props matched the Cthulhu genre. Harbinger also features different roles/class options for players to choose between (Doctor, Detective or Archaeologist) with their unique props and puzzles, similar to the Elder Sign board game.

A good example for using the setting of a copyrighted product can be seen from The Game’s partnership with Ubisoft to create Assassins Creed: The Treasure of Templars in Paris. They seem to have gone all out with atmosphere and setting:

thegame
Photo: The Game

Bottom line

Look, neither of us are escape room owners so we are only drawing from our experiences in writing this article. We’re not saying that escape room businesses should go out and rush to look for a partnership or hire a media liaison either. This has to fit with your business plan and budget.

To cap off our main points though:

  • The discussion in the industry about whether to do an ‘inspired’ room or one based on an original story is besides the point. Escape rooms have to be good quality. If they aren’t everything else becomes a gimmick.
  • Working with copyright owners is possible without prohibitive costs if an arrangement is mutually beneficial.
  • Good media liaisons can help in promoting the media profile of your business and gain credibility.

What other official partnerships between escape room venues and franchises have you heard of? Have you played any that was good? Do you have  any experience in this field? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!

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