Business Update


UK and Irish escape room count over the past five years
produced by Ken Ferguson of Exit Games UK

The graph above reflects part of the state of the escape room industry. We are lucky to have Ken Ferguson keeping record so meticulously, and the graph comes from a recent statistical update he wrote; he is the Google to my Yahoo!, which is why my coverage has pivoted away from escape rooms to such a large extent. The trampoline park industry appears to have grown in the UK at a comparable rate to that of the escape game industry, probably even a quicker rate still, according to very limited data quoted within this Guardian article; it would really be useful to see more granular data on the trampoline parks for a fuller comparison. (Certainly the escape game industry has done relatively well at keeping itself out of trouble in terms of adverse news stories, which the trampoline park industry hasn’t.)

Nevertheless, past performance is no guarantee of future results, as the stock market disclaimer goes. Within the last month or two, I’ve seen two very respectable, puzzly people say “Are escape rooms still a thing?” and “I kinda feel like I’m over escape rooms now? Am I just getting old?”; no names, no pack drill, no trace on Google. On the other hand, someone else made unprompted negative comments about the ubiquity of the escape room genre in public as far back as GameCamp 2016, now almost 15 months ago. As I said at the time, “one of the ways you know your genre has made it is when there’s a backlash against it“. If you’re serious about starting your own room, don’t let me put you off; keep doing your research, and you might well get a lot from this seminar on the topic – though a lot of the legal specifics are from the US rather than from the UK.

I firmly believe that (a) escape room games have an awful lot to offer that other genres don’t, (b) we’re still only really scratching at the surface of what the wider escape room game industry has to offer and (c) I don’t think you’d find many people willing to argue that the overall quality of new games hasn’t gone up over time. I also firmly believe that the wider escape room game industry doesn’t have a right to exist and keep growing, and will need to keep innovating and reinventing itself over time, sometimes in large ways and sometimes in small ones, in order to remain in good health. So far, so very very good; I’ve privately called the top of the market in the UK at least three or four times – and so far, quite happily, I’ve been wrong each time. Ken reports that the number of closures so far this year has been remarkably low; it may be harder to track closures than openings, for things can just fade away, but this is another indication still of good health.

Ever since Escape Hunt was bought and floated on the Alternative Investment Market, because they have become a public limited company, much more of their business has to be conducted in public. The shares are neatly up from the price at which they were placed, which is excellent news; the price doesn’t seem to move too much and the market for them might not be all that liquid. The company’s web site’s investors section will be worth following over time. The statement at the recent AGM is interesting – “The key metric by which we judge our franchisee business is the share of revenue which we receive from our franchisees” – and the annual accounts will always be of interest. You can always follow the details of any UK company that’s a plc or a ltd. at Companies House, whether it’s an escape game company or not; for instance, Escape Hunt plc, Tick Tock Unlock Ltd., Clue HQ Ltd. and so on, and so on. (Many small escape game companies are operated by sole traders and thus cannot be found in this way.)

Lastly, purely for completeness, if you can buy shares in any publicly traded company and build up a long position in it in the hope that the price will rise, you can quite probably find a broker who will help you build up a short position in the hope that the price will fall as well. If you are sophisticated enough to know what you’re doing and were of a mind to do so, neither of which is true in my case, the likes of SpreadEx might be able to set you up with just such a contract…

News round-up for early June 2017

News round-upThe news goes round and round and round and eventually up, so here are some things you may have seen or may have missed, with links varying from the artistic to the competitive but making interesting steps in between. Many, but far from all, of them come from the not-so-secret secret Escape Room Slack, which has recently reached 300 members. Slack is a real-time chat forum; if you’re old like me, think IRC – or if you’re very old like me, think of a talker. For a 300-member online group, it remains surprisingly overwhelmingly well-mannered and friendly, and highly knowledgeable and often very funny. The volume can be high, but the #uk-general channel is more focused.

1) Here’s a step towards something really exciting… though, perhaps, only a baby step. The Crowne Plaza hotel in Melbourne is now offering a hotel suite complete with its own in-room escape game within, available now and until the end of August. You’re looking to pay more than AU$100 supplement over the cost of a suite without the escape, and the supplement gets you a 45-minute game to play. I’d be prepared to pay a hefty premium for the privilege of staying somewhere with a mystery to spend, say, a long evening diving deeply into, and it’s also true that people will pay considerable convenience fees for goods and services to be delivered to their hotel room rather than going out to a destination – so if there can be room service food, and room service movies, then why not room service escape games?

