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Behind the Scenes With Hunt A Killer: A Murder Mystery Immersive Experience With 100K Players

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Hunt A Killer is a murder mystery subscription that has taken the nation by storm. They currently have over 100,000 active subscribers and have created a completely unique game (check out our review). We've interviewed the CEO Ryan Hogan along with some of the game creators, Carlea Holl-Jensen and Melissa LaMartina to understand how the game is created and what sets it apart from regular board games. If you want to try out Hunt A Killer, sign up here!

Why"Hunt A Killer?" What's the inspiration for the name?

Ryan: We wanted people to immediately understand the nature of our products. What person hasn't watched a true-crime TV show and thought to themselves "I could do that, I could hunt a killer and solve that crime?" The name evokes an aha moment for people that quickly allows them to realize they would take part in solving the mystery.

Board games have risen in popularity over the past decade. It could be the pop culture that's"The Big Bang Theory," but board game culture has really gotten mainstream.

Ryan: I think a lot of the stigma that there used to be against board games and geek culture has changed, I mean look at the success of superhero movies. That said, people have always connected over board games. In a digital age, a game that you can sit down and play together, off of your phones, is something that people crave and enjoy. The more people are connected to their devices, the more that the need for games like Hunt A Killer arises.

A subscription is a very unorthodox way of introducing and playing a game. Why this format?

Ryan: In the same way that a television show can offer a more in-depth story than a movie, with a subscription we can offer a more in-depth experience than with a one-off box. Since our stories are ongoing, we are able to take our time building our individual characters and story arcs. There is time between the boxes and that's when people discuss theories online or with their co-detectives. In our current season, you'll even get emails that expand on the story in between your boxes. We want it to feel like you are working an investigation, each box will come with new evidence and by the end of each "season" (or case), you'll be looking at a pile of evidence, have solved various clues and ciphers, and know each of the characters.

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Try out Hunt A Killer and see if you can solve a murder.

Hunt A Killer now has a strong and passionate community. Did you expect people to have this positive feedback when you're doing the beta for the game?

Carlea: I don't know if anyone could have predicted the incredible response we'd see from members at the outset, but the enthusiastic response very quickly made it clear that there was something about the concept that people really respond to. It's such a pleasure to hear about how our members feel about the games. Their feedback is one of the most valuable resources the creative team has. We're always assessing our members' comments to help us make stronger, more satisfying games. A lot of the creative choices we're making today are in direct response to the feedback our members gave us about the early seasons of the product, and I definitely think the games we're making now are even better because of that feedback.

"It's more than escapism—it's an opportunity to be the hero of a compelling, high-stakes story."

The site also has box sets. How is this different from the 6-month story-telling format?

Ryan: Box sets are essentially a full 6 month season packaged into one delivery. As we have grown and learned new ideas that resonate with our customers, we have "retired" old seasons and in place given customers the latest and greatest seasons. However, we were hearing from our customers they wanted to play and experience those old seasons so we found a way to package those together and make them available as a box set.

Why do you think audiences are now more immersed in non-digital games compared to the"apps era" just five years ago?

Ryan: There are almost 2 Million apps in the app store available for consumers. And the average person spends almost 4 hours a day on their phone. However, recent trends have found that people want to get off of their phones and engage with others in a more social and physical way. We constantly receive feedback from our customers that our product was a mechanism to decompress and re-connect with people in their lives. Some people play it remotely over Zoom or Skype, with friends that live far away.

"It's hard to really lose yourself in a traditional board game—the characters are typically flat images on a card or plastic tokens. We make games in which you're directly interacting with characters—some of whom you can trust and others you can't, and you're constantly working to sort out who is who."

In terms of story inspiration, are these based on real-life crime stories?

Carlea: We try not to take a "ripped from the headlines" approach, because we want to be sensitive to people's real experiences, but we do work hard to make sure our stories are grounded in reality. The writers spend a lot of time researching things like forensics and police procedure to make sure we get the details right, and the designers are always looking to real documents for inspiration.

Can you tell us more about the game development process for Hunt A Killer?

Carlea: Our process is fairly similar to a TV writers' room, with a creative team working collaboratively to develop each story. When a showrunner comes up with a concept for a product, they'll flesh out the story and characters with the help of our development team, and our game designer will help figure out how the puzzles and ciphers should function. We spend a lot of time planning when and where clues should be revealed and how information is spread out, in order to try to make the most satisfying and challenging experience for the member. Once the story and gameplay are planned out, the writers turn those outlines into realistic documents, and the designers create the look and feel for the story and turn the writers' words into real artifacts that feel like they could actually exist.

Put your sleuthing skills to the test with Hunt A Killer!

What are the unique challenges in developing Hunt A Killer (compared to traditional game design)?

Melissa: Creating immersive experiences that feel as real as possible is a unique challenge for us. Every document, item, and media segment must have clear motivation and be grounded in reality. We're constantly asking ourselves, "Ok, so how and why did this person take a video of this experience? Who is behind the camera?" Questions like that help us avoid the trap of having "found footage" in which the found part doesn't make sense.

"Who is to say that we couldn't have a Hunt A Killer TV show or an immersive game that doesn't revolve around a crime?"

What are the other game development plans for Hunt A Killer?

Ryan: Ever since the beginning of Hunt A Killer, we've focused on customer obsession and continual improvement. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our game based on what we're hearing from our customers. Our game has changed a lot in the last few years based on this feedback. We're taking everything we've learned so far to create new stories in 2020 and beyond.

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Can you give us a sneak preview on what the team's working on next and what our audiences can expect from the Hunt A Killer?

Ryan: Our next season has recently released and we've created a story that involves a fictional music group from the early 2000s who is involved in an accident . . . or is it a murder? Meanwhile, we attended our first Toy Fair in New York in February and are proud to announce our first-ever retail box "Death At The Dive Bar" which will be available during the Holiday season 2020. Additionally, while we can't reveal specifics, we are partnering with several well-known brands and will be offering the Hunt A Killer immersive experience in their universes. We want to reach a new group of people who may be interested in a different genre or playstyle. Be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming news on our social media channels.

What's the big goal for Hunt A Killer? Are we eyeing for the Comic-Con type of hype?

Ryan: The goal is for Hunt A Killer to continue to tell great stories and to build a community of people who enjoy immersive entertainment. We want to be thought of as the premier company that offers these types of experiences. This doesn't have to be limited to the murder mystery genre or even to a game format. In the past we've experimented with other formats, we created the first podcast to be featured in the Tribeca Film Festival. While we've moved away from the podcast space, we are working on various new projects that explore new genres and mediums. Who is to say that we couldn't have a Hunt A Killer TV show or an immersive game that doesn't revolve around a crime?

Hunt A Killer is much more than a mystery "board game," it is a journey that you can embark on. Do you have what it takes to Hunt A Killer?

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