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Escape rooms are big business (vox.com)
166 points by axiomdata316 65 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments

The whole industry has sort of collapsed over here in Poland after a tragedy few months ago where few teenagers died in a fire[0] - their room was actually locked with no means of emergency exit, which was of course illegal and against building regulations, but it caused such a stir in the media and widespread panic that a lot of these businesses just had to close following the tragedy and the industry hasn't yet recovered.

[0] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2019/...

I haven't been in a single US escape room where you couldn't just... walk out. Most creators in the US are aware of this, and don't take the "Escape" part too seriously. And of course, in the US, this is heavily enforced.

It's not just that. There's a reason why fire escapes are usually extra exits on top of the usual ones (even if they're only through a window) and in NYC at least a bunch have been shut down because they closed off access to those fire escapes.

I was in one where we were handcuffed all the the same wire. We had to sign a waiver, and the way the waiver was phrased mentioned there would be two people watching the cameras. I'm not sure if this was enough to make it legal, but it was my favorite escape room so far. It made it more like you were escaping.

The handcuff puzzle only took about 10 minutes and required everyone to actually work together (no quarterbacking).


> And of course, in the US, this is heavily enforced.

Is it? How does this work? Are there regular checks and do escape rooms need to register or how are they discovered?

The fire department can do surprise inspections of businesses to insure they are complying with fire codes.

If it’s unsafe, they can close the business until the issues has been resolved.

I wouldn’t call it heavy enforcement, and it’s not perfect. People die in commercial fires not too infrequently in the US.



It's also not a "U.S." thing since fire codes and enforcement are usually a county by county basis and not inspected or enforced on a federal level.

Though most all urban areas have enforcement, many smaller areas do not.

It's standard fire code rules. All doors between occupied rooms and exits must be unlocked during business hours. Exit doors must have emergency releases that can open them from the inside. You must have your plans approved for these and other issues before construction can begin.

But that was the case in Poland too by law. The owner locked the door anyways.

Compliance with laws varies by country band city.

> You must have your plans approved

Oh, plans. Right, and then half of the shops put a (real steel) chain and padlock (or a large piece of furniture) on the emergency exit, or they use the exit stairway as storage. But indeed on the plans there is an emergency exit anyone can open if needed.

Not in the US they don't. Emergency exits frequently have alarms but locking those doors is a good way to get your business shut down. (Yes violations do happen, but those businesses get fined and shut down pretty quickly.)

Emergency exits frequently have alarms but locking those doors is a good way to get your business shut down.

Unless you are the government. Then you can lock your fire exits and let your fellow bureaucrats die. It's the Chicago way.


In most places the fire department will do unannounced inspections periodically and in case of a complaint.

They inspect you when you get a permit. You can't just build a wall or a door; you need to submit plans. The fire marshal is involved and everything.

(Throwaway, for obvious reasons.)

Yes, you can just build a wall or a door, even in the USA. I've done it. It may not be according to code, but that's the very issue here: enforcement. Until someone dies, how do they know? Surprise inspections are exceptionally rare. There's just way too many buildings.

I've even had modifications "inspected" by the fire department, multiple times. I put that in quotes because I've only ever seen them count the number of automatic sprinklers in the building (which did not change), or look to see if we had fire extinguisher signs, and a fire extinguisher under each one.

I've even seen the FD (in a modern American city) respond to and put out an actual fire, and not care that the building did not match the permit plans.

I'm curious what your experience is, as there is no aspect of this which I would describe as "heavily enforced".

That’s how it is. When there is a fire however and people get suffocated because of those modifications you did or just because it was a fire. Then you are in for some serious trouble if the changes can be traced back to you. Some jail time possibly, but the litigation from victims and insurance companies is what really is gonna do you in. Possibly also the guilt.

Don’t do it. Those plans and codes are there for a reason.

All of that other than punitive damages also applies in Poland. Yet until the Fire happened plenty of places locked the doors.

Maybe it depends on the city. In the towns I've lived in, it's been pretty strict.

But then again I was a firefighter, so if I see a code violation I'll call the fire marshal. I expect other firefighters would do the same, off duty or not.

Might this not deter someone violating the code from contacting the fire department in a timely manner in an emergency?

So....literally the same as in Poland then. That's heavy enforcement?

