In spring of 2018, Florida State University (FSU) launched their first escape room as an additional offering to their FSU Challenge team building program.
Since then, the escape room has gained tremendous popularity among students, campus groups and even the larger Tallahassee community. This popularity has helped FSU campus rec with not only additional revenue, but the ability to further highlight their multitude of recreational offerings.
“When I first heard we were getting this, I was so excited because in the challenge course world, it’s sometimes really hard to come up with new elements,” said Sean Wilkinson, the challenge course coordinator at FSU campus recreation. “But this was one of the first times that it’s completely outside the box where we can still utilize this tool similar to a low challenge course, and it’s very new, different and it’s exciting.”
If you’re considering an escape room for your campus rec center, here are some helpful tips to know:
There are multiple companies who specialize in escape room plans. FSU worked specifically with New Escape Room Designs, Inc. for their bank heist theme. “That company gave us the outline of all the materials we would need, how to set the room up, the flow of what the event would be, and then we went out and bought the materials on their shopping list and had our marketing team create a lot of our art,” said Wilkinson.
As with any investment, you should plan for an expense upfront. Through the company FSU worked with, you can pick from 15 different themes ranging from $475 to $1,050. “I think we did get a larger version, because in that hour and a half window, it’s a lot to do,” said Wilkinson. “I think there might be other companies that do this and maybe instead of a series of 15 problems they go through, it might be seven – I would have a feeling those might be a little cheaper as well. There’s a lot of options out there right now with escape rooms.”
Wilkinson has already seen their escape room pay for itself. “We looked around here in Tallahassee to see how much other escape rooms were charging, took that and decreased it a bit for our students and kept it around that number for outside groups,” he explained.
For a student group of up to 10, FSU charges $130 for an hour and a half in the escape room. For outside groups, they charge $160. Wilkinson elaborated they’ve had more outside groups than student groups and have even taken their escape room to Visit Tallahassee, a community event in the city.
If space is a concern, consider making your escape room portable. FSU has found this to be very beneficial in not only saving space but being able to set their room up anywhere on or off campus. Wilkinson explained the room lives in a couple large totes until it’s needed.
“We got black-out curtains and rods, and we will actually go and set up our room – it can go pretty much anywhere. We’ve set it up outside in the middle of a field, in a classroom and all of our pictures that are part of the clues hang on the wall with hooks,” explained Wilkinson. “So you go into this big curtain room and you feel like you’re in a totally different place even though you’re in the middle of a basketball court.”
Because FSU’s full escape room is portable, they also designed a portable 10-minute demo room to help with marketing and allow people to try four to five easier puzzles, rather than the full challenge. The demo was originally set up in the main rec center lobby for anyone walking by to give it a try, but it has since gained popularity as their special event room. “We were more doing it for marketing at first, but then three student organizations wanted to schedule the demo at their special event, so it became a lot more popular than we thought it would,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson suggests having two staff members present when the room is requested. “A group will fill out a request form online for us ,and they go through and pick the type of program they want – high rope course, low rope course or escape room,” he said. “At that point they tell us the time and date they want to do it, we get in contact with them, staff it and on that date and time we set it up, do it, then take it down.”
During the process of the room, Wilkinson has found having one staff member in the room with participants to explain rules and answer questions, and the other staff member be outside the room, works best. “We did notice whenever there is this giant room, a lot of people want to come over and peek in to see what’s going on, so we have one person that stays on the outside and answers questions of people who come up. They are the marketer while the room is running,” he elaborated.
An escape room can be a great refresh and addition to your campus rec offerings. Overall, if you are considering making the investment, Wilkinson advised the first step is to get a plan from a company that designs escape rooms. “I think it’s pretty easy to come up with five or six clues that flow together, but to actually make the full theme and the ambiance that a lot of people expect, getting the plans from an actual vendor was phenomenal,” he said.