5 Year US Escape Room Industry Report (August 2019)

We’ve been tracking the escape room industry for 5 years, since launching the Room Escape Artist Escape Room Directory in 2014.

In August 2019, there are more than 2,350 escape room facilities in the United States.

If that number looks familiar, it’s because 1 year ago there were 2,300.

We’ve added more than 400 new escape room facilities to the directory in the last year and that’s a lot. It shouldn’t be overlooked because other escape rooms are closing.

The growth has leveled. The industry has begun to mature.

Growth Over Time

The US escape room industry has grown from approximately 2 dozen escape room facilities in 2014 to more than 2,350 facilities 5 years later.

The industry grew most rapidly in the third quarter of 2016.

Since then, the growth rate has slowed and the closure rate has increased. The net effect is that the total number of escape room facilities has plateaued.

US Escape Room Facility Graph 2014-2019.

Counting Escape Rooms

Please keep in mind the following nuances as you read this report:

Locations

In this report, we count escape room facilities. These are permanent physical locations where you can go play an escape room. One business owner might operate 10 locations around the country or 2 locations in the same city. These would be counted as 10 facilities and 2 facilities, respectively.

Games

This report does not count individual escape room games. While some facilities only operate a single game, many operate two or three games, and some operate far more.

Soon to Open

The Room Escape Artist directory includes some facilities that are not yet open for business, but appear to be opening in the near future. To be listed in the directory, we require a facility to have their address published on their website and their website tell us a bit about the business.

We do not include escape room facilities that might open some day. A social media page that says “coming soon” is not enough to be listed in the directory or counted in this report.

Permanence

Anecdotally, we’ve seen a growing number of limited-run, pop-up escape rooms. Our directory only includes established entertainment facilities that continually operate escape rooms. While we do include a few seasonal operations, we do not include escape rooms that appeared for a weekend, a week, or even a month, in a temporary structure or other facility, but will not operate continually.

Venue

Most escape room facilities are independent operations. Others operate out of larger entertainment venues such as bowling alleys, arcades, or restaurants. We include these as well, as long as the escape room is a permanent fixture in the larger venue. We also include mobile escape room businesses.

Chains and Franchises

72% of escape room facilities in the US are single facility businesses. That said, some escape room businesses are expanding as chains and franchises.

More than 20 Locations

The largest companies don’t show a consistent trend in expansion or contraction when compared to last year’s report.

CompanyCount
Escapology46
Breakout Games44
All in Adventures28
Key Quest28
Escape the Room23

Escapology has grown substantially (from 27 locations to 46 locations). They are now the biggest company in the United States, in terms of number of facilities.

Two of the largest companies have experienced substantial decline: Key Quest (from 35 to 28) and All in Adventures (from 37 to 28).

Two are holding pretty steady. Escape the Room has grown modestly (from 21 to 23) and Breakout Games has slipped slightly (from 45 to 44).

6-20 Locations

Expansion has been pretty flat for most of the companies with 6-20 locations.

The Escape Game is the only company in this category that has grown substantially (from 9 locations to 15 locations).

CompanyCount
The Escape Game15
The Great Escape Room12
Amazing Escape Room10
Epic Escape Game10
PanIQ Room10
Great Room Escape / Mindspark9
Texas Panic Room / Project Panic8
The Puzzle Effect8
5 Wits7
60 Out Escape Rooms7
Escape INC7
Maze Rooms7
Room 52807
Escape Room Zone6
Escape Zone 606
Fox in a Box6
Mastermind Escape Games6
Red Door Escape Room6
United Escape Rooms / Entrap Games6

Some of the larger franchises also operate outside the US. While this report only includes their locations in the US, Claustrophobia, Fox in a Box, and PanIQ Room, for example, have many more international locations.

Closures

Over the 5 years we’ve been following the industry, we’ve removed more than 580 facilities from the directory.

In 2019 alone, we removed more than 240 facilities. Stated differently, 42% of the US escape room facilities that have closed their doors did so between January and August of 2019.

Bar chart of US escape room closures by year.
There has been a significant increase in closures in 2018 and 2019.

At year 5, we are seeing a lot more companies close than we saw in previous years.

“Thankfully Closed”

When readers send us directory updates, they sometimes send in commentary. In the last year, we’ve received an increasing number of messages telling us that a company “has (mercifully) closed” or “has finally (and thankfully) closed.” Yes, those are direct quotes from a consistent map contributor in Pennsylvania.

It isn’t necessarily bad for the industry that a large number of companies have closed. Readers like this one are happy to report the closure of a low-quality escape room operation.

Bad escape room businesses shrink the market. They turn your would-be customers away by giving them a bad first impression of the entire industry. When this type of escape room facility closes, it can be a good thing for the industry in that region.

Small Business Trends

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy’s Frequently Asked Questions, about 80% of small businesses survive the first year. About 50% of small businesses survive year 5.

This is year 5 for the escape room industry in the United States.

Of the escape room facilities that have been a part of our directory for 5 years (added before July 2015), only 1/3 have closed. 2/3 of those facilities are still operating, as far as we know.

As an industry, we are doing better than average.

Reasons for Closure

Our directory doesn’t track why an escape room facility closed. Anecdotally, however, from our travels throughout the country, our conversations with owners, and information from those who report the closures in their local markets, we have a sense of why most escape room businesses close.

Reasons for closure include (in no particular order):

  • lack of business acumen
  • poor product quality
  • strife between partners
  • legal troubles
  • building or fire code changes
  • lease termination by landlord
  • investor drama

Many closures result from some combination of these, and other, factors.

Acquisitions

Of the escape room facilities in our directory, we’ve confirmed 2 dozen acquisitions over the last 5 years. We expect that the acquisition rate is quite a bit higher. This data is hard to track, as it is not always readily apparent to customers, even the type of customers who send updates our way.

We’ve also tracked more than 50 name changes. We expect that many of these indicate acquisitions or mergers as well. In other cases, ownership hasn’t changed, but a company has rebranded to reflect their growth or to escape being confused with other similarly named facilities.

By State

The state metrics remain similar to those in our July 2018 Escape Room Industry Growth Study.

The most populous states remain the states with the most escape rooms: California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Colorado remains the state with the most escape rooms per capita.

For the most part, the states with the smallest populations remain those with the fewest escape rooms: Wyoming, Vermont, District of Columbia, and Alaska.

Many of these states, however, rank pretty high in escape rooms per capita.

States with the fewest escape rooms per capita include Kentucky, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and New York. This list is almost entirely different from last year’s report (with only Alabama on both reports.)

Increasing Interest in Escape Rooms

The number of facilities is not a measure of interest in escape rooms or the size of the player base.

Watching the Google Trends data on the term “escape room,” we continue to see steady and healthy growth:

Google Trend data for "escape room" 2014 - 2019. The growth is steady with one outlier spike in Q1 2019.
Google Trends – “Escape Room”

That outlier spike in Q1 2019 correlates to two events:

Analysis & Conclusions

In our talk 4 Years of Escape Rooms: A Data-Driven Look that we delivered at the Room Escape Conference in Nashville in July of 2018, we warned that the closure rate would increase. Expansion and contraction are inevitable in any industry.

For years, we’ve hypothesized that following the July 2015 MarketWatch article The unbelievably lucrative business of escape rooms, which falsely framed escape rooms as a low-barrier-to-entry get-rich-quick scheme, encouraged entirely too many companies to open without the tools to succeed. Those expectations were not founded in the realities of the escape room business, and many of those businesses have languished.

We’ve long believed that a substantial number of zombie escape room businesses have been doing just enough in sales to keep the lights on while riding out 3-year leases. Those leases are ending and the companies are closing.

There is money to be made in escape rooms, but escape rooms are not a rocket ship. It takes skill, labor, and love to create and sustain a strong escape room business. Near as we can tell, the folks who are succeeding in the escape room business have a passion for this industry and the skills to back it up, not just for business in general.

Our confidence in this medium remains strong. We’ve witnessed it evolve from a 1-dimensional puzzle game to a complex medium for storytelling and adventure. We believe that the core concept is more durable than other forms of entertainment that have come and gone as fads. Escape rooms have changed more in 5 years than bowling has changed throughout recorded history! Escape rooms continue to evolve.

