COVID-19 & Its impact on the Escape Room Industry
COVID-19 has had detrimental effects on the escape room industry. Read the complete impact report and discover a surprising new segment that is revolutionizing the industry.
- 1. On-site/ Traditional Escape Room Adaptations
- 2. Online / Remote Escape Room Adaptations
- 3. Making the shift to online activities
- 4. The Way Forward
"We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Olivia is a single mother living in New York trying to juggle her career and personal life. She labors unwearyingly to give her 12-year old daughter Mia the opportunities to a better life she never got herself. The pandemic has left her confined to her apartment as she works from home for a law firm while taking care of Mia all day long with no real way of relieving her stress. Mia on the other hand has been bored out of her mind as she spends the entirety her days holed in the bedroom. Neither can she meet up with her friends nor go out and play, leaving her frustrated out of monotony.
Olivia is one amongst 75 million people in the US who’re either confined to their homes, handling multiple chores or looking for a job, a fate that 40 million face in today’s time having lost one. Life, as we know it, has drastically changed. We feel yanked out of our bustling lifestyles and forced into confining routines that we weren’t prepared for. We, as humans, secretively crave a sense of freedom and control but the pandemic has taken these foundational needs away from us.
The sense of freedom, mobility, and social interaction is what constituted some of the pillars of human evolution and what drove man’s success. With such an integral part of their lives being vetoed out, people turned to alternatives such as video calls and Netflix parties to reminiscence. In fact, now over 80% of the US population has reported to have subscribed to at least one paid streaming video service. Consequently, our daily data usage has gone up by over 40%.
While movies and shows keep us engaged, they still fail to provide any diversity in our lives. The interesting conversations over dinner in a quiet restaurant are a miss. A weekend hike at a nearby hill is not an impulse decision anymore. A visit to an escape room is now thought through thoroughly. We tend to forget these basic delights of our life just to keep ourselves and our family safe.
These little breathers keep us going. But now, they come at a cost higher than what most would be willing to pay. In essence, what we need is an escape from this punishing vice grip that the COVID-19 has on us right now.
But it wasn’t just working individuals who got the short end of the stick. The pandemic has had an impartially severe impact on the businesses and their economic well-being. While the world craves for fun and entertainment, the offline entertainment industry seems to be amongst the worst-hit sectors. The deadly virus is estimated to have cost the entertainment industry over $30 Billion worldwide and the losses increase by the day with many small businesses biting the bullet.
The play arenas and fun zones are amongst the worst hit. While they have implemented stringent norms to keep customers safe, they are not yet seeing their venues buzzing again. The escape room industry is no exception to the trend.
For instance, The Room Escape Fairfax, a well-known escape room venue in Fairfax recorded about 4000-6000 footfalls a month before the pandemic. Now, they are seeing a strong decline in footfalls as their games are now private and must take more measures to keep customers safe. Bond, the brand owner, is apprehensive of the impact the current situation could have on his business. “It’s made me think of what the future of entertainment is going to look like. People are changing their fundamental habits,” says Bond.
Bond is not alone in this struggle. With people self-quarantining themselves, businesses have been witnessing a decline in footfalls. In fact, as of 15th June 2020, over 175 escape room venues have been permanently shut down and over 700 of them remain indecisive of the next course of action. The pandemic has truly rattled the 2402 strong escape room industry in the US.
But unlike most of the entertainment businesses, Escape Rooms have shown an unmatched level of resilience and creativity. As Richard Brinsley Sheridan, an Irish satirist, a playwright, and a poet of the 18th century said, “Sheer necessity -- the proper parent of an art so nearly allied to invention”, escape rooms have come up with brilliant ways to help people break out of their monotonous routines while ensuring their safety and health is never compromised.
On-site/ Traditional Escape Room Adaptations
Keeping customer safety as the most crucial factor, escape room venues are putting in place meticulous safety measures to ensure the players’ well-being. These safety measures help players soothe their inhibitions and ease their minds so that they can enjoy themselves. Here are a few ways to ensure the players’ safety:
• Most Escape Room experiences offer private experiences only.
• Booking in advance made mandatory to ensure groups don’t clash
• After every game, the room is sanitized with disinfectant and the doors and windows are opened to air out the space.
• