Life & Style

Now, escape rooms go virtual. Go ahead, solve a puzzle and save the world in your pyjamas

A group of children rying to solve a mystery

A group of children rying to solve a mystery   | Photo Credit: Jack F

Solving a murder, warding off a terror attack, racing against time to diffuse a bomb... anything is possible in the virtual realm of escape rooms that offer succour amid the pandemic

Security check is currently under way in my bedroom, which incidentally is also an aircraft terminal, an airport and the site of a gruesome murder. Welcome to a night of escape games, online. Largely popular for their elaborate thematic setups and the whole experience of physically manoeuvring through unknown and almost realistic terrains, these games are now being offered virtually. Thanks to COVID-19.

“In a way, it pushed us to innovate,” laughs Gurugram-based Aman Goel, who co-founded The Hidden Hour, with Ankit Agrawal in 2016. Last month, on May 10, they decided to go online with this popular segment. “We felt people will take time to come out and gain confidence to play these games in the offline world again. So we wanted them to experience this from the comfort of their homes,” he says.

“The first game we introduced is called Mission Black Terror Agency, and to make the appeal more global, we brought in the seven wonders of the world,” says Aman. The aim is to defend them from a terror attack, he explains. Seeing the demand, they launched the second game on May 24. This one is called Flight 1032 and is a murder mystery. Since most people have forgotten what it is like to get on an air plane and travel, the duo at The Hidden Hour, has made sure that this game has all the aspects involved in a flight journey, right from security checks and boarding to on-board lavatories.

The duration of the games is around 60 minutes and nearly 60% of the players manage to complete it. Anyone above the age of 12 can play them, though for now a majority of their clients are aged 15 to 35. “Each login is priced at ₹149,” says Aman.

The good thing about escape rooms being played online is that it is no more limited to just the cities they are located in. “For example, we are in Gurugram, Delhi, Noida, Hyderabad and Pune, but now anyone in any part of the world can play it. So you can engage with your friend in Europe and both solve the mystery together,” he explains, adding while 90% of his clients are from India, he has also got players logging in from Japan and the US.

The other advantage is that the cost it takes to create the online version is much less in comparison to a live game. “In a physical game, we spend around ₹6 to 8 lakh on design, lights, furnishing, infrastructure, and then when we redesign, it costs three to four lakh,” says Presley Fernandes, founder of No Escape in Mumbai. In the online version, the rents are knocked off.

“You can operate the games from anywhere, it is possible to integrate different themes like zombies, bank robbery online and you only have the design cost and employee salaries,” he adds. But Presley also points out that the income from online is not as high, as the rates of tickets are lower. It’s ₹150 per person, and in the case of walk-in, the price varies from ₹600-₹1,000, depending on the day of the week and size of the group,” he says.

At No Escape, it’s a new game every month, for the benefit of the repeat players. The online games started at the end of April with a COVID-19-themed game, where a group of CID officers has been affected by COVID-19 and are looking for detectives to diffuse a bomb. The other game is also related to the pandemic and is about locating its vaccine.

This seems to be a hot topic even in the virtual realm. Mystery Rooms’ online escape room offering, COVID-19, has the same theme. “This is our first endeavour online and we wanted to make it educational as well,” says Sapna Bhutani, CEO of Mystery Rooms. A lot of teams, including researchers who collate and create content, game masters who work with puzzles and clues, game designers, technology experts, worked together to come up with this final product. Though the game takes 90 minutes, the providers are giving participants three hours to complete it, factoring in Internet issues and the fact that players will be collaborating with their team mates virtually on video calls.

“When we started last month, we had only eight slots. Now, on weekends, every 15 minutes we offer one; so it is about 48 slots in a day and on weekdays it’s every 30 minutes so 24 slots a day. We are available from 11 am to 11 pm,” says Sapna, adding it is priced at ₹800 per team (two to eight people).

But given the whole concept of physical distancing, the company is trying out various other alternatives to bring this form of gaming to people’s doorsteps. Their latest initiative is called Mystery Kit, where on booking a game, you can take a printout and set up the game at home. What’s more, you even get the timer and background music sent to you and you can play it anywhere at home or on your dinner table.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 5:17:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/now-escape-rooms-go-virtual-go-ahead-solve-a-puzzle-and-save-the-world-in-your-pyjamas/article31778877.ece

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