In 2019, although some escape rooms businesses are closing their doors, new businesses are opening. They are opening with data and resources that their predecessors didn’t have. We are excited to see where they take this industry next.

Methodology & Data Caveats

Directory vs Report

The data used in this report only includes escape rooms in the United States. While the Room Escape Artist escape room directory includes escape rooms in Central America, the Caribbean, and some Canadian escape rooms that are just across the US border, the data for those locations is not included in this study.

Methodology

Following the publication of our first piece on the US industry growth in 2016, we published more detailed information on our methodology for tracking the growth of the industry. That piece includes a bit of history about our directory and additional perspectives on the data.

Previous studies will remain available: 

About Dates

All dates in our data are when we added a company to our directory or removed it from our directory. While we try to find companies as soon as they open, our add date doesn’t necessarily correlate exactly with when they opened their doors for business. It can take us a while to confirm whether a company has actually closed, and we do try to confirm each one before removing them from the directory, so those dates may not align as closely with when the business folded.

Spikes on the Graphs

Some of the spikes on the graphs can be attributed to our process for updating the directory. We batch updates by type and will do a few sessions of additions or changes or removals at once. Given our busy travel schedule, it can also sometimes take us a few weeks to get to an update. Therefore, some of the graph spiking can be accounted for by when we spent a lot of time on directory updates. In reality, the curves are smoother than you might see in the graphs.

Thank Yous

Thank you:

Melissa from Connecticut for her unwavering dedication to this directory and the countless hours of research and fact-checking she does to ensure it is as complete and accurate as possible. We are all indebted to Melissa for so much of the data in this report.

Theresa for many hours of rigorous data updating.

Jason for building us the tools we needed to work more efficiently and produce a more accurate directory.

And 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.

Now Available: “The Escape Room,” a Novel by Megan Goldin

The gold covered novel for "The Escape Room" by Megan Golden. There is a person peering through a narrowly opened door.

If you read our review back in March and have been waiting with bated breath, today is your day. The Escape Room is now available for purchase.

Don’t be deceived by the title. This is a novel that uses the escape room setting as a hook for a corporate thriller about corruption in the financial industry.

The escape room is not so much an escape room and you can’t really solve along… but we see potential in escape rooms playing a role in stories.

12-Hour Crossword Marathon to Benefit The Ocean Cleanup

Hi, I’m Steve. I’ve been writing puzzle video game reviews here for over a year.

On Wednesday, July 24, I will be putting my puzzling skills to the test as I embark on a massive crossword marathon.

Steve snorkeling.

I will be spending 12 hours going through as many Tuesday crosswords as possible from the New York Times archives. The crossword marathon will run from 10am-10pm Eastern (7am-7pm Pacific).

Whom Does This Benefit?

The stream will benefit “The Ocean Cleanup.”

This organization is developing and implementing technologies to clean up plastic in The Great Pacific Ocean Patch. Through the work of their 80 researchers and engineers, they expect to clean up 50 percent of the plastic in five years’ time.

Check out the incredible videos of their efforts at: https://theoceancleanup.com/

Contributions of any size can be made at: gofundme.com/crosswordmarathon

The crossword marathon will run live on several sites at once:

Come join me and help me conquer these crosswords!

Wednesday July 24th, from 10am to 10pm EDT

Follow updates on Twitter: @steveblog

Escape Room Meetup, Austin!

We will be in Austin on Friday, August 9, and we’d love to meet you.

Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

Details

  • Tamale House East (1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX)
  • Friday, August 9
  • 9pm – 11pm

Order at the front and look for a group of people chatting about escape rooms at a group of tables somewhere in the restaurant. We’ll try to get there early to claim some space.

RSVP

Please contact us to RSVP. This will help us have a sense of numbers.

Casual

Whether you’re an Austin local or you came to town for the Escape Room Conference in San Antonio earlier in the week, we invite you to join us for a bite to eat and more conversation about escape rooms.

This is a casual gathering for anyone interested in escape rooms – players or creators – to come hang out. Do not expect a talk or anything structured.

Please find us and introduce yourself!

8 San Antonio Escape Room Conference Talks That We’re Interested In

Every year we’re asked about the talks that we’re interested in attending at any given escape room conference.

A few notes before we dive in…

  • For a talk to make this list we’ve got to be really excited about both the speaker and the subject.
  • We’re skipping all of the introductory escape room/ business/ marketing stuff (sorry Benito). If you need the 101, then that’s what you should go to.
  • We know of most of these speakers, but not all. There are probably some gems that we’re unaware of.
Room Escape Conference & Tour logo, an abstract head with a maze, keyhole, and clock.

Presented in date order:

Tuesday

1. Playtesting: The Right Way to Get the Most Out of Your Idea!

10AM

Raymond Reint was supposed to be on our innovation panel at Up The Game this year, but that got screwed up by a scheduling SNAFU. Raymond has a diverse game design background and I’d be eager to hear what he has to say… if I wasn’t scheduled to speak at the same time that he is.

2. Safety Panel: The Biggest Threat to the Escape Room Industry

10AM

Yes, I’m on this panel. Yes, I think that this is the absolute most pressing issue to discuss in the escape room industry in 2019. Yes, I think you should come.

3. Welcome to the Game Industry: Now Act Like It! (Design Better Games and Puzzles)

3PM

Shawn Fischtein of Escape Games Canada is always an interesting speaker. Even when I disagree with him, I find his message worth thinking about.

Wednesday

4. Make it Memorable: Dramatic Structure in Escape Games

10:45AM

Haley Cooper of Strange Bird Immersive is the only owner/ blogger that I follow habitually. There are few in this industry as artistic, articulate, and giving of their knowledge as Haley. This is one of the talks that Lisa and I will not miss.

And… for what it’s worth, it’s a bummer that this talk is counter-programmed against Kayden Ressel of THE BASEMENT’s presentation, Building Effective Ad Campaigns for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. We’ll have to send someone to Kayden’s talk.

5. Lighting and Automation: Shining the Light on Efficiency!

2:15PM

Cameron Cooper of Strange Bird Immersive is like Haley… but quieter and doesn’t get the same attention. (Lisa might be able to relate.) He’s brilliant and he’s speaking on a subject that I’d like to learn more about on a practical level. This is a must-see for me.

Thursday

6. The State of the Escape Room Industry

8AM – Free

This one is us. You should come. The talk will be well researched, rational, and reasonably humorous.

7. Narrative: You’re Doing it Wrong!

9:15AM

Hatch Escape Rooms is on the short list of escape room companies that are diving into the deep end of narrative gameplay. I do not know if I’ll be able to step off stage and into this session, but I’m going to try.

8. TEST SUBJECTS: What Have We Learned

10:45AM

We had a lengthy conversation with Bizzaro, Greg, and Krystal at Transworld in St. Louis earlier this year. I’m curious to see what their talk is like. If it’s half as interesting as our dialog, then it should be well worth the time.

To learn more, check out the conference website.

On Not Updating Escape Room Prices in Reviews

For years now we’ve been receiving this reasonable request from escape room owners and managers:

“Hey Room Escape Artist, I’m the manager of [escape room company] and we’ve updated our pricing from the $28 per ticket that we had when you reviewed our games to $35 per ticket. Can you update your reviews of our games to reflect the new pricing model?”

And every time, we politely decline this request.

A pink piggy bank looking into the camera.

Why No Price Updates?

When we review an escape room, we review it on a particular date and at a specific price point.

Both the price and the date we played the game were part of the experience.

My go-to example is that we absolutely loved Maze of Hakaina when we played it in 2017. It was fantastic at that time and price point. Our review was our snapshot of that experience. If we were to play it for the first time in 2019 at a higher price, that review would look quite different. How different? We can’t be sure.

Short of re-reviewing a game (Hydeout 2015 vs Hydeout 2019), which is complicated and often times impossible, the best thing that we can do is be honest with our readers about when we played it and what the experience was like at that point in time.

Call for REA Escape Room Directory Updates

Have new escape room companies opened in your area?

Have companies closed, moved, or changed their names in your area?

Local and traveling escape room players want to know!

Updates Wanted

Please take a look at our escape room directory and send us any updates.

We will make your updates as quickly as possible so that they will be part of our 2019 report on the industry, to be published in August.

