Hakan welcomes us in one of the rooms the guests of his company Escape Events usually try to escape from within one hour time. The atmosphere is relaxed and constructs a creative environment. Perfect for an interview. The first surprise is when Hakan tells us that this kind of usage of the rooms is not unordinary anymore. The rooms have overcome its original purpose to solely provide a game. They nowadays serve as conference rooms, assessment centers or creative thinking rooms for companies.
Live-Escape Games are going through the roof right now. From one Live-Escape Game host in early 2013 there were about hundred in the end of 2015. Taking a closer look at the Live-Escape Game landscape in Frankfurt am Main, this trend is still growing.
We wanted to know more about this trend that seems to touch the nerve of our society. So we arranged an interview with Hakan, owner and one of the creative minds behind the number one exit-room host Escape Events in Frankfurt and the game-developing company Into-Games.
Hakan, what is your attitude towards video/digital games?
I like digital games a lot, especially when it comes to relaxing after a long day and having fun with friends. My work, however, is all about the so called live games. So no digital media, no video games.
What is your first memory concerning gaming?
Gaming has always been a part of my life. I remember playing board games like Monopoly, Risiko, etc. as a child and never being quite satisfied with it. So what I did was to always try to advance and extend those games. I think I’ve always been the kind of guy to step the game up(laughs)
What is your all time favorite video game?
Diablo. I think it is because it satisfies the hunter and food-gatherer in me.
What was the last game that really surprised you?
The last game I was really surprised by was the table game “Exit the Room” from Kosmos, which is an adaptation of Live-Escape Games. I had some really nice gaming evenings with my friends with this game.
How long does your game-developing company “Into-Games” already exist?
Into-Games was founded with our head of creativity Nina Windisch last year. Our target was to conquer a niche and offer games for everyone.
What are your special fields?
We create everything except computer- and board games fitting perfectly for the interests of our customers. Our projects range from small businesses, over large multicorporate enterprises, but we also do small charitable projects. For Daimler for example, we transferred the concept of agility by gaming throughout the whole worldwide company network. For Vodafone we had a fun project where we “kidnapped” the CEO. The employees were transformed to agents whose task was to follow traces and free their boss. At the moment we are developing games especially designed for disabled children, in order to enable them access to games. You see, our specialty is to design games which are perfectly fitting the needs of our commissioner.
On your website you defined the term “game” in reference to Emanuel Kant. Do you have some other forms of cultural impacts concerning game development and creation?
Kant’s definition pretty well sums up our understanding of games. Over everything, games are supposed to make fun. Beyond that we devote a lot of time to think about game philosophy. In this regard we brainstorm a lot about why games make fun, what we can do to improve the fun in games and how we can improve games to increase levels of endorphin released by people playing them.
Is your team consciously composed in a way that a maximum of cultural spillovers can occur?
(Laughs) I never thought about it that way, but yes our team has really some different cultural and ethnic influences. I cannot say that we composed our team multicultural on purpose, but I’m convinced that diversity certainly does have a positive effect in a creative environment.
Your projects are widely dispersed throughout the layers of society – from schools, over soccer teams from the German Bundesliga to TV shows. What status does gaming have in our contemporary society?
The process of creating riddles and games is completely detached from the social status or rank the audience inherits. This is the nice thing about games of whatever type. I believe that gaming is able to interconnect its players in a way that it creates a platform where social background does not matter anymore.
Do you think of games as some kind of art?
Yes, a little bit. When we develop games, exhibits or props there can be involved quite some artistic processes. Also, when staging some scenes in our Live-Escape Games, this has some kind of stage direction flair to it. For example, integrating dramaturgy within a game can quite be a balancing act, where I can see a lot of influence from movies, music, and theatre.
How do mobile devices like smartphones change game development?
Mobile devices have a huge impact on game development since they open up a whole lot of new possibilities for designing games. The Whereigo geocaching game for example used augmented reality from a very early stage on. In my field of work, however, we concentrate on the non-digital side of gaming.
Would you say that there are culturally interdependent influences in gaming?
Well I myself come from two different cultural circles and can say that the games are different yet serve the same purpose. Gaming certainly has an effect on our culture like culture influences gaming. In some games, we use music that is able to emphasize phases of tension or also mirror moments of tranquility. Gaming on the other side has become a major topic in our society. It cannot be coincidence that the most clicked youtuber is one that broadcasts game walkthroughs.
How easy or hard was it to bring the idea of Live-Escape Games on the local market of Frankfurt?
That was a lot of work. We have the aspiration to be perfect in what we do. To provide this service for our audience was and is the main challenge in introducing the people of Frankfurt to the concept of Live-Escape Games. Meanwhile we do have people coming from other cities throughout Germany to play our rooms.
Did you run any kind of marketing campaign to create attention for Live-Escape Games?
No, we mainly benefited from word-of-mouth advertising.
How do you follow the fast development of competitors on the market of Live-Escape Games? What are your future steps to stay ahead of them?
Well first of all, this development means that people like the concept of Live-Escape Games, which is good. Of course, there can be a saturation of the market, which we’ve seen in Istanbul, where we are also active with Live-Escape Games. There, we were number 9 host of Live-Escape Games , when within one year there were over 300 new hosts entering the market. Then, of course, there is a selection in the market. In Frankfurt, however, this competition has not reached those levels so far. My motto is, if you do a good job, you will not have to worry.
Are there any opponents of this development of Live-Escape Games?
(Laughs) Maybe the state departments. No, seriously, I can’t imagine that anyone has a problem with games. I hope not, at least (laughs again).
Why are your rooms special compared to other hosts?
We always try to integrate our games motivic, which is probably the most significant difference. We focus a lot on integrity and coherence, it is the overall image that matters.
How long does the process of creating an Escape Room usually take?
Sometimes it can go really fast and take only one month. More often it takes at least three months to find ideas, make concepts and build the final room.
Do the rooms have different levels of difficulty?
We try to make every room somewhat similar in regard to the level of difficulty. Our goal is to make playing a room interesting, funny and joyful no matter if there are two or eight, nine or ten players.
What measures do you take to act against expectations of the players of the room, i.e. to “shock” them?
We always try to balance the integration of the unexpected with the fulfillment of the expected. Let’s say a room is designed as a lab. Then of course there has to be a microscope, because that is what people expect there to be. Still there have to be new things that result in that “wow-effect”, when something surprising happens that no one would have expected. And that’s what is the task of us as game-developers, that we always can think of new ways to provide that innovation.
Do you think that the new generation who grow up with the internet will play Live-Escape Games more frequently than today’s group of customers? Can you think of a direction where Live-Escape Games will head in the future?
When we started with Live-Escape Games the most frequent thing I was confronted with was: “Sure sure, this is just a short-dated trend that is gone in the next second”. From the beginning I believed in the idea of close-to-reality games. In my opinion Live-Escape Games are just the beginning of a whole cascade of games of this kind that will pop up in the close future.