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Thousands of escape rooms around the world offer brainy, fun games but not all of them know what's the key to long-term success. Georgi, the founder of Offline, seems to have found the secret.
Offline. A well-known escape game brand in Bulgaria that is ready to cross the borders and conquer Europe. Their escape rooms are present in several Bulgarian cities and are among the most popular ones by constantly improving and providing puzzles that even seasoned players find challenging. Georgi Papucharov, the founder of the series believes in the increasing importance of offline activities in today’s world. During our conversation with him, we mainly focused on practical issues such as the marketing of an escape room.
Escape-rooms.com: First off, I would like to ask you about the state of escape rooms in Bulgaria.
Georgi Papucharov: Hm, where should I start...there are 60+ escape rooms in Sofia alone right now. That is a telling data. it’s all started here started back in 2014.
Escape-rooms.com: Is it mostly a Sofia-thing?
Georgi Papucharov: There are escape rooms in all of the major cities. Offline has games in two cities, three in Sofia, one in Stara Zagora (no other games there).A lot of rooms are popping up everyday across the country. Just to show you some statistics, in the first quarter of 2015, there were 6-7 rooms in Sofia. It turned out to be an extremely popular form of entertainment here. As the room count increases - the quality of the rooms also does.
I’ve been in few countries and have experience playing very different games. So I can say that the quality in Bulgaria is very high.
Escape-rooms.com: As for now, the industry is dynamically growing almost everywhere, a trend that is incredible to follow and to be part of. To hear and know that Bulgaria is among these countries, is great.
Georgi Papucharov: Yes, but as for now, in Bulgaria the market is still small for so many rooms. As only like 20-30 percent of the people have heard of escape rooms. At the same time, it is important to note that only the best ones can manage to sustain the same quality over a long time period. Also, there is a kind of escape room community in the country, and they tend to be pretty critical. Certain teams have played more than 50-60 rooms.
Escape-rooms.com: That is something like Toronto, where you can find dedicated review teams and bloggers. Bulgaria has to be really special!
Georgi Papucharov: I believet so. We have a platform here where most of the players are adding their pictures of the games they’ve played. We have meetings where enthusiasts and business owners share their ideas - and drink beer, of course!
Escape-rooms.com: What are the major themes in the country? Do you see some patterns?
Georgi Papucharov: In the beginning, there were certain patterns that most of the businesses foloowed: creating an ordinary room, with a desk, a chair, white walls. Since then, pretty much everything has changed. Wee have rooms with a variety of themes - from scary, horror rooms to ones designed exclusively for kids. Pirates, robots and else. Howeverm there are not a lot of rooms related to the local culture. Sure, for tourists, those kind of rooms can be pretty interesting.
Escape-rooms.com: How do you - in case you consider this to be important - keep track of the statistics?
Georgi Papucharov: We have developed an internal sofware (as our main business is software/game development) where we keep a variety of details about every player. Age gender, contact information, happines level.
Every team has its own ‘file’ where we can check when and where they’ve played, the duration of the game etc. We believe that many age groups are represented in our audience.
The players leaving our rooms are generally very positive, speak highly of the quality. I’ve personaly played more than 50 rooms - many of them not in Bulgaria, and I believe that the quality here is top notch.
Escape-rooms.com: The proper marketing of an escape room is crucial…
Georgi Papucharov: The best marketing of an escape room is the "Viral" one, in my opinion. Or let’s say, word-of-mouth. There is no better advertisement than happy peoplel explaining their escape experience to their friends. More than 50% of our customers are coming because they heard about the games from friends, family. We do our best to make them happy, and to encourage them to share their experiance with friends.
Then of course digital marketing takes a good part of the thing.
Escape-rooms.com: With regards to digital marketing, what do you consider the most important here?
Georgi Papucharov: Social media is maybe the most important I think. Good looking, periodically updated facebook pages with high quality pictures of the players, encouraging them to tag themselves. Then promotional videos, newsletters. It’s all about how do you keep in touch with your audience.
