It has been a long year and as I reflect back upon it, I feel strongly that it would have been a much better year if we were fabulously wealthy.
Alas, that isn’t the case… but I am hoping that you can help us solve this little problem.
Since 2014, we have been rigorously training for a particular scenario:
“Our long lost uncle has passed away. His will detailed that we are entitled to his fortune if we can solve a series of puzzles in his quirky abode within 60 minutes.”
We are so ready for this challenge. We are a finely tuned Wealthy Eccentric Uncle Puzzle Solving Machine®. However we are still missing said uncle. If experience has taught us anything, he is in fact out there.
Please help us find him. We’d like to get to know him a bit before he passes and we earn his estate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are a few tickets left for Total Escape of the Heart, next weekend’s virtual escape jam. If you’re interested in creating a virtual game, this full day workshop is the place to be. At this jam, we’ll explore love of all different kinds through game design – from traditional romance to Gollum’s love for the one true ring. We’re hoping that creators take this inspiration and go in unexpected directions. Click here to buy tickets… or just listen to its amazing theme song.
Virtual Escape Jam Showcase: Play
Following the Virtual Escape Jam, we’ll host a showcase where our community can play these just-created virtual games. The showcase is a chance to play the cool games produced at our Virtual Escape Jams, meet other escape room players, and support a worthy non-profit, Child’s Play.
Details: Saturday, February 27 at 4pm Eastern in the RECON Discord
We’ll share more information about how to sign up for the showcase after the games have been created. Stay tuned!
The Gift of Puzzles
Amazon is currently running a 3-for-2 sale that includes a number of the products from our Amazon store such as: