Online games have grown increasingly popular over recent years, and there is no question that some of the most successful of these have been virtual escape rooms. When the pandemic hit, escape room companies scrambled to release virtual versions of their games so that players could continue to enjoy them at home. Here at Escapely, we started from scratch to create an online escape room experience built specifically for the virtual world. This is one of the reasons we are so often told our virtual escape room is the best – we didn’t try to adapt physical clues to a virtual environment, but instead developed clues and puzzles perfectly suited for playing online. Over two hundred thousand people have now played our virtual escape rooms with companies ranging from Netflix to Pepsi to Google to Home Depot and everyone in between. There are many benefits, of course, to the participants, such as convenience, safety, connection, strengthening relationships (both professionally and socially), and incorporating engaging team-building activities that will leave your team wanting to come back for more!
What Are Virtual Escape Rooms Like?
There are two types of virtual escape rooms available – self hosted games, in which you play on your own, and hosted games, in which you have dedicated moderators guiding your group through the game. Because Escapely offers both, I can speak to the pros and cons of each.
I’ll start with the fully moderated version. If your group has some members who have never played an escape room before or coworkers who have just met, we would recommend choosing an online escape game with an emcee and dedicated game masters. They will guide you through the experience and make sure everyone is engaged throughout the game. There is no way to get stuck because someone is in the room with you the entire time giving as many hints as you need. Another advantage to this type of game is that every team gets the satisfaction of completing the game! The game master gives as much help as is needed to keep the team on track and make sure everyone makes it to the end of the game. (Of course, hints do count as penalties so there is still a winner at the end based on who finished fastest with the least amount of help.)
If you choose a fully moderated game, you will receive a Zoom link that will take you to your escape game. Upon joining, you are greeted by an emcee who welcomes you and your team in and gets everyone excited to participate. The emcee will begin their introduction by explaining the rules and details of the game. Once the introduction is over, the group will be divided into their teams and begin the race to escape! Once each team is in their individual room, they are greeted by a game master who will guide them through the puzzles to help them escape. Depending on which company you choose, you may have access to the moderators in different ways. Here at Escapely, we have a moderator in the room with each team the whole time. There are other companies who have moderators who bounce around or are “on call” for teams that need them, in which case everyone simply waits their turn for the moderator. Once everyone has escaped, the teams are brought back together in the main room, and the emcee announces the winners!
If your group has very shy people who would prefer not to have an external moderator in the room with them, or needs flexible timing, an unmoderated game is a great choice. In this case, instead of a moderator, hints are available by clicking throughout the game. The hints do come with penalties, just like in the moderated game, but are available for the team to decide when and how to use them. In this style of game, the time slot is not set in stone as you are not relying on live staff. So if you need to make a last-minute change to the start time, it is no problem!
The puzzles at the best virtual escape rooms are varied to allow everyone to participate. Some people are great at solving math puzzles, while others are phenomenal at solving word puzzles. At Escapely, we are often told the varied puzzles are the best part of the game because everyone has a chance to showcase their strengths, so you will want to choose a virtual escape room that offers a similarly wide variety.
How Are Virtual Escape Rooms Different From In-Person Escape Rooms
The best virtual escape rooms have the advantage of bringing people together from all around the world. Unlike in-person escape rooms that require everyone to be in the same space, virtual escape rooms can be played by people in any time zone and all over the world. They also have the advantage of providing participants with an unlimited number of hints. In fact, at Escapely, our virtual rooms guarantee that everyone will escape within the allotted time with our moderators. Virtual escape rooms also emphasize teamwork and problem-solving, because they rely on pure communication.
There aren’t many disadvantages of virtual escape rooms to be totally honest, but the few disadvantages would be that they are less active than in-person escape rooms (as they do not require walking around). There is also the problem that less tech-savvy people may struggle with the functionalities, making it difficult for them to participate fully, and technological issues may arise for participants. Luckily, many hosts are quick to think on their feet to combat any technology issues that may arise.
One advantage of in-person escape rooms would be that they are more hands-on and more physical activity may be involved (such as walking from room to room and searching for clues). Probably the biggest disadvantage of in-person escape rooms is that not everyone may finish within the allotted time. As I said before, at Escapely we always make sure that everyone in our virtual escape rooms finishes the game by providing as many hints as needed! We want everyone to get that feeling of victory! Most in-person escape rooms will not do that. It is crucial to consider all of these factors when you find escape games to fit into your next team-building activity.
Tips on Choosing a Virtual Escape Room
Finding the best virtual escape room option doesn’t need to be a cumbersome task. By researching online and reading reviews you can quickly see how past attendees liked (or didn’t like) a particular escape room. You can also look for easy wins or losses such as the amount of hand-holding you will have through the booking process, the amount of staff you will have present throughout the event, and the variety of puzzles.
We recommend starting with a list of your most important goals. For example, if you are trying to augment relationships on the team, you will want to choose an escape room that provides moderators throughout to engage participants. If you are trying to bond teams through competition, you will want to choose an escape room that divides participants amongst teams and announces a winner at the end. If you are wanting to develop skills such as leadership and problem solving, you will want to choose a virtual escape room that is challenging and tests varied skills.
Level of Difficulty
When you find escape games online, it is important to look for escape rooms that are difficult enough to be challenging but not too tricky such that they are impossible to complete. You will also want to consider the amount of help provided. Some experiences provide a dedicated game master to guide each team through their experience. This makes their virtual escape game less challenging because help is readily available anytime. Others have no moderators but hints are available by clicking. Different groups are better suited to either one. We provide both at Escapely, and we always recommend the moderated version for a typical player who is enjoying an escape room for the first time with their company. These players typically have more questions. For participants who have played many escape rooms, we recommend the version with hints available at a click. No matter what, you will want to be sure that everyone on the team feels accomplished at the end because to make a successful team building event, everyone should feel jubilant!
