Rethinking The Haunted House Guest Experience!

by on Feb.05, 2012, under Haunted Houses, Haunting Ideas, NETHERWORLD Haunted House

Rethinking The Haunted House Guest Experience!

Ben Armstrong NETHERWORLD Haunted House

The Process of Design:

When you design your haunt what shapes your choices? Usually it is very straightforward things like the building you are in, the theme, the budget, what your crew (or you) can do, movies or other Haunted Houses you like, even what sort of props you have access to. Many haunts have tons of space and the big question is “how to fill it”. Some have more junk than space and the question is the opposite, “where can I cram all this junk?”. In general most of us just “do” and don’t really think about why we are building the way we are, the reason is just because it feels right. I think the two biggest things that drive us are A) making it detailed or cool and B) making it scary. I know in general that is what I think about. But perhaps an examination of what your GUESTS want is an even more important focus to have, after all they are paying to be there. But then that begs the question: what do they want?


What Do They Want?

Ask ten Haunters what their guests want and seven will say “to be scared” and three will say “to be entertained”. Both very worthy and related answers, but first needing a deeper examination of exactly WHO your guests are. After a great deal of thought I have a new answer to this eternal question that perhaps has even more relevance: TO HAVE A MEMORABLE GROUP EXPERIENCE.

Think about it, does anyone come to a haunted house by themselves, that is of course except for a haunter sneaking out during the season? Almost everyone comes to have an experience, an adventure, with their family or friends. So we are NOT dealing with individuals, we are dealing with a GROUP. It is ultimately the group experience that shapes how successful your event is and what they are going to tell their friends.

How Many are in a Group?

So how many are in your average group? My best guess is anywhere from 2-6 based on how many can fit in one car. Certainly there are larger groups of all shapes and sizes, but I think this is the most common size. How do I know? I asked the box office manager (my wife) and that’s what she told me. You guys do the same and see what you find out! It only makes sense, after all with a fair amount of travel to get to a haunt, the cost and/or difficulty in finding parking, and the intimacy of the group dynamic that this would be the magic number. Think about when you go out to eat dinner with a large group…often you can only actually talk to the 5 or 6 people closest to you . It is the same in a haunt – the dark and twisting path eliminates interaction beyond a few people in front of you or behind you anyway. So even if a huge group comes to a haunt in multiple vehicles, the guests will only experience it with the few ahead of and behind them. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that I am right, what can we do with this knowledge? We can craft the experience to best work for this group size – EVEN while a conga line is running.

So What Does The Group Want?

Now is when it gets complicated…and interesting! In each group of guests there are many different motivations. Let’s look at some of the most common types of guests one finds in a group:

1) The Offering: Usually terrified, they are pushed out in front often by a boyfriend or husband and offered to the monsters. They sometimes relish playing the role, screaming and smiling all the while. Sometimes however they really are terrified and want nothing more than to GET OUT!

2) The Offerer: What they want most is to see what the Offering does. They are more interested in the reaction of this person than they are in what is going on around them. Sometimes they are actually very scared themselves and are using the Offering as a shield. Sometimes there are many Offerers in a group and they constantly tell the monsters to “ get her!” and tell the name of the Offering to any actor they see.

3) The Brave One: Occasionally this person is in the front, and they plunge on bravely to attain more status from their friends. Sometimes they really want to get scared but have a high tolerance level and it just doesn’t happen very often. They are often very happy if someone actually gets them to flinch. Sometimes what they want is NOT to be scared. They are trying to prove something to themselves and the group about how much they can take. The funny thing about the Brave One is that they often spend so much time worrying about how they are reacting and what the group will think about that reaction that they miss most of the show!

4) The Punk: Very similar in many ways to the Brave One, The Punk is defined more by how they externalize the experience, to both the actors and their friends. They are totally fixated on performing to the group, acting tough, etc. But deep inside they either crave the thought of actually getting freaked out or they deeply dread it!

5) The Thrill Seeker: Unlike many of the others discussed this person is totally open to the experience. The most delightful type of patron, they scream and laugh at all the right times and are a joy for the actors. Like the Offering this sort of person is fixated on by the group, as group members get huge delight in every gasp and scream. Often you can get entire groups of Thrill Seekers that barrel through the halls of the haunt having a great time and not remembering anything about what actually happened inside.

6) The Detail Seeker: More entranced by the sets and props, this person loves haunted houses, but is often annoyed by the actors. Unless the actor is very unusual or has stellar make-up and costuming, they tend to ignore your monsters to study every detail and prop in the room. Once in a while this allows them to be really shocked as they are so distracted by the details. Group members often continually ask this person what they think about this or that because the Detail Seeker is usually the haunt “expert” in the group.

7) The 5th Wheel: Usually a lone male this person is the one most outside the group dynamic, and usually trails at the end. They almost always miss most of the scares triggered by Offerings and Thrill Seekers, placing themselves in a spot to watch the group they wish they were in the middle of from behind. If the 5th Wheel actually gets nailed by a few actors they often will really start enjoying the Haunt, but if they don’t they will be even more bitter as they watch all of their friends have all the fun.

As you can see we could probably describe fifty more types of patrons, but the intriguing thing that has been occurring to me lately is how much they are often more interested in EACH OTHER. I think the reactions that folks in the group have to the haunt stimulus is often more exciting to them than the Haunt itself! When tales are told in the car on the way home they will talk about what they saw but more commonly about WHO go scared by what or WHO was the bravest. But there is one more type of guest that we haven’t discussed yet, in my opinion the most important one!

The Ringleader

The Ringleader is the guest who is most responsible for the group going to the haunt. Often they have already been that year or in other years, and they want to see how the group they choose will respond to the various scares and scenes. Sometimes they are a Detail Seeker or a Thrill Seeker drawn in by your marketing and want the personal excitement they can get at your event. But most often they are there for the group, enjoying the position of organizer, relishing the thought of watching their group experience the horrors to come. Often the Ringleader will go to great lengths to convince or bribe chickens to come with the group for everyone else’s entertainment. Sometimes they plan to bring a Punk or a Brave One to see if they will crack.

If you as a marketer can draw the interest of the Ringleader your job is done as THEY will do the rest of the work to round up the group, pick a night and get them to your event. If you are able to give your guests what they want – a memorable experience with their friends, then you will create MORE Ringleaders who may return with groups of their own… the most direct form of “word of mouth”.


Rethinking The GROUP Experience

These are not really new ideas, but if you hold them in your mind during the design process what could you do with them? Identify members of the group and give them what they want? Find ways to reward the Ringleader if they make return visits? Train your actors to watch out for the 5th Wheel and give them a special scare? Engage the Detail Seeker more deeply or just get out of the way? Or more importantly realize that you are dealing with a GROUP not a bunch of individuals, and train your actors, especially your lot actors to engage them as such. I am eager to hear your ideas on the topic – lets get on the forums and discuss them. After all what matters more than how your guests experience your event? It doesn’t matter how great your scenes are if groups leave disappointed.


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