US Escape Room Industry Report – 2020 Year End Update (February 2021)

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With the end of 2020, we compiled a data-driven look at how COVID-19 has impacted the US escape room industry, based on the data we have from maintaining the Room Escape Artist Escape Room Directory since 2014.

This industry report is an update to the 6 Year US Escape Room Industry Report, published on August 24, 2020 and presented at RECON ’20 Global.

The State of the Industry Talk from RECON ’20 Global (August 2020)

February 2021 Numbers

As of February 2021, there are 2,080 escape room facilities in the United States.

In comparison, in August 2020, there were 2,250 escape room facilities in the United States. In the past 6 months, we’ve experienced a 7.5% decrease in the number of facilities.

It is critical to note that the number of facilities does not indicate the size of the industry at large. It is one indicator, and one we have the data to measure. It does not represent revenue. At this time, no one in the escape room industry has access to revenue data.

Closures

Since our report in August, we’ve removed 180 escape room facilities from our directory.

This is on par with the closure rate we saw in the first half of 2020 (also 180 facilities).

In fact, the total facility closures in 2019 (315) was slightly more than in 2020 (300).

While this industry continues to experience facility closures, many due to COVID-19 and some due to other factors, the closure rate is steady. We have not experienced an alarming closure rate.

Of note, in this report, we are not counting temporary closures as closed facilities. If the business is communicating the closure as temporary, and as far as we can tell, they plan to reopen the facility, we are counting this as an operational facility for the purpose of this report. For a more nuanced understanding of how we count escape rooms (and it’s the facilities that we’re counting), please refer to 6 Year US Escape Room Industry Report (August 2020).

The Delta Widens

Closures aren’t new, but in past years, they were eclipsed by new companies opening.

In 2017, more than 75 facilities closed, and in 2018, more than 250 facilities closed. These numbers, however, were offset by many new business entering the marketing:

In 2014 there were about 2 dozen escape room facilities in the US. This was followed by exponential growth in 2015 and 2016, which had leveled off by 2019, when the number of facilities in the US increased by just 2%.

For more details on these periods of growth, read our past industry reports.

In the last 6 months, only 25 new escape room facilities opened, while 180 closed.

Chains & Franchises

For the most part, the largest companies (in terms of number of facilities) have not experienced a substantial drop in number of facilities.

The two largest companies, Escapology and Breakout Games (46 facilities and 39 facilities, respectively, in August 2020), each closed 3 facilities.

The exception among the chains is Key Quest, which closed completely in 2020. This company was a branch of the laser tag company Laser Quest, which had 21 facilities operating escape rooms in August 2020 (and additional facilities without escape rooms), and now has 0 open facilities. The closing of a large chain certainly impacts the closure rate.

By State

For many years now, Colorado has had the most escape room facilities per capita of any US state.

Colorado had a high per capita attrition rate in the time of COVID-19 through the publication of this report (April 2020 – February 2021). And yet, Colorado is the state with the second most escape room facilities per capita today, second only to New Hampshire.

Other states with high per capita attrition include North Dakota, Wyoming, and Delaware.

COVID-19 & Government Assistance

To read more about PPP Loans for escape rooms, refer to 6 Year US Escape Room Industry Report (August 2020). We don’t have any new information about government assistance at this time.

Analysis

This report is just part of the story of 2020 for the US escape room industry. A count of open and closed facilities cannot tell us about the impact of the pandemic on the businesses that remain open.

This report does not unpack the financial health of these companies. Even the information on PPP Loans linked above doesn’t give us much insight into the debt assumed by the majority of these businesses – the single-location, small businesses.

We predict that the financial hardship of 2020 will affect future investment in new games. In the near future, we don’t expect to see the same volume of new games or high-budget, blockbuster games that we’ve seen in the past.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice quality.

As in-person business reopens in 2021, we expect to see more creative escape rooms. Less investment yields more constraints, and constraints force creativity. We see this as an opportunity for creators to experiment with new ideas, and continue to push the boundaries of this medium of entertainment.

If you heard us on stage in 2019, you heard David outline the risks of high-investment games. We’ve known for some time that raising that particular bar wasn’t the long term future for most businesses. If anything this pandemic will speed us along a more sustainable path.

Future Studies

Because this report is just part of the story, today we are asking for your help in painting a more complete picture. We’re looking to learn more from you, the business owners and players, so that we can, in turn, share more information about how COVID-19 has and continues to impact our industry.

It’s a group effort, and we’re asking everyone who is reading this report to contribute. Please click the button below and fill out your survey as completely and honestly as you can. This survey is anonymous.

Here are your next steps:

  1. Fill out the survey.
  2. Share this link to the survey with everyone in your industry network.
  3. Share the link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack, Discord, Reddit… and newer platforms where escape room folks might see it.

Thank You

Thank you to Melissa from Connecticut for dedicating so much time to keeping the REA directory up to date. We could not have the directory, data, or report without all of your hard work.

Thank you to the many readers from all over the country who continually let us know about the updates in their areas. Please continue to send us this information.

Thank you to the owners and players who tested the survey and shared feedback with us. You’ve helped make this survey better, and the data will be more valuable because of it.

4 thoughts on “US Escape Room Industry Report – 2020 Year End Update (February 2021)

  1. It’s fine for multiple owners to fill it out. There are some individual questions included as well, so the perspectives will be valuable. One of the drawback to an entirely anonymous survey is that we can’t filter company duplicates, but we’re hopeful that enough people will participate such that the company duplicates won’t be statistically significant.

  2. Something that may be interesting and valuable to add to this survey for the future is a question concerning how ERs are delivered, by scenario/room. In the Before Times, ERs kinda had two mechanisms: come to us at our facility or we bring our portable game to you (whether brought to your corporate office or on a trailer brought to your event). But now we have a third mechanism: play in our virtual space.

    We’ve already seen many ERs move to virtual/avatar driven (via zoom), but we’ve also started to see rooms created specifically for virtual/avatar driven play. A few years from now it could be really neat to see how this trends over time as new facilities may potentially include virtual-only or virtual/physical possible games. This will absolutely make new streams of revenue available, and frankly any owners not considering how to add virtual play to their business models are going to miss out.

    Not sure how much more work this would be for you guys, hopefully little more than only adding another survey question with new checkboxes? Anyway, maybe a worthy idea. Keep up the good work!

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