Exit games in the news

Newspaper graphicSome longer posts, some shorter ones. Here’s a quick round-up of recent mass media stories about exit games.

  • Can You Escape of Edinburgh have a preview in the Edinburgh Reporter, which reveals three interesting things that this site did not previously know: a leaderboard of fastest escape times is at least implied, the venue has plans to double in capacity from one room to two early in 2015 and the business has received funding and support from Business Gateway Edinburgh. Might other potential (and even existing?) operators around the UK and Ireland be able to get assistance from their local business incubators? It’s something well worth considering.
     
  • Logiclock of Nottingham have a story in the Nottingham Post about their background and opening. The site also has fifty half-price tickets available as an opening discount for teams who are willing to dig through the web site and find the unusually-coloured digits. If you’re good enough to play and win their pirate-themed game, finding this code should be a snap.
     
  • It didn’t raise mass media interest, but it did raise a smile; Puzzlair of Bristol recently had their youngest player ever, a 10-week-old baby. By implication, this baby did manage to break out in time… inside their nappy.
     
  • Not a UK story, but really interesting: Escape Games of Toronto were profiled in Canada’s largest newspaper’s “Business Club”. The site has five rooms, with three more coming soon, and a large lobby where you can borrow board games to play on-site before or after your escape mission. (A good match, though it must help that Canada is so large that rents might not be nearly so much of an issue as they are in the UK.) The site is recommended by Toronto Room Escapes, a rare honour, though the Escape Games Review, er, review is also well worth reading.

    It’s particularly interesting in that it discusses what a really high-end site has to do to survive in an extremely crowded market, far more crowded locally than any in the UK, even that of London. This site is much more bullish about exit games’ future than the proprietor is, though perhaps Toronto and Budapest over time might go to show what market saturation might look like. The article is extremely interesting for its view behind the scenes and also for the free consultancy provided by a number of the best local business brains, which might yet prove food for thought, subject to local adaptation, for site owners closer to home.

6 Comments

  1. That was definitely an interesting article, thanks for sharing!

    The advice from “experts” left me a little cold and I’m curious about your (and other site readers’) reaction. They mostly boiled down to advising the proprietor to focus on stagnation rather than innovation. To be sure if, as reported, Escape Games is a leading innovator in the space, then maybe it makes sense to circle around, spend money on marketing, and cross brand with “leadership gurus” (barf)?

    The proprietor’s own plans are more along the lines of how I would think, which is to think about “what’s next”. Escape rooms as we know them may or may not be a fad but I think there’s a substantial ongoing desire for interactive, intellectually engaging, in-person fun.

    Besides being left behind by changing tastes, the other risk seems to me that as it mainstreams, a consolidation takes place. Big multinational chains and major entertainment companies (think Disney and EA) could reap an economy of scale and end up driving “indies” out of business. To address that, you could try to grow fast enough to be that multinational dominant player (a la Escape Hunt?) or at least be acquired by one, or you could decide that there’s increasing room for indie players with a unique feel (which is to say not generic “team building exercises”).

    But who knows! I guess the beauty of an independent business is you get to make your own choices and don’t have to listen to “experts”.

    Reply
    • I’m inclined to agree with you, and I think I’ll agree with two slightly different points that I think you’re making.

      The first is that there may, sadly, be a difference between what’s cool and what’s good business. (For instance, while I really like the thought of a board game cafe attached to an exit game, I fear that – in the UK, where rents are so much higher – it might be more cool than good business.) It delights me that there can be high-end businesses as well as low-end ones, and that the high-end ones can go so far all-out. However, convincing people that their proposition is so different from the rest (even if the price point may not be!) is a challenge that may not yet have been cracked. This is where exit game blogs can help, but are just one of many, many different sources.

      The second is that there is likely to be consolidation down the line… even if it just comes from the less successful sites falling by the wayside, or repurposing as something else. I’d be inclined to suspect that this might be more likely to take the form of a successful operator in another city taking over a less successful site, but it’ll certainly be interesting to find out.

