Amusement: Exit Strategy Feature

22 October 2022 - 10:38

Games incorporating an element of escape are as popular as ever, with laser tag, escape rooms and mazes fascinating guests across the world - Lee Wild takes a look at what operators need to know.

Written by Lee Wild

There’s nothing quite like the feeling that escaping can give you. Many attractions and games build-in the concept of escape to generate tension and give the attraction a defined end point. It works successfully in laser tag arenas, escape rooms and mazes all across the globe, with players flocking in huge numbers to take on the physical experience for themselves. The perfect antidote to an increasingly digital world, escape games bring friends and families together in a location-based experience that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Escape doesn’t just refer to the physical aspect of escaping the arena or beating the puzzle in an escape room, it is also found in the escape from every day life that the player feels when they engage in these attractions, which are proving more popular than ever with players.

Always popular
The world of escape games is growing year on year, with more operators opening up and more players flocking to these locations, keen to get a taste of what it’s all about. First popularised in the 1980s, laser tag capitalised on its heyday and has now built a stable player base of fans that are intimately familiar with the concept. One of the biggest innovators in the space is Laserforce, which is the company behind many of the biggest operators game systems. Its business development officer, Chris Epstein, says that after finding a home with young people a few years ago, its market has now matured and those same people still return to play the same laser tag game they enjoyed all those years ago. He said: “Demographics are changing and in a positive way. Birthday parties have traditionally been the rain-maker when it comes to laser tag and they still are. But what has transpired is that those kids who grew up playing laser tag in the late 90s and early 2000s are still playing. Young adults are taking more of the market share than ever before.

“We anticipate this trend to continue, laser tag is still in its infancy compared to bowling and we believe that laser tag will continue to age well with adults as well as the traditional younger audience.” These exit games are popular because they provide a physical experience that virtual games cannot. They are the antithesis to the ever-expanding metaverse; people want to be present in the moment. It is a sentiment that is echoed by Epstein, who said: “In a world that is becoming more virtual by the day, laser tag has the unique ability to blend the immersive fantasy found in video games with the physical thrills of exploring a maze and firing a laser gun.

“This is a tried-and-true experience and what makes it even more unique is the competitive element of the game. Every time you suit up and enter the arena you are playing against several other players to win the game. The full immersion into the game is something Vr or arcades can never replicate the way laser tag can. “I think this is why active entertainment has really enjoyed a renaissance, it is becoming a place where we can take our eyes off a screen and enjoy a social connection with friends and family. Not to mention the added benefits of exercise, Laserforce players can really get some great cardio in over the course of a laser tag game.”

Talking tech
As with many attractions, talk of the newest tech dominates operators’ discussions and the pages of many trade publications. Escape games are ripe for innovation, whether that is the latest generation of laser blaster or a new prop that heightens the immersion of a game area; the charge for what’s new never seems to slow. At Creative Works, its team is at the cutting edge of what is happening in the attractions industry. Russ Van Natta, vice president of business development at the company, says that laser tag and escape rooms are an ever-evolving world. He said: “Laser tag is incorporating new technology with things like projection mapping in the arena to have more dynamic content triggered from targets and game play. Pair this with the a new trend of open concept arenas, where one of the perimeter walls is opened up to allow guests to see into the attraction and be drawn in by the energy of the players currently in a game.
“For escape rooms, we've continued to challenge the norms of a traditional 60-minute experience with both 30 and 45-minute experiences, so operators have different programming and offerings for their guests, while still focusing throughput and capacity without sacrificing the experience.”

Kirchner, of Blacklight Attractions, says that anyone entering the escape room market needs to do so with the latest technology. He said: “If you build the best escape rooms, you’ll get the business. “It’s pointless to enter the escape room business with a previous generation room. Almost all the franchise escape rooms are too basic for the types we create. 

Epstein, of Laserforce, says that operators often tell him that they appreciate the durability and ease of maintenance that its products offer. He said: “The most popular feedback we receive the most from operators is always in regards to how durable and long lasting Laserforce equipment lasts. “It’s no secret that durability and maintenance issues can plague operators, so to hear just how durable Laserforce Battlesuits can be, is feedback we love hearing.”

The tech involved in a game needs to be easy and intuitive to use, both for the player and the operator. The less time spent watching a presentation on how it works means more time spent in the game – something that guests love. Ease of operation is something that operators value highly and Chris Setters, director at Combat Laser Games says that usability is key. He said: “Set-up takes seconds, with a turn of a key the equipment is ready to go and requires no maintenance or checks. 

Our battery lasts for days and storage of the kit is very efficient.” At Creative Works, Russ Van Natta says that there is new technology on the horizon that will take these escape experiences to the next level. He explained: “We continue to leverage and incorporate new tech into the experiences, whether its AR or VR, projection mapping, etc., it will continue to be a growing trend. As long as the tech is serving a specific purpose to further the story or immersion and not just thrown in for the sake of having it. 

“In some markets and locations, the incorporation of an esports or live competition model also shows great promise when applied correctly - this allows guests to increase competition and excitement, and allows the guests to offer new programming for their attractions.”

Player experience
Exit-style games offer a wide variety of play-styles and choice when it comes to what to engage with. The market for these games has expanded so much over recent years, meaning players have more choice than ever when it comes to where to spend their money. Operators need to stand out from the crowd and provide a unique or prestigious gaming experience to keep guests pouring into their establishment. Daniel Hill, owner of Escape, which creates some of the biggest and best escape rooms, says: “The market has exploded over the last ten years, taking it from obscurity to mainstream. Players now have choices, very similar to movies, when it comes to theme and styles. Some will like all action rooms, some will like scary rooms and there are rooms aimed at children as well. “There seems to be a real desire for experiences, finding something amazing and sharing it with your friends and family. Active entertainment allows you to engage directly as opposed to being a passive observer. I mean, why watch an adventure when you can play the lead role in one? “The escape isn’t just about beating the room, but also about being taken out of day-to-day life for the duration of the game.” Van Natta, of Creative Works, says that guests enjoy the physical challenge that these types of games bring. He said: “I think people have seen that the more active entertainment, whether it’s laser tag, trampolines, ninja courses, even axe throwing, can create a higher level of competitive fun for the guests. “The physiological response of endorphins from the activity, and dopamine from the social competition is something that helps cement the memorable experiences.” 

Shareable experiences
Like any business, marketing is key to get people coming through the door and spending money when it comes to exit games. In the entertainment sector, we’re blessed in that the attractions themselves are often their own best marketing strategy. Players love to share pictures on social media, while word of mouth and personal recommendations are often still the most powerful ways in which people decide where to spend their time. Kirchner, of Blacklight Attractions, says that being able to photograph and video these memories are a key driver in attracting the family market. He said: “Families will drive to the best facility, skipping over many other arcade opportunities for that has that one attraction where moments can be captured on video and photo. “The best facilities are destinations – it’s as simple as that. Get the best reviews, have the best TikToks and Instagram posts from guests and customers will skip right over the closest facilities to come right to your door. “Because of the popularity of social media content creation, every attraction you build must include a photo opportunity that makes guests drive out of their way to visit your attraction.”

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