2) Towards the higher end of what the genre might be, Broadway World covers the recent launch of immersive experience The Path Of Beatrice, developing upon the themes of Paradiso: Chapter 1 which launched last year. Investigating further, I get the impression that it’s not a direct sequel so much as a wraparound that can be played before or after the central escape room itself. The ticket price is… not just more in line with that of interactive theatre than that of escape rooms but half an order of magnitude higher again, but perhaps the prospect of a multi-day experience is commensurately ambitious.

Ticket buyers for The Path of Beatrice will embark on a journey comprised of multiple short, location-based episodes that explore the complex backstory of the Virgil Corporation and the mysterious narrative of Paradiso: Chapter 1. Each experience will feature a series of unexpected and suspenseful events and missions that reference David Fincher’s early masterpiece “The Game” and the cult classic “The Institute.” The experience will unfold with the exchange of packages, virtual correspondences, and interactions with performers and other players delivering clues in unlikely, site-specific locations around the city.” There are plenty of reviews of Paradiso: Chapter 1; the one from Room Escape Artist may be the most relevant.

3) I covered DASH 9 fairly extensively, but somehow failed to discover that there was a survey held afterwards about the event. Around 160 teams replied, but reply rates varied heavily from location to location – for instance, most of the Fremont teams replied, but very few of the San Francisco ones did. (And none of the London ones, for that matter.) Broadly highly positive, encouraging stuff, but the nuance is worthwhile. The set-piece big physical puzzle was the most popular in its two appearances; the transparency jigsaw, the cryptic crossword variant and the final AR puzzle were the least popular, though still far from widely panned. It’s not immediately clear whether the puzzle styles were inherently unpopular or just the way they were executed. In other news, there’s convincing evidence that lots of teams had silly names, and quite a few teams had rude names, for some of the glyphs we encountered along the way.

4) Iain, who was lead GC for the excellent DASH 7 in London and who has kindly posted a few articles at this very site, points to a description of how someone staged a pop-up escape game at an adult retreat. There are a few very cute ideas in there which might set your mind in motion if ever you have interest in staging the poppiest-up of amateur pop-ups for your own entertainment. The title of the piece will set the theme, as well as clue you in to where the retreat took place: Escape Room: Lesbian Relationship Edition!

5) Heading from the more artistic to the more competitive, there’s a very interesting-looking attempt at a Polish Escape Game Championship taking place now. Teams must be made up of members of the lockme.pl industry-wide site (bookings facility, news site and social network of sorts) and start by an online qualifier of a NotPron-style decode-the-images-into-passwords puzzle trail. In each of five regions, 12 teams will make it from the online qualifier to a live regional final, and the best two of those twelve will go forward to a national grand final. The national final will be played by those ten teams at the WroEscape conference at the end of October in Wrocław. What an exciting initiative!

6) The Crystal Maze will return to Channel 4 on Friday 23rd June and they’re starting with another Stand Up 2 Cancer celebrity special; TellyMix reveals the line-up of five, and the official trailer looks pleasingly authentic. (It has been suggested that there will be 41 different games played over the 20 episodes, which is respectably varied.) As ever, the maze itself is the star, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing the games. Less seriously, NewsBiscuit wraps up the last piece of outstanding business from the original series decades ago.

A highly-regarded and reasonably well-known UK escape room posted today that Jonathan Ross, Jane Goldman and at least some of their family came and played at their site, and apparently did rather well! It’s not the first site at which they are known to have played, and I have a suspicion that it’s not their second site either – they’re famously a family of gamers of many different styles. Accordingly, it’s very tempting to imagine that they’re begging – begging – their agents to get to play one of the celebrity episodes of The Crystal Maze. (It’s possible that Ross has a TV deal which restricts him to ITV which might rule it out, but he’s certainly done comedy for Stand Up 2 Cancer on the channel in the past.) They’re certainly more famous than most of the members of the celebrity team listed above!