As a Canadian, I'm always somewhat amused how fire code is strictly enforced at events in the US. I've often seen inspections during conferences. US and UK have a much stronger fire code safety culture than elsewhere (although, as most things in the US, it can vary greatly between the big cities and more rural areas, including suburbs or sprawled cities like SF).

SF isn’t really a sprawled city by American standards. The cities outside of SF are sprawled (like San Jose) but SF is pretty compact in comparison.

Good examples of sprawled cities include LA and Houston.

I don’t know anything about Europe, but most escape room owners in the US can report multiple visits by the Fire Marshall. (I just got back from the national conference and talked to a lot of them.) It varies by municipality, but most places in the US pay more attention to escape rooms than the average business. They’re probably more safe than the office suite next door to which nobody pays attention.

They call it fire code inspections. Most commercial places are inspected at least once a year.

You can't have an emergency exit that locks, it must always be openable from the inside. You get huge fines for an emergency exit that is blocked in any way, and the fire inspectors will shut down your business until it is fixed.

The system isn't perfect but it works most of the time, fire deaths in the US are quite rare.

Question: how do prisons handle fires under these regulations?

There are specific rules for prisons (as there are for theme parks and haunted houses.) They must have fire detection and a way to unlock if it is detected, and usually there must be someone monitoring the system whenever occupied and ready to enact emergency procedures.

Adding to that, there's special regulations for almost anything. Hotels, work sites, warehouses. The national fire code is quite a tome, and usually local rules are added on top

If you walk out of someplace and think it is unsafe and call the fire department, I can’t imagine a single location in the US that wouldn’t be “surprise” inspected the very next day.

I've been to three different ones (NY, and two in Virginia) and the door has always been locked. The caveat being that the room/situation is closely monitored (camera + intercom).

I’ve been to a couple escape rooms in the US and each time the “MC” stresses in their introductory spiel that the doors are not really locked, and that we can leave at any time- of course, with no re-entries.

What a tragedy! However it seems “Gasiorowski said the fire probably broke out in the reception room and blocked the employee’s way to evacuate the girls. Autopsies will be carried out to confirm the cause of the deaths.”

So this could happen with any room which does not have window or backsoor.

Well, the room had a window but as part of the decoration it was blocked off with plywood.

I built an escape room in San Francisco! It's a loving parody of startup culture (Startup Escape), and while I built it because it seemed like a fun challenge, it's also bringing in a good amount of business still.

If you're in SF and build it custom, you can make some money. If you are in a random place with low rent and you buy an off the shelf game, you can make a ton.

If anyone is interested in building one and has questions, ask away!

I live in a smaller city where I’d say the number of escape rooms is about equivalent to the number of bowling alleys (less than 5 of each come to mind).

How’s the best way to measure if the market is saturated?

I think the answers you've gotten are looking at it the wrong way! For bowling alleys, checking availability is a good way to see if there's room for another one. Since Escape Rooms have 0 replay-ability, you're not really competing for "regulars". There's likely hundreds of people who have already done all ~5, and would be eager to do a 6th.

If those 5 have gotten enough people to come, most of their patrons will happily come do yours, too. You're not really "competing". In a way, you're more like a movie than a movie theater.

Excellent point!

Could escape rooms go on tour like theatrical productions? Producers swap escape room teams/spaces between cities? Professional roadies who are expert in setup/teardown?

They do! There's a few companies (SCRAP, PanIQ, The Escape Game) in SF already that are set up that way. They have a ton of locations, and host games for 1.5-2 years, and then swap them with other locations around the world. SCRAP also has some deals with media companies to do touring escape rooms; I've played a Zelda one and a Pacific Rim one.

There's also many companies that sell escape room plans. So rather than creating your own, you'd spend $5-10k to "buy" one and then build it yourself. They usually guarantee a X-mile radius that you'll be unique, so that you aren't competing against the same game.

Zero replayability is such an issue. So often you want to share the joy with others. Surely some escape rooms can apply what puzzle video games do: same puzzles, different variables.

Reminds me the movie The Game with Michael Douglas.

Did you even click on the article? That exact movie was mentioned at least twice.

>Since Escape Rooms have 0 replay-ability, you're not really competing for "regulars".

The escape room in my town reconfigures every once in a while, I've done about 5 different "rooms" there that have all been very different. Sometimes the theme requires you to know something about the topic to solve the room (examples: star wars room, comic book room). To be honest they probably rotate the rooms.

