Is it your dream to open an escape room? Operating an escape game certainly sounds like a fun and exciting business opportunity – but given that this is such a young industry, many designers have to go into business without really understanding how to run a successful escape room.
In this article, we take a look at the things that escape room owners wish they had known before they launched their business.
Playing pays off
This is a part of the process you can get excited about. If you want to create an escape room that is going to be enjoyable for others to play, you need to do a lot of research into the competition – and realistically, that means playing an awful lot of escape games. It is even useful to play bad games, as they will teach what doesn’t work in an escape room setting.
Too many escape room designers have simply played a couple of rooms, and then see the commercial potential of setting up a room in another location. But it will pay off to play a much greater number of games.
Each game that you play gives you more of a feel of the kind of things that make escape rooms fun. They can also provide inspiration for aspects such as puzzles, theme, and set design.
Insurance isn’t a game
There are many escape room owners who don’t see a need for specific insurance – opting for standard business insurance to cover their legal requirements. But an escape room is a long way from a standard business.
Escape room owners should look into policies that are designed specifically with escape rooms in mind. They will cover the business for the kinds of things that actually cause huge problems for rooms.
According to Clarke Williams, an insurance broker that offers speciality escape room insurance, good insurance should cover:
- Business interruption
- Public liability and employers liability
- Equipment breakdown
- Computer equipment and cyber liability
- Tenants improvements
- Commercial legal expenses
Have your premises surveyed
Before you commit to your escape room premises it can be vital to have the property surveyed. Remember that running an escape room in a property that wasn’t designed for the purpose can present challenges. The rooms need to be accessible to the public and not be inherently hazardous.
It could also be important to have an asbestos survey carried out on your property. Businesses have a duty of care to ensure that anyone who visits their premises has their risk of asbestos exposure minimised.
“A great deal of asbestos remains in properties, so businesses have legal obligations to protect staff and anyone else who uses the company’s premises from exposure to asbestos,” says Dave Hanley of Crucial Environmental “asbestos surveys are conducted by professionals who can assess whether or not the material is present. This typically includes safely taking samples of potential asbestos or asbestos-containing materials.”
Adapt with feedback
Some escape room designers and owners can be precious about their creation. If they believe they have crafted an incredible escape with puzzles that are both fun and challenging, it can be difficult to face criticism. For many, the escape room is a result of years of work – and finding out that customers don’t like a certain aspect can be disheartening, especially if it means re-working a large part of the room.
“The escape room polishing process is never-ending,” says Daniel Stronski of Escape Room Supplier “even with a great, battle-tested scenario, puzzles of the highest quality and beautiful decorations, there is always room for improvement. You can modify the hints if most players find them too vague. Maybe some of the puzzle elements are not sturdy enough and your clients are afraid to use them not to break anything, although it’s usually the opposite.”
Taking onboard criticism and adapting the room is a way to improve it and make it a better experience for future customers.
Understand your competitors
We have spoken above about the importance of playing a lot of escape rooms – but you also need to understand your competitors from a business perspective. Who plays in them? What kind of facilities and amenities do they offer?
This is a chance not just to help you match their offering, but also to inspire you to offer unique services. Additionally, think about the kind of themes that they use. Clearly if a local escape room is themed around ancient Egypt, you might need to rethink your idea set in the lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra.
Market research your customers
It really pays to research your customers and what they expect from an escape room experience. Remember that not all escape rooms need to be aimed at small groups of friends in their 20s. Indeed, some escape room designers focus their rooms towards corporate team building and work trips.
“Nothing bonds people like having to work together in a fun but slightly pressured environment to achieve a shared goal,” says Phil Harris, co-owner of award-winning escape rooms Pier Pressure “escape rooms require teamwork to solve the puzzles and complete the games. This is why they’re such a good idea for team building and can leave teams feeling closer afterwards.”
Ultimately, your task is to find a customer niche and fulfil their needs. Many escape room owners focus too much on the room they would like to play in. In reality, you need to think more about what paying customers want.
Don’t make the game too hard
This is a contentious issue. Some game designers believe that escape rooms should be a challenge, and that players should find it difficult to escape. Others believe that every game should be successful to ensure a positive feeling about the room when the players have finished.
The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle of these two points of view.
“You want to keep your players in an optimistic mood,” says Adam Clare, a professor of Game Design at Sheridan College. “People should be able to escape the room in the time allotted but not every team needs to be successful. I suggest a success rate of about 60-70%.”