If a dream is going to live or die, I think it should be based on reason.
It’s a weekly occurrence that a hopeful escape room owner posts on the Escape Room Enthusiast or Startup Facebook groups with something along these lines:
Hi… I played a bunch of escape rooms and I’m thinking of opening one up. What does it take to succeed?
The Facebook communities promptly respond with a series of blunt answers along the lines of, “if you’re asking this question, you probably don’t have what it takes.”
While I understand the community’s reflexive sentiment, I want to help you think things through.
Some of the skills you’re going to need to create a successful escape room business
And by “you” I mean you and your team…
- Puzzle design
- Game design
- Set design
- Sound design
- Mechanical engineering
- Software engineering
- Hardware engineering
- Writing & storytelling
- Editing & proofreading
- Graphic design
- Play testing
- Web design
- Web development
- Real estate
- Contracts & other legalities
- Customer service
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Public relations
- Social media management
Each bullet in the list above represents an entire profession. There are tons of books on each subject. You can earn a college degree in most of them and make a fine living only practicing that one. Some of these bullets involve one-off things; others are ongoing within the business. It’s worth noting that different escape room companies excel and fail at each of these in different ways.
A series of questions to ask yourself
- How much of this process can you honestly take on?
- How much of this process can you bankroll?
- How competitive is your market? If there are other escape rooms nearby, will you be able to meet or beat the expectations set by your competitors?
- What will make your games special? The best companies don’t necessarily excel at everything, but they do know how to shine a spotlight on the things they do better than everyone else, and limit the exposure of their weaknesses.
- Where are you willing to compromise quality? You’re going to compromise somewhere, you might as well make it a conscious decision.
- Have you visited a city where you can see truly high-end escape rooms? Do you feel that you’ll be able to get to a place where you can compete with the high-end of the market down the line? If you can’t compete now, you’ll have to eventually.
- What are the stakes for you? If you fail, can you survive? Are you going to need to turn a fast profit to feed yourself or your kids?
Only you can answer these questions for yourself, but while you’re reflecting on them, do your homework and read up.
We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past 3 years and >550 posts. These are a few good starting places:
- 9 Tips For Starting an Escape Room
- Should you Crowdfund an Escape Room? A Data-Driven Look
- An Exploration of Escape Room Pricing Structures
- Escape Room Design: Safety Basics
- The Purchased Escape Room Name Problem
- 7 Lessons from an escape room owner who has opened 7 facilities
- A Roundtable Discussion from the 2016 Room Escape Conference
There’s a lot more where those came from in our Room Design section.
Additionally, there is a lot of knowledge on the Escape Room Enthusiasts and Startup Facebook groups. Please, please, please do a search before you post a question. The odds are incredibly high that your question has been asked and answered in detail more than once.
If you’re looking to dive into the escape room business, I encourage you to take a moment to get a sense of where the industry came from and how it has developed:
You almost certainly aren’t going to find success in escape rooms with $10,000, a dream, and some gumption. It absolutely used to happen in the distant days of escape rooms (a whopping 3 years ago). Times have changed. Escape rooms have grown more complex. With greater competition, it’s far harder to grab consumer and media attention than it was when escape rooms were this new and mysterious thing.
If you’re seriously thinking about taking out a loan or committing your savings towards creating an escape room, take a vacation. I’m serious. Buy a plane ticket to Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Seattle, or New York City (you can come to our tour of NYC!), and spend a few days playing some killer escape rooms. Then go play some terrible games too. Learn what you can from the amazing and terrible things that you experience.
After that trip is over, reflect on the questions that I have listed above. If you think you can do it, draw up a business plan that accounts for the different angles. If the plan seems achievable, start designing your games in your home. Design, build, test, and sort out as much as you possibly can before you sign a lease because that’s the point where things get real.
I can’t tell you if you’ll be able to make it and neither can the various online communities. There is room for success, but it takes the right team in the right location.