By Nina Polien Light | Photo by Karen Snyder
“They came back enthusiastic and said, ‘We have to do this!’” Diana Molchan, co-owner of Perplexity Games and Bill’s wife and Mike’s mom, says. “We had been talking about coming up with a business of our own, and this was a natural fit.”
The family of avid gamers includes two children who are engineering majors and one who holds a Master’s degree in data science. Diana Molchan’s expertise is marketing. “Everything meshed pretty well with this business,” she says.
Since opening last April in the building that housed the original Ohio City post office, Perplexity Games has garnered a following with folks looking for an interactive entertainment option and corporate clients wanting to engage employees or clients away from the boardroom or golf course. The business debuted with 3,000 square feet of usable space and added 1,500 square feet in late September.
Unlike the original escape rooms that tasked players with finding a way out of a room filled with padlocks, Perplexity Games embraces a newer concept in which participants have 60 minutes to solve a mystery or riddle. The debut game, Eliot Ness Investigation, is set in 1938 and challenges players to find a key piece of evidence linking a corrupt city commissioner to crime and gambling. Prior knowledge about Ness, the famed Cleveland safety director, is not necessary. Molchan says guests appreciate the local connection and find it a great way to share a uniquely Cleveland experience with out-of-town visitors or clients.
A second game, The Clockwork Caper, opens in early December. With the promise of a huge payout from the fictional Edison Works if they are successful, it challenges players to find out what new technology an eccentric inventor is working on. The Molchans hope to eventually offer five games.
Instead of buying an established franchise, the Molchans opted to design and build their own escape rooms. Research involved Bill playing more than 30 escape room challenges whenever he had downtime during his business travels and Diana visiting several out-of-state venues.
“Everything is homegrown,” Diana Molchan says of the self-funded venture. “We wanted to be in the forefront and come up with the most advanced-style games.”
At least half of their business comes from corporate clients who are hosting team-building events, parties, and meetings or are entertaining out-of-town customers. Perplexity Games has already attracted groups from companies such as Progressive Insurance, Cleveland Clinic, and Ernst and Young. One of the draws is an event room that contains tables, chairs, and a large screen with a high-definition projector and surround sound. One hour’s use of the event room is included with every booking. All-day rentals are also available.
“Zinner & Co. just had a quarterly meeting in the room from 8 a.m. to 12, went out for lunch, split into groups for games, and went back to the event room for half an hour or so to wrap up their day,” Molchan says.
Perplexity Games does not offer catering, but groups are welcome to bring food and beverages into the event room. Molchan is happy to provide suggestions.
Operating Perplexity Games is a family affair. In addition to handling the marketing and website, Diana runs many of the games.
“Everything is monitored,” she says, adding there are no scary scenarios so games are suitable for players age 12 and older. “We have cameras in the rooms and know where everyone is. We can call in and give them assistance, if needed. I really enjoy watching people get so excited.”
Her husband helps design the games and deals with what his wife calls “paperwork and nitty-gritty business stuff.” Their oldest son, also named Bill, has been working on an analysis of the game flow to identify how to improve the player experience. Daughter Christina creates props for the games, and youngest son Mike ran games over the summer when he was home from college. At times, all family members serve as game masters, the term they use for administering the games.
The company currently employs one non-family member but is looking to hire several more game masters.
Diana Molchan says the biggest challenge of launching such a unique business is “selling something someone’s never heard of.” To spread the word, she networks all over town — including at the Ohio City Street Festival, a Steampunk event hosted by Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, a bridal show, and area bars and restaurants. She is a member of Destination Cleveland.
With business picking up and her husband often on the road, Molchan works long hours. She ran back-to-back games from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a recent weekday but takes it all in stride.
“It’s part of having your own business,” she says. “I’m not doing anything other entrepreneurs haven’t done before me or will do after me. The point is to get it up and running, so I can (eventually) hand (some duties) over to employees.”
For more info: perplexitygames.com