Over the next few months I’m expecting another ten or so rooms to open in the capital. None have me anywhere near as excited as Oubliette Escape Rooms though. So what’s so special?
Well, lots, but before I go any further, I’d like to make it clear that I have no vested interest in this project. I don’t know anyone involved beyond following them on Twitter, so hopefully what follows is unbiased. Why am I writing this then? Because I’m excited about what they’re up to, and I want to see as many people back them as possible.
First off, the people involved have a fantastic pedigree. The lead, Minkette, has a long history of being involved in games and immersive productions. Punch drunk, Wieden+Kennedy and Hasbro are some of the bigger names on her impressive CV, but there are countless other interesting activities revolving around games, and particularly immersive ones. Of course, the most relevant experience is that she’s already been involved with the design of an escape room – Spark of Resistance in Portland. More on that later.
The other name I recognise from the list is Gareth Briggs. He’s been involved with a Door in a Wall (I’m not sure how, but I’d guess at least in the puzzle department), which bodes well from my point of view, as this project definitely looks like it will be aiming at an immersive experience. If you look through his CV, there’s a broad range of relevant material there too.
Then there’s a list of names that I don’t recognise, but the very fact that there’s a list is a good thing. Just like escaping a room requires a variety of talents (searchers, observers, communicators etc), building a good escape room requires breadth of expertise. With Minkette and Gareth, they’ve clearly got a focus on creative and puzzle angles, but the rest of the team brings in, for example, electronics and project management skills. If you’re interested in the details, they’ve got plenty on the kickstarter page, and several of those involved have their own websites.
As I mentioned above, Minkette has a great calling card in Spark of Resistance. Looking through the Room Escape Artist review can’t help but fill you with confidence. Admittedly, she was just one of the six, but this time round she’s added new talent and obviously has the sage voice of experience.
Indeed, the only weaknesses in that review are very much down to the operator – the briefing and wrap up sound like they could have been done better. Those are easy things to fix up when you’re creating your experience from scratch, and I’m pretty confident they’ll be sorted out this time.
It’s clear from the kickstarter page that they’ve already got a good view of the story, which is great. Anyone can create some puzzles (well OK, maybe not anyone, but I don’t think it’s that difficult). For me, the trick is to tie them naturally into the story, and to make the room feel like it’s more than a container for the puzzles. Having that story clear from the start makes that much easier.
And of course, the story itself is intriguing. An Orwellian dystopia controlled by JCN (presumably a tribute to 2001) with CCTV and network monitoring, seems to fit very well with the zeitgeist. I sense this is going to be a challenge that not only makes you think in the room, but makes you think after it…
They’ve selected a location very close to Brixton tube station. With the Victoria line cutting north south through the centre of London and seemingly travelling at light speed, I think that makes this one of the more accessible places outside of zone 1, so a great combination of price and accessibility. Making it near the station is a good idea too – less chance of people getting lost, which seems to crop up in TripAdvisor reviews more often than I’d expect.
When crowdfunding, it’s always important to remember that your money is at risk. From my point of view, the longer a team holds on to your money, the greater the chance they’ll fail to deliver. On that front, things look good.
The crowdfunding page talks about a delivery schedule of December. It’s pretty rare for a kickstarter project to deliver on time, but it looks like they’ve got a venue sorted, a clear picture of their story, are starting to put together a room layout, and have plenty of technical people lined up to solve any problems, so they’ve given me lots of confidence. The only concern I’d have is if they have to make a planning application, but I assume that’s not necessary given the timelines they’ve quoted. Still a chance of things going awry, but I think that’s only likely to be a short delay rather than a few months.
My biggest worry is that they’ll bite off more than they can chew. They’re aiming to open an “Adventure shop” at the same time, and they mention the idea of opening a bar in the basement. I can see the attraction of the former, but the latter definitely feels like it’s straying away from their key strengths, and doesn’t really add much to the overall experience.
A second, more minor concern, is that I’m not sure how well the individual ticket system will work. That seems pretty standard in the US, but I’m not convinced it plays so well with the British crowd. A few places do run this model (Lady Chastity’s Reserve and Escape Entertainment), but I’ve always found it a bit off putting personally. Perhaps that’s just the kickstarter project though, and they’ll let people book out the room with fewer than eight attendees without charging the full price.
My only other concerns are the usual with new businesses – and with the interest on kickstarter, things have begun well. Certainly well enough for me to put my money where my mouth is and choose the Escape Room Group ticket reward.