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Local culture and history have been the most important aspects of an escape game for Marko Radelic, the owner of Enigmarium's escape room in Zagreb. Read our interview with him and find out more about the importance of effective marketing and game design.
The Adriatic Sea is one of the most popular touristic hotspots in Europe. Millions of people visit the cities of the area every year to enjoy the beaches and the beautiful towns. Enigmarium is a successful escape room franchise with rooms in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Marko Radelic has opened one of the most stylish one of the series in Zagreb.
Escape-rooms.com: As the owner of an Enigmarium escape room in Zagreb, you surely have a lot of escape game related stuff to talk about. What is your ‘story’?
Marko Radelic: My wife and I have played one room. We had great time, couldn’t stop speaking about the expirience for a week. So we decided to play another room. And after we finished the game, still on the street, 10 meters from the venue, we stopped - looked at each other and said in the same moment: this is something we want to run! It is a somewhat unspeakable feeling that you can have business in which the main result is providing a huge amount of happines to your clients! None of the jobs we’ve done before can match that. My wife was unemployed at the time, so we started to plan how to start our ER the same evening after we played our second game’).
Escape-rooms.com: As one of our main goals is to provide information to future owners and players, we would love to hear about the beginnings.
Marko Radelic: From the day we started to talk about having an ER business, it took us 6 months to have a complete escape game. That said, we wasted 3 months looking for a suitable place. All in all, we were really effective, considering the circumstances.
Escape-rooms.com: Most of our interviewees, who happen to be business owners, spent weeks and months preparing their own escape room. Zagreb is a city where modern elements meet old, local ones. Did you have something specific in mind?
Marko Radelic: We wanted a creepy place, with cheap rent. We thought it would be a piece of cake: Croatia's economy is in a terrible shape, Zagreb too (although it is a capital city with the whole goverment and all of the big businesses in it). However, the city is full of closed businesses, in the very center there are some many empty places. But it’s not that simple at all. You can't get into 99% of that places. It is always something: some trial between owners, renters, city, state, - every combination possible. Sometimes the owners can afford deserting it rather than using it. So we lost 3 months finding the place. But, at the end we got lucky (luck was initiated by our hard work and devotion): In the end, we had 3 locations to choose in the center of Zagreb, all of them good for a possible escape room location. And one of them excelled: it was at a building in the very center of the center of the Old Town Zagreb, at the locally famous Krvavi most (Bloody Bridge) street! It is one of the most know historical locations in Zagreb, where hectoliters of blood were spilled in the fights of the citizens of the two parts of the town that Bloody Bridge separated in the last ten centuries. So it is a tourist attraction and also the locals knows it very well because they learn about it in a school, and also our famous writer M. J. Zagorka write her cycle of novels about the Witch of Grič when one of the novel was named "The Secret of Bloody Bridge".
Escape-rooms.com: You couldn’t have found a more fitting location, really. What proved to be the most difficult part of the process as far as technical, HR or design aspects are concerned?
Marko Radelic: All of our difficulties were mainly connected with the location. We are in the promenade, no cars allowed. In the same time, the city started to renowate the only street that could be used to deliver stuff by vehicles (at the night or early morning). So the challange was to bring all the stuff to the place - don't want to spoil our game, but for example it is something you need to use to travel back in time - we carried some of the elements by foot and people looked at us strangely. Another difficulty was the configuration of the place. It’s a very old building, with very odd configuration of rooms, windows, installations, everything. For example, we needed 300 meters of network and audio cables to connect the gamemaster room - and the actuall distance is only 10-15 meters! So it was the main challange in our case. Almost purely technical and logistical.
Escape-rooms.com: What about the more creative (design) part of your game? Did you personally take part in the process of designing the game?
Marko Radelic: After we lost 3 months finding right place, we become aware that our ER will be ready in an unforeseeable time - we can't do it ourselves (only my wife is full time in this, I am working elsewere) in a satisfying timeframe. And in the meanwhile we were looking for a place, we get in love with Enigmarium rooms. We get to know the owners, they are exceptional people and things clicked immidiately... They offered their know how and franchise so we decided to go that way. We told them about the theme we wanted and we came up with a great gameplot together. Their team created the gameflow, puzzles and gadgets while we were decorating and handling handymens. In around 3 months, the room was finished.
Escape-rooms.com: So once you and Enigmarium agreed on the details, it was smooth and quick from that point, wasn’t it?
Marko Radelic: Yes, I think it was very quick. Expecially speaking in terms that it was not a copy paste... The room has 100% unique scenary, the story is based on 18th century and Zagreb’s history and all riddless and gadgets are following that pattern. For example we had an artist who illustrated paintings about the life of our main charachter and the city - it takes much time to acommplish that
We want room to be very authentic and unique.
Escape-rooms.com: It’s quite a rarity among escape rooms to pay this much attention to local history. We honestly think this is a great direction and more businesses should adopt this mindset.
