5 Weird and Wonderful Lessons We've Learned About Running an Escape Room

When we opened up Deciphered last year, we had no idea what to expect. All we knew is that we loved puzzles, and wanted to bring a new experience to Roanoke! So, we developed a plan; offer the single best escape room experience we can. That meant designing all of our rooms in-house, building out the rooms by hand, and giving you a memorable customer service experience in a helpful and professional atmosphere. We wanted people to leave our lobby and say “that was so fun!”

In a lot of ways, we feel like we’ve done that successfully. But we’ve also learned a lot of lessons about running an escape room since last march. Here are five of the biggest ones.

1. Clarity is king!

Perhaps the very first lesson we learned when we opened Deciphered is that you have to be incredibly clear when you are briefing a room or giving hints to people in the room. One of our original rooms was a space station-themed room called Our Last Breath. The very first puzzle required participants to figure out how to turn off a blaring alarm using two pressure pads that were hidden in the room.

One night, a group member called for a hint to solve that first puzzle. Brandon went into the room and explained that there were pressure pads hidden somewhere on the floor and that the team needed to move around the room to figure out how to activate both at the same time. When he got back to the monitors, he noticed a group member lying on the ground, barrel rolling across the floor to try to find the switch. It’s still one of our favorite memories!

But it demonstrated to us how important it was to be clear in our instructions. From the point forward, we told groups to walk around the room to find the pressure pads.

2. If people aren’t progressing, they aren’t having fun.

Some escape rooms pride themselves on designing rooms with single digit escape rates. Like one out of every hundred groups actually complete the game. That’s fun, if only for the challenge and the novelty. But what we have learned from a year of running Deciphered is that people have the most fun when they are progressing through their room.

We have difficult rooms, some with success rates as low as 20%. But at the end of the day, we want people to feel like they were close, even if they didn’t get to hit that button on their clock at the end. That starts with the design itself. Even if the room is difficult, there are puzzles that are simpler or that open up several new puzzles in the room. This gives people a sense of progress and accomplishment, and helps them stay engaged throughout the room.

If a team is struggling or moving in the wrong direction for too long, our game masters are trained to help nudge them in the right direction with hints. Need a hint? Call for one! We want to ensure you are having the best time possible.

3. People want to escape above all else!

Part of the appeal of escape rooms is that they place your group in a dire situation that you, hopefully won’t ever have to experience in real life. (Seriously, we really hope there are never aliens invading our city!). While we try to create an experience that is immersive, our rooms also require a suspension of disbelief to really get the most out of them!

Some people take that to the extreme, as if their life really depends on escaping the room. And we love it!

One of our favorite stories came during a very special moment at Deciphered. A couple had reached out to us about getting engaged in one of our rooms. So, we hid the ring halfway through the puzzle as the couple and their families went through.

After the ring was found and the couple shared a brief moment of celebration, the father in the room urged the group to regain focus on the task at hand and help him pump water into a bucket. Yeah, the engagement was special, but that dad wanted to get out before the cabin owner returned!

4. If it can be broken, it will be broken.

This lesson goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. When we first opened, we didn’t understand just how bulletproof we needed to make our rooms. Our first designs included acrylic cabinets whose doors got broke off, pump handles that routinely got snapped in half, and papers that got ripped in half.

We’ve gotten smarter over the last year! Now, our first thought when looking at our design is “how would someone go about breaking this,” and then we set out to try to make it as solid as possible. Anything that’s in the room that can break — from locks to flashlights, computers to furniture — we keep an extra for the occasion where it breaks.

5. Nothing brings people together like an escape room.

We’ve seen every group configuration imaginable in our 15 months of operation: friends, coworkers, families, couples, and total strangers. There is something wildly fascinating about the way an escape room builds bonds in all of these groups.

There have been participants who have introduced themselves to one another in the lobby and exchanged numbers after completing the room. Total strangers who have gone into the room and then huddle around a puzzle, working together to solve it. Even in these make-believe scenarios, the pressure and the challenge of the rooms bring people together.

We pride ourselves in helping people make memories. Sure, you spend an hour in the room, but we want our experience to last long after you stop the timer. We want to be the topic of conversation during the meal you share after the room. We want you to share your picture on social media and talk about how much fun you had. We want you to laugh about puzzles you couldn’t figure out long after you leave our lobby.

We have some rooms with low escape rates, but we want to maintain a 100% success rate when it comes to giving you the best escape room experience we can. Are you ready to unlock your potential, and make a memory at Deciphered? Check out the rooms that we offer. Enjoy 10% off your first booking when you sign up for our mailing list!