Must-see talks at escape room conference Up The Game

5 min readMay 4, 2018

The third edition of the international conference Up The Game — all about escape rooms and real life gaming — is around the corner. On May 8th and 9th visitors can experience nearly thirty talks about horror escape rooms, playtesting, updating a room and much more in the amazingly mysterious PrisonDome in Breda.

Sherlocked is there too: two of our founders, Victor van Doorn and Pim Schachtschabel, are speaking about expanding the story of your escape room outside its walls and about how to balance the tension between art and commerce.

What are the highlights of this year’s Up The Game? We’re asking game designer Meggy Pepelanova, one of the designers at Sherlocked, who was asked for input on the program of Up The Game.

How did you end up advising on the program of this year’s conference?
“Next to the game design I do at Sherlocked, I also have my own company Drin Drin. Last year at a pitch for a game project I met Alexander Gierholz of Logic Locks. He was one of my competitors but while discussing the project we discovered we were on the same wavelength. So we ended up doing the project together. It worked out really well because we have a similar approach to doing things.

Logic Locks and Real Life Gaming are the organizers of Up The Game, so when Alexander was putting together a committee to advise on creating the program he asked me.”

So how did this committee work?
“The escape room industry is still really young. So there aren’t many conferences about it, let alone international ones. Because Up The Game is international, Alexander asked advisors from different countries to brainstorm with him about what the key topics and people should be for this year. That way, he uses their first hand experience and their broad networks. And also to ensure the global relevance, because escape rooms have evolved differently in every country.”

What’s your influence on the program?
“There are two themes that I thought deserve attention on this year’s program. First, the importance of playtesting.
I have experience with designing videogames, and playtesting is a crucial part of the videogame design process. There are all kinds of different techniques to test games and there are people who test games professionally. With a lot of escape rooms playtesting could be done better.
Of course makers take the time to test their games, but mainly by letting people play the room and asking them afterwards what they think of it. It’s rarely a structured process with tried methods. That’s because you have to invest a lot of money to get an escape room going, so by the time you’re close to being done you want to open it as soon as possible. I get that. But I also think the importance of playtesting is underestimated and can be improved. Ariel Rubin and Juliana Patel talk about this at the conference.

Another subject I think had to be addressed are escape rooms designed for spectatorship. The theme of this year’s Up The Game is ‘The future of experience’. Because escape rooms and other offline engagement is such a trend right now, I think more and more big companies are going to use escape rooms and other types of immersive experiences as an engagement tool. A recent example of that is the experience Google made in Amsterdam last November, built by Sherlocked: Google Backstage.

Visitors were taught about the privacy settings of Google services by taking on challenges themed after iconic products like Youtube and Google Search. Because the experience ran for only three months, only a few hundred people could play it. Yet, the experience reached many more people because a lot of bloggers/vloggers and influencers posted about it online. That meant Google Backstage also had to be fun to watch.

Having spectators in addition to players means that experiences that are used as an engagement tool need to be designed in a different way. For one, it means relying less on logic puzzles that have a single right answer so that viewers can watch multiple teams play the same game. And it also means focusing more on things that are enjoyable to watch — physical challenges, fun props, emotional moments. It starts to approach the game design in TV game shows. And the cool part is that at Up The Game we have Yossi Keren & Gai Bosco talking about creating custom escape rooms for commercial television."

Meggy’s personal speaker top 3 at Up The Game

1. Agnes Kaszas & Inna Huttunen: The escape train

“The escape train was an escape room experience of 13 hours in a train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Finland in november 2017. It was live-streamed around the world. I’m so curious about how Agnes Kaszas & Inna Huttunen made this happen!”

2. Alon Lester: Turning reality into fiction

“Alon talks about how you can create psychological adventures that are similar to the movie ‘The Game’. The idea of having an adventure in the middle of a city so you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t is such a mindfuck! I think every escape room maker who’s seen the movie has toyed with the idea, but Alon actually pulled it off! I’m so impressed and very curious about how he dealt with things like law enforcement and the challenge of not making the experience too scary for people.”

3. Lukas C. C. Hempel: Industry overview and success factors of the top 10%

“Because Lukas is the founder of BookingKit, one of the most popular booking systems for escape rooms, he has the largest and broadest data set about the industry. I’m a big believer in data-driven design, so I think it’s really important that we learn from this data.”

Up The Game takes place on May 8th and 9th in the PrisonDome in Breda. Tickets are still available via their website.