Marko Radelic: Yes, we needed to do something different because we were not first on the market, and by coming with a similiar game like others have - we would not have any chance to survive. It is an additional benefit to local people (great ER game + based on local history) and also for tourists which want to experience stuff that is connected with a place they are visiting. Other games in the city are mainly the same that they can play in London or New York.
Escape-rooms.com: Regarding the material, is it exclusively designed for you?
Marko Radelic: First and foremost, we were researching Zagreb's history to find something extraordinary, that could work great for an escape room game. We concentrated on witches, history is full of that, and found a real case (somebody else extracted the story from the actual court file) about the women who was accused of witchcraft in 1743. We took that as a main theme, players need to save her. Travel back in time, solve the case, and come back. They can change the history. Most of the material we found in the suraunding villages, abandoned stuff. Or bought at local flea market. It is old, and it is not too much different from 18th century stuff people used here (wood and iron materials mainly). Some decorations are new but they are acting like a old brick and similar. Some was done custom by carpenter for us, and he was using the style it was used in 18th century. So it was a mix, I am pretty satisfied with the final results. And the feedback from players is generally very positive.
Escape-rooms.com: For business owners, the main goal is to get as many players as possible. Certain rooms stick to on-site marketing while most businesses’ success depend on online marketing tools. How have you used marketing / online advertisement to promote your business?
Marko Radelic: Actually marketing, specially digital, is my proffesion. So generally, I had an idea and plan how we’d do marketing. Plus Engimarium shared their experiences with me, something I couldn't know until I became an insider. Now, after I’ve become an insider, I see what works. With huge disclaimer: I really think it is not universal, every market has its own life. Here, the main thing is word of mouth. When players were thrilled, they shared it within their own circles. So the lucky thing is that we have a great room and that all players are going out very satisfied. But online advertising and social media is a must. If potential players can't find you, and then see on social channels that people have fun in your room, then you can't expect their visit. On-site findings works only for escape rooms which are positioned on great location, I think it’s great to have such advantage, but it is not crucial. Crucial is having a great game, recommendations from satisfied players, and that you have online presence (webpage and your social channels) that are confirming that you exist and that you are providing a great game for all kinds of players.
Escape-rooms.com: Marko, how do you see the industry in Croatia and in Central Europe in general, as a whole?
Marko Radelic: I think the ER industry is at the very beginning, because gamification is something that has a bright future - as the world is advancing, people will have more time (and money) and they will seek amusement. I can't predict in what direction it will go...escpecially the virtual reallity is something that could make this type of ER unatractive in the future... Croatia is a small country, with only 2 or 3 cities that can maintain this type of ER concept. For example, now in Zagreb, new rooms are popping up each day. I think a very few of us will remain open, in let say half a year’s time. So only the best will survive, and I hope that providers will have power to introduce new things and develop the industry further. On the other hand, Croatian seaside is crowded with the tourists in the summer months, and ER industry should find the answer to it. For example with some sort of mobile games that can profitable in that context and when working on just several months a year.
Escape-rooms.com: Enigmarium is a well-known brand around the Adriatic Sea with rooms in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Please, tell us about its history a bit.
Marko Radelic: The founders of Engimarium are the real ER enthusiasts. After playing their first room, they aslo decided it is business they want to own. In September 2014, the team of Escape Room Enigmarium® was the first in Ljubljana to present this new and completely original concept for spending free time. They suceed: in less than five months, in February 2015, Enigmarium was already ranked the no. 1 tourist activity in Ljubljana on Trip Advisor.
Today, the Enigmarium network has 10 rooms (with The Escape Igloo amongst them) in three countries, and Enigmarium is creator of some specific games (gamification of mountain museum, gamification of medieval castle and an outdoor urban “escape” adventure in Ljubljana).
It wouldn't be possible without the great and creative team, consisted even of some doctors of robotics.
Escape-rooms.com: What makes a successful escape room team?
Marko Radelic: The successful escape room team needs to have many talents. First to create the exceptional room, secondly to manage communication and marketing and finally enthusiastic gamemasters who will make players feeling special as escape room quests.
Passion and willingnes are crucial if you want to succeed.
Escape-rooms.com: Could you recommend any other escape games you’ve played abroad?
Marko Radelic: For me the best room I played outside Croatia was (also Enigmarium's) Classroom of Doom in Ljubljana.
You and your team stay in the classroom after the school. And only one (locked) door is between you and the office of the one very, very strange professor. Playing it was a great experience for me, reminding me to my school days and our school adventures back then. We also had a drunken janitor and some other findings that are nicely incorporated in this story.
Escape-rooms.com: Do you have to bring in new themes every once in a while or is sticking to the original one a better strategy?
Marko Radelic: I think that an escape room center needs to have several room/themes. Depending on the market size, rooms surely need to be changed once in a while.
Exception could be one top room, expecially if it is atractive to tourists - such room can stay for a long time. We have such case with our Zagreb's Witch room that is connected with local history. But we need another room(s) so we can atract back satisfied players who played our first room. Opening a new room is our next big task.