      Reply
  2. I read the article a while back and I actually agree with many of the ‘expert’ points.

    Marketing – In Toronto, many places offer some sort of discount for liking or sharing or checking in to their business on facebook. For many businesses, this is the sole ‘marketing’ they do; Social networking stuff is just one step above word-of-mouth. It doesn’t seem sufficient! Escape Games seems even worse in this regards. They don’t really seem interested in taking pictures of participants, which has become something of a norm in the industry.
    It’s entirely possible I have inadvertently done much more marketing for them than they have for themselves. They chose to prioritize on putting out a good product over making their name known. I respect that. Having a crappy product is essentially negative marketing. But you also have people paying more money for a lesser experience at other businesses! What portion of these people are doing so because they don’t even know of Escape Games’ existence?
    Attracting corporate business ties in to this as well. I heard that AT Escape had a boom in corporate team bookings after a segment on CP24 (a local Toronto news channel). Their rooms are smaller and more expensive (and more infuriating for that matter). I think a large portion of these bookings also comes from the fact that Escape Games isn’t well known enough.

    Pricing – Which also brings us to pricing. They’re in the middle of the pack for one of the best experiences you can get. As a customer, I obviously want to pay less, so it really just makes me feel like other places should be charging much less. Thinking about it objectively though, they should probably be charging more.

    In China and Malaysia, a few movies did marketing by having existing companies build escape rooms themed like the movie itself. Prior to the new season of The Walking Dead in October, there was a Walking Dead Terminus Escape room opened in Singapore (sanctioned by the show). It clearly wouldn’t work for every movie/tv show, but I think this kind of partnering is a more likely outcome than big entertainment companies driving out ‘indie’ businesses. Many of these businesses have already done the research on zoning laws and have the skillsets that big entertianment companies might as well just pay for. If the escape room craze was in full force back when the Saw franchise was gaining momentum, it would have been great marketing! Horror games in general would be a good pairing.

    Reply
    • I looked the other day at TripAdvisor for Toronto, and was surprised that exit games weren’t overrunning the top of the charts. The Great Escape is #5 attraction with 15/15 five-blob votes, and nowhere else is in the top 30. When there is so much domination of the charts in UK cities by exit games, why might this not be true in Toronto? Your point about marketing may very well be valid.

      I don’t think I can comment on this without betraying Western privilege, but it’s worth running this Japanese Wikipedia page through a translator. It seems that SCRAP Entertainment, known for the original Real Escape Game brand, have interests in a J-Pop idol group with a name that translates to Puzzle GIrls who have released five CDs, presumably as marketing. That’s rather delightful!

      Reply
    • Interesting, and I hear you about better sites being under-marketed.

      I don’t know any escape room proprietors, but other small businesspeople I know express frustration at a lack of marketing tools. In some cases they’d be happy to spend money but can’t find an effective way to spend it. In some cases they’ve hired marketing consultants and publicists with mixed success at best. In particular, there seems to be a gap between social media/listings sites on one hand (which are good as far as they go, but slow) and traditional mass media (which is expensive, untargeted, and often completely ignored by the target audience).

      I know both this site and EscapistTO have often remarked on seemingly better or worse promotion strategies for escape rooms, and there do seem to be some clever tricks to be used. It can be hard for us to know which ones actually work. (In fact it can even be hard for the people running the campaigns to know!)

      Reply
      • “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half. ” – attributed to John Wanamaker.

        I’m not going to name all the sites whose marketing I am impressed by, for there are more than a few, but Can You Escape?‘s opening campaigns are very, very impressive. Their plan to invite popular local bloggers sounds likely to be extremely cost-effective. (I’m always a little cautious about saying this, as I am neither a popular blogger nor one who accepts free play.) They’re not the only ones to have done this; a couple of sites have partnered with blog advertising networks to invite popular bloggers at other advertisers’ expense. It does seem like a win-win, but it does feel like it’s getting uncomfortably close to something a bit Klout-y, which doesn’t feel… organic might be the best adjective for what I have in mind.

        Reply

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