Cool Biz: Escape Room Games

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The thriving business of “live adventures:”

Since the invention of the world’s first interactive video game Spacewar! in 1961, computers gradually – and then rampantly – began taking over our lives. Now we perfunctorily carry small computers with us everywhere.

So the phenomenon of “escape room games” is actually pretty refreshing.

cool biz idea: escape rooms

(Image courtesy of nattavut via FreeDigitalPhotos.net) People are willing and want to pay for experiences, which is why many are going to businesses that offer “live adventures,” like escape room games.

An escape room game – or “live-action adventure” – entails this: You pay roughly $30 to get locked in a room with a small group of people, then try to escape by finding hidden clues and solving puzzles.

The rooms are usually themed, offering a variety of dungeons; hospitals; haunted basements; and futuristic time capsules.

Some are historically accurate, like “Plato’s Cave”, “The Office of John Monroe” and “The Cuban Crisis.” Others – like “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie”, “Escape from the Super Villain’s Hideout” and “The Lab of Dr. Zylchov” – not so much.

As well as a theme, the game is usually set around a specific mission, anything from solving a murder; finding a missing person; passing a survival test; or defusing an explosive device.

No smartphone required.

The first documented “official” escape room is said to have popped up in Japan in 2007. Today, there are more than 600 listed escape room businesses with 1,434 rooms worldwide in 53 countries, including Romania, Cyprus and Istanbul.

The first US escape room emerged in San Francisco in 2012. Room reservations are now required more than a month in advance.

Since then, 100 escape room businesses are up and running across 34 states. The DC-metro area has five: Escape Room Live and Room Escape Adventures in downtown DC and three others in Virginia.

People are not only flocking to places where they can interact – in person! – with other people, but business leaders from companies like Google and Facebook are reported to favor escape rooms for corporate team building.

In a 2015 report, nearly 20% of escape room customers were corporate clients.

The survey also found the North and South American markets to be the least saturated, compared with Asia, Australia and Europe.

sell an experience

Selling an experience – not just a product – is an essential way to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace.

About 25% of the 175 escape room facilities surveyed (the majority located in Europe and the US) reported being the only escape room in their area; 30% said there’s room for more escape rooms in their area.

The CEO of Puzzle Break, an escape room business with locations in San Francisco and Seattle, discussed his experience opening the business in an online forum hosted by Reddit.

He reports opening the first room two months after founding the company in September 2013; four months later, he opened its second room.

A year later, in September 2014, Puzzle Break employed 10 staff members and was bringing in more than $30,000 in gross revenue per month.

He said the company’s biggest expense is, not surprisingly, rent.

Providing a successful escape room experience is based on finding large, open spaces – and not going bankrupt to pay for them.

The bottom line is that people will pay for experiences. They will – and want to – pay for the intangible joys of memories, excitement and fun. And since each person experiences something a little differently than someone else, selling an experience is an essential way to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace.

Probably the biggest example of this is Disneyland.

“The one thing I learned from Disneyland,” Walt Disney said, “is to control the environment.”

So, find your space, build the environment and then give people an unforgettable experience within this environment. You’ll be bringing in more than enough to cover the rent.