Battle of the Brands

Boxing Glove[Correction: in the original version of this article, Escape was said to have 20 rooms open. This didn’t include the two escape rooms at its Noughts and Coffee branch in Edinburgh. This has now been fixed below]

Escape rooms in the UK and Ireland range from single room locations up to multi-site brands and everything in between. With over 400 rooms and 170+ venues, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see some brands starting to really spread across the countries. Whether you prefer the “boutique” escape rooms, doing a single room incredibly well, or the mass-market companies that are perfecting how to deliver escape rooms across several locations, it’s fascinating to see what the movers and shakers are in the UK.

The analysis below is based on the room list here and will likely be out of date within a few days even if it were correct at the time of publishing. Any corrections gratefully received by email or in the comments below.

What’s the biggest brand?

Quantity isn’t necessarily more important than quality but, in terms of being a profitable company, it surely has  to help. There are four main contenders for biggest operator in the UK and Ireland, all of them with approximately twenty rooms, although the number of locations varies significantly. Note that this totally ignores any venues outside of the UK/Ireland which would change the picture significantly given that some major international brands have opened in the UK.

Escape sneaks the title for most rooms with 22, but are the clear leaders  on the venue front with nine. They opened the doors of their first location during May 2014 and have been growing steadily ever since, opting for large numbers of small venues. From their first location in Edinburgh to their most recent opening in Doncaster, they have never opened more than three games simultaneously in one site.
Breakout Breakout, spread across four locations sit just a single room behind with a total of 21. There must have been something special during May 2014 because they opened their first room the same month as Escape and have been steadily growing, developing new rooms and new venues, with two in their home town of Manchester, one over in Liverpool and their latest franchise opening in Cardiff just a couple of months ago. It seems that their model is to go after sizable venues in major cities with a good potential audience.
Sitting right behind those sites, ready to pounce, are Clue HQ and The Escape Room, both with 19 rooms:
Clue HQ Clue HQ started life in Warrington, just a month after Breakout and Escape, and grew steadily at that site before taking the plunge with their first franchise after almost a year. Since then, they’ve been driving forward opening their sixth venue back in June. They’ve generally gone for medium sized population centres but the site sizes vary hugely. One particular strand they seem to be following is co-locating with laser tag – that’s true of their Sunderland, Blackpool and Glasgow sites.
The Escape Room The Escape Room is the only one of the top four which didn’t start life in Britain, instead opening its doors initially in Malaysia. It was also a relatively late developer here with the first room only opening in early 2015 in Manchester. Since then it’s spread its wings to Preston, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Barrow-in-Furness, seemingly favouring smaller population centres after that initial opening. As you might expect with an international brand that has plenty of rooms in its portfolio, there’s a huge variety of games on offer although Prison Break is a firm favourite, being present at all of the local venues.

What other companies are there?

Those four companies are way out in the lead (no other companies have even reached double digits) but there are still plenty of interesting franchises out there.

Locked in a Room Locked in a Room are a fascinating company because they have just two distinct games but, with four copies of each, they sit quite high on the rankings with 8 rooms. What makes them even more interesting is that, in the next couple of weeks, they’ll be opening 13 rooms in the ExCel centre in London (which will become the biggest UK venue), bringing their total up to 21 and seeing them tied with Breakout for first place. It seems unbelievable that a company with just two locations and two games could have a total of 21 rooms.
Tick Tock Unlock Tick Tock Unlock have four venues across the UK and a total of nine rooms across them with a clear preference for large cities – Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds. There must have been something special about May 2014 because this is yet another major brand that opened their first room during that month.
Breakout Games Breakout Games (not to be confused with the Breakout mentioned above) opened in Aberdeen first before expanding to Inverness. They rotate their rooms rapidly which is probably not surprising in relatively small locations but still manage to have a total of nine rooms open.
clueQuest The final company with nine rooms is clueQuest – the second oldest game in Great Britain and already on its third different location. Having started life in the relative outskirts of London, it’s moved towards the centre, finally alighting in a single venue in Kings Cross.

Other smaller companies of interest include:

  • City Mazes (eight rooms across three venues but two more imminent in Oxford and maybe more)
  • the Panic Room (about to open a third venue and potentially a total of nine rooms)
  • Handmade Mysteries (only four rooms, but spread across three different venues)
  • Xscape Reality (five rooms in a single venue but plans to open in a couple of other cities soon)

And that’s about it. Inevitably some interesting companies will have missed out on a mention here – this site tries hard not to play favourites but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Apologies if you feel that your favourite company deserved a mention here and didn’t get one. Feel free to leave a comment below to explain why!


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