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…

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.

Hello, goodbye; now open in London: Escape Entertainment

Escape Entertainment logoAs of barely a day or two ago, there’s an interesting and unusual pop-up that now appears when you go to the web site for the London branch of The Escape Hunt Experience, which reads as follows: “The Escape Hunt Experience London is no longer open and until we re-open you can book with another escape game onsite here“. So there’s still an exit game at 5 George Yard, very near the Bank of England; it’s just a case of goodbye for now to Escape Hunt, and hello to Escape Entertainment. No clue about the business or ownership consequences of the move; probably better to ask questions and report later than to speculate, but perhaps you might not expect to see an amicable forwarding link like that if there was discord arising.

Escape Hunt had ten rooms in three designs on site, in a 4-4-2 formation; for now, Escape Entertainment has eight rooms, six of which host The Bank Heist and two of which host Prohibition Pandemonium. If you have a large, competitive group and want to find the best team within it, writing off the “my room was harder than yours” excuses, a site featuring six parallel examples of the same room is unprecedented to Exit Games UK’s knowledge. The Prohibition Pandemonium game is tried and tested, having featured in a site in New York City which is now the only other branch of the Escape Entertainment chain.

In The Bank Heist, teams of two to six are asked to “rob the crown jewels from the bank. We have hacked their security cameras, providing you a small window of opportunity. Find the clues and solves the puzzles to get one step closer to breaking into the vault! 60 minutes… the clock is ticking“. Tickets are £29 each for groups of two up to £24 each for groups of six. The Prohibition Pandemonium game is a little more unusual, catering for teams of up to ten (at a flat £25 per player) and being prepared to merge smaller groups together to do so. “You’re in a Roaring Twenties speakeasy and the cops are banging on the front door. Do you have what it takes to find the secret back exit and escape the long arm of the law?

Exciting times; if you enjoyed Escape Hunt, or even if you didn’t get around to playing it, you have new challenges to face!

Going head-to-head

"Head to head" graphicA part of the exit game experience that some people particularly like is the ability for your team to compete against another team. This survey only considers sites where two teams can play (practically) identical copies of the same room at the same time; there are several other sites with two or more rooms where two teams can start different games at the same time, though the result must always be in doubt as the “our room was harder” excuse can always be in play. In alphabetical order:

  • Agent November of London: the FAQ suggests that two teams of up to seven can play the Rainbow Syndicate game against each other.
  • Breakout Games Aberdeen: this brand new site has two identical units of Lock and Key.
  • Breakout Manchester: two identical Classified rooms have very recently been opened.
  • clueQuest of London: there are currently two Operation Blacksheep rooms and three PLAN52 rooms. One exciting development is that this famous site is moving in early March to a new location near King’s Cross St. Pancras; the new location will open with two of each of the games, but who knows how this might change over time?
  • Escape of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle: each location has two copies of their classic Live Escape Game room. The booking page might suggest that games start with a 15-minute stagger, but the sites are happy to set both teams going at the same time.
  • Escape Hour of Edinburgh: there are two identical Major Plott’s Revenge rooms. The man evidently gets around.
  • The Escape Hunt Experience of London: this site takes this to another level, permitting head-to-head-to-head-to-head play for Kidnapping in the Living Room and Murder in the Artist’s Bedroom, and head-to-head play for Theft from the Lab.
  • ESCAP3D of Dublin: the Dublin location has two identical rooms, though the Belfast location has only a single room.
  • HintHunt of London: here there are John Monroe’s Office games (one of which has a slightly staggered start time) and two Zen Room games for you to compete on.

Errors and omissions excepted, as ever, and corrections and additions are most welcome. It’s tempting to wonder whether rooms might ever be able to customise head-to-head rooms’ contents to something brand new to try to create some sort of elimination tournament, though it’s difficult to be surprised by the contents of the same room more than once!

Black Friday 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play escape games for less

All-black discount starEven the discount starburst has blacked out completely to celebrate the day. (While the day’s celebration is an import, perhaps this is in preparation for bringing the world’s number one online shopping day, China’s Singles Day, to being a similarly celebrated event in other countries as well.) There are a couple of deals coming up that are available today only, so hopefully some reader can take advantage in the last two hours of the day or so.

Escape Quest of Macclesfield have announced on Facebook that The next 5 bookings made using the code blackfriday will only pay £50 per room for any size team. This deal expires at midnight tonight.

