Why leaderboards aren’t useful

When a group is getting excited about entering one of our escape rooms, we are often asked: “what is the record time?” and “what is the escape rate?”. That is a complex question that we’d love to answer if there is time. There are many variables including rates for groups of different sizes, times for groups who didn’t ask for hints, rates for families with kids, how familiar the group is with escape rooms, among others.

Escape room software can keep track of the number of games, escape time and number of hints, among other metrics. What it doesn’t keep track of is number of players in the group, and it can’t keep track of how much time is saved by giving a group a hint, which is nearly impossible to work out.

How has the evolution of escape rooms impacted the time saved by a hint?

Some escape rooms make teams forfeit time for each hint, sometimes 30 seconds to 1 minute, sometimes more. The idea is that without the hint, your group would have struggled for an amount of time that should be reflected in your final time (should you escape). At Next Level Escapes, we give you unlimited hints with no time penalties IF you have asked us to give you hints. We don’t enjoy spoilers, so we start off with something vague and witty and get more specific depending on what you need to advance.

If we did want to adjust the escape time to accurately reflect the time saved for each hint, it would have to depend on the puzzle, which is tricky for two reasons:

1: Puzzles have evolved. Rooms have gone from proof-of-concept, put a bunch of combination locks on everything, to immersive realms with puzzles that reflect the theme. In early escape games, any hint might have saved the group a similar amount of time. As the environment has changed, there is a greater diversity of puzzles offered in each room. Hints have evolved beyond “look under the mat”, to guiding teams through a course of abstract reasoning and deductive thinking. While leaderboards may have a hint limit, there’s little to indicate how much each hint meant to the group.

2: Players have evolved. We ask each group of friends, co-workers or a family on how they would like to have hints for their escape room adventure. Most prefer that if we think they are falling behind, to ask them if they would like a hint. Why? Because they would like to get out. And as owners and game developers, we would love for the team to experience all of the challenges we designed for them. Groups now know enough about escape rooms to know that they will likely not do the same room twice, so they would rather see the whole thing, and ask for more hints as the game progresses to ensure they escape.

In short, the only way to fairly compare times would be to have a zero-hint rule for leaderboards and escape rates – and most groups require at least one hint. As most want hints to ensure they get out, the escape rate is high.

What are the benefits of escape room leaderboards?

From the establishment point of view, leaderboards provides promotion when it is shared on social media each month. It also generates a small amount of pre-entry buzz. But in our opinion, that’s about it. In the Manitoba market, we are isolated from other cities, and don’t have a competitive league where it might be a slightly bigger deal.

Hidden problems with leaderboards

The number of players per group is one hidden element – you don’t know if the record was set by a small group of 3 or a large group of 7. Personal expectations are also then set before entry and could lead to a fair bit of frustration if you don’t get close to the record time. This can take something away from the pride you feel when you escape – instead of the thrill and enjoyment of solving the puzzles and accomplishing the goal, you’re disappointed in not closing in on or beating the time.

Leaderboards also don’t tell you if the group had fun. Did the group immerse themselves in the story, or did they pick their way through the locks and manipulate the game to set the fastest time? Was the group size at the maximum number of people to make sure all the puzzles were solved quick? Did everyone in the group get a chance to participate, or did some take over and rush them through?

Why doesn’t Next Level Escapes use leaderboards?

You can’t really compare one group’s escape to another’s. We want you to have an experience that is completely unique and our team will tailor our service to what satisfies you. If you’ve laughed, had some surprises, felt like a puzzle was challenging, learned something new about your friends and family and had fun, then you’ve succeeded in our books.