This is the conference’s third year and my first time in attendance. I’ve heard nothing but great things.
I’ve been asked to speak on the player experience… which is a subject that I’ve delivered many a talk on. This one will be largely new material and comes with a brand new description:
The Player Experience: From Brain Teasers to Brain Trauma
Once upon a time there was a crazy escape room-playing couple from a faraway land. This twosome spent more time writing about each and every game they played than they spent inside of those games.
Half of that duo will journey across the ocean to regale you with wonderful and tragic tales from their puzzling adventures. Like any good cautionary tale, each will have a moral: some will make you laugh, a few will make you cringe, and one or two might make you shed a tear.
We’re still working out the details, but I think that I’ll be moderating a couple of panels including:
International Escape Room Owners Panel
I love moderating panels and have put a lot of work into honing the skill over the past few years. This should be fun.
You Keep Saying “I”
Yeah… it seems like this one is going to just be me. Unless something changes, Lisa won’t be able to attend ERIC. It’s not impossible that she might show up and crash the party. We’ll just have to see.
Get Your Tickets While You Can
I’d love to see you in London. If you don’t have a ticket already, you should buy one while you still can. They have a limited number of tickets remaining.
This is a casual gathering. There is no formal programming. Stop by at your leisure.
Shades of Green Pub is generously offering this space to us free of charge. We ask attendees to please order food and drink from the venue. We’d like to support their business.
Shades of Green Pub asks that we consolidate checks. Please order per table on one tab and take advantage of Venmo, Paypal… or cash (most immersive method of payment).
This event is for those interested in, passionate about, or working within immersive arts & entertainment in New York City. We’re calling all creators, storytellers, directors, engineers, artists, designers, writers, performers, event planners, producers, and more.
Lovers of immersive entertainment are certainly welcome as well.
Escape Rooms are part of the larger immersive entertainment industry and this meetup encourages conversation and collaboration within the industry.
There is a pretty good chance the creators of Escape This Podcast, Australian duo Dani and Bill, will make an appearance. Come meet our escape room friends from the other side of the world! If you’ve never listened to Escape This Podcast, you’re missing out.
Please don’t forget to RSVP on Facebook or by contacting us. It’s helpful to be able to give the venue at headcount.
We are excited to officially announce our Grand Tour for 2020!
Escape Immerse Explore: Montreal 2020
Montreal is an artsy escape room market. The games on this tour combine detailed set design with puzzle-forward gameplay. You’ll enjoy some themes you’ve likely seldom encountered along with quirky game mechanics.
What are the dates?
Sunday, May 31 – Tuesday, June 2
Which Companies Are Featured?
You will get to play 10 games from the following companies:
Given that this was our maiden voyage, there were some technical issues… but it did work. Early on there were some echoes, in the middle Anthony got into a fight with Skype, and near the end we had some audio drop.
If you make it to the end… you might hear some details about our next tour. You’ll see the full announcement publish here in the not too distant future.
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.
Counting Escape Rooms
Please keep in mind the following nuances as you read this report:
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.
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.
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.
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.
All in Adventures
Escape the Room
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).
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).
The Escape Game
The Great Escape Room
Amazing Escape Room
Epic Escape Game
Great Room Escape / Mindspark
Texas Panic Room / Project Panic
The Puzzle Effect
60 Out Escape Rooms
Escape Room Zone
Escape Zone 60
Fox in a Box
Mastermind Escape Games
Red Door Escape Room
United Escape Rooms / Entrap Games
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.
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.
At year 5, we are seeing a lot more companies close than we saw in previous years.
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
building or fire code changes
lease termination by landlord
Many closures result from some combination of these, and other, factors.
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.
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:
That outlier spike in Q1 2019 correlates to two events:
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Wednesday, July 24, I will be putting my puzzling skills to the test as I embark on a massive crossword marathon.
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.
We will be in Austin on Friday, August 9, and we’d love to meet you.
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.
Please contact us to RSVP. This will help us have a sense of numbers.
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.