Similarly, Bath Escape have made a Facebook post suggesting that you can book today and receive a 25% discount! Use the code black to get your discount!

GR8escape York‘s opening discount has gone, but has been replaced by a Christmas offer: To help spread the Christmas spirit at Gr8escape York, we are offering £10 off all bookings made from now until the end of December. This is for all group sizes and all available time slots in the month of December. Just use the code Spy School Xmas at the final payment stage.

On top of that, LivingSocial are running a Black Friday campaign, giving 10% off (at least most) of their vouchers. This is particularly relevant to this site because a voucher permitting play for any size group for £39. (Be warned that using the voucher to play on Friday, Saturday or Sunday attracts a £10 supplement, to be paid in cash.) The usual LivingSocial conditions apply. While that voucher has a time limit, the site has its own voucher scheme providing a variety of discounted play options for the first three months of 2015.

Some other ongoing offers include:

Logiclock of Nottingham has an offer called 50-50-5 whereby the first fifty teams to look through the site and find the five miscoloured digits can earn a 50% discount on their ticket.

Locked In Games of Leeds has a Groupon deal that has expired, but try the coupon code of lockedinnovember at the checkout stage for a £30/team ticket in November.

Puzzlair of Bristol announced on Twitter that they have entering the code Twitter on booking will provide a 25% discount until Christmas.

If the Black Friday offer at Escape Quest of Macclesfield has expired, the site has posted an opening discount: For bookings made during November use the code Special20 to get 20% off the price. Sounds good!

Escape Hunt of London’s Challenge is still on and may be the best deal going now that the time-limited 25% coupon promotion has expired. Also in London, Escape Rooms have a VisitLondon10 code for 10% off on weekdays up to 5pm.

As ever, if you know of other coupons, deals, vouchers or competitions, please send them through. If your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if the details of the offer are mangled, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

A second interview with Paul Bart, CEO and Founder of The Escape Hunt Experience

Escape Hunt global logoOne of the early highlights of this blog was an interview conducted very nearly six months ago with Paul Bart, the CEO and founder of The Escape Hunt Experience. At the time, the brand had three sites open in three different countries and ambitious expansion plans. In just under six months, there are now twelve sites open in seven countries, with a thirteenth site (in Brisbane, Australia) opening in just a couple of days’ time. The expansion plans roll on at a considerable rate of knots, so it’s exciting to get back in touch with Paul. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Paul’s responses with PB below.

