Hi Lex. For how long have you been working at clueQuest?
I joined clueQuest in February 2018 as part of the first wave of hires in the newly formed business unit. I joined with a simple remit - grow revenues for clueQuest! So just under 2 years and I’m still learning every day. Watching the launch of cQ’s new escape games, new corporate facilities both in events and education as well as helping launch VR games for our partners Ubisoft Blue Byte, have been some of the highlights, with much more to come! So I’ve been in escape games for 4 years and at clueQuest for just under 2 of them.
In such a new field, a wealth of experience in the right niche seems like a rarity. Lucky us! Can you tell us more about your professional background?
I’ve worked in sales since 2003, and I’d say all sales are partnerships. Since starting out in soft drinks, I’ve moved in to media & magazines, then live video and digital advertising before stepping into the world of escape games. In 2015 I joined Time Run, a premium escape room with a commitment to providing a fully immersive journey. It was my first real commercial role in escape games and immediately I understood that I’m selling more than just a game or a story. Rather, it’s often the end goal that I’m approached with. [Clients] know what they want to get out of it, but they don’t know how to get there, and that’s my job: To help them understand what it is they’re going to do.
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about escape rooms amongst the people you speak to?
On paper saying ‘how would you like to get locked in a room with your workmates’ can be a hard sell and can be met with disdain. It sounds not fun to get locked in a room with [your] work colleagues and try to escape. [In crazy golf or bowling] the winning or losing maybe doesn’t matter so much, but in an escape room you’re against an unknown and you can only go on what the games maker tells you is the average. So there’s quite a lot of misconceptions that teams will be bad or not enjoy it. But I know it’s a misconception because we get so many responses saying ‘oh my god, I thought I was going to hate this and I absolutely love it.' People also assume there’s nothing to learn from it, but what sets it apart from just going to the pub or something like table tennis is that it’s clear what you’ve achieved, it’s clear how you’ve collaborated. With a sport people think, ‘I know whether I’m good or bad at it; I know that it’s singularly up to me to be good or bad at it’, whereas this is a ‘people’ challenge laid into a room. You actually probably learn quite a bit more about how you communicate with each other, how you handle pressure, how adaptable and flexible you are, even how creative you are.
CAP, our assessment programme, helps teams to develop their soft skills inside the room. What’s your take on that?
We look to open people up; to get them to communicate in a way that allows everyone to hear and be heard. CAP uses escape rooms as a proxy for the workplace but it’s not about the task you’re given, it’s about the people that you work together with to complete something. So the room is, really, you know, a proxy for 3 to 6 people with a time limit, [like you’d see] at work. Soft skills are not done in isolation, you need other people to demonstrate them. I’ve seen results firsthand where people problems have come to life within the game, but because of the shared challenge, the unreal environment and the timer clicking down, those people issues have been solved because it’s a real easy way to click into ‘this is your team, you’re all part of it, you’ll be successful or not based on how well you do things together,’ so that has kind of mitigated any hierarchy that has come into the room, or any personal problems that people have with each other.
So you mentioned having seen results first-hand. Could you elaborate on that? Perhaps there’s a moment that seems particularly memorable to you.
In one of the sessions with IAG, I watched an embedded personality clash within a team get unpicked after a CAP game, because they were able to constructively feed back to each other in front of the rest of the team. The organizer said ‘wow, I’ve just watched that problem be dissolved in two minutes. I remember that one because while other groups will have resolved those problems at work, the fact that it was done on-site made it feel like an achievement.
Is there anything you feel you’ve learnt from this job, that you’ll remember for years to come?
This job has taught me respect for people’s motivations even if they’re unclear to you. One to one people respect is paramount. Escape rooms are a really unique thing to do. I can’t think of any parallels in an entertainment or social capacity, and so the person who comes through the door doesn’t necessarily know what they’re going to get. The real objectives quite often have nothing to do with the games. You know, they’re about the business objectives; they’re about making sure the content developed for their team is delivered in a way that lands and is actioned. We can help do that, but need to be empathetic when we’re trying to get a measure of how a client will interact with the game. The questions can blindside them, and quite rightly. You don’t turn up to a restaurant and get asked ‘how good are you at eating?’, so it’s important to treat them with respect.