We're a long way in now... I remember my very first encounter with a Zombie Experience.
April 22nd 2012. At the back in the beret! Yep, the guy that thinks he's part of S.T.A.R.S... I know, I've lost the beret since then. I only wear it on the occasional weekend.
In all seriousness though I think this is a good place to start (not the beret, the experience!).
Why do we do these things? Why do we pay a significant amount of money to take part in a Zombie Experience (£140 back then!). Personally (and that's the important part) I did it because of a few factors.
1. Nostalgia - I was an 80's child which meant that I hit the Sega and then the Playstation era right around the 10-14 mark, spot on target market. Resident Evil was one of the first games I ever played and was immediately sold on its format. Not necessarily because of the horror, but the puzzle solving and the isolation it offered. Just me and them against the odds. Epic.
2. Location - The event was close (location wise) to me. I lived in Reading and actually took place in an old shopping center I used to attend when I was a kid! Destiny had plans it would seem.
3. A true test of survival - I wanted to remove myself from the reality of the real world and play out a fantasy. Could I really tackle those challenges I faced with a controller in my hand but in real life?
4. Being a hero - Who doesn't want to feel like you have jumped in balls deep and shown the world just what you're made of!
Whatever my reasons for taking part back in 2012 they were most likely different to the majority of the people around me at the time. Hardcore zombie fans, horror enthusiasts and the airsoft community were all early adopters of the format. In fact the first ever event of that nature was merely an airsoft game with zombies thrown in.
What is quite clear is that considering the amount of time Zombie Experiences have been around (in their story driven formats which must be approaching 10 years) people that are die hard zombie fans (in the UK) have done them in some form or another. Be it a zombie run, zombie walk or full on Zombie Experience.
This leaves us (a Zombie Experience company) in a tricky position. How do we increase the wider appeal of what we do to a new audience without alienating our existing one. A new audience that might not necessarily love zombies films but have heard that its a good laugh and fancy a day out. Then an existing audience that "know what they are getting into" to a certain extent but want to come back and try something new.
Its no surprise that the Zombie Experience industry has seen its popularity plateau shall we say. Leaving many Zombie Experience companies out of business or really struggling to find the solution. There are multiple factors that have effected the drop not just that the core zombie fan population has done them at some point in the last few years.
Additions such as new H&S laws, building management/development, changes in fire regulations and alternative experiences entering the market space such as escape rooms, cheaper zombie running based events and large properties such as Secret Cinema have all stolen some of the market.
Luckily we had the foresight of what needed to change and we took the steps to ensure we could "evolve" our offering. I believe our insight came from my experience all those years ago and why I took part not as a zombie fan necessarily, but because of the wider culture references, challenges, location and common human traits (being a hero, living out a fantasy).
When being invited to take over the reigns of Zombie Infection Ltd in August 2018 after launching the Courthouse Zombie Experience in Birmingham and picking up the "Best Zombie Experience 2018" at that years ScareCon Awards, I knew I had to make serious changes to the wider operation in order to keep it alive... or undead so to speak.
The business was on its last legs struggling with the factors mentioned above. The style and nature of what we did had to change otherwise we would see yet another Zombie Experience company succumb to the apocalypse and I, along with existing staff across the entire company would loose what we had all worked so hard for to date.
Four events, three of them airsoft based, in four locations all in abandoned buildings. Our products were tailored to a very specific audience, the elements within them we're all appealing to that original audience profile only and we needed to branch out. We needed to work out a way to bring in a younger age group potentially or non zombie fans, somebody looking for something fun to do with a partner or group.
What was immediately evident when I joined in 2017 was that the main success of the business so far had been its geography, covering the large cities. Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leicester. Its ticket price point was spot on representing the product they delivered accurately and its successful partnerships with some very big third party ticket sellers. (see image)
Because of the detailed architecture of the events that I had designed up to this point, that focus on the factors that a wider audience are looking for I knew that paired with more commercial venues, in more cities covering more locations across the UK we could find a suitable formula to create a new sustainable ZI legacy.
So 12 months later, Seven Zombie Experiences stand proud as part of our 2020 offering, each playing out its own chapter that connects a 30 year story line plus a number of "overnight" specials in each corner of the country. This is where we are today and boy have we hit the ground running! (Image below)
The Zombie Infection events we have across the country are now consistent in quality but each with its own personality. They provide a perfect balance that ticks multiple boxes for both a new audience and our existing one. At times you'll see the old school zombie action, the best bits you'd never want to loose primarily for our core zombie fans. Then a mixture of intense and light horror for a wider population and finally partnering with York Dungeons we have something that's suitable for a younger audience. Of course we are never going to please everybody and there are definitely some fans out there that are disappointed by the changes. But all were vital to keep the dream for both staff and customers alive and overall the new events have had an amazing response. Summarised by some recent reviews.
"Did the forest overnight experience. Was stunned by the level of organisation and quality of the event. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it is for the infected and yet they were consistently superb. The team leaders were also excellent " "It’s totally and utterly mint. One of the most mental, crazy, exhilarating and hilarious ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. Went to the “Tower” in Liverpool today. The people who run it are excellent. You can’t help but get totally into the role with them guiding you and pushing u on. Love how u immediately have all these new mates that you do it with. All in it together. Fantastic. My lass and me are deffo doing it again."
A brave and successful change in our core logistics allows us to partner with more commercial properties such as our the awesome Magna Science Adventure Centre in Sheffield and Shepton Mallet Prison in Somerset. Both now at a perfect ticket price point for a much improved product, a price that also works with new and old third party ticket sellers.
And finally a brand that reflects the quality, intention and passion behind what we do each and every week. That stands out, is unique and engaging.
Of course there were also many internal rebuilding projects. Recruitment, H&S regulations, management structure, contractual improvements, staff training, scheduling, rostering and marketing. All had their own very difficult challenges! I had no idea how hard it would actually be on me both professionally and personally.
But now... long gone are the days where zombie experiences were only to be enjoyed by hard core zombie fans, stag groups and individuals with a strange obsession with guns...
Where it was just about quick financial wins, unsafe problematic buildings and last minute cancelled events. Relying on the fact that it had never really been done at all for good reviews and ticket sales.
Now Zombie Infection are moving forwards with a refreshed, dedicated and enthusiastic team. Bringing the best elements of what came before balanced with new elements for wider appeal. For individuals, groups or pairs looking for not just hard core bloody zombie action but, fun, top entertainment, lasting memories, a maximum adrenaline buzz, mental and physical challenges and layered improvisational theater.
People who wanted the same thing as I did all those years ago!
To leave the real world behind, to challenge themselves and to live out a nostalgic fantasy.
To be a zombie annihilating hero.
To take part on one of our new 2020 events head over to our website www.zombieinfection.co.uk and follow us across social!
Why not join our community for all things zombie on our live Twitch channel: twitch.tv/zombieinfection