7) Finally, Escape The Review have recently committed a truly heroic piece of blogging: a guide to escape rooms in Europe. “Europe has a thriving, complex escape scene, and the games I’ve played myself around various European cities are only a tiny fraction of the games available. So the information here is based on recommendations from other enthusiasts, reviewers and owners, in many cases taken from the Escape Room Enthusiasts group on Facebook, plus links to relevant review and directory sites. Where an area is well covered by local blogs and directory sites, I’ve linked straight through to those; where suggestions come from other sources I’ve attempted to combine them into a brief summary.” At the very least, it’s an amazing starting-point for more specific investigations. What a spectacular piece of work!

How would we get puzzles at the Olympic Games… or something like it?

International Mind Sports Association logo (presumably their copyright)This is a post I’ve been working on in the background, on and off, for a while; every time we discuss competitions, especially international championships, it comes back to mind.

The direct answer to the question is that it would seem vanishingly unlikely to ever get puzzles at the Olympic Games before other mind sports: games like chess, bridge, go and so on. It’s a subject that has been raised in the past by these mind sports’ governing bodies, but there has never been substantial progress on this front. (The highest-profile examples of mind sports at a festival of otherwise physical sports that I can find is that chess has had a couple of appearances at the Asian Games and the Universiade.) So let’s focus on the “…or something like it” instead, where there may be more to consider than you think.

(This is a long old piece; not far off three thousand words, hence the cut.) Continue reading

Getting down to business

A few pieces of news arising:

1) Insider Media reports that “An AIM-listed investment vehicle has agreed a £12m reverse takeover for a live escape room business, with plans to bring the brand to the UK. Dorcaster has agreed to buy Experiential Ventures Ltd, the holding company of the Escape Hunt Group.” If you search for Experiential Ventures in the news, you can find other analysts’ viewpoints on the development; for instance, there is a slightly sourer opinion from Shares magazine.

I’m not sufficiently business-savvy to know the ins and outs of how the procedure works, and whether it’s all done and dusted and the cash-register bell is ringing or whether people are still relying on other people to supply money to make things happen. (If there is someone who can interpret, that would be very welcome.) I do like the thought of someone from the escape game industry Getting The Loot, though; while this deal might have arisen from what is, to some extent, an escape game franchise business, rather than an escape game business, I can’t imagine you could have a credible escape game franchise business without having had an escape game business first.

This site featured a couple of interviews from May 2014 and November 2014 with Escape Hunt principal Paul Bart. There’s more analysis to be done somewhere of this (and of business in general) down the line, but that day is not today; today is a champagne graphic day, as far as I’m concerned.

2) The much-missed Oubliette‘s Minkette kindly pointed to this thread on Twitter, in which Lee Shang Lun, also known as Harry, livetweeted (and translated) a talk given by Baptiste Cazes on escape room games at the Pompidou Centre. The thread is well worth reading.

3) Archimedes Inspiration‘s Kou Tseng is running the London Marathon a week on Saturday in support of Mind, the mental health charity, in an escape-themed padlock costume. You can donate directly to his fundraising effort. Alternatively, the site’s Facebook page states that “Book one of our games between now and 30th April and we will donate all the profits to Mind, an amazing charity that provides help and support to anyone experiencing an mental health problem.” Kudos! Immense kudos!

4) Shortly after that, the next UK escape room unconference will take place. “April’s UK Escape Room Unconference will be held at Summerhall in Edinburgh – a quirky and original venue close to Edinburgh Waverley train station and the bus station. The lovely peeps at LockedIn are running free sessions from noon on Monday to noon on Wednesday if you’re staying over, and on the evening of the event as well.” It starts at 10am on Tuesday 25th April; tickets are still available for under £34, including Eventbrite fee. Sadly I’ll be working the day shift and have to miss out this time, but some highly-regarded London types have suggested that the standard of games in Edinburgh is (almost entirely consistently) remarkably high, with the highest highlight at least matching anything England has to offer. A ringing endorsement, and these unconferences are always great days. Judging by the names on the Eventbrite, there’ll be easily enough brilliant people there that it’ll be worth your time and effort in terms of who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn, and not so many people as to overload the venue and become overwhelming.