Theme and Storyline
The best online escape rooms for team building offer a variety of scenarios to choose from. The top-rated escape rooms always offer a variety of themes and storylines, along with a dedicated moderator who can guide them through the entire experience. Teams are able to participate in several different storylines, which allows them to keep coming back each time for more fun!
When choosing a storyline, consider the group that will be attending. For office events, we would not recommend anything too dark or gory or any themes that could be triggering. If children will be attending, you will want to avoid anything too scary. We also recommend taking into account diversity, equity, and inclusion and making sure the themes are not culturally insensitive or exclusionary.
The most important thing is to choose a theme that will be exciting, resonate with your group, and get everyone charged up to escape quickly and beat the clock or the other teams!
Number of Participants
When searching for the best online escape rooms for team building, it’s important to make sure that they can accommodate the number of participants you plan to have attend your team building activity. On the upper end, some virtual escape rooms online will allow you to invite as many people as you wish, while others have limits on the number of participants. On the lower end, some online escape rooms can be done with as few as two people, while others require a larger number of participants to make the experience possible. Most virtual escape rooms can be played with very small teams (or even solo) if necessary.
If you have a very large group and want to have them in an event all at the same time, an app-based game is going to be your best bet. These typically have no limits as to the number of participants. If you have a large group but really need moderators in the rooms with participants, you will be limited by the number of moderators a company has for the event. At Escapely, for example, we can typically host groups up to about 500 in a session all at the same time. For larger groups, we recommend splitting into multiple sessions (which also has the added benefit of accommodating different time zones).
No matter which virtual escape room you choose, you will need some form of technology. Zoom is a common platform used for virtual escape rooms because of the ease of its functionalities. Zoom offers an annotation feature, making it easy for participants to solve puzzles by drawing all over their screens for others to see. Teams can also easily be divided quickly amongst the breakout rooms provided by Zoom. Teams start in a main room, divide into their breakout rooms, and then once all teams have escaped, they can be brought back into the main room to announce the winners! If Zoom is not possible, there are many other platforms also available, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and WebEx. All of them offer some video conferencing features. A good virtual team building or escape room company will be able to help you navigate any platform you must use. While we prefer Zoom at Escapely, we can help us clients execute excellent events over any of the platforms.
After you have chosen a platform, you can typically join these platforms through different laptops, phones, or tablets. All you need to do is have one of these devices accessible to you and be sure to have the appropriate application downloaded in advance.
Pricing can vary considerably among providers. In most cases, virtual escape rooms are priced per person. With fully staffed events, more staff and game masters must be provided, and the expenses scale accordingly. With unmoderated events, there are still greater technology costs and setup costs, but these will be more affordable than the fully staffed events. Of course, pricing will always increase as the group size gets larger.
Steps to Beating a Virtual Escape Room
Virtual escape rooms are designed to provide challenging puzzles that are fun and engaging for the entire team. However, your team must show up prepared in order to be fully equipped to escape their virtual escape room in time. Each puzzle is different, and teams can escape quickly if each team member has a unique skill that they can contribute. Thinking quickly and working efficiently is the key to success!
1. Communicate with your Team
Communication is key when you are working with your team to escape. If you and your team coordinate efficiently to tackle different parts of the puzzle at once, you can cut your escape time in half! When solving a puzzle, we recommend listening to each other’s input carefully. Everyone thinks about things differently and it’s likely other people on the team will see something you missed or have a different approach. In turn, that might allow you to notice something else! We always recommend saying absolutely everything you notice out loud for everyone to hear.
This is one of the main reasons that team size is so important – you will want to choose an experience with appropriately sized teams (not too small or too big) so that everyone can contribute their thoughts and ideas equally. Teams that are too small in size will not have a large variety of ideas to communicate, which may mean taking longer to solve the puzzles. Teams that are too big in size may also need help communicating because too many ideas are circulating, and it will take longer for everyone to be on the same page before the puzzle can be solved. Find escape games that know how to appropriately divide your group so they can utilize communication to their fullest potential, then, communicate out loud from start to finish!
2. Stay organized with Information and Clues
Escape rooms can be defeated if your team efficiently gathers clues and stays organized with their collected information. Your team can stay organized by taking notes along the way, writing down anything that was solved in previous puzzles, and noting clues. If your platform allows, we highly suggest annotating neatly on the screen for all to see. As often as you can, exchange notes with other team members who might notice something you did not.
Having a piece of paper and a pen available throughout the game is the best way to stay organized and collect any important information. For extra efficiency, teams can designate one person to organize the clues found by the entire team. That way, all information is kept neatly in one place, and it allows everyone to review the clues you have collected.
3. Stay optimistic and work together
The top-rated escape rooms highlight teamwork and optimism as the most crucial elements to winning. When teams can work together in the face of great challenges, they will need to stay positive to persevere. Remaining optimistic will also encourage your other team members to keep trying, which is an important life skill. And by staying optimistic, you will help others remain optimistic as well. Teams that give up too quickly can become unmotivated and will not escape in time!
The best approach to staying optimistic is by sharing words of encouragement. Rather than dismissing an idea you do not like, if someone’s idea doesn’t quite work, try saying, “That was a great idea! Let’s keep exploring other avenues. We got this team!” This keeps everyone engaged and feeling like their ideas matter.
Ready to Play? Look for a Top Rated Escape Room
Now that you have read our helpful tips and tricks, you are fully equipped to enter the magnificent world of virtual escape games. These pointers should help you choose a virtual escape room that is highly rated, engaging, and most importantly, will create a powerful experience for your team.