I would imagine that the various companies mix it up. Change the room every now and then

Sounds like an opportunity for "pop-up" rooms, Escape from Santa.

I would find a better (defensible) business model that's better than a restaurant that anyone can open. ER's have zero intellectual property and anyone can start such a business for little investment. Do something else (hard/er/expensive/tedious for most people) that lends itself to greater monopolization by you, and that's profitable. (Build something defensible and profitable that customers love.)

I wrote some books.

Books are completely indefensible. There are billions of the things, and new ones get written all the time. I made some money. I was and am very happy to have written books.

Is writing books a good business? Perhaps not, if viewed through the “The world is divided into unicorns and NOOPs” lens. But I don’t look at the world through that lens.

See also: Making music, opening a social pub, running a day care, organizing festivals or conferences...


Not everyone needs to be a billionaire monopolist, I think most people can be happy with a solid consistent income

Would your advice to anyone interested in building an escape room not to build an escape room?

If they’re on average not full on a Saturday, the market is over saturated. If they’re full on Thursday, the market is under saturated. In between, there’s probably room but you’ll have to fight for it.

Also, if there are more than about 13 in your market, you’re going to have problems getting noticed because the review sites have huge first mover bias.

In general, the market is over saturated, and will probably see more closures than openings over the next year.

Do these rooms have an online booking system? Check their occupancy rate!

Call up and see what availability they have next week.

Nice! I have a couples of questions if that's okay :)

1- Are you making profit? How long did that take you to be profitable?

2- In what do your spend money? Mind sharing a breakdown?

3- Who is your typical customers? Do they come back? How do you reach them?


1/ The up-front costs were $30k for me, and it took about 8 months to make it back. After operating costs, I make anywhere from $1k to $5k/mo. (Once in a while I lose money)

2/ I want to do a real blog post, but high level: $3.5k rent, $2k for a manager, $2k for labor, $1k for other utilities, and then money on things like adwords, etc.

3/ They would come back, except we only have one room! On weekends we get a lot of tourists, on week days we get a lot of team bonding from startups and larger companies. So, while they don't come back, their coworkers tend to. (This is atypical for most escape rooms in the US, though. Most have 3-5 rooms, and very few "company outings".)

OOC how is a manager $2k a month? Is it a part time gig?

Of course! I don't know the hourly rate exactly, but it's definitely a great amount of money for the time worked. We also pay employees $50 (minimum) for every one hour game.

3- If a place has more than one room some people come back and try the other rooms too. But if you did escape from a room, you already solved the puzzle and it's not fun to do it again.

Most people I know did it with some other people from work. Also myself, somebody at work asked and we went with around 10 people to a place with two rooms.

i think this is the big problem with escape rooms. zero replay value. now imagine that the puzzle/escape is custom build, for you, each time.

you can literally play the “same” room hundreds of times. how about designing the room and having your friends bash their heads against the wall. this space is ready for disruption!!!

> how about designing the room and having your friends bash their heads against the wall.

I think you underestimate the skill and time it requires to make engaging puzzles.

The big chains will solve the repeatability issue by swapping puzzles around their world locations. I assume they are doing this already.

This is a cool idea, but also a pretty unsolved problem, even in digital games. Heck, computers can't even procedurally generate decent crossword puzzles.

Best comparison point I can think of are roguelikes, but even if you can figure out a way to make custom hardware build-out easy, roguelikes largely work by making replayability cheap. It's hard to build an on-ramp to teach players about the interactions of complex systems when each playthrough costs them $50+ and takes an hour plus transpotation time.

is disagree. while it may be expensive it’s far from unsolved (im the virtual world of course)

We played a variant where you "find treasure." This made reconfiguration simple!

i was thinking a blend of physical and virtual but that may increase the cost of building the escape room significantly.

Clickable link. This seems fun (and ridiculous) https://startupescape.com

Was just there about 10 days ago with my team! Good times, we solved it in about 45 minutes :)

Congrats! That's quick for the room :)

How to come up with the pricing?

Has anyone mixed up escape rooms with role-playing, or additional narrative/gimmick? Maybe targeting corporate team-building customers who'll pay a big premium?

