As 2018 came to a close I noticed the escape room market in Tampa had finally started to self-correct. A massive contraction took place throughout the year with several escape venues vanishing overnight. Many of the deceased businesses making it less than a year before folding. Escape room closings? As an escape game fan, this may be cause for some alarm, so I decided to take a longer look at what is happening.
A Brief History Lesson
Detractors will probably say that the escape room fad is finally over. They will point to these closures as proof that this industry is headed the way of the tree snail. Are they correct? Should escape game fans have reason for concern? Before you panic, lets first take a brief look at the history of escape rooms.
The first escape rooms debuted in Japan in 2007. It wasn’t until 2012 that the first escape rooms opened in the United States. Because of the newness of the escape room industry, the barriers to entry were (and in many places still) relatively low. A 2016 Forbes article estimated you could open an escape room company and compete in the ultra-competitive Los Angeles market for around $100,000 (far less throughout the U.S.)
The explosion of popularity for escape games in recent years led to the new American Gold Rush for young savvy entrepreneurs, and over the course of a few months, every major city in the country had several similar sounding escape game businesses to choose from. Naturally not every escape room business is built the same. Some of the companies that started in those early years had great success and are still around today, others rode the wave as long as the market would support it.
What’s does it all mean?
Escape rooms aren’t going anywhere. In fact, I see a stronger more dynamic industry emerging as the result of the reduction of inferior competition. The top-flight escape room companies will continue to elevate their games with better technology and more immersive experiences, while start-ups will need to deliver a comparable product from the get-go. So fear not fellow escape enthusiast, our favorite pastime is here to stay and the best is yet to come.
*Escape Countdown’s Tampa location closed in 2018 but the Sarasota location is still open. Mouse Trap’s Ybor City and Riverview locations closed in 2018 but the Carrollwood locations are still open