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!

Autumn 2015: 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.

Every six 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 March 2015, September 2014 and March 2014.) Six months is practically the duration of a geological era considering how quickly the exit game market moves. This site says “six months or so” because the regular schedule had gone out of this site’s mind and a stray check reveals that it’s slightly more than six months since the last installment. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?

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 late 2015, 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. At time of writing, 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 15 3 sites under construction, 2 sites recently closed
2. Birmingham 2 1 site nearby (Nuneaton), 1 site under construction, 1 site recently closed
3. Manchester 5 2 sites nearby (Macclesfield and Warrington), 1 site under construction
4. Leeds-Bradford 3 1 site nearby (York), 1 site recently closed
5. Liverpool 5 1 site nearby (Warrington)
6. Glasgow 3 2 sites under construction
7. Nottingham-Derby 3 1 site nearby (Mansfield), 1 site nearby under construction
8. Portsmouth-Southampton 0 2 sites nearby (Bournemouth and Salisbury)
9. Bristol 3 1 site under construction
10. Newcastle 3 1 site nearby under construction
11. Sheffield 3  
12. Cardiff-Newport 0 1 site under construction
13. Edinburgh 5 1 site under construction
14. Leicester 0 1 site temporarily closed for 17 months
15. Brighton 1 2 sites under construction

For comparison, the Dublin metro area with three sites open and one site temporarily closed would come just below number three in the above list.

Six months ago, this pointed to South Hampshire and Wales as being the biggest gaps in the market. Today… you’d probably conclude the same thing. In the last six months, it’s probably reasonable to characterise the majority of growth as having taken place in known, successful markets, with a limited extent of growth in smaller markets. It’s surprising that Portsmouth and Southampton lie fallow, though Bournemouth and Salisbury both have their own rooms and are convenient from Southampton, at least. The sites under construction in Cardiff and Swansea would also seem to have large chunks of territory to themselves; this site occasionally checks the TripAdvisor charts for North Wales and South Wales and finds nothing.

Let’s pick some other names out of the hat. Perhaps it’s surprising that Birmingham only has two sites; noting a site in Nuneaton, there might be scope for games in Wolverhampton and Coventry too. This site also tends to wonder about other home counties towns; there are so many tech companies and smart people in Reading that that must surely have a chance. This site also hinted at Watford and Southend, to which it would seem reasonable to add Milton Keynes. Hull might have a shot. This site is bullish about the potential of seaside resorts: Blackpool may well yet have untapped potential and surely it’s not alone. (Could a Dracula-themed game in Whitby kill all year round, or would it only draw during the Goth weekends?) Bradford must surely be worth another go rather than being the next site in Leeds. It’s arguably a slight surprise to see so many sites in Nottingham and so few in Derby and Leicester, as well.

Now the obvious rejoinder to that is that Nottingham is known as a tourist destination whereas Derby and Leicester aren’t, and that does suggest another reasonable approach; don’t think in terms of where the economies are, think in terms of where the tourists go. After all, exit games are firmly part of the leisure economy. Happily, the Office of National Statistics will furnish us with Travel Trends statistics that can inform our views, though it tends to focus on overseas tourists to the UK rather than tourists travelling within the UK. If you have access to reliable statistics about tourism in the UK from UK tourists, please let this site know.

The chart in figure 14 at the bottom of the overseas residents’ visits page is particularly interesting. Oxford and Cambridge get hundreds of thousands of visitors per year; perhaps they have scope to feature exit games more prominently as part of their tourist operation. Northern Scotland tourist visits are definitely popular – and if you’re going to the Highlands, you’re very probably going to visit Inverness. To its shame, this site was a little leery that a town with population of under 80,000 might support two exit games; however, with so many tourists, it makes a lot more sense.

All that said, this site is definitely considerably more cautious about the market than it was six months ago. There’s been a track record of the number of UK (specifically) exit games roughly doubling (or slightly-more-than-doubling) every six months. That is finally slowing down in the second half of 2015, though not by much. A notable trend is that a substantial proportion (say, perhaps, half?) of new sites are deliberately concentrating on opening outside the traditional Monday-to-Friday office hours. That’s sensible enough; a popular site can always expand if the tourist market shows that it has the demand to fill slots for games during afternoons or even mornings as well. That said, there are still very many (probably millions, certainly many hundreds of thousands) people who might only ever play an exit game once who are yet to play their one game, as well as those who might enjoy their first game enough to come back to play more, and those – who this site salutes! – who know the genre’s capability to thrill and devote themselves to seeing all there is to see.