Update: 2017 predictions

Peering into a Crystal Ball

Oh, we’re halfway there… so for a bit of fun I thought I’d have a quick look at how the 2017 forecast is faring. Back in January I made 10 predictions of things I thought would happen this year plus the big one: how many rooms will be open on 31 December 2017. Let’s see how we’re doing…

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear in more than half of the following locations: Falkirk, Stirling, Basingstoke, Bolton, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Colchester, Luton, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bridgend, Derry, Limerick

Of the 14 towns I named

  • 6 already have games: Stirling, Bolton, Colchester, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Derry
  • 3 have announced games (although, in this industry, that doesn’t mean they’ll open by year end): Basingstoke, Stratford-upon-Avon, Limerick
  • No progress for Falkirk, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Luton, Bridgend

A pretty good start, I think – not only are we already pretty close to making that target of eight rooms but it doesn’t look like I was overly cautious. It seems unlikely we’ll get to, say, twelve of them.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made soap opera or equivalent.
Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made nationally broadcast reality TV show.

I’ve not heard anything along these lines. The closest I’ve come across was some Arsenal footballers taking on a custom escape room for a Betfair advert. Still plenty of time for these to come true!

Prediction: A new escape-room-like venue will be announced in the UK similar to Boda Borg, the Crystal Maze or GoQuest.

We’ve already had Never Give Up in Newcastle open and Crack it Bolton announced so I think we can safely put this one to bed but I’ve heard tell of at least one other so this might be a prediction which over-achieves.

Prediction: At least four overseas franchises not currently in the UK and Ireland will open a room.

At the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this one has failed miserably with not a single overseas franchise appearing on these shores BUT there’s a silver lining. Claustrophobia look likely to open in a couple of months, There’s the vaguest suggestion that Escapology might open up in Manchester and, of course, Escape Hunt are looking to open a couple of venues in the country. If all three of those were to put down roots it would only take one more company to hit the UK for the prediction to come true.

But wait, who’s that rushing to my defence? SCRAP, the original escape room company [citation needed], came to these shores this month albeit only for three days. Yes, it would be a bit cheeky to count them but I’ll take my victories any way I can come December 😉

Prediction: At least one theme park operator will open a permanent escape room

Again, we’ve got a semi-victory with Merlin opening an escape room at the Dungeons in Blackpool. Whether you count that as a theme park is up to you but, by the letter of the law, it is being opened by a theme park operator…

Prediction: At least one company will have 50 rooms running across the UK and Ireland by the end of the year

Escape have moved halfway towards the target, Clue HQ have been shadowing them pretty closely but probably aren’t moving quite fast enough to overtake the leader. Breakout have been expanding fast in their existing locations with over 30 rooms now open and another few planned for the next few months. The big surprise, which I called as a long shot at the beginning of the year, is Escape Reality, who’ve gone from almost nothing to 29 already and have plans for a bunch more games in the next couple of months. I definitely wouldn’t it past them to hit 50 by 2018.

Prediction: At least 50 venues will close in 2016

Looks like this will be incredibly wrong, and if I had to be wrong about one prediction then this would most definitely be my choice. At the time of writing, I know of ten venues that have closed this year. Of those, half were always intended to be temporary rooms (Escape Mobile, Clockwork Dog, Escape this Room, the Portsmouth Naval Museum and the Eden Project) so, really, we’ve had very little attrition.

Prediction: At least ten new play-at-home escape rooms will launch and be available in the UK

This seems almost certain to come true however you look at it but if you’re willing to count multi-packs of games separately (such as Unlock from Space Cowboys) then we’ve already had ten launched this year and expect to have a good few more.

Prediction: At least 100 people will gather for an escape game industry related event

So far this hasn’t happened in the UK but there’s a very good chance we’ll hit that later in the year with a London conference.

Prediction: At some point during 2017, 1000 escape rooms will be open across the UK and Ireland.

