Where others see obstacles, companies like JNR Entertainment see opportunities and seize them.
When all entertainment venues had to close during the Covid-19 circuit breaker last year, the 12-year-old event company acted fast to develop online editions of their escape room events.
JNR Entertainment has since hosted over 1,000 runs in its virtual escape rooms, said its founder, Mr Robin Goh. Hosting the virtual sessions is making so much business sense that Mr Goh said he will focus on delivering online experiences rather than going back to the old ways.
“It’s an extremely scalable model instead of a brick-and-mortar escape room, which can only cater to five to 10 people at the same time,” said Mr Goh.
He added: “The upfront development cost is higher for virtual [escape rooms] … but for the long term physical escape room rentals will be a burden.”
As Singapore returned to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) in mid-May to curb the rise in community infections, JNR Entertainment is seeing an increase in bookings for its online escape rooms. In one session that I took part in on 21 May, there were some 30 of us assigned to four breakout rooms on Zoom. Over the internet, we tried finding clues and solving puzzles together in a bid to unlock the virtual doors.
Personally, I enjoy the virtual session as there are more players compared to the physical sessions, making it easier for us to crack the riddles and escape from the room. This is also a safe way for people to enjoy each other’s company during a pandemic.
Some other young Singaporeans also appreciate the online gameplay.
Mr Brandon Chow Jin Hao, 23, has tried an online escape room and found the experience “fun and memorable”.
“The main goal for me is to have fun through the process and the online [escape room] achieves this as well, so for me, it doesn’t really matter if it’s online or physical,” said Mr Chow.
On the other hand, Mr Daryl Yeo Yong Kiat, 21, said he prefers the good old physical rooms.
“I would prefer a physical escape room because it’s more immersive … it’s as though you’re actually at a place where there’s a story and you can solve things in person,” said Mr Yeo.
He added: “It’s more fun to do physical puzzles than to click on an online screen, and if I’m paying money, I would rather be paying money for a different experience.”
However, the full-time National Serviceman does appreciate the availability of these online games when face-to-face meetings are not allowed. Early this year, he bonded with his platoon mates in a virtual escape room.
“I wouldn’t say [online escape rooms are] as effective as having a meet-up in person, but in these situations, I would say it is one of the better ways to have bonding activities with people online,” said Mr Yeo.
Both physical and online escape rooms are priced similarly at approximately $20 per person.
Mr Chow said when both options are available, he would prefer to spend on a physical game as it is less prone to technical interruptions, unlike online escape rooms where one might experience “loss of connection” and “lagging”.
But Mr Goh is confident that his company’s online escape rooms and other virtual offerings will remain in demand even when social distancing is no longer required after the pandemic is over.
“… People will still be able to accept virtual events, [and] no longer just physical events,” said Mr Goh.
“I will say that online escape rooms will be here to stay.”
More information about JNR Entertainment’s online escape room can be found here.