It’s odd that escape rooms have only recently become popular. The very first one opened up in Japan in 2007. In the U.S. they started popping up in major cities in 2012, seeing exponential growth after 2014.
This meteoric rise is peculiar because, although some games are high-tech, most escape room games require no tech at all. This means that many of your favorite rooms could have been built back in the 1600’s. So why have we only seen them pop up recently? It’s not like humans only now started craving exciting new things to do with each other.
Sure, some games are controlled via computer and magnetic locks, but the tech is not what makes the games entertaining. Rather, it is the fact that you and your group of friends get to spend 60-minutes removed from the technology that you associate with on a day-to-day basis. You get to be the main character in your favorite game or movie. Whether or not you escape is entirely dependent on what you and your team do. Experience thrills and fear in a completely safe and controlled environment. The draw is obvious. But the question still remains, why now?
It is possible that people just got bored. Maybe travelling has become too time-consuming or expensive. Rather than planning a road-trip or a vacation to Paris, people opt for a weekend “escape” instead. Perhaps it is a societal paradigm shift. Escape rooms offer thrill seekers the convenient opportunity for excitement without having to drive too far.
One thing we do know is that movies are on the decline. Cinemas are trying hard to lure customers back with creative ideas like movie subscription plans. Although this puts a dent in Hollywood’s collective pockets, this could represent a good shift for humanity. We’ve finally realized that there are more exciting things to do other than sitting on our butts for a couple hours-- whether it’s watching a movie, Netflix, T.V., or playing video games. Anything that lessens our zombie-like behavior must be good, right?
Regardless of the reasons, the shift is definitely happening.
This image shows how often people Googled the term “escape room” in the United States from February 2012 to January 2018.
The demand for escape rooms continues to skyrocket, but it is unclear how much longer the upward trend will last. For now, escape room owners are profiting from it.
But the industry has already seen saturation in some larger markets. Poorly designed games have already shuddered their doors. As demand grows, so does consumer expectation. The bigger/better escape game companies cannot build new locations fast enough to keep up with the demand.
A very compelling reason that the escape room industry is thriving now is the existence of social media. Social media is effectively a very low-cost marketing tool. Before social media existed, or became widely used, it was extremely difficult to get the word out about your brick-and-mortar business. Now, with only Yelp and a Google business listing, you can at the very least be “on the map.” As long as customers continue to use these tools and review their favorite businesses, consumer awareness builds upon itself. The best games will virally spread on their own and the lesser ones tend to get drowned out.
Social networks like Instagram and Facebook allow brands to amplify their footprint, often at a very low cost.
There are paid marketing options for most all of the “free” networks. However, the fact remains that it is relatively easy to quickly market a new business. Digital marketing allows new escape rooms to reach virtually all of their target market through the creation of their profiles online.
Compare this to the pre-2000’s-- the best way to target a local audience was to take out a billboard or pay for a television or radio advertisement. T.V. and radio ads are costly and present a high barrier to entry for small businesses. Pay-per-click advertising on Facebook and Google allow businesses to both operate on very small marketing budgets as well as target the exact customers they want.
We can continue to debate the reasons for the rise in demand. Maybe escape rooms are simply a generational (millennial) thing. However, the reason that the entire industry can survive is likely due to the relative ease and low costs of modern day digital marketing.
What do you think? (let us know your opinion on Facebook).