This was a deliberately bold statement which I chose partly because we’ve continually underestimated the numbers of rooms and partly because 1000 was a round number. I stand by it though – I still think there’s a 50% chance of us exceeding 1000 by the end of the year. During the first half we’ve moved from 600 to 800 games, or a growth of 33%. Even if that drops off slightly, to, say, 25%, we should just scrape over the finish line. It’s hard to be sure in this industry but it still feels like a reasonable estimate. 1000 rooms. It’s a pretty good number.

Looking ahead to 2017: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site ran prediction features over the last three years, albeit penned (so to speak) by a different author, with varying levels of success. Time for this new author to put a stake in the ground so that in a year’s time we can look back and laugh at his naivety. It’s always hard to predict the future and even harder to put some level of certainty on those predictions but the following predictions are based on things that fall somewhere in the 50-75% likelihood range.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear in more than half of the following locations:

  • In Scotland: Falkirk, Stirling.
  • In England: Basingstoke, Bolton, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Colchester, Luton, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • In Wales: Bridgend.
  • In NI: Derry.
  • In Ireland: Limerick

At this stage, there are very, very few obvious gaps in the UK market. This site is aware of possible companies starting up in three of the above locations, but the rest have no activity.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made soap opera or equivalent.

We’ve seen them appear on The Big Bang Theory, The Middle and various other US shows but it feels like they’ve become mainstream enough in the UK that they’ll appear in some context on a nationally-aired soap.

Prediction: Escape rooms will appear on a UK made nationally broadcast reality TV show.

There are plenty of UK escape room companies looking to expand rapidly and what better way than to get themselves into the limelight via reality TV? There are any numbers of ways that could happen but a few that spring to mind:

  • The Apprentice: Creating their own pop up escape room would be a great set of property/production/marketing challenges with the opportunity to laugh at contestants for coming up with outlandish ideas or not understanding the solution to simple puzzles.
  • Dragon’s Den: Plenty of companies are looking to expand rapidly so perhaps one of the smaller players in the market will look for seed funding and a fair amount of exposure?
  • TOWIE or similar: Want to see human interactions at their worst? Then throw people who don’t get on well into an escape room.

Prediction: A new escape-room-like venue will be announced in the UK similar to Boda Borg, the Crystal Maze or GoQuest.

Boda Borg’s recent expansion to Boston is proving popular while the Crystal Maze has shot to success in London and has a new location opening in Manchester. It seems almost inevitable that a company such as Boda Borg will attempt to expand into the UK.

Prediction: At least four overseas franchises not currently in the UK and Ireland will open a room.

It’s hard to predict which companies might find these shores attractive, but it feels like that at least a couple of the Russian franchises will choose to target the UK and Escape Hunt making a reappearance seems almost inevitable given its recent acquisition by a UK-based holding company. Perhaps SCRAP will see fit to bring one of their games across from the US or one of the other major US players will put some feelers out on this side of the Atlantic (where Escapology from Florida seems like a good bet).

Prediction: At least one theme park operator will open a permanent escape room

We’ve had a couple of Hallowe’en escape rooms open in the past in Alton Towers and Thorpe Park but this year feels like the one where they’ll go mainstream enough to open a permanent attraction.

Prediction: At least one company will have 50 rooms running across the UK and Ireland by the end of the year

Escape currently have 30, Clue HQ are on 28, Locked in a Room have 21 and The Escape Room have 19. It seems just possible that one of those (or maybe as a long shot, Escape Reality?) will open enough venues to pull themselves across the line.

Prediction: At least 50 venues will close in 2016

It can’t all be happy news, not that all closures are necessarily unhappy. We’ve seen around 20 venues shut their doors in 2016 but as the market hots up and the big players start throwing their weight around, this site expects to see a few companies decide to close the doors. Some will be sudden closures but I expect a fair number to just see out the end of their leases and then call it a day.

Prediction: At least ten new play-at-home escape rooms will launch and be available in the UK

With ThinkFun’s offerings proving reasonably successful and various other companies getting in on the act in 2016, it feels likely that the trend will expand in 2017 with new versions from the existing companies but also brand new companies piggy backing off the existing success.

