On October 26, 2015 we ran the world's first Escape Room Unconference, which brought together 60 escape room owners, designers, and enthusiasts to Toronto, Ontario to talk about escapes!
The conference chair was Dr. Scott Nicholson, the director of the Brantford Games Network lab and WLU Brantford professor. The venue was provided by the Transmedia Zone, led by Dr. Richard Lachman, Director of the Transmedia Zone/Transmedia Research Centre and an Associate Professor, Digital Media in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. The evening social event was hosted by Riddle Room, an escape room facility and board game cafe in downtown Toronto.
Unconferences are different than traditional conferences, as the topics are generated by the participants, and the day is then a series of discussions There are no formal speakers, as the experts are the attendees. It is a day of sharing information, asking questions, and building networks.
One of the things that is exciting about the Escape Room community is that, unlike most of gaming, there is significant female representation in both designers and players.
The first step in the day is coming up with topics. Attendees were asked to propose topics of interest, which got people up and engaging right away.
Dr. Nicholson then worked to put similar topics together and place them into the schedule grid in order to create the topics for the day.
And the conference planning is complete! Time to talk escapes! pic.twitter.com/Aoulufu9z9— Scott Nicholson (@snicholson) October 26, 2015
Here are the topics in textual form:
Topic 1: future of escape rooms
Topic 2: children in escape rooms
Topic 3:physical puzzles
Topic 4: escape games on a large scale
Topic 1: puzzle design
Topic 2: advertising and marketing
Topic 3: pricing and associations
Topic 4: replayability
Topic 1: storytelling and narrative
Topic 2: apps and software
Topic 3: durability and set design
Topic 4: beta testing
Topic 1: devices and electronics
Topic 2: effective hint providing
Topic 3:what do you wish you had known?
Topic 4: room designs that reset themselves
The sessions were not recorded, as these were not formal or prepared presentations. Instead, these were discussions around the topics, and if they were being recorded, that would create a barrier to people being as open with their questions and stories. There was great demand for video of the event from the Escape Room community, but small group informa discussions are not appropriate for that type of content creation.
Groups were asked to develop three points from the session and to record notes in a shared Google document from the sessions. Some groups followed this request, while others did not.
The google document with information from the day, which is still being updated, can be found at
At the end of the day, there was a small activity exploring what a full Escape Room Conference might look like, with considerable interest in exploring Niagara Falls as a venue.
Afterwards, we went to Riddle Room where people played escape rooms and continued the discussion for a few hours before escaping back home!
Attendees seemed engaged throughout the day. One attendee commented that the day just flew by, as the pace kept people moving from discussion to discussion. For a nacent field, the unconference is a great model, as there aren't established speakers that people will travel to see.