What do players want?
I’m going to make some sweeping generalizations here! Everything is just my opinion, or random things I’ve noticed. They are not hard and fast rules.
Beginners can be broken up into two groups: the ‘walk-in’ crowd and those who try to do some research online. Facilities in denser populated areas (eg. downtown Toronto) are more likely to get a higher portion of the former. Beginners want a spectacle ! They want to be wow-ed, they want it to be cool. Little else matters. The first (and probably up to my third) time I discovered a secret passage way in a game, it was the hilight of my day. That’s really cool (and still is)! The first time I had slide under some dangerously bright and green lasers, I loved it (and still do, believe it or not)! Having an exciting portion to your game is probably the best way to get a beginner to come back. I like to think of these as the escape room equivalent of a Michael Bay explosion.
But an escape facility can’t (or shouldn’t try to) subsist on beginners. These beginners become Experienced players after a few games, and their priorities shift. As cool as some rooms are, the shift moves towards games that are fair and devoid of problems. Whereas once if you staff explained some leap of logic in their game, and you would have shrugged and thought “Oh okay, well whatever”, you now think “How could I possibly have known that?”. Or maybe you ask “Why did they only give us a single flashlight for 6 people?”
Experienced players don’t really just walk-in to a facilities – They become the type to do research and to find the best games possible.
(I’ll take this opportunity to reiterate that this doesn’t apply to everyone, and sure enough, I can name people who are ceaselessly entertained by the spectacle in rooms, and that’s fine.)
Interestingly enough, all of this exists independent of difficulty. I have particular examples that exemplify my point. As per usual, I will keep everything spoiler free.
REG Volume 1’s Escape from the Mysterious Room is an interesting example of a room that I would argue is made for beginners. I’ve met some Experienced players that tried it didn’t enjoy it. So this is an example of a difficult (3% solve rate?) room that was made for beginners. On the flipside, there are rooms like the Pandemic room at Trapped! or the Mission Museum at ESC-IT. They aren’t particularly flashy rooms, and beginners aren’t going to have that visceral wow-factor there. However, I’ve met Experienced players who just appreciate that the game made sense. In this case, you essentially have an easy room that satisfies Experienced players.
The pressing question is “Why can’t we have it all?”. And we should. I’m not just saying that as a consumer, but it’s clearly in the best interest of facilities as well. In the long term, would a facility rather have a customer come back once? or to come back for all your future rooms?