5) A little further down the line is the next Up The Game conference on Tuesday 9th May at a remarkable abandoned prison venue in Breda in the Netherlands. Tickets are still available and won’t leave much change from €200, plus all the usual costs of travel to attend a conference, but the speaker line-up is stellar. I hadn’t realised quite how big the first Up The Game was – of the order of 500 attendees from 40 countries – and I’ll eagerly be awaiting news of this one from afar.

Dyson with death

Dyson "Smart Rooms"Dyson, manufacturer of remarkable cyclone-generating motors and devices in which they might be found such as vacuum cleaners, have been involved in some unusually interesting projects over the past few months. The first was a deliberately short-lived ARG called Rethinkers and the credit list contains some of the most celebrated names when it comes to integrating stories and games, one of whom was responsible for a very highly celebrated escape room. While the game is now history, probably the best place to find out about it is the appropriate subreddit.

This isn’t Dyson’s only adventure, though. At least some of the people involved in that campaign are also involved in a follow-up campaign called The Smart Rooms. This saw Dyson release a video featuring snippets of code that could be assembled (both literally and figuratively) to generate a password which might earn you access to visit The Smart Rooms themselves. These rooms will be in place in Brixton over the coming two days and every place has been booked. In context, these rooms are set to bear some similarities to a traditional escape game, but there will be an “Internet of things” / “connected house” theme and an unusually heavy focus on software engineering challenges. Indeed, the presumed reason why Dyson are going to these lengths is to capture the attention of talented software engineers and inviting them to apply to work for them. Success in either game does not guarantee employment but would surely be a feather in the cap.

This weekend’s play has another twist – and, very unusually, the best place to find out more is an article in The Sun. The players’ progress will be streamed live on Twitch as they take part; struggling players may ask viewers for help, indirectly, by indicating four words or four objects and inviting the world to vote on which appears the most relevant in the situation. Hopefully the world will decide to be helpful.

So even if you aren’t getting to play in person this weekend, perhaps you can still get to play along. Follow Dyson and their social media this weekend for the action as it happens!

Industry advertising at the UK Games Expo

UK Games Expo 2017The UK Games Expo describes itself as the largest Hobby Games Convention in the UK. It has taken place in Birmingham for each of the last 11 years and attendance is in the low tens of thousands annually. It’s a three-day event, so the figure might have some triple-counting, but that’s still very impressive. It features organised tournaments and open gaming across a wide variety of genres: board games, trading card games, miniatures war games and RPGs, both tabletop and live action. Increasingly it features game-themed entertainment events as well. (It’s almost easier to define it in terms of what sorts of games it doesn’t focus upon: traditional mind sports, physical games and digital games.) While far from all exit games players have interests in these fields, enough of them do that this seems to pose an obvious opportunity: people who go to the UK Games Expo have a much larger-than-average chance of being interested in exit games.

There is a plan to have some sort of industry-wide presence at the event. Potentially there will be a bespoke game to play, showcasing what a number of different exit games have to offer, but which will need considerable manipulation to fit into a convention context. There would also be the scope to heavily advertise your exit game brand at the event. More on this may emerge at the next unconference on 10th January, as previously discussed, but there may be no spaces left for it, so the best way to find out more would be to get in touch with Liz Cable.

Summer 2016: where are the gaps in the UK market?

Regions of the UK

From the National Archives; contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

In case anyone’s in any doubt, I’m absolutely thrilled with the job that Ken is doing with Exit Games UK since I handed it over to him. He’s definitely doing a better job of it than I could right now and may very well do a better job of it than I could do at my best. Certainly some of the changes he’s made to the administration of it are very smart, far better than I knew how to do. I’m thrilled that he’s brought the map up to date and also done a wonderful job revamping and improving the list of games, after a point at which I waved the white flag. His articles have also been top-notch, too. All that and it’s not even his first site!

I’m particularly glad that he’s brought the list of games up to date because it means I can catch up with this post. Every six-ish-ish months or so, this site looks at a snapshot of the UK market for exit games and analyses where the gaps are at that time. (See the older versions from September 2015, March 2015, September 2014 and March 2014.)

It’s possible that some of the first exit game room proprietors might have started business in the closest big city to where they happened to already live. However, if you had a choice as to where to set up business, where are the most obvious gaps in the market? Alternatively, where might people expect to see exit rooms coming soon? In mid-2016, now that some of the most successful operations have started two or more locations in different towns, where remains up for grabs?

The Brookings Institution analysed 300 of the largest metropolitan economies in late 2012 and identified 15 of them as being in the UK. Because it’s the same list I’ve been using previously, here are the 15 largest metropolitan economies in the UK, alongside the number of exit rooms featured in each one. If there’s a large metropolitan economy without an exit room, there’s arguably a gap in the market there. You can find details of which sites are in which locations on the Exit Game details page.

Metropolitan economy Sites operating Also consider
1. London ~27 2 under construction, Gravesend (1) is close
2. Birmingham 3 Nuneaton (1) is close
3. Manchester 6 Macclesfield (1), Warrington (2), Stockport (1), Atherton (1) all close
4. Leeds-Bradford 3 1 under construction
5. Liverpool 5 Warrington (1) is close
6. Glasgow 6 1 under construction
7. Nottingham-Derby 4 1 under construction, Mansfield (1) is close
8. Portsmouth-Southampton 2 Bournemouth (1) and Salisbury (1) are close
9. Bristol 4 Bath (1) is close
10. Newcastle 4 Sunderland (1) is close
11. Sheffield 3  
12. Cardiff-Newport 4 1 under construction
13. Edinburgh 7 Livingston (1) is close
14. Leicester 1 2 under construction
15. Brighton 2 1 under construction

For comparison, the Dublin metro area with 3 sites open would come just below number three in the above list.

So where are the gaps in the market? Er, there aren’t really any, any more. Too late! OK, that’s unduly flippant. I’ve linked to this before, even recently, but I really like Puzzle Break‘s Nate Martin’s take on competition between escape rooms.

Let’s use a different list, along the same lines: list of UK cities by their Gross Value Added. A more recently updated version of the data is available from the ONS, but that breaks it down almost too much. That list on Wikipedia does display some editorial judgment by amalgamating some sections together, but does so in what I consider to be a helpful fashion. Don’t read too much into the ordering as there’s a great deal of “well, it depends on what you count” – how great (for instance) Greater Manchester might be, and so on. Is it wrong to count Leeds and Bradford as distinct? How about Coventry and Nuneaton? How about Newcastle and Whitley Bay? How about Manchester, Altrincham and Bury? …and so on.

Metropolitan economy Sites operating Also consider
1. London ~27 2 under construction, Gravesend (1) is close
2. Manchester 6 Macclesfield (1), Warrington (2), Stockport (1), Atherton (1) all close
3. Birmingham 3 Nuneaton (1) is close
4. Leeds 3 1 under construction
5. Glasgow 6 1 under construction
6. Edinburgh 7 Livingston (1) is close
7. Tyneside 4 Sunderland (1) is close
8. Bristol 4 Bath (1) is close
9. Sheffield 3  
10. Cardiff 4 1 under construction
11. Liverpool 5 Warrington (1) is close
12. Belfast 2 1 under construction
13. Bradford 0 Leeds (2) and Huddersfield (1) are nearby
14. Nottingham 3 1 under construction, Mansfield (1) is close
15. Derby 1  
16. Leicester 1 2 under construction
17. Coventry 0 Nuneaton (1) is close
18. Wakefield 0 Leeds (2) and Huddersfield (1) are nearby
19. Brighton 2 1 under construction
20. Southampton 0 Portsmouth (2) is close
21. Portsmouth 2 Bournemouth (1) and Salisbury (1) are close
22. Plymouth 1  
23. Peterborough 1 1 under construction
24. Wolverhampton 0 Birmingham (3) is close
25. Hull 0 1 under construction
26. York 2  
27. Stoke 1  
28. Swansea 2  

Very roughly, this points to West Yorkshire and the West Midlands being underserved. Bradford is definitely a pretty plausible-seeming place, Wakefield somehow less so. Coventry and Wolverhampton have potential and Birmingham still has room to grow. Southampton and Hull look very plausible. The Home Counties still also look promising: moderately-sized mid-distance commuter towns like Reading, Watford, Luton, Dartford, where getting into London (or up to Oxford or Milton Keynes, or down to the Guildford area) may still be annoyingly far. This site remains positive about seaside resorts: Margate, Whitby (or Scarborough), Great Yarmouth and so on.

I would say that I was much more cautious about the market than I was last year, but the number of sites continuing to open just goes to show how little I really know!