Stylized photo of a map of the north eastern quarter of the United States

New Directory Infrastructure Coming Soon

We know that we have long outgrown the Google Sheet / Google Map format that made sense when this directory launched in 2014. Stay tuned for a new interface, coming soon!

Buy Eliza’s Discounted Escape, Immerse, Explore NOLA Ticket!

Escape, Immerse, Explore New Orleans starts this Friday. It is sold out!

However, one of our Explorers, Eliza, had some plans suddenly change on her. She now has an extra ticket that none of us want to see go to waste.

The purple, gold, and blue Escape Immerse Explore New Orleans Logo

Act Now

She’s offering this ticket at a 20% discount. For $640, you can join us this weekend in New Orleans and help out a fellow escape room player.

For more tour details, you can read up on EIE NOLA 2019.

If you’re interested in snagging this ticket, contact us immediately and we’ll help facilitate the transaction.

We’d love to meet you just as much as we want to help Eliza out.

REA’s Best Day Ever Drawing!

In honor of our Sherlock: The Game is Now trigging a new best traffic day ever, Lisa and I decided to celebrate with an impromptu contest where we asked readers to submit the post that they thought had triggered the previous best day ever.

The responses that we received were a ton of fun.

Who Won?

The prize drawing went to Sheryl Howell!

Sheryl will receive some Room Escape Artist swag and a beautiful puzzle from Cryptogram Puzzle Post.

REA swag and a beautifully illustrated envelope.
The small one is a magnet; the big one is a coaster.

Best Guess

The most common guess was 5 Dead, 1 Injured in Polish Escape Room Fire. Honestly, this should be the right answer. While it certainly was well read, it wasn’t even close to the previous best day ever.

There were other really fun guesses and so many posts that surprised us.

The Correct Answer

Look, there was a reason that we were celebrating overturning our previous best day ever.

It’s because that post was our review of the Limited Edition Mystery Oreos. For reasons that were never really clear, that post went viral.

It was funny, but also demoralizing. The post itself was a joke.

Theresa W did, in fact, guess this correctly, but it was because she was over at our apartment playing a tabletop escape game when this thing was going viral. After guessing, she admitted to having a vague memory of this oddity.

Rex M may have been joking, but he came super close by guessing the review of the Mystery Flavor Peeps 2018… which was so similar, and frankly, better written than the Oreos review.

The 2019 Room Escape Conference in San Antonio, Texas

The 2019 Room Escape Conference is going to be in San Antonio, Texas August 6th, 7th, and 8th.

Transworld Room Escape Conference Logo

Our Stage Appearances

We’ll be making at least 2 appearances on stage at the show.

The State of the Escape Room Industry

We’ll be giving the opening free talk on the morning of Thursday August 8th… bright and early at 8AM.

In 2019, the escape room industry is beginning to enter an era of change. The fire in Poland, changes in industry statistics, and shifting player expectations are adjusting the nature of the business. Lisa and David Spira have been covering the escape room industry for 5 years on their website Room Escape Artist, and will demonstrate the lay of the land with a mixture of data and their observations from around the United States and the world.

This talk will provide useful information to guide business decisions as well as actionable information about trends in escape game design.

Safety Panel: The Biggest Threat to the Escape Room Industry

I’ll be on the Safety Panel at 10AM Tuesday, August 6th. This session costs $50 if you pre-register. I encourage you to do so. Amy Philip is a fantastic moderator. Lisa and I are helping to assemble a great group of speakers. Also, this truly is the most important topic in the industry in 2019.

Safety is the single most important opportunity and threat facing the escape room industry in 2019. Our panel will discuss the near and long term implications of the Poland fire, including fire and building code enforcement, legislation, and public perception of escape games. Additionally the panelists will dig into the murky gray area that exists between risky design and dangerous design.

Regional Review Marathon

Back in February the Room Escape Conference sponsored our massive review marathon of San Antonio and neighboring Austin.

If you’re curious what games to play or what to expect, we’ve got you covered.

San Antonio Games

All San Antonio Reviews

San Antonio Recommendations

Austin Games

All Austin Reviews

Austin Recommendations

Register Today

Buy your ticket now. 

We hope to see you in San Antonio this August!