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Customer Service, or Carny Cash-Grab?

Over the past week, we’ve discovered something appalling – and what made it even more shocking was that we encountered it two different times at two different venues. Within days of each other. This is perhaps the most disgusting new trend I’ve personally ever witnessed in a hospitality-based, customer service-focused industry.

I doubt by this point that I need to give you any background on the basic mechanics of how an Escape Game works; Puzzles, clues, yadda yadda yadda, escape the room in under 60 minutes. Caught up to speed? Great. Surely we’ve all had those experiences where we were close to winning – perhaps just seconds or minutes away – but barely ran out of time.

Imagine if a venue not offered – but pressured you – to continue past your allotted 60 minutes to get your check mark in the win column

All for the low, low price of just $0.29 per person, per minute!


I’m not even kidding.

But here’s where things get even more questionable – these venues are spinning this feature – and literally bragging about it – as “the most highly requested feature from our customers!”

So let me get this straight – your customers have paid $25-35 to play your game, and their most frequent request is


“Isn’t there some way I could pay you even more money before I leave?”


I. Call. Bullshit.

And that’s probably the one and only time where you’ll ever see profanity in print on this site – but it goes to show how offensive and detrimental this issue is to our industry.

Nobody is asking you to charge them more money on top of what they’ve already spent to play your game.  And the fact that you are enthusiastically sharing that with me – and mind you, not a general “Me, Escape Room Player,” but knowing that it’s “Chris, Experienced Player and Founder of Escape Authority” shows that you think very little of my intelligence level.

But wait! There’s more!


What if I told you between the three games we played at these two crooked venues, they were among the WORST games we’ve ever seen?

So, you’ve clearly put no effort into creating anything even close to a quality product, AND you want me to pay extra to play it EVEN LONGER than the 60 minutes I’ve already endured?

“*I’m* interested!”


And just like Elder Cunningham, I’m making things up again. I’m not interested. No one should be interested. As a customer of any business, my biggest wish should never be, is not and will never be “please hang me by my feet and shake out my pockets to get those last few coins left in my possession!”

I feel like I’ve probably already said this phrase a few times in this article, but,

Here’s where it gets worse…


This isn’t just a “you didn’t quite finish the game.” These games are DESIGNED so that you cannot quite finish the game. Not in under 60 minutes, at least. They’re literally structured in such a way that there are more tasks than can be completed within the allotted time limit, and then, use a mix of sleazy used car salesman meets crooked carny barker approach of capitalizing on a person’s pride and competitive nature to try and rope them in for even more profit.

Each venue told us we were “SO CLOSE!” and that we “COULD DEFINITELY DO THIS!” This type of manipulative phrasing is clearly geared towards that very same competitive side.

“Well if I’m THAT close, how CAN I give up now?!”

This assuming, of course, that even your inner monologue can somehow forget how treacherous the prior 60 minutes in such a soul crushing, terribly designed game has already been.


And by the way, when we declined to extend at one of the two places, we were told – after just being told we were “SO CLOSE!” that all we had left to do was Step A, Step B, Step C, Step D, Step E, Step F, Step G, Step H, Step I, Step J and Step K.

But we were “SO CLOSE!” There was literally – not figuratively – literally more steps left that we HAD NOT completed than the steps that we HAD completed throughout the entire course of the game.

It’s truly remarkable, too, the similarities between the two venues themselves. Absolutely, positively no effort made on any type of scenic, theming or decor. Basically empty office rooms, clearly exactly as they were found the day the owner signed the lease on their respective buildings. Game play that either makes no sense what so ever, is entirely tedious or completely boring – or in most cases a mixture of the bunch. There’s literally not a single redeeming factor about any of these games, yet they expect me to pay $0.29 per person per minute to PLAY THEM FOR EVEN LONGER.

At least when a real carny makes me feel like I’m about to throw up, I get to be spun around and flipped upside down first.


Here’s another statistic for you — now for me personally, winning or losing a game is not important as long as we enjoy playing that game. I firmly think that’s the right attitude to take, and in fact two games we’ve given an over-the-top-good 6 Key rating to are games we lost. However, simply for the purposes of polling the numbers here, we’ve only lost three games out of more than the past forty we’ve played. Those three, quite specifically, were the three carny cash-grabs. Coincidence? I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that.

The positive here, I suppose, is that as of this writing, our team has played well over 160 games, with over 150 of those being ones I’ve played myself — and of those games, there are only four split between these two cash-grabbing venues that we’ve ever encountered this questionable and seemingly corrupt operating structure. What that says is that nearly every venue across the US does get it right, but to come across even one, let alone both within a week of each other is alarming.

And let’s address the elephant in the room – obviously any Escape Room, just like any business – including those in the hospitality industry – exist to make a profit. It’s how they pay their bills. It’s how their employees pay their own bills. No one is suggesting that a venue shouldn’t be able to make enough money to be successful.

But do it honestly.

If you design a game knowing that your goal is for the vast majority of your players to *not* be able to win, solely so that you can then attempt to capitalize on their pride to ask them for even more money, you are dishonest, you are corrupt, and you deserve to go out of business.

Let me share a little story here — in one of these venues we were paired with two brand new players. Now, I mean brand new – as in they’d never heard of an escape room before coming across this one on Groupon and deciding to give it a try. They were so turned off by how poor the quality of the experience was that they vocalized more than once to each other within our hour that they doubt they’ll ever play one again. When it was presented to them that they are now welcome to finish for “just $0.29 per person per minute!” they were shocked. The look on their face told all the story you needed to know.

We spoke with them privately after walking back to our cars. We promised them, repeatedly, that “this is not what an escape room is.” We stressed, and swore to them, that there are countless others that are worth your time and your money – and none will ever try to shake you down for a few extra coins before you leave. It really made me feel better – for them as well as for me – that they responded by asking us a few recommendations of where they should go next. Even then, they stressed that if they ever came across a situation like this even one more time, they’d never play another Escape Game again.

Think about that for a second. It’s profound. It’s proof in black and white how badly a negative experience at a garbage game can be to our industry in its entirety.

They’d never play another escape game again.


I used to say that the best thing for the industry as a whole is for every game to be the best game there is. So many venues look at this as a competition – but it’s not. Good games at one venue make money for another venue’s good games. A rising tide lifts all ships. If I play a great game at your venue, and I’ve now seen all your games – what do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to ask you where else I could find great games like yours. The best games inspire players to PLAY MORE GAMES.

That’s what I used to say the best thing for the industry as a whole is.

And while that still applies, there’s now two best things – that every game be the best game there is, and that crooked carny cash-grabs go out of business as quickly as possible.

This just isn’t a victimless crime. They don’t just hurt the players of their own game. They hurt each and every good game around them.

“That’s what an escape room is? I hate escape rooms!”


Well that’s not what an Escape Room is. I know it. You know it. We all know it. So if you take only one recommendation away from Escape Authority, please let it be this one:

Please do not ever support dishonest venues.


Please strive for quality, and don’t make excuses for venues that don’t even try to maintain it. But first and foremost, beyond all things,

Please do not ever support dishonest venues.


On Escape Authority’s behalf, I make this commitment now from all of us as a team:

If we encounter a game intentionally designed to be nearly impossible to win without paying additional per minute surcharges not included in the advertised ticket price, that game will automatically receive a 0 key rating.

0 Keys
For an in-depth conversation on Carny Cash-Grabs, listen to this episode of The Second Hand Podcast.

Listen to StitcherGet it on Google Play

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