INSERT COIN

Generic arcade game graphicThere may be less distinguishing the world of escape rooms from the world of coin-operated arcade games than appears at first glance, at least if you can stretch to accepting partial manual operation of the games, and if you can consider notes to be fungible to lots and lots of coins. (Isn’t there at least one game that claims to be completely free of manual operation? The line there must surely be less distinct still.) It’s almost an application of the reverse of “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“. This thought was inspired by Tim Hunkin on running an amusement arcade, albeit one like no other.

Part of the reason that I feel happier blogging at Ex Exit Games than at Exit Games UK is that the number of UK games has gone remarkably quickly from 50 to 80 to 109 to a-hundred-and-I-dread-to-think. As it has done so, I feel less and less comfortable with any sort of viewpoint that could be taken as a recommendation without increasing – and already considerable – amounts of qualification that people plan to try to make their living from the industry. People still can, and still will, beat the odds, but the odds are increasingly not in your favour. (Seattle’s Puzzle Break‘s Nate Martin has a really good – and nuanced – take on the effect of competition between sites.) Every game that starts, struggles and folds is a disappointment from the player’s perspective, but a tragedy from the proprietor’s perspective.

About six months ago, I heard a cracking quote that has stuck with me. Naomi Alderman quoted her Mum on the excellent The Cultures podcast (episode 126-ish) saying words to the effect of “Almost nobody can make a full living just from making and selling their art, but almost anyone who wants to can make a life in and around the art form that they love.

Can escape rooms be art? Can escape rooms, like coin-operated games, be considered more-effectively-monetised-than-most forms of art? I’ll leave the distinction between art and craft, and where escape rooms might fit into the spectrum, to people who have a clue what the hell they’re on about concerning the topic. Not me!

Nevertheless, I wonder if there’s merit in considering creating and operating your own escape room to be, first and foremost, an artistic job? (The second half of the quote might refer to working on someone else’s escape room… or whatever escape-room-like game business might come to follow in the years to come.) What sorts of artistic jobs that have existed for decades, or longer, might offer lessons to proprietors of escape rooms?

GAME OVER

CONTINUE?

9

Can there ever be such a thing as “too many”?

Overloaded brainThis post is far from a claim that there are “too many” exit games in the UK. It is, however, a call to consider whether there can be a meaningful concept of “too many” games, and – if so – what “too many” might look like.

One follow-up question is whose perspective is being used to ask the question. As a player, can there be too many games? If the lack of replay value drives you to seek out more and more games to play, the bar for “too many” would surely be set very high, if it existed at all. If someone were to want to play every game that existed, or play a game at every site that existed, then a quest to keep up with every new opening might exceed the time and resources you have available. However, such a quest without limiting yourself to a relatively small area strikes this site as an inherently pretty extreme task. While it’s a delight that new sites and games continue to advance the state of the art, surely there comes a point where additional games, except the latest and greatest, have relatively little to offer. This may or may not be before your resources run out.

From the perspective of someone trying to make a living either as staff or owner of a game, “too many” may look quite different. Our society is capitalist; no business has an inherent right to survive. (It’s amusing to consider the existence of an exit game in a planned economy; surely a meritorious citizen would have to apply to play and then wait months or years for a space to play.) On the other hand, the extent to which a game thrives or even survives may not reflect the quality of the game in question, so much as other matters like the effectiveness of the way in which it is marketed. It seems sadly likely that there will be some brilliant games which fall by the wayside even when lesser – or merely good – games continue for longer; for those businesses, the raised bar for continued survival might be said to have arisen from too many games.

Another way to look at it might be that “too many” simply reflects more than “the right number” – and presupposes that there could be such a thing as a right number. Someone at last week’s unconference seriously looked forward to the thought of there being 300 or 400 sites in the UK; no names, no pack drill, but it was someone who knew a lot about brand expansion. It’s certainly true that the UK has fewer sites than some other countries – even some other smaller countries – and that, say, London has fewer sites than other major conurbations. Do the UK and London have to be at the top of these charts, though? Is the demand really there? The signs have looked good so far, but there surely has to come a point where things find a natural limit.