For example, company signs up for an ostensible corporate off-site retreat meeting that suddenly turns into a team-building (obviously fake) kidnapping. (Blindfolding, and moving to the maze, kidnappers go elsewhere but can be overheard arguing about ransom, then the group manages to untie each other, and try to escape the building, while whispering and evading the occasional guard, time element when they overhear kidnapper threatening to wait only 10 more minutes for ransom call, etc. There could even be a second part, in which the team gets to a dead end, with a cache of laser tag toys, obviously to fight the rest of their way out of the building, and can team-building heal each other when they get hit.) Followed by refreshments, with messages from manager/CEO or product brainstorming, etc.

I'm pretty sure the exact above thing would never get past HR at some companies, but I've heard of big-name dotcoms doing questionable parties and team events, so maybe enough companies would pay enough for it?

So, I have a rough mental list of “signs that management is off-course in a dangerous way”. I hadn’t thought to add it before, but I’m now adding “manager plans an offsite that turns out to be a fake kidnapping where they blindfold and tie up my team, followed by messages from the manager/CEO”.

I’ve been on several teams that have done escape rooms, and most have some form of narrative / role-playing (there’s a decent cross section of murder-mystery, fantasy, etc etc, depending on the folks running the room). But the idea of tricking people into participating, especially with so many “fake” hostile elements, is a big red flag. The reason this wouldn’t get past HR at some companies is because those companies have an HR team that knows a land mine when they see it.

I agree with you. I was actually whimsically trying to think of something that might appeal to managers who think those "trust fall" team-building exercises are a good idea. I was going against my own intuition, and ended up with a terrible idea.

Fair enough. In re-reading my own response, I also think I came across my more antagonistically than I intended, so my apologies for that.

I do agree with what it seems your overall point was: that “escape room”-style team-bonding exercises could have merit, and also the idea that escape-rooms with a strong / compelling narrative are probably themselves more engaging / thought-provoking. The specific example happens to be bad, and the element of surprise has issues, but please don’t let that detract from the concept as a whole.

I dont think you were antagonistic enough; anyone that tries doing this fake kidnapping better be sure no one on the team has a concealed carry permit, heart issues, anxiety, ptsd, etc.

reminds me of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_Animals (it's out next month i guess)

Dropping the kidnapping theme, SCRAP's "Escape from the Jail" has some unusual constraints and guard-interaction elements. https://realescapegame.com/jail_sf/

At the very beginning of the room, lbhe grnz vf qvivqrq vagb gjb qvssrerag wnvy pryyf naq n thneq jngpurf bar pryy ng n gvzr, sbeovqqvat pregnva npgvivgvrf juvyr jngpuvat gung pryy; rnpu pryy unf gb uryc gur bgure va pregnva jnlf va beqre gb rfpncr. (I've only shared information that you receive before the game starts.)

"your team is divided into two different jail cells and a guard watches one cell at a time, forbidding certain activities while watching that cell; each cell has to help the other in certain ways in order to escape"

You don't agree with my decision to obscure this information from potential players who might prefer to be surprised by it?

Well to be fair: you decided to share it. That this would happen was... celra!

An escape room here did a "find the speakeasy" which involved navigating the city competing against other teams. At the speakeasy awards were given for best dressed.

This is the closest I've been to what you described.

I wanted to, but I couldn't keep reading past 'kidnapping', even with the qualifier 'obviously fake'.

Any other example might've been better. I would personally not want to take part in such a thing, having been practically kidnapped and sexually assaulted, myself.

I'm very sorry that happened to you.

I'm also sorry, I stupidly didn't consider that anyone would've actually been kidnapped before, and wasn't actually thinking about this seriously. (I was thinking of much lighter reasons some customers' HRs might object.) Please disregard the above scenario suggestion.

I'm not personally offended, I'm just making a definitive point that obviously there might be some other ideas that might work.

I appreciate your sympathies. Life sucks sometimes.

When I first saw one of these I went inside and asked what the deal was. I immediately wanted to try it out as a challenge to myself, but then they told me it was really meant for groups. Silly introvert me.

You can join a group if they haven't bought all of the slots. It helps if there are two of you but not totally required.

I don't think that would work. Usually people go with a group of friends or coworker so you can't just join a random group.

I've been to five location in my city. For all of them you book the room by slots. If you don't buy all the slots, people can join. If you want the entire room, you need to buy all of the slots.

You can at the one in my town if the group isn't full.

Last time I went we were only a group of four so we had a couple join us.

You can with the ones in my town.

