Downloadable Murder Mystery Games

Over 31 years since producing our first live murder mystery show, I find myself in a curious place; wondering, ‘How do I write downloadable murder mystery games?’.

Live murder mystery scripts, although not easy to write (you have to consider plot and keep your audience on side), are at least controllable to a degree. With actors, the characters and the story revelation should be under our control.

But downloadable murder mystery games are something else altogether and, as I write this (February 2022) I’m a tad daunted by the task.

The aim of Murder Mastery

The lockdown of 2020 started this. I’d long since tired of travelling the motorways to perform our murder mystery shows. Now. that was impossible so I set about adapting and filming what had become a regular script, Murder at the Vicarage (or The Peyton Case).

It was fun to play all the parts. Usually, if I had no work, I’d feel guilty. But with no chance of paid work I could buckle down and work on what was a rather silly, yet ambitious idea.

Then came the Christmas Murder Mystery. I had wanted to do a second online murder mystery game to include other actors. It was not easy, shooting at Christmas 2020 (you were allowed to have people in your house if it was for work) but other locations were virtually impossible so I shot it all at home. Again.

But I wanted to create Downloadable Murder Mystery Games. You know the sort of thing, where party guests are given characters, dress up, remain in character and, somehow, work out who the murderer was. In other words; the guests are both actors and audience.

It sounds easy…

How to control your Murder Mystery 'Actors'

But in both the Lockdown Murder Mystery and the Christmas Murder Mystery, I had control. 

I created the films. I made the paperwork. Our characters were English, as were the actors. But a Downloadable Murder Mystery Game! Where’s the control there?

I think THAT is my biggest problem right now.

I will admit that I am not the sort of person who plays mystery games. I rarely get invited to parties at all, let alone murder mystery parties. And I don’t think I know anyone who has played them.

Yet, they must be popular because all the murder mystery companies you find online seem to offer one of two things (and sometimes both); Murder Mystery Games in a BOX or, as an alternative, instant Downloadable Murder Mystery Games. The advantage to the latter, they claim, is that once you’ve downloaded, you can play straight away!

Murder Mystery Game in the Chateau

I understand that, to some degree. 

Back in 2016, we were invited to spend New Year in a chateau. My wife’s sister lives in France and her family had rented this place for a few days. There were to be about 20 or so, from all over Europe. Many of them spent the time begging us brits not to leave the EU (although, by then, it was too late).

My wife’s nephew, Boris, is an actor in Paris and he fancied the idea of playing a murder mystery game on New Year’s Eve. I was pre-warned about this and asked if I could supply a script.

I had started work on The Nighty before Christmas, but it wasn’t in a fit state to use at that point.

Boris went online to seek downloadable murder mystery games. I watched as he rejected them one by one for various reasons, usually the price (not to mention the slow internet speeds in the middle of the French countryside) and the fact we didn’t have a printer.

So, we played my Christmas Murder Mystery Game, The Nighty before Christmas. Boris played the detective and we cast others in the various roles. To my amazement (they weren’t actors and, for many, English wasn’t their first language), they all went for it. It was quite good fun.

So what's the problem?

The problem I have writing this, my first truly downloadable murder mystery game, is that I can’t figure out how to control it.

First of all, what do people actually want from a murder mystery game? Is it the dressing up and playing a character (i.e. escaping their real world)? Is it the comedy which, for me, has always been the most important thing. Or is it the puzzle; the solving of the riddle?

Or is it a combination of these things?

And then there is the location. My first two online murder mysteries are set in London, where I live. People all over the world have heard of London. But then, I’m a Londoner so there’s no problem there.

But what if I set a murder mystery in London and it is played out by a group of party guests in Arizona, or Florida or Mexico! Rather than any nuance in the story, the party will involve accents that make Dick Van Dyke sound good. And if you set your story on a Mississippi steamer on a hot summer’s day (for example), how will it play with just four guests around a small table in a flat on a rainy night in Dagenham.

Creating the Template.

It’s not a bad problem. not really.

When we set out to create our first murder mystery in 1990, I had no experience of such things – very few people did back then. So I had to create something.

We learnt fairly quickly. Improvisation was OK to a certain extent but a really good murder mystery game needs careful crafting. So it took some months before I honed out a script, with fairly rounded characters and a plot, that would actually work. We would learn the script and, if the actors were confident, we could ad-lib around it.

Some weren’t confident at all. We hired one actor who had only worked in television for the previous fifteen years. He was so nervous, he couldn’t handle a live audience, let alone an audience who answered back.

On our very first show, we used six actors but we soon realised it is better to use just five. Why? Because five will fit into one car whereas six won’t. Being in the same car not only cuts the fuel bills but it gives you the chance to run your lines.

The important thing is that I created a template that worked for us. I did the same thing years later when agents started to ask how we can cut costs to compete with the hundreds of amateur companies cropping up all over the place. They would charge just a couple of hundred quid and would proved about ten actors. We couldn’t compete on price, so I cut the number of actors we would use to just two.

Now I need to create a template for these online, downloadable murder mystery games. I don’t want to copy the other companies (I really can’t understand who would buy a cowboy themed mystery, or something that depended on the familiarity of a popular TV show (Murder on Ice or Britain’s Got Murder). I want to create something new.

The problem I have right now is…how do I do that?

What do you like about murder mystery games?

I’d love to know what makes a murder mystery game for YOU! (Assuming you’ve played one, of course).

Is it the dressing up and assuming a character? Is it creating funny banter or giving you the opportunity to say things to your friends you’d not normally dream of saying?

Do you like the improvisation or do you prefer something more structured, scripted.

Personally, from what I’ve seen, I’d find it a challenge to read and take on board all the character notes and the important clues you have to drop during the game. Nor do I think it a good idea that you can play the game several times because you can pick your murderer on the might. I prefer to have a real solution to work towards.

But what do I know?

If you exist, if you’ve stumbled on this site and if you’re a fan of murder mystery (particularly downloadable murder mystery games), I’d like to hear about your experiences. So get leave a comment, or drop me an email, and let me know.