  • EG: It has been nearly six months since your previous interview. When the world of escape games is moving so quickly, that’s practically a previous era. What have been the big changes for you over the last six months?
  • PB: Hi Chris, thank you for your time. Yes, it is that long but feels a lot less as this is such an exciting business that moves so fast. My days whizz past; they really do! Well, I guess the biggest change is scale. We have grown enormously and so has the market in general. We now have branches literally all over the world and everywhere we go I am pleased that people know us and now what we do. Of course, there are so many other games springing up but this is fantastic as it shows how popular the genre is.
  • EG: At the time, I believe you were talking in terms of having deals signed for 30 branches by the end of 2014 and for 100 branches by the end of 2015. Now, you have revised those estimates up to having deals signed for 75 branches by the end of 2014 and for 500 branches by the end of 2015. It’s very exciting to see those numbers having grown so quickly! What factors have you identified as being responsible for the difference?
  • PB: Quite honestly, it’s the popularity of escape games in general and specifically what we do. We receive literally hundreds of inquiries each month and we are very, very flexible as to how we work, but we also have to qualify our future partners as any business does. Nevertheless, demand outstrips the rate we can expand, hence we are up to a number we will certainly now reach of 75 branches signed by the end of this year. As I write now we have 12 branches open, 18 will be open by Christmas and by the end of January-February we will be up to 25 open branches worldwide. The lead time for some branches to open is quite slow as we do things 100% legally and properly so that is where we have the difference in the numbers but be assured we will open these other branches in due course as they are all agreed and already planned. It depends on the location.
  • EG: How many of those deals signed have actually turned into open sites? The locations list suggests nine, but looking at individual locations’ web sites, it looks like many more than that. This figure must change very regularly; it looks like the Melbourne site opened yesterday (at the time of the interview!) and the Brisbane site is opening at the end of next week.
  • PB: Yes, you are right. We keep this table pretty much up to date. As I said, we need time to open branches but we will open in all the places we list. Look forward to 18 branches open worldwide by Christmas, all with different games!
  • EG: What are the biggest challenges people have faced going between signing a deal and opening a site?
  • PB: It can be many things. We offer a very comprehensive support package but every location has local challenges. Our list of signed branches and opened branches do not correlate at all as we can open in 3 weeks as we did in one location and other branches take 9 months. It is all about getting proper planning permission mostly. Some other operators cut corners, but we don’t so it takes longer for us but we get it right as we can’t afford any mistakes with our brand presence worldwide.
  • EG: Can you be more specific at all about the deal you have signed for the US? It looks like a country begging for national chains as well as the first generation of one-offs that exist dotted around from state to state.
  • PB: Yes, this is indeed an interesting question. First of all, it is the US and Canada not just the US, so it’s all of North America, especially since we already have a Master Franchise Agreement signed in Mexico, the third of the North American countries. The US / Canada has been on our horizon for some time but there are extremely strict franchise regulations in place so we needed a very special partner to handle all this. I am delighted to announce we have that in place in the form of a team of extremely experienced business people who will cover the whole of the US and open branches very soon all across the US and Canada. It took months of careful legal work and planning but it will be worth it. We will open in New York in January and the across the US and Canada very soon after. We have a lot of fantastic surprises in these branches so stay tuned!
  • EG: Investigation suggests that the 10-room London branch of the Escape Hunt Experience was the single location with the largest number of rooms in at least the English-speaking world when it opened, and is believed still to be joint holder of the world record. How big can a centre get?
  • PB: London truly is a big branch but actually many of our branches are very big: Phuket has 8 rooms and all our other branches have around 6 rooms worldwide. We are looking at the idea of mega centres but the issue there is the space required tends to mean they will be less central and one of our core principles is to be very centrally located for access.
  • EG: How close are you to being able to make further announcements closer to home here in the UK?
  • PB: Soon! We are currently in discussion to open across the whole of the UK and Ireland. Soon!
  • EG: Are you aware of any of the sites featuring famous names who have come to play?
  • PB: I am sure we have had many famous names in many branches. As I started my life in the Bangkok branch, I can think of many celebrities but you know they like their privacy so all I can say is check Twitter. Maybe you will see some names linked to us there…
  • EG: I see that the global hub is expanding and you are offering positions so how has your daily routine changed over time?
  • PB: Yes, we now have operations offices in Bangkok and Malaysia. I spend far less time in the Bangkok branch and more in an office but it is tremendously rewarding as I am working with the best talent we can find worldwide to make games, not to mention other skill sets. Our Escape Hunt Game Design Academy based in Bangkok has really blossomed and we are working on our next generation games as we speak. It is so exciting for me to see a simple idea become so detailed and quite frankly, inspirational. I still personally check all games before we send them out and I am blown away now where we are globally with new ideas. I can’t say too much but let’s say we have developed a whole language of our own for game styles, genres, gadgets, hi-tech, sensory immersion, logic flow, game play, deliverables and so much more…
  • EG: What aspects of best practice have emerged from the various locations that you have fed to other sites?
  • PB: Great question, Chris. As we are the only truly global operator worldwide, we have learned a lot and we keep learning. I like to keep us all humble and cultural differences reinforce this. What works in London might not work in Perth, a game style in Ho Cho Minh might not be right for Brussels etc. For us now, it is all about the challenges of scale with control and local variation. We really want each branch to feel like The Escape Hunt Experience but also to feel local. We closely monitor every branch performance and learn and learn and keep learning. I am not sure if you knew or it was an accident but in my previous career I was a best practice business consultant so this comes naturally to me.
  • EG: In your previous interview, you hinted at continued growth, then diversification into new areas. The first half of the plan is going very successfully; can you reveal any more about the second half of the plan?
  • PB: Yes, we will have some great announcements soon. For obvious reasons I can’t say too much now…
  • EG: Just how large can experiential entertainment get? What other activities do you see it eventually rivalling for global popularity?
  • PB: That is another great question. I think the growth so far shows that people have an insatiable appetite for this type of entertainment. Can we even any more classify all this as “escape games”? I wonder…! For me, what we do is very particular and special. Our games are so far apart from other games as opera is from cinema. I think it’s high time to divide up the market place so customers know what they can expect. All escape games are a great addition to the entertainment arena and I respect everyone who enters this space but we are all quite different really. I have a lot of ideas here for classification as you can imagine! Just ask me some time for the new “escape game dictionary”, Chris!
  • EG: When you are in a position to have several different branches in the same country, have you been able to set up interesting interactions between those branches and their players?
  • PB: Absolutely. Thailand is a great example now of many to also come. We will shortly have our 4th branch opening here and we are planning all sorts of offers, synergies, co-branding, promotions, you name it… As I am sure you can imagine, one of the downsides of having a global brand is the constant differences it presents. It’s nice to be able to plan things in a country with the same language, currency, culture and so on and we we will make a lot more of this as time goes on…
  • EG: Is there any merit in the concept of competition between different locations of a single brand?
  • PB: We run friendly competition amongst all our branches but nothing more than that. We believe in offering great games and great service first and foremost so really we tend to compete over things like best TripAdvisor rank and reviews, mostly.
  • EG: How do you get players to move from escape games being an interesting thing to do once or twice to having escape games being one of their main hobbies and interests?
  • PB: That is one of the key tenets of our business, Chris. We are all about a place where everyone can go again and again. I hinted earlier about the new generation games. These offer huge excitement in terms of different game play, time play eras and game logic flow. When you also consider that each of our branches has different theming, different games always changed twice a year and different locally themed merchandise, it all adds to a reason to choose The Escape Hunt Experience as an activity in every place a customer finds it. We want all our customers to associate us with great games, great service and of course a new challenge every time they play!