To an introvert that's a bug, not a feature ;-)

I've only been to an escape room once. It was a birthday gift. It was pretty awesome. There were 5 of us. We had an Alice in wonderland themed room, well three rooms in total. It was a lot of fun, we all worked together, as far as i remember each of us ended up solving at least one puzzle. It was like a real life co op point and click adventure game. I'd definitely recommend it at least once if you can get a small group together.

Are repayable escape rooms possible? Surely, some of owners thought about that.

The way I would imagine that would be better than to have puzzles that can be switched from a real puzzle to a "trap" puzzle. A trap puzzle would be a red herring especially designed for people who did the original puzzle.

For example, in the the original puzzle you have to find blue stones that arrange to a specific pattern that correspond to a code. The trap version would be a few completely irrelevant blue stones that would be unlikely to grab attention to the people who didn't do the first puzzle. For example they could be used as dead weight for a scale-based puzzle or as rubbish the players has to look through in order to find the real clue.

The idea loosely comes from Danganronpa. An kinda escape room-like video game. The sequels tend to play with players expectations, sometimes confirming them, sometimes to turn them against the player.

Edit: I realize it is much easier said than done. However, non-replayability looks like such a big problem that I guess that it could be worth making a lot of extra effort.

That’s kinda the holy grail of the industry, and there are lots of smart people working on it. The question is how different must it be for people to come back, how many will actually do so, and how much effort does it take to do that versus making a new game.

Most people seem to think it doesn’t make sense, but there are people working on it. Hatch in LA is making a big bet on their upcoming game The Ladder, for example: https://www.hatchescapes.com/the-ladder

Introducing intentional red herrings in an escape game of any sort is a bad idea in my opinion. While it may be okay in a non timed video game, people don’t react well to that when on a clock.

> red herring

A really subtle red herring can be fun, but in general they are just frustrating. A good game master will often step in and guide you through the game, but I remember at least one room where we've wasted like 15 minutes going into a wrong direction.

> non-replayability looks like such a big problem

Does it? I know a couple who owns an escape room (5 rooms in total). Their first room is now 4-5 years old and they thought about changing the puzzles (or create a whole new room), but people are still booking it. That is for a small city in Europe with only 2 escape room providers, so YMMV.

There are also a lot of board games that can be only played once, and their boom does not seem to diminish. The "Exit" series from Germany was even awarded "Spiel des Jahres" in 2017, and it's still releasing new non-replayable games.

There is a balance between "every clue goes to a problem" and just too many clues that aren't part of the problem and don't even add to the narrative of the story.

I like the ones that reward you for exploring a little more but guide you towards what is solvable.

There is one near me that has a room(B) that leads into anther room(A) that leads to an exit. The premise is basically that the team in Room A have to escape before the team in Room B(which leads into room A) can get inside and catch them.

You switch starting rooms when round is over and there are 8 unique styles that rotate each week, there is a league with 14 teams in so far that complete a rotation which they are calling 'season'.

Really...yes. I’ve thought about this some after doing a lot of them. The room is themed, but in most cases clues are A to B. You’re solving a puzzle to open something else.

If you make extra puzzles that fit the theme of the room you can just change the path to what opens the next thing.

Some puzzles are obviously fixed in place, based on the room design but a lot of them could be swapped out depending on the room. You’d just have to make sure to say that if a specific puzzle was included, the proper clues were there.

Why not just design the room so that you change the puzzles easily?

I'm thinking that VR/AR might be a perfect solution to this, but that seems so obvious that I have to assume the technology just isn't ready yet, or there are other unknown factors standing in the way. Maybe it just wouldn't be as much fun.

Still, a mostly empty warehouse and a few sets of goggles seems more cost effective, and a virtual set would be easier to reconfigure and reload.

I think the technology is ready. There are some games exploiting the concept, "I expect you to die" is more or less an escape room.

We can make it a cooperative multi-player game to get the teamwork effect of real escape rooms. An existing example would be "keep talking and nobody explodes", a cooperative, semi-VR game.

The thing is, as fun as it is might be, it is an entirely different experience. On one side you won't get the feedback of real life items and people. On the other side you can do things that would be too expensive, too dangerous or simply impossible to do in real life.

The problem with VR for some people is they can’t walk without falling over their first time (myself included). Your market is millenials and their out of town boomer parents who can scarcely use their smartphone.

There already are VR rooms. I'm stoked to try it out (going next week), but from what I can tell it's still a niche even for the companies where you can do them.

That’s a big “just”. A high quality game usually involves a lot of integration with the physical space.

