We sat down with Mike, co-owner and founder or MindTrix, for a little Q&A!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and who you are!
I’m originally from Delaware. I attended the US Air Force Academy where I received a degree in electrical engineering and then served for nearly a decade as an officer in US Air Force Combat Rescue. After separating from the military, I’ve had a variety of jobs from manufacturing to distribution and even a stint in banking. My dream was always to one day run a business, either as a CEO or an entrepreneur. When I used to have more spare time, I was very active in outdoor adventure sports including skydiving and SCUBA diving, whitewater kayaking, snow kiting, skiing/snowboarding, rock climbing/mountaineering and triathlons. We were blessed with twins 3 days (!!!) after we opened the doors to our business, so my time is mainly divided between the business and the kiddos these days.
2. How did your interest in escape rooms begin and what motivated you to start your own escape room business?
My family is dispersed across the US so we all get together different places during holidays. In Dec 2016 my family visited us in Vancouver, WA (where we lived at the time). We were trying to think of something to do and escape rooms came up as an idea. We knew of them but really had no idea what they were all about. We decided to try one and played at Northwest Escape Experience. The game master (and one of the owners) was hilarious and even though we failed miserably, we had a terrific time. Following that, we’d find an escape room (or several) to play whenever we got together for holidays. Eventually Daniela and I started playing them on our own. She is originally from Bulgaria so we even played a bunch in Eastern Europe! We loved it and slowly began discussing opening our own. At the end of 2017 we decided to make it happen and I quit my job in early 2018 to start up MindTrix.
3. Can you tell us about the design and build process of our escape rooms?
It’s a challenge! There is so much more to it than might appear at first glance. Building permits and planning to modify the building to your needs. Planning the games, including how they will be laid out, the puzzles, storyline, sequence, clues, difficulty, décor/furniture. Implementing all of that (including a ton of wiring and electronics in our games which has to be installed, programmed and tested). Finally, beta testing with newer and experienced players alike to ensure the game makes sense, the story works well, the game flows nicely and the difficulty is accurate. All-in-all it takes months to take a game from concept to being player ready.
4. What makes our rooms different? How do you ensure that our rooms stand out?
There are several things that we try to do differently from many escape rooms. One is that we’ve made all our games family friendly. While we will eventually have more adult-appropriate games we wanted to focus initially on games that could be played by the whole family. We find the experience very rewarding as a family activity and too often there are age limits that preclude children from participating.
Secondly, we wanted to offer the latest generation of games. When we played in Bulgaria, where the escape room industry was more mature than the US at the time, we witnessed incredible games that we’d never seen an equal to in the US up to that point. Rather than moving from lock to lock, we embed a ton of electronics into multiple rooms with story-based objectives that do not require escaping. This opens up infinite possibilities as we’re not required to come up with a story that ends with you having to escape and also allows the immersion factor to go through the roof! Our games require interaction with your environment much more than looking for a combination or a key. My education in electrical engineering made me naturally gravitate toward this idea and has been a blessing when implementing electrical controls into the games.
Next, we really tried our best to focus on the storylines for the game. Daniela and I found that we had the most fun playing games where we understood the story, felt a sense of purpose for everything in the game and understood what we were supposed to be doing and why. When we played games where the story was weak, we were often confused and did not feel satisfied with the experience. For example, finding a four-digit code and then trying multiple locks in the game that required four digits until one of them opened, but not having any sense regarding how it tied into the story. We always found the storyline even more important than the particular puzzles in a game.
Finally, we chose not to limit clues and hints. To earn a spot on our leaderboard you cannot have played the game before nor ask for more than 3 clues/hints. Aside from that, there is no limit for our games. We’ve found that people would like to know what remained if they did not beat the game and see what they might have missed if they did not catch every clue/detail. At the end of the day, we want people to have fun. Players can decide for themselves how difficult they want to make it for themselves and to us, bragging about having a game with a single digit completion rate makes no sense.
5. How do you approach the balance between challenge and enjoyment in our escape rooms? Can you tell us about any particular puzzles or elements that were particularly challenging to create, yet rewarding for your customers?
Challenge is truly in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes puzzles just click with people and they see the solution immediately. Others can ask for multiple clues and still don’t see the solution because their thought process just works in a different way. Prior escape room experience also plays a large part in how difficult games feel to people. What I can say with certainty is that it is a fallacy that an IQ score influences success to any large degree. We try very hard to make our games achievable for most people if they ask for a few hints. If a puzzle is not intuitive, then we feel that it is challenging in the wrong way. Players shouldn’t have to have been in the mind of the creator to figure them out. We also try very hard to not require any kind of outside knowledge to solve a puzzle, since that is not fair. This balance and philosophy hopefully make puzzles naturally fun for most players. Regarding being challenging to create, the props and puzzles that have a lot of detailed woodworking and embedded electronics are the most difficult but are also some of the coolest to see in action! I can’t be any more specific than this because I don’t like to ruin surprises!
6. What makes escape rooms great, in your opinion?
Escape rooms are a group activity that really requires the whole team to participate and interact in a fun, collaborative way. I can’t easily think of other activities that can say the same without requiring some sort of physical element like a ropes course, for example. Escape rooms can be made for any age and with today’s availability of materials and technology, pretty much any idea you can dream up can be implemented. We try to make a fantasy world where players feel they are stars in their own movie-like adventure. There aren’t many activities that can compare!
7. What’s your favourite part about your job/ owning an escape room?
I get to see people have fun for a living! I also get to constantly improve myself from both business and creative perspectives. I’m always trying to figure out how to make the next game more mind-blowing, the customer experience better and the business run more smoothly. There is always a new challenge to seek and I love to be tested in that regard. This is probably why I like playing escape rooms! 🙂