    Thank you, Chris, for your time. It’s very kind of you to follow our progress.

Thanks so much for that, Paul! This site looks forward to more exciting announcements over time, and also to getting to talk with many of the other influential minds that have shaped the hobby.

Mid-November 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play escape games for less

"Early Bird Discount!" graphicThe Dealwatch ground rules have not changed from last time:

  • Do check voucher companies’ terms, conditions and guarantees and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason, which sadly has happened once;
  • Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire. It’s quite possible that deals may have expired between being published below and your attempt to use them;
  • This non-commercial site does not attract any commission for promoting these deals, or for you using them;
  • These deals are not exclusive in any manner.

Escape Quest of Macclesfield opened for paying guests for the first time today, after a week or so of test games. Accordingly, they have been added to the list of exit games and the Timeline, and their dot has been turned yellow on the map. (The only cloud to gloom this otherwise glorious day is that the mapping provider in use recently turned the map from a Classic Map to a New Map, and this site is Not Happy about it.) In much happier news, the site has posted an opening discount: For bookings made during November use the code ‘Special20’ to get 20% off the price. Sounds good!

Locked In Games of Leeds have a Groupon deal offering chances to play one of their two rooms at £19 for teams of three, £25 for teams of four or £30 for teams of five. This site gets the impression that you’re really going to have to hurry with this one; there may be less than a couple of dozen vouchers still available and there may be less than a day to go for the deal’s time limit even if the vouchers don’t run out. If they have all gone, try the coupon code of lockedinnovember at the checkout stage for a £30/team ticket in November. There are a lot of exit game sites with reasonably similar FAQ sections asking “Is the game scary?” and responding “No”. Locked In Games doesn’t mess around. (That said, it does let 9-year-olds play with adult supervision, so it’s not exactly X-rated.)

Serial dealers The Gr8 Escape of Belfast have another Groupon deal going for their distinctive forthcoming Winter Wonderland Party room, to be available from early January to early March in 2015. For £69.95, up to eight children can try and tackle a 45-minute wintery room escape challenge, complete with a Snow Queen or Ice King theme for the birthday boy or girl. Spread across two rooms, participants have to solve all sorts of puzzles, clues and codes to get out. An additional 45-minute session follows, this time in a themed party area with juice and party game props, tea or coffee for adults, a gift for the birthday boy or girl, and a chance to pick items from the themed candy carriage or cart. This site fully approves of any initiative that means that people from outside the usual exit game age demographic get to play. Princesses Anna and Elsa would doubtless also approve. Understood? Understood.

GR8escape York said two days ago that their thirty voucher codes to play for £30/team had almost gone, so you’re really going to have to rush on that one. Escape Hunt of London’s Challenge is still on and may be the best deal going now that the time-limited 25% coupon promotion has expired. Also in London, Escape Rooms have a VisitLondon10 code for 10% off on weekdays up to 5pm. Puzzlair of Bristol have been getting more good press and their 10%-off HANDBALL code may still be in operation. ((Edited to add: they have announced on Twitter that they have entering the code Twitter on booking will provide a 25% discount until Christmas. Better still!))

