The first thing I have to clarify with that provocative title is that I don’t actually hate scavenging/searching in escape rooms. I don’t like when a game revolves around scavenging. I hate having to scavenge too much.What counts as too much for me? Generally, if there’s one puzzle with scavenging, even if it has multiple smaller portions that also involve scavenging, I’m fine with it. It’s when there are multiple sections in the game that revolve around scavenging, I groan internally. This is all personal preference, and if you love it, power to you! Although I’d love to meet you and charge you $15-$30 to look for crap I’ve misplaced in my basement
1) It seems kind of lazy. There could be narrative reasons for why you have to find something, but I’ve never really found that to ever be the case. It often feels like “Hmmm. I can’t think of a puzzle, let’s just make the Player look for stuff.”
2) It’s often done poorly without a clear limit to the searching. It should be clear to the Player how many things are needed for a puzzle. They should be able to think, “We have 5 of 7 items, we have to keep looking”. When done wrong, you won’t know that you’ve found everything you need UNTIL you’ve found everything you need to.
3) As an extension of that, another way it’s done wrong is that when you lead players to believe an item is searchable, but it isn’t. For example, you’ve searched and found 4 of 5 things in a room. Where’s the fifth? Oh, it’s actually two puzzles away, inside a lockbox, and is inaccessible. This is designed to waste your time, which is anti-fun. In general, punishing players for things they couldn’t have known is anti-fun.
4) It can be tedious. I’ve talked about puzzles vs tasks before, and searching is a task. You know you have to find stuff, and it’s frustrating the longer you can’t. That’s all really assuming you’re not in scenario 3) above.
5) From the business-end, if you have searching in your game, consider for a moment that every player has to do that. You have every player to grace your game flipping over tables, turning over chairs, etc. It increases the wear-and-tear of your game, and you’ll have to replace items faster than a game that doesn’t have such heavy search components.
5b) Not only will you have to replace components faster, the more pressing issue to your business is that your facility will look like crap. Customers will get the impression you don’t care about the user experience, and that you’re just trying to make a quick buck. There are definitely facilities out there that have that mindset. However, keep in mind whether an escape facility is or isn’t just trying to rip you off, it’s not in their best interest to look like they’re trying to rip you off. It’s bad for business!
Rant over. Down with scavenging.