Prediction: At least 100 people will gather for an escape game industry related event

Specifically, not an escape room experience but some sort of event that is aimed at owners and enthusiasts – a conference or unconference or just some sort of fun meet up. The UK unconference in London in July of last year saw around 50 people gather and next week’s looks likely to have around 70 so, assuming expansion continues and a suitable venue can be found, it seems reasonable to assume the industry can bring together 100 people.

And finally the big one:

Prediction: At some point during 2017, 1000 escape rooms will be open across the UK and Ireland.

1000 escape rooms across the UK and Ireland. Yes, One thousand. Last year saw the market more than double. I think we’ll see a similar level of new rooms opening but I think we’ll also see a huge number of rooms closing with the result that we’ll just scrape over the line in the last quarter. I don’t think the market will quite have peaked and I certainly don’t expect the bubble to burst. Sadly, for enthusiasts, I suspect a significant proportion of those games will be franchises expanding across the countries so there won’t be anything like as many as 1000 experiences. Perhaps “just” 700?

Looking back on 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

In early January of 2016, this site posted an article predicting what would happen in 2016. It didn’t attempt to predict the results of the referendum or the US presidential election but it did talk about puzzling and escape rooms. Since then, Chris, who ran the site at the time has moved on to exexitgames.co.uk but that doesn’t stop us taking a look at how those predictions panned out. Since the site has taken a fairly firm focus on escape games since his departure, this article looks at the escape side of those predictions.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016.”

Actual: In case you were in any doubt, this prediction came true. In much the same way as “Leicester City won’t be relegated from the Premiership” came true last season. On 1 January 2015 there were, to this site’s knowledge, 103 venues across the UK and Ireland. As 2016 draws to a close there are now 238 venues open. All in all, there were 152 venue openings in 2016 – almost exactly three times the prediction. Wow!

Prediction: “This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland.”

Actual:  A total of 16 escape rooms closed in 2016, although (as the prediction made clear) it’s not always lack of business that prompts the shutters to come down. In fact, since this site is often asked why escape room closure occur, it’s worth going into a bit more detail.

  • 1 owner emigrated (Fathom Escape)
  • 1 lease expired (Enter the Oubliette)
  • 4 temporary hiatus – expected to re-open (Clockwork DogClue CrackerEnd GameTime Trap Escape)
  • 4 planned closures – game was temporary (A Curious Escape, Hide and Shriek, Code-X, Milestones Museum)
  • 6 permanent closures – reason unclear (Hidden Rooms London, The Lock and Key, Dr. Knox’s Enigma, EVAC, Sherlock Unlock, A Great Escape)

Prediction:  “At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016.

Actual: Achieved. In fact, two separate brands made it to nine locations:

  • Clue HQ with nine locations in: Warrington, Brentwood, Blackpool, Sunderland, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leicester and Coventry
  • Escape with eleven locations in: Glasgow, Edinburgh (two), Blackpool, Hull, Doncaster, London, Chester (Escapism), Livingston, Newcastle and Dublin. Even if you argue that Escapism is branded separately and Edinburgh is just a single location that’s still a healthy nine.

For the record, no other company made it past five locations.

Prediction: “Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.

Actual: Several companies launched crowdfunding campaigns this year with varying degrees of success but this site couldn’t have seen Hugo Myatt on the horizon which helped catapult Bewilder Box’s campaign to £5216, just breaking the prediction.

Prediction: “At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough.”

Actual: Well, given that the prediction for the number of new escape rooms opening was beaten by a factor of three, it’s perhaps not surprising that this prediction was also beaten, and some! In fact, of the seven locations suggested only one of them failed to open two venues and, even there addresses have been confirmed for a couple more that would fall inside the eight mile radius specified in the predictions.

Prediction:  “The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.”

Actual: This site has stopped making predictions but it’s safe to say that this has been beaten unless the slots at all these additional venues are being filled by experienced players!

Prediction: “There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.”

Actual: The biggest meeting, to this site’s knowledge, was in London with just under 50 participants. Within a couple of weeks of the new year, this site is confident that the 50 will be achieved with the unconference in London.