If you had a big space it wouldn't be too hard to resubdivide it regularly with movable walls. An escape room can probably be made to be super modular. Bill it as the latest season like fortnight and sell a subscription to your regulars. Print money.

Seems like having more than one way to solve the puzzle could be fun. Next time you see if you can pick an alternate ending. Or providing extra “tools” to newbies that make the time pressure much more intense if you don’t have them the second time around.

5 Wits makes escape room like experiences that have multiple different endings. This allows for some degree of replayability.

I always thought an angle to try on these was to turn the escape room inside out. Instead of paying rent, get old cars/buses and build an experience where people had to get in rather than out. Something you could relocate to another city or take out to kids parties. Have components in the trunk, under seats, in roof capsules, glove boxes.

I’m sure bus-based ones have been done, but I haven’t heard of retro-fitting junk cars.

My favorite version was Cube Zero.

The article seems to really gloss over the fact that the "escape the room" concept was a media trope or even subgenre before this industry exploded. The history discussion skips the years that the concept really started becoming popular in media. The best-known examples are probably in the Saw franchise, but it's also a popular genre in casual gaming. As far as I remember, it really took off ~15 years ago with Toshimitsu Takagi's Flash games (Crimson Room, Viridian Room, White Chamber; the latter should not be confused with the sci-fi horror game the white chamber). There are other semi-popular franchises that use the concept within a larger framework, as with some of the Saw sequels (Zero Escape, Danganronpa).

This, in turn, probably has a less direct relationship to films and TV episodes that focus on a single room to save budget or create psychological tension (as with the original Saw), without escape necessarily being a major theme.

The article gives a couple possible “firsts” for escape rooms, on of which is specifically described as an attempt to bring _Crimson Room_ into real space. Maybe you were just looking for a reference to _Saw_?

Yeah, I'm not sure how I missed that reference. I looked for several things, one of which was the Crimson Room series. I probably jumped around too much while backtracking.

I went to one here in Boulder, and that was enough for me. Couldn't really control my suspension of belief (like say, a good movie with a silly, but engaging plot) to get into to it, and each puzzle just felt like work. You kinda hope for say, Myst, but in real life, but felt more like a weekly Martin Gardnir, but just scattered about a room, and I had to pay $35 to solve it. My mind literally went to chores I'd rather be doing instead being where I was. All the props just felt like someone went to a thrift store. I should've drank considerably more before participating - the same feeling you get at like, a funeral for someone you dont really know.

That seems to be the baseline for a lot of these places. They rent some warehouse space, throw up drywall rooms, then fill them with thrift store furniture/decor. The puzzles boil down to solving a series of padlocks or keycodes.

However note the place in the article - they clearly put a lot of effort into it. The decor is well done and the puzzles are actually involved, even interactive.

I went on a cruise ship that had an escape room. It was incredibly well designed both from a puzzle and decor standpoint. It was also the most difficult room I've ever tried. It was a fake "submarine" like the one mentioned in the article, though the decor was even more realistic. There were multiple interactive puzzles that involved things like re-routing the flow of water through pipes or using a VR headset mounted on a "periscope" to scan the "surroundings" for clues. The sky's the limit on these, so to speak.

Its a whole different activity, as a group event. 2 or three friends, yelling out clues you've discovered, recording them and trying to put them together, its very engaging.

I'd never consider doing an escape room alone.

I was there with ~5 others for a birthday; I never said I was alone. I never found it engaging though - you'd go through the room and everyone would just tear it asunder. The time limit on the whole thing made it so efficiency was the most important part of the, "experience". Again, felt like a job, more than entertainment.

There are a lot of bad ones out there. Sounds like you found one. A good one can be really fun.

Escape rooms are just now getting into a consolidation phase after the big initial boom, but it hasn’t gone far enough to really squeeze poor quality out, so there’s more low end product out there than there should be.

I've experienced the strip mall thing you're describing. But we have some incredibly themed and customized rooms here. I wish you could have experienced one of those instead.

That was funny. I think if you go in a group like from work or with friends then it helps. If you are thinking of chores instead having fun then you need this more not less.

That sounds a lot like a reply from someone who enjoys an activity and can't fathom that someone else wouldn't. I get that a lot when people (my wife) tries to convince me to go to the beach. I _abhor_ the beach and she just assumes I "not doing it right" in some way.

To be fair, I don't mind the activities around the beach so much (shops, soft serve, etc). However, that's not what the majority of people want to do with their time.

