Seven year hobby, first game development success
That was the spark that ignited it all. Inka and Markus (married in 2000) set to work quickly but it would be another seven years until the first proposal would be accepted for production. Since 2006 though, when the creator couple’s first game for children was published by Kosmos, their career as game inventors has seen meteoric success. Through playing together – and then also with the help of their children Lukas (*2000) and Emely (*2002) – ideas arose that were developed, made tangible, pitched, tested, professionally produced and successfully brought to the market. It is difficult to look past the sheer number of German games prizes they have been awarded. To mention just a few: the Deutscher Spielepreis for "Village" in 2012, the Deutscher Kinderspielpreis for "Mirror Mansion", "Monster Trap" and "Andor: The Family Fantasy Game", the Kinderspiel des Jahres award for "The Enchanted Tower" and the Kennerspiele des Jahres award for "Village" and "EXIT® - The Game". The game "Cheating Moth" was invented by the children, Emely and Lukas Brand, and received the Kinderspiel des Jahres award in 2012. So they were already somebodies in the small world of games experts, travelling to the Kosmos games testing weekends each year and visiting almost every Nuremberg Spielwarenmesse when, in 2014, Kosmos editor Ralph Querfurth approached the Brands with the request to develop a game based on the escape room concept. The idea for Exit was born.
Brands land a world bestseller with Exit series
Today, the Exit Games from Kosmos are leaders on the games market. The first three instalments of the "EXIT® – The Game" series were named winners of the Kennerspiel des Jahres competition in 2017. Then came the commercial success. The sheer sales figures are really breath-taking for an analogue game: since starting the range in 2016, around 10 million copies have been sold worldwide. In 2020 alone, 1.5 million copies of the game, whose box measures just 18x13x4 cm and weighs a good 250 grammes, were sold. "EXIT® – The Game" is available in 27 countries (as of 2020). There are currently 23 scenarios, as well as books and puzzle products. "The Cursed Labyrinth", which came out in Germany in January 2021, is game number 150 to be released by the Brands. The realization of the Exit idea also tells the story of how little you can plan for "cult" status, how much the idea, timing and luck need to work together in order to land a bestseller.
The basic idea: escape from a locked room
The first thing to know is that the Exit game box can only be played once, by up to four people. After that, the game material is used up. Unlike board games, it cannot be set up and played as often as you like. The basic principle is always the same, whether in a computer game (the first escape game was Crimson Room, the online game from Japanese creator Toshimitsu Takagi, released in 2004) or in real escape rooms, which first appeared in Japan in 2007 but quickly sprung up in big cities around the whole world. The aim, whether as a group or alone, is to get out of a locked room – usually within a limited period of time. You therefore play with each other, not against. Players have to recognise signs in the room, classify them correctly and solve tasks in a particular order. Fantasy, logic, joined-up thinking, stepping into the mind of the unknown taskmaster and good communication within the group are the skills that allow you to reach the goal of finding and opening the exit from the room. "Thinking outside the box" – the Brands have adopted this saying quite literally for the Exit games. Sometimes the "bright idea" can also be found on the game box, perhaps in the form of a certain pattern or a pictogram that gives the decisive clue. In order to achieve the objective, you have to know how to differentiate valuable clues from the insignificant ones or from false leads, and know how to keep your nerve. Exit games come in three difficulty levels; beginners can find everything they need for the solution in and on the box. Help is at hand for those who remain stuck.
For the Brand family, inventing games has changed their private world, but not their personality. Mother and wife Inka gave up her part-time job; she is now the mastermind of games invention. Markus has reduced the time he spends working for his own business, an insurance agency. After all, they have to deliver. The pair have agreed a deal with Kosmos for ten Exit products a year. And then there are all the enthusiastic fans, the whole world over, chasing by email for the next new release. Success has its own demands.