We are also using Adwords for new customers - targeting audiance looking for entertainment,
Escape-rooms.com: What kind of elements do players enjoy the most? Now, this is a bit of a random question but speaking from experience, people from certain age groups enjoy this element the most, while others would mostly stick to technical stuff mostly.
Georgi Papucharov: It’s pretty personal, indeed, but from our experience, I can say that most of the teams enjoy puzzles related to technology and those that involve team play the most. Think of puzzles where you cannot complete without at least 1 people having to assist you. But of course there are players who are seeking more logical puzzles or math-related ones. Generally speaking, players are in love with moving objects, interacting with electronics, touch screens and sensors.
High-tech games, that’s the future of the escape rooms. High tech electronics, Virtual Reality. You can always hardcode some logic or math elements into some fancy electronic elements. Visual elements are crucial. Dynamic lights, sounds.
Escape-rooms.com: Are you more for difficulty or for entertainment? (If you had to choose between the two).
Georgi Papucharov: They key is the balance. We have two different levels of difficulty - the player can choose from those, according to his / her own level. Logically, we encourage our players to try their hand at the easier challenges first.
Escape-rooms.com: What other elements of the business are important? A good lounge? A recognizable logo? Speaking of it, how did you come up with the name and the design? Did you have something special in mind?
Georgi Papucharov: Everything is important, the success is a mix of a lot of things - even the lounge, yes. The customers have to feel comfortable from the minute they enter our lounge. The rule of 10 seconds is also applicable in this business as well.
Having a big lounge will give you the oportunity to handle huge team buildings, company events and much more. The logo also takes an important part. It should be fancy and smart at the same time, but most important is to have some "message" in it. The main idea in our brand, Offline was that we want the people to leave their computers for a while and go Offline with their friends. The bulb is just a symbol of some "mind activity".
Escape-rooms.com: Georgi, how did you design the rooms?
Georgi Papucharov: We are a team, a creative team of professionals. First of all, we do some nasty brainstorming, then we write down our ideas into a document, then filtering that particular list becomes really important. After that we do consult with our team of engineers and constructiors.
Escape-rooms.com: And in the case of Offline, which room makes you the proudest, if there is such thing?
Georgi Papucharov: The latest one - Pirates adventure. Its complexity of killing decorations, stand out electronics and clever team puzzles with a lot of nice effects. More than 10 people were involved in its creation.Starting from decoration, construction, wiring, software, electronics, mechanics, sound effects, videos and many many more.Every single detail in the room is developed by one of our team-members. We dont use bought props or stuff like that. That’s why I can proudly say we are one of the leading companies in Bulgaria and we are going into new cities and countries soon.
Escape-rooms.com: Do you have a favorite story to share with us?
Georgi Papucharov: One of our first teams ever was a team of a few guys, playing The Hacker’s Room. In Sofia, we have certain zones called ‘Green zone’ and ‘Blue zone’. These are the names of the parking areas. One of the players parked in the green one an before entering the room, he asked us to notify him, when he should send out an SMS to pay for the parking. You need to know that this was a test team, so more than 60 minutes were given to them. At the right time though, we sent him a hint on the monitor: “Just a reminder for your green zone”. The guys were so much into the game that they instantly started to look for an actual green zone…
Escape-rooms.com: Have ever played outside of Bulgaria?
Georgi Papucharov: Yes, I have, in Romania, Germany and Spain. The Room Berlin is my favorite abroad.
Escape-rooms.com: How would you describe a successful escape room team?
Georgi Papucharov: Actually its hard to say whats the best team combination but I can say that maybe it’s a team of 4 people. Maybe adding IT person as a leader and a math guy will help, but its very subjective.
Escape-rooms.com: The industry in general, as you said, has gone high-tech, but in the next 10-15 years, is it going to grow in your opinion?
Georgi Papucharov: I hope so, though I cannot predict the future. I hope it will become industry as the cinema one, where the users will wait for the next big hit in the genre, and as they are going regulary to watch a movie, they will do so for the escape rooms. The fact that there are many teams played thousands of rooms and they are still not tired of that, gives us, business owners a reason to be optimistic.