How to open an Escape Room?

How to open an Escape Room?

This article, written from the point of view of an Room Escape designer, is intended to answer many of the questions related to the Escape Room design and business.

What is an Escape Room?

Escape Room is an increasingly popular game in the world, from Asia to the United States, passing through Europe.
Although there are different types of rooms, I can summarize the concept of Escape Room with being voluntarily locked, with other people, in a space from which you have to get out by solving a series of chained riddles and puzzles in a limited period of time (usually up to 60 minutes).

An Escape Room is much more than that, is about to be transported in another dimension and enter in a “flow” state, to use a word by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. This experience is proven to be useful to sharpen skills like: lateral thinking, communication, creativity and problem solving. All this while having fun. It’s no coincidence that Escape Room are often used for team building within companies.

A spooky dark corridor

Photo by polyneutron

Why open an Escape Room?

The answer is fairly simple, the business of Escape Room is growing, it is a profitable business as well as a creative, innovative and fun one.
Often those who open an Escape Room are young entrepreneurs who, after trying some rooms in their city or abroad, decides to open their company.

How much money can I make from an Escape Room?

It is easy to understand how much money you can make with a well-designed Escape Room.
In Europe, a 60 minutes group game is sold at about 60 €.
Managing an Room Escape means making sure that it is booked every day, from morning to night, if you want even beyond 24:00 pm.
A well-designed and advertised Escape Room can be visited by a large number of players every day, especially on the weekends where rooms are often sell out. To achieve this success your rooms must be studied in detail, nothing is left to chance!
The business of Escape Room is very competitive and only the rooms with a properly balanced difficulty, a captivating setting and puzzles consistent with this setting are able to immerse players in a new fun world and became very profitable for their owners.

An antique lamp

Photo by andre govia

How much is to open a Escape Room?

The interior design costs are variable, you can start with a minimally furnished room and once the business grows, turn it into something more complex.
In general, the game design of the room costs several thousand Euros. An expert game designer can create something new just for you, following you step by step in the realization of your room.
However, as in any market, even in the Escape Room one, there are offers of all kinds. On the market there are also packages that include, at best, a series of schematic documents listing the puzzles in the room, a draft story and some images. These packages does not guarantee the effectiveness of the design and, more important, its originality. The same design is sold around the world, themes and puzzles are standard and do not take into account the specificities of your space and the place where your room must be open (open a room somewhere in the world is in fact quite different than opening it in your country, for culture, habits, local regulations etc.)

The originality of the room is one of the key points of its success, in fact users are always looking for new experiences and your room must be able to draw more attention that competitors. This is why you should not try to copy other rooms but rather be original and bring new ideas into the industry.
This will be good for both your business and the Escape Room’s industry in general.

Another important think to consider is the monitoring equipment; I’m talking about the closed-circuit camera installed in the room and the monitor through which the “game master” will observes players’ activities, providing clues to solve puzzles on request.

Then there are props, objects or mechanisms by which players interact to “solve” the room, from simple padlocks to ancient Egypt sarcophagi, through secret passages and futuristic control panels. A good game designer can help you to invest money for maximum result with minimum expenses.
Props and other items must be consistent with the theme of the room (e.g. The crypt of Count Dracula, The Prison, The Temple of the Pharaoh, The Magician’s Room etc.) to allow a perfect users’ immersion in the game.

Novels, films and videogames are a great source of inspiration, especially those rich in fantastic and gothic environments, able to transport readers, viewers and players “in another place”.
An example is provided by the image that opens this article, taken from John Carpenter’s movie In The Mouth of Madness. The plaque in the film reports the following warning: “Any who dare enter this unholy site be damned forever”. A similar plaque could be affixed at the entrance of your room in order to amplify the immersion and facilitate people’s transition in the game experience yet before entering the actual Escape Room. The game designer must be able to master not only the sequence of puzzles and riddles, but also storytelling and visual design that contribute greatly to the gaming experience.

Prince of Darkness movie

An evocative still from the John Carpenter’s movie “Prince of Darkness”

Last but not least, you have to think about marketing and advertising activities. To promote your room you can even plan a Transmedia storytelling, that capture the attention of your potential customers. Your room should be promoted on social media like Facebook and TripAdvisor and with a well designed website that speaks the same “language” of your room with proper pictures and texts. Again a good game designers will be able to advice you on effective communication strategies and if needed, you can even involve other consultants in the process.
Usually Escape Rooms have an online booking system, an often customers can pay in advance with PayPal on the website.

In short, Escape Room business is innovative and uses a multitude of equally innovative concepts and ideas. That’s why are usually young adults, those who have more familiarity with the web and the new market trends, to open Escape Room companies around the world.

Where to open an Escape Room?

Any city of medium or large size is an ideal place to the open one or more rooms. You can’t absolutely be frightened by the presence of competitors, more often than not they are a good sign of the market health in the area.
Your room have to be easily reachable by public transport (buses, trams, subways etc.) and possibly located in a central or well-known area (e.g. near a university).

How big should an Escape Room be?

Since up to seven people play simultaneously in one room, I always suggest a floor area of ​​about 25 square meters and in any case not less than 20 square meters. Of corse nobody forbids you to create a theme divided into several rooms, perhaps connected by a secret passage to be discovered by the players during the game!

What is the lifespan of an Escape Room game design?

The life cycle of an Escape Room game design is less than one year, you must be proactive and think of a new design and a new theme before a negative drop in bookings happens. Therefore, the standard life cycle is about six months.
The first room is always the most difficult to create, then everything becomes easier and more fluid, the game designer will become your ideal partner, able to assist you in bringing your concept.

Abandoned power station: control room

Photo by sensaos

Have you something else to add?

Yup! Become the boss of yourself and open your Escape Room today!

To find out how Escape Room were born I recommend reading the Wikipedia article →
While to get an idea of the possible evolution of the Escape Room concept, I suggest you to read the article by our friend Emilio Cozzi on Wired Italia (Italian only, but with some interesting videos): Escape room, 60 minutes to get out of a room →

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