As ever, if you know of other coupons, deals, vouchers or competitions, please send them through. If your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if the details of the offer are mangled, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

Early November 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play escape games for less

Price tag suggesting deal, sale or bargainThe usual Dealwatch rules remain in operation:

  • Do check voucher companies’ terms, conditions and guarantees and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason, which sadly did happen once;
  • Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire. It’s quite possible that deals may have expired between being published below and your attempt to use them;
  • This non-commercial site does not attract any commission for promoting these deals, or for you using them;
  • These deals are not exclusive in any manner.

ESCAP3D‘s Dublin location have a LivingSocial deal available for another week, or until all the vouchers sell out. Teams of six can play for €39 rather than the full price of €80. The voucher is only valid for new customers, and between 1:30pm and 6pm on Mondays to Saturdays. A cancellation/re-scheduling policy of 48 hours applies. How do you pronounce ESCAP3D, by the way? This site always thought it was a stylistic form of “escaped”, but it could just as easily be “escape-three-d”.

Last Dealwatch, this site described a Groupon deal placed by The Gr8 Escape of Belfast. While that’s history now, the site has a Facebook offer available for another month, offering 25% off if you’re booking either of its two Christmas-themed rooms to play after 5pm. The site has also revealed its future plans: “Winter wonderland – a froz3n surprise will hopefully be available in mid December, it will be a two room challenge designed to be easy enough for 7-11 year olds to complete within 45 minutes.” That’s extremely distinctive and very, very cool. If a major chunk of the long-term future of exit games is to cater for the birthday market, which it might well be, this seems like the state of the art.

Puzzlair of Bristol recently posted about their latest discount, supporting Bristol Handball. Follow the Bristol Handball Twitter account and book using the HANDBALL code for 10% off. (Handball is a fine game; much more fun to watch handball on Eurosport 2 than basketball on Eurosport, er, 1.) Puzzlair also have a a Christmas coupon scheme going, where you can exactly personalise the wording on your gift to whatever you think its recipients would most enjoy. No lunar porcine involvement is required.

Escape Hunt of London are promoting the Escape Hunt Challenge; book to play all three of its rooms and get a 20% discount. Beat all three rooms and win a limited edition T-shirt as well!

There are still some deals announced last time that are ongoing. GR8escape York have a code letting the first 30 teams to book play for just £30, and Escape Quest of Macclesfield’s social media competition is running for just a few more days, finishing well before (and announcing the winner of a free game in good time for) the site’s big launch on November 19th. Locked In Games of Leeds have two unsettling rooms, an even creepier new teaser video and a code of lockedinnovember to be entered at the checkout stage for £30/team games all through November… if you dare!

Making room for Hallowe’en

A puzzled-looking Hallowe'en pumpkinOf all the Hallowe’en pumpkin images in the world, that one apparently depicts a puzzled pumpkin. Perhaps pumpkins get to enjoy exit games too!

It’s certainly the time of year when site operators consider adding new rooms to their exit games, or refreshing their line-up. Hallowe’en haunted houses and other horror-themed attractions are becoming increasingly frequent in the UK and it’s a motif that, arguably, meshes well with the exit game format. Some new games are, therefore, deliberately horrible, or at least horrific; some are not. Time for a run-down of them both.

The Gr8 Escape of Belfast have deliberately gone down the thematic route, having replaced their two previous rooms with an October-only Hallowe’en House of Horror. A single game spans both rooms and a draped area; “an aura of spookiness, a hint of creepiness and a dash of horror” are promised and it’s advised that anyone with health problems that are affected by sudden noises and flashing lights should give it a miss.

Unusually, the single game is scheduled for 90 minutes, rather than the usual hour, and is designed to be played by teams of as many as ten. A booking of six or more will ensure exclusive access for your session; book with fewer and you may be merged into a team with other parties, to ensure you have a chance. Looks like you’ll get an awful lot of game for just £10 per person. (Dealwatch also wishes to note that there is a limited availability Groupon permitting an entire team – even a team of ten – to play for just £49. Best move quickly on this one if it sounds tempting. Favourite fine print line: “Fancy dress encouraged”.)