Do you suppose there could be a million players in one year? How about three million? (There aren’t many hobbies who get three million players in a year; an estimate sufficiently credible for the BBC suggested that there were only four or five million people who played tennis at least once in a year, with maybe a tenth of that playing once a week.) Even allowing for people playing multiple games, and enthusiasts bringing the average up, considering real-world typical team sizes, a million players in a year might look like 300,000 games in a year. (Maybe 250,000; maybe 400,000.) That’s 5,000-8,000 teams per week, keeping the numbers simple. When looking at it last year, the figures pointed to a room (not a site) being more successful and popular than most if it was played twenty times a week, with more than half of these at weekends. So a million plays a year might look like roughly 300 rooms, all being pretty busy at weekends. There were more than 230 rooms in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2015, and quite possibly close to 300 rooms in the UK alone by now.

There’s an awful lot of supply out there already. Whether there’s “too much”, and hence “too many” sites, remains to be seen; fingers crossed that demand remains strong and has further to grow.

Coming soon to your own home: Escape Room in a Box

The titular box in which an escape room can be found

A phrase that I once heard and has got stuck in my mind runs “say it best, say it first, say it last or say it worst”. By cute coincidence, the only citation for it that I can quickly find comes from Professor Scott Nicholson of white paper and Escape Enthusiasts fame. Today’s article is about Escape Room in a Box, the Kickstarter campaign for which closes in less than two days’ time with glorious success; under $20,000 required to fund it, easily over $100,000 raised. Saying it best or first seem impossible now; at least this can be the last place where it gets mentioned… until the next place becomes the new last place.

If you’re reading this, the concept hardly needs explaining. Escape Room in a Box “…is a 60-90 minute cooperative game where 2-6 players solve puzzles, crack codes, and find hidden clues in order to find an antidote to thwart a mad scientist’s plot to turn them into werewolves.” How good could such a game be – or, more to the point, how much could you enjoy such a game? It depends perhaps what aspects of traditional location-specific exit games you most enjoy. Some aspects, like the puzzles, can reasonably be replicated in your own home. Other aspects, like the theming of the environment and ambitious physical props, are much harder. (If a big part of the attraction for you is getting to play with toys that you wouldn’t have the chance to play with elsewhere, it’s less attractive.)

The Logic Escapes Me thought hard about the potential opportunities and limitations of the format and expressed them in their tremendous preview. Perhaps it might best be read in conjunction with Room Escape Artist‘s review of a preview copy of the game, which validates Ken’s concerns and suggests that they have largely been dealt with in a fashion close to reaching the immediate potential of the format. On the other hand, to give full context, perhaps you should compare that review with Esc Room Addict of Canada’s counterpart review of a preview copy, which was rather less enthusiastic.

In any case, the concept appears to have been in the right place at the right time and caught people’s attention more widely; the campaign has been discussed at the Huffington Post and also by those alpha YouTubers at Geek and Sundry. Also excited was Adrian Hon of Six to Start (probably best known for the Zombies, Run! fitness app), also who mentioned it on Twitter. Subsequent discussion started with his opinion “Last escape room I played was $45 *per person*. Surely they could have a higher price/tier, and make the game better or longer?” Perhaps the success of the campaign points to there being the demand for the genre after all – and, from there, it’s tempting to wonder how other members of the family might differ.

Could a later iteration be a partly digital game, requiring its players to supply their own mobile device on which to run an app? Plenty of potential there, starting with being just another medium through which to deliver different sorts of clue, going through being a unique input device and going as far as in any other mixed media game. Certainly the prediction that there may be competitors was proved quickly correct, with ThinkFun introducing Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor this month (at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$21.99, so set your expectations to low-tech), set to be distributed in the UK by Paul Lamond from June. That promises to have an online hint system at the very least.

Exit Games UK would be very interested if existing exit game brands were to consider this technique as a brand extension. Suppose someone has come and played your game, had a tremendous time and have left the room in high spirits. Might this be an excellent time to try to sell them a game so they might have related fun at home? It would take a certain sort of set of strengths for the combination to make sense; home games can convey puzzles very well, so this would work particularly well for a site which prided itself not just on its puzzles but also on certain sorts of puzzles which would translate to a home environment. It would also be a good way to advance the story of a persistent game universe, to keep them keen on playing within your universe when it takes so long and so much to introduce another physical game set there.