Escape Room: Evolution
Why Forward Thinkers & Operators of Opportunity Will Survive The Bloodbath
by Benjamin Selecky & Alexis Abare
Escape the Culling
There is a culling on the horizon. The escape room industry has experienced massive growth since 2014. But nothing goes up in a straight line forever… the forces of supply and demand will eventually bring the market into equilibrium. I am sure there were people in January 1637 that thought Tulip Mania wouldn’t wilt… and also a time when frozen yogurt operators couldn’t imagine their profits melting away.
The cycle repeats. Once the market approaches saturation, new entries slow as demand drops. The weak players are culled. The strongest brands emerge as leaders. Rooms will fail for various reasons, and some good games will be tossed out with the proverbial escape room bathwater. Early operators with poor quality games that didn’t evolve; operators with weak marketing; operators who know the game, but not the business; they will all suffer the same fate.
The market doesn’t care. Dare we say that the shakeout is well underway. Time will tell. Introduction. Growth. Shakeout. Maturation. Decline. This is the business cycle. The escape room industry is not special, and will not follow a different pattern.
The escape room industry is not unique to the United States. A quick search on Google returns plenty of results if you search for data from abroad! Read about how the markets abroad matured and how the consumers reacted. Where did their attention go? What types of experiences did they gravitate towards?
How did the strongest brands survive? What philosophies did they deploy?
One giant factor that separates the domestic market is the high level of quality game operators from the haunt universe brought to the table… right out of the gate. This is important and is partly why comparing the length of the domestic cycle to other markets isn’t an apples to apples comparison. The bar got raised very rapidly… and continues to be raised.
An End To The Frenzy
We are not saying that this is the end of the industry… just an end to the ‘frenzy’ and ‘gold rush’ that has been underway for the last few years. Perhaps… hopefully… a waning of the constant bombardment from every corner of the haunt industry about how everyone needs to open an escape room.
Soon there will be too many room designers and developers/builders… because there won’t be newly opening rooms to support them. Even some current room operators that used a builder for their first room will decide to go it on their own… in true haunter DIY fashion of course. The builders will have to evolve… but that’s topic for another day.
Predicting the Top
We are not predicting the top of the market for escape rooms. It is virtually impossible for anyone to actually ‘call the top’ of a market. Unless the person makes their call at the precise point that the market reaches its tipping point, the very nature of being able to see the top relies on hindsight.
This top, however, will happen. It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN. How overly saturated each market is when that happens will influence the amount of blood shed when customer demand dries up. If you are in an extremely oversaturated market, it will be especially tough. Strong Brands that can ride out the storm by employing good business practices will have the upper hand and will be left standing once the dust settles.
No one knows exactly when saturation will occur. Every market is different. The market will find equilibrium, though. It always does.
Innovate or Die
Be proactive, not reactive. Run against the crowd and do something different. While most operators are focused on setting up a room with as little human interaction as possible, think about adding non player actors into your game. While every operator is focused on creating games that players have to beat the clock, think about how you can give more substance to your game. Morph it into a mission. Create a world.
Rethink the entire escape game experience… before the market forces you to. Be ready when consumer behavior shifts.
Players taste will change over time. Simple clues, keys, button sequences, and lever pulls won’t cut it forever. As the demand for finding clues and solving puzzles in a locked room dries up, businesses that can deliver a unique, more advanced experience to the consumer will create their own competitive advantage.
Interactivity will continue to be the trend. Players want to be PART of the game. Take advantage of larger playing grounds and rethink your approach to games in general. Create an adventure. Deliver a world in which your guests help determine the outcome… think beyond the “we escaped; we didn’t” mentality.
Creature of Opportunity
Think about how you can leverage your existing assets to offer a unique experience for your guests while keeping your investment and risk as small as possible. Market to your existing customer base from overlapping activities and events.
Farms have a unique opportunity in this regard. They are rich in history, and provide a different environment when compared to a locked room. The types of different games and challenges they can create are limited only by imagination.
Create an experience that feels authentic. Fitting in with your existing brand is important and can have an effect on the customer experience.
When the escape room market massacre happens, will your business solve the puzzle and escape the sword? Be in tune with your local market, and remain alert to shifts and changes. Be nimble, and willing to rethink every aspect of your business. Leverage your existing resources to lower your risk, and integrate your game into your farm so that it feels authentic.
Think outside of the box and focus on creating a unique experience for your players… this may be your key to survival.