Imagine looking no further for an AV installation job than your local strip mall. But this isn’t your average digital signage, security system, or lighting and sound control gig; it’s all of that and more. Escape room technology typically consists of a broad range of installs, including signage, security, displays, lighting control, and more — and just like any business, they need talented tech people to install all of that technology. And they need those people to work creatively.
Escape rooms — for those who aren’t among the millions who’ve tried them over the last few years — are the latest leisure craze which pit participants against puzzle rooms where the objective is to… well… escape. There are over 2000 of them across the United States, a number which many predict will continue to climb.
When Will Integrators Embrace Escape Rooms?
These businesses typically populate malls: a habitat many integrators are already familiar with. To compete with other flashy entertainment venues therein, escape rooms commonly feature bright digital signage displays welcoming curious puzzlers in for an hour with their friends. They also need fake “alarm” systems to go off if their contestants unlock the room’s puzzle or get caught cheating; dazzling video walls displaying high-definition visual clues; sound systems which play audio samples at certain points during the experience; and a myriad of other systems. Sounds like a creative integrator’s gravy train, right?
Well, I contacted some of the top-rated escape rooms across the country, and the results were a little disheartening for the #proAV community. It appears many of these high-end businesses have their own, in-house tech teams who use Linux and Raspberry Pi to program their own signage and control systems. The employees are trained in programming, game development, and theater production — which makes sense. Some of them, like Locked In @ Birmingham in Alabama, even hire forensic scientists for the puzzle design.
One of the reasons the typical escape room doesn’t hire a third party AV business could be a marketing miscommunication: usually, commercial tech is used to send an obvious (sales-driven) message; not to challenge people’s craniums. But none of this should discourage creative integrators who wish to involve themselves in more memorable projects.
Bryan Meszaros of Open Eye Global has some advice on unlocking the escape room market.
How Your Creative AV Business Can Break In
Bryan’s team has already scouted for jobs in escape rooms and other interactive leisure spaces with a focus on technology. One of Open Eye Global’s recent projects was the Ghostbusters exhibit at Madam Tussaude’s Wax Museum in NYC: a 15-minute walk-through of different interactive sets based on the movie.
He says it’s a promising market for those willing to cooperate creatively and understand the demands of escape room technology.
The financial and retail markets like to hire in-house, but there’s still not a large amount of people who specialize in this, and it’s still a challenge to find them. There’s definitely an opportunity for integrators to get involved in that space — it’s a huge opportunity for any integrator to redefine themselves. The interactive entertainment space – playing on gamifcation and the want for unique tech – plays such a role in keeping these types of facilities the next growth area.
Before AV installers give their sales pitch, though, they need to know what type of escape room technology is needed if that pitch is successful.
“It’s different, and people are afraid of it because it’s not a typical AV business approach. There’s a lot more ingenuity needed,” Bryan says.
But for some, the biggest challenge will come in the form of working cooperatively with other, more classically-trained creatives. Bryan says hopeful integrators need to understand how to work alongside fabricators, designers, and, yes, even forensic scientists. They won’t know about system reliability like integrators do, so selling the maintenance angle is the way to go.
Creative Integrators NEED to Code to Maximize Escape Room Technology
Bryan says another critical part of breaking into this niche market is the ability to code. Open Eye Global recently designed a runway-themed exhibit which required many control elements with a single user panel. His team needed to custom-code all of the trigger-based systems by hand.
“No longer can it be CMS cookie-cutter,” he says. “You’ll need to employ more high-end programming to make the desired effects.”
Despite these challenges, Bryan says the interactive entertainment space is a deep well for driven AV businesses to tap.
I love it, since you can create something from scratch. You’re using all of this technology you’re already familiar with but now you get to do something different with it. There’s no wrong- or right-answer – there’s room for experimentation, so don’t overthink your way into one of these jobs. Nobody really has the right way to approach these tech problems. ‘We can adapt your approach and work with you’ is the right mindset—don’t be intimidated and rest on the fundamentals.