Clue HQ of Warrington have been doing great business with their first game, Bunker 38, and have announced that their second game will be The Dungeon of Doom. Test games have been organised for the middle of the month and the web site hints that regular play might start from October 20th, though booking is not yet open. The Facebook page hints delightedly at the props they have installed; Bunker 38 is known to be a relatively difficult game, with fewer than 10% of teams victorious, and The Dungeon of Doom apparently requires even more steps within the hour to gain victory. Gulp. Many very good teams will doubtless end up doomed.

Breakout Manchester of the big M opened their fourth room, Sabotage, on October 3rd. “Can you go deep behind enemy territory and stop a missile strike which endangers the safety of the entire world? There is 60 minutes before launch, you need to break into the control centre and stop the launch or the consequence will be catastrophic.” Not intended to be as difficult as their Madchester room, if this proves as popular then one of the busiest centres in the country will surely become only more successful still. In passing, a tweet hints that their Virus room might receive a little temporary Hallowe’en-ing as well.

On top of that, word arrives that Cyantist of Bournemouth – still very new – are already planning a brief hiatus in order to install a second room, which has to be an excellent sign of having made a hot start. Check the web site and social media for updates. If those aren’t enough new rooms for you, don’t forget that Escape Hunt of London has three new rooms all by itself!

Escape Hunt preview

The exterior of Escape Hunt at George YardThis site had a thrilling opportunity today to speak with Daniela Streng, proprietor of the London branch of Escape Hunt, one day before the site’s opening! Daniela kindly gave up 20 minutes of her time, on a day when she had been putting a 36-hour shift in at the site, on an extremely busy day for an interview… and the recording equipment in use completely blew it. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, so with great apologies, there can be no preview interview to share. However, there is an impression piece instead, delivered in the spirit of excitement that tomorrow’s launch deserves.

The photo above is of the exterior of the Escape Hunt site at one corner of George Yard. (Nobody gets photos of the interior before opening.) The sturdy door has two locks; within, there is a lift or two sets of stairs down to the basement where all the action takes place. A great deal of work was still happening, right down to the wire, though much had been finished already and looked great; it’s clear that it’s going to be a fantastic site, once it’s finished. You might think of looking around an exit game site as being like looking behind the scenes of The Crystal Maze; with one day to go, it felt much more like Challenge Anneka. But, hey, Anneka Rice always got a great job done!

The site will indeed have ten rooms: four identical Murder in the Bedroom games, four identical Kidnapping in the Living Room games and two identical Theft from the Laboratory games. A quick look in – without revealing any spoilers – suggests that they will have the hidden depths that you would hope to find in an exit game, and a remarkable density of challenge. These games will be different from all the others found at other Escape Hunt branches from around the world, so if you’ve played any of the games in the Asia Pacific region, or even in the Netherlands (Amsterdam already open, Groningen opening soon!) then you can enjoy these as well. However, the London branch will have the same high standards as the others in the chain; the training was provided, last week, by chain founder Paul Bart himself.

However, only the London branch can have the local advantage of authenticity when it comes to evoking the spirit of the most famous Victorian detective; the site is set to recreate Holmes’ living room. After playing the game, as with other branches in the chain, there is a photo booth (a selfie pod!) in which to enjoy a costuming activity. The site is also set to rotate games relatively frequently, so that once you have enjoyed the first three games there will be good reason to visit again before long. Daniela Streng recommended that people try the Murder in the Bedroom and Kidnapping in the Living Room rooms first, for the Theft from the Laboratory room requires slightly more advanced skills.

Most intriguing of all was the suggestion that Paul Bart’s experience in psychometric test design and much more may well be used for the benefit of corporate parties booking the London branch. One specific suggestion is that exit games have yet-untold value in a recruitment process; roleplaying scenarios where assessors take notes are artificial, but seeing someone at play may reveal their true, unguarded self. Under the pressure of an exit game, who completely reveals themselves to be an extrovert, an introvert, a creative thinker, a calm head, a team worker, a follower, a leader? All that, and whether it’s part of a recruitment process or not, it’s just plain great fun!

Many thanks to Daniela for her time. This site has the highest of hopes for Escape Hunt, set to practically double the size of the London exit game market at a stroke; bookings are coming in rapidly, with several days sold out already. It may even be the site with the single largest number of rooms in the world. (Unless you know otherwise!) Tomorrow’s launch should be spectacular; more news as it becomes available.