I understand that you don’t like the activity but then that is that. You just say “you” don’t like the activity. Original comment implied that he/she didn’t get it. Some activities are designed for the group, it is nothing like going to the beach.

justinator's comment reads like Escape Rooms are overhyped and not worth it, and that it's something most people who have tried it think but it's literally the first time I've ever heard someone describe it like that.

(just to be clear, I went with a group).

But the easiest way I can describe it: it's like going to a really bad haunted house and it's my job to scare myself.

I agree on the Myst comment. I think if there was more tech involved and a little “magic” after the solving of each puzzle, it would be a bit more fun. That said, watch how much you drink. My friend and I went into one in Denver pretty hammered and ended up both sitting down and falling asleep! The employee came in and woke us up after a little bit. We somehow still ended up escaping with less than a minute left.

I made a site to help people find escape rooms, at www.escapespy.com. Check it out if your looking for available bookings in your area.

This seems very close to being a tool I would use.

My wife and I like to play escape rooms together. There's just two of us, and we prefer a team size of 5-6. So I often hunt through booking pages for rooms that already have a team of 3-4 signed up, so that we can join them.

This tool lets me search for rooms that are available (which is almost all of them) or booked (which I think means fully booked - not clear). I would want to search for rooms that are partially booked, preferably with 3-4 people and room for 2 more to join.

Totally separate issue - the hardest part has been finding locations that we like. So far we've found two that we love a lot: the Great Escape Room in Miami and the Master Escape Room in Boca Raton. Of course we've played every room in both places. Yelp reviews are mostly written by people who just did their first escape room, and even frequent escape roomers like us seem to vary a lot in preferences.

Yea that data (partial bookings) would be great. It’s hard to get reliably, I have it for some rooms but not others. Once I have more quality on it I’ll start showing it on the site. At the moment, booked means fully booked.

This site also has a review feature. Please add some reviews :). It shows how many rooms the reviewer has done, so you know if it’s a new person or someone with experience.

How did you get available booking times for all these rooms?

A lot of scrapers!

I think they should be bigger and the stories longer.

1h isn't nearly enough to get in the mood, especially of they have good a story but you don't really have the time to read it.

Escape rooms are great as a social work outing -- I never expected my manager to belt out a shrill shreak after a dead hand dropped out of a safe after we solved a complex puzzle.

I really like the idea of escape rooms, but have never had the chance to do one. My area just had one or two shut down, so I might have missed the chance.

>Escape rooms

Referring to a form of structured entertainment; not to be confused with "panic rooms" or "escape hatches".

My buddy makes his living building escape rooms (in the US)

Escape rooms are NOT big business because a) no repeat business and more importantly b) they scale terribly.

In general I agree escape rooms aren't a great business. But consider:

(a) Although you can't really get repeat business until you create a new game, as long as you have at least 2 different games available at any one time a single group can trigger a cascade of business. It only takes one person from that group wanting to come back to play your other game, and quite often they'll bring new people. Then, if at least one of them comes back to do the first room, they'll bring new people as well. Etc. And of course, whenever you do get around to creating a new game the cycle can repeat.

(b) If you want to spend big bucks to make Hollywood-quality games in big cities, yeah you're not going to scale well. But if you create "generation 1" games (basically a series of padlocks, most needing a number or letter code) put them in everyday, contemporary settings, and focus on serving large suburbs and smaller towns, you can scale relatively well. Out of the 7 games I've created thus far, the most popular ones were the quickest and cheapest to build as they took place in a grandmother's home and a generic business office. Quite easy to find relevant decor and furnishings dirt cheap.

Yeah, escape rooms are not "big business". But I think what's impressing people is the ROI given the relatively minimal start-up capital and low overhead costs. I only spent $4,700 starting up my escape room business and in its first three years grossed over $100,000 in a tiny mountain town of only 17,000 people. While that isn't gangbusters, it's not bad for a little 20 hours a week side gig.

Seconded on the scaling aspect. This company has 39 locations, mostly in medium sized cities. Granted, they are the "generation 1" type games, at least at the one location I've been to.


"Big business"? 2300 escape rooms times a few thousand a month is still only in the millions i annual revenue. Tiny compared to Google, Facebook, Exxon, etc. Even frozen yogurt was 1.8 billion in 2018.

The article is not actually about that. It’s a poorly titled submission.

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