Thinking big: what would a million players a year look like?

A heart marked "1,000,000"One of this site’s writers was talking to one of his co-workers the other day and the co-worker said “So do you know about this (name deleted) escape game in (city), then? My wife played it the other day and she loved it.” Yes. Yes, it’s possible that one or two things about it might be known. This site considers it great news, as more and more evidence, albeit anecdotal, that the word is getting out to the masses. Fingers crossed, some more enthusiasm may well get them to play the others that exist as well.

One of the bigger questions that this site wonders about from time to time is just how big exit games can get. (For the sake of expediency and laziness, let’s stick to the UK here.) A million players a year is a big, splashy number to talk about; by comparison, UK Paintball claims “over a million paintball players per year in the UK”, with one brand alone claiming half a million players in a year. (Another reputable source estimated about 1,100,000 players +/- 150,000 players.) These figures count one person playing once a month as twelve players, which seems like a reasonable basis. (This site’s monthly player count estimate differs by factoring to count unique players.)

There are some hobbies which lock their players in by incentivising, or even requiring, players to spend very considerable sums of money on specific equipment for that hobby alone. This site contends that it’s to the exit game industry’s credit that that isn’t a factor; the low barrier of entry makes attracting new players easier. Granted, the games themselves are often not cheap, but the habitually high reviews provide evidence that almost all players consider that you do get what you pay for. (There are other parts of the puzzle hobby, particularly online, which do not have a price tag.) On the other hand, the lack of commitment and the lack of replay value for an individual room means there’s a challenge for the industry to go from “this is something fun I did once” to “this is one of my regular hobbies”. Sites with more than one different game are a step in the right direction.

In round terms, one million players a year is 20,000 players a week, which might mean 12,000 players during the week and four or five thousand players on a Saturday. To keep the numbers simple, let’s say that a busy Saturday might see as many as 1,200 teams play, and let’s assume that each room can service an average of six teams per day on a Saturday. Then, all as an order of magnitude calculation, a million players a year might feel like 200 rooms all fully booked out every Saturday. (And most of Sunday, and fairly heavily on weekdays as well.)

The last time The League Table was computed, it estimated 55 open rooms (not sites!) in the UK, plus more in the Republic of Ireland. The total has gone up since then. Nevertheless, we would looking at roughly a trebling in size of the industry, plus an increase in utilisation of the less popular sites to approach that of the most popular sites. Escape Hunt in London has ten rooms, ClueQuest and HintHunt each have five these days, Breakout Manchester have four and some others have three. Some sites have plenty of room for expansion; many others may not have much space to get past 4-5 rooms within a single site, others limiting themselves to as few as two rooms, or one. If the current average is 2.5 rooms per site, and if that average might rise towards 3 rooms per site, we might expect 70 sites to be required (and Escape Hunt not to be the only mega-site).

You might choose to create an immediately familiar, but very crude, model of this as one centre located at a town for each Premier League or Championship football team, 16 more dotted around locations with lower league teams, plus 10 more dotted around Scotland – again, perhaps in line with football powerhouses – as well Northern Ireland and the rest of Wales. This provides some basis for modelling big conurbations featuring both more and (in some cases) better-used locations than smaller conurbations. A slightly less crude model might emphasise tourism destinations more highly, with business destinations and dormitory towns emphasised less highly. (Question for site owners: which football team do you identify your site with? Silly analogies are fun!)

Is a million players a year realistic? The population of the UK is something like 64 million, so (again, keeping the numbers very simple) this might roughly be looking at 1% of the population playing at least one game a year, a substantial proportion of those being “hobbyists” who play more than one game, and tourists from outside the UK playing in UK sites as well.

Getting as high as 1% is far from easy, though. While there will always be some very young players, some very senior players and some players with disabilities, all of whom will be at least as welcome as others, it’s not unrealistic to knock – say – 30% of the population out straight away as considering themselves to be too young, too old or too impaired to be interested in playing. We can then factor out those who identify as being without disposable income, when everybody is struggling, and those who identify as having no interest in intellectual activities. Maybe that’s another 30% right there. (That’s a pretty wild guess, but compare to video game player stats.) So you’re looking at a target market of perhaps 40% of the population, thus the industry is looking to get 1-in-40 of those to play in a year. Does that seem reasonable? Alternatively, considering how popular these games are with the early adopters who have tried them, does that seem low?

Another point of reference is that in 2013, there were something like 170 million paid admissions to UK cinemas. (The trend over time dipped to about 70 million in the early ’80s at its lowest and has been broadly recovering, with fluctuations, ever since.) Might half a percent or one percent of that seem a reasonable aspiration?

This site is bullish about these estimates. If you are, too, then it’s clear that the market has plenty of room to grow and it’s not close to being too late to get involved. Perhaps a million UK players in 2017 is not out of sight; a real optimist might see a seven-digit year being reached sooner still.


  1. On the other hand, the lack of commitment and the lack of replay value for an individual room means there’s a challenge for the industry to go from ‘this is something fun I did once’ to ‘this is one of my regular hobbies’

    I think is the biggest obstacle to increasing the number of games played (rather than the number of unique players). There’s likely to be many more very occasional players than hobbyists, which means there’s little incentive for operators to go to the cost and effort of changing their rooms. But without new rooms within reasonable travelling distance it would be difficult for people to become hobbyists. I’d suggest we need both to get anywhere near these numbers.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Mark, and forgive a little HTML editing where your intent was clear; the blockquote cite tag does not seem to work quite as well as the note beneath this comment box suggests.

    Other than that, I completely agree with what you have to say!


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