Prediction: “This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.”

Actual: No one that this site is aware of but it would be great to hear otherwise.

Prediction: “This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.”

Actual: Escape game staff couples definitely exist – this site isn’t aware of any proposals but would love to be contradicted!

Prediction: “Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)”

Actual: Sort of. Locked in a Room opened up in London with up to 8 teams playing the same game in parallel. That isn’t quite like SCRAP but, under the letter of the law, it probably meets the above prediction.

Prediction: “An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.”

Actual: This looked like a possibility with both A Great Escape in Milton Keynes and Enter the Oubliette in London closing their doors but neither appear to have sold on their game to another company (STOP PRESS: There’s a strong hint on A Great Escape’s site that a sale may have taken place!). When Escape Land in London shut up shop, Hidden Rooms took on some of their IP but since then the roles have reversed with Escape Land re-opening and Hidden Rooms closing their doors for good.

Prediction: “There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.”

Actual: Sadly no, as far as this site is aware.

Prediction: “This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community.”

Actual: Still none that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.”

Actual: Not that this site is aware of.

Prediction: “Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays.”

Actual: Again, sadly not. We’ll have to make do with the Bristol Maze.

Coming soon to your own home: Escape Room in a Box

The titular box in which an escape room can be found

A phrase that I once heard and has got stuck in my mind runs “say it best, say it first, say it last or say it worst”. By cute coincidence, the only citation for it that I can quickly find comes from Professor Scott Nicholson of white paper and Escape Enthusiasts fame. Today’s article is about Escape Room in a Box, the Kickstarter campaign for which closes in less than two days’ time with glorious success; under $20,000 required to fund it, easily over $100,000 raised. Saying it best or first seem impossible now; at least this can be the last place where it gets mentioned… until the next place becomes the new last place.

If you’re reading this, the concept hardly needs explaining. Escape Room in a Box “…is a 60-90 minute cooperative game where 2-6 players solve puzzles, crack codes, and find hidden clues in order to find an antidote to thwart a mad scientist’s plot to turn them into werewolves.” How good could such a game be – or, more to the point, how much could you enjoy such a game? It depends perhaps what aspects of traditional location-specific exit games you most enjoy. Some aspects, like the puzzles, can reasonably be replicated in your own home. Other aspects, like the theming of the environment and ambitious physical props, are much harder. (If a big part of the attraction for you is getting to play with toys that you wouldn’t have the chance to play with elsewhere, it’s less attractive.)

The Logic Escapes Me thought hard about the potential opportunities and limitations of the format and expressed them in their tremendous preview. Perhaps it might best be read in conjunction with Room Escape Artist‘s review of a preview copy of the game, which validates Ken’s concerns and suggests that they have largely been dealt with in a fashion close to reaching the immediate potential of the format. On the other hand, to give full context, perhaps you should compare that review with Esc Room Addict of Canada’s counterpart review of a preview copy, which was rather less enthusiastic.

In any case, the concept appears to have been in the right place at the right time and caught people’s attention more widely; the campaign has been discussed at the Huffington Post and also by those alpha YouTubers at Geek and Sundry. Also excited was Adrian Hon of Six to Start (probably best known for the Zombies, Run! fitness app), also who mentioned it on Twitter. Subsequent discussion started with his opinion “Last escape room I played was $45 *per person*. Surely they could have a higher price/tier, and make the game better or longer?” Perhaps the success of the campaign points to there being the demand for the genre after all – and, from there, it’s tempting to wonder how other members of the family might differ.

Could a later iteration be a partly digital game, requiring its players to supply their own mobile device on which to run an app? Plenty of potential there, starting with being just another medium through which to deliver different sorts of clue, going through being a unique input device and going as far as in any other mixed media game. Certainly the prediction that there may be competitors was proved quickly correct, with ThinkFun introducing Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor this month (at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of US$21.99, so set your expectations to low-tech), set to be distributed in the UK by Paul Lamond from June. That promises to have an online hint system at the very least.

Exit Games UK would be very interested if existing exit game brands were to consider this technique as a brand extension. Suppose someone has come and played your game, had a tremendous time and have left the room in high spirits. Might this be an excellent time to try to sell them a game so they might have related fun at home? It would take a certain sort of set of strengths for the combination to make sense; home games can convey puzzles very well, so this would work particularly well for a site which prided itself not just on its puzzles but also on certain sorts of puzzles which would translate to a home environment. It would also be a good way to advance the story of a persistent game universe, to keep them keen on playing within your universe when it takes so long and so much to introduce another physical game set there.

Looking ahead to 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site has ran predictions features over the second half of 2014 and over the whole of 2015, assessing the accuracy of the predictions each time so that the world can have a giggle at just how wrong the guesses were in the first place. Let’s have another go for 2016, more because it’s fun than for any other reason. (Compare to the 2016 predictions for London by The Logic Escapes Me.)

That said, predictions are only so-o-o-o interesting. It’s more fun to think about plausible edge cases; it’s more fun to predict a long shot than something more obvious, but who’s to say what’s obvious and what isn’t? This list of predictions will also attempt to minimise the extent to which it covers previously-trod ground, as “this was an entertaining long-shot that didn’t happen last year and remains an entertaining long-shot this year” isn’t particularly exciting. A couple of other starting-points for predictions: this site will steer clear of predicting things it believes to be foregone conclusions already, and this site will attempt to make the most ambitious predictions that it feels confident making; this site would set over-under lines for the numerical predictions only a little above the figures quoted.

This site considers each of the following to be at least slightly more likely than not:

  • This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (Not part of the prediction, but this site suspects that at least 40% of the openings will come from brands and people already in the business in 2015, with a decreasing number of people starting from scratch. Deliberately short-lived pop-up games are not included in the count.)
  • This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland. Not every closure is a catastrophe: some businesses have decided to deliberately run a game with a finite duration, possibly with later sequels in mind.
  • At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (This is perhaps the most marginal of predictions, but eight seems just a little too safe to predict.)
  • Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.
  • Many of the biggest gaps in the market will close. At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough. (This site has heard people talk about possible sites in two of these, but that’s far from a done deal. Other possible cities have been rejected from the list for being too safe a prediction.)
  • The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.
  • There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.
  • This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.
  • London and at least two other UK towns will each hold at least four Puzzled Pint events in 2016. (This site has six possibilities in mind.)
  • There will be a UK DASH event and it will sell at least 25 team spaces – or sell out completely if the organisers choose a lower capacity – within 12 days.
  • There will be at least 18 locations in at least three countries around the world at this year’s DASH.
  • Ulrich Voigt will win the World Puzzle Championship this year for his eleventh victory in seventeen years.
  • David McNeill of Northern Ireland will defend his over-50s title in at least one of the World Sudoku Championship and the World Puzzle Championship; hopefully both!
  • This site will finally predict the WPC winning team after picking second place for the last two years.
  • This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.

This site considers each of the following to be less likely than not – maybe something like 30% likely each? – but nevertheless these are interesting possibilities.

  • Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)
  • An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.
  • There may be a single-day puzzle hunt in the UK and Ireland that is not the continuation of a series run in previous years and that attracts at least a hundred players.
  • There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.
  • This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community; the rooms do exist, as well as the Boda Borg centre at Lough Key and doubtless other things far too cool to exist in the UK yet, so it would be a delight for someone to start a blog with an Irish focus and maybe even get meetings going as is starting to happen in the UK.

This site considers each of the following to be much less likely than not – maybe something like 15% likely each? – but nevertheless these are entertaining outside possibilities.

  • There might be a TV puzzle show made in the UK or Ireland to match up with the best puzzle shows that we’ve had in the past; if someone were to commission a local version of The Genius and it were to live up to its potential, that would count, or if someone were to make a really good exit game TV show, that would count too.
  • There might be a puzzle competition (as opposed to an armchair treasure hunt or puzzle hunt) launched in the UK or Ireland which is designed to be played in teams – maybe even an inter-town league or an inter-university championship. This site really misses the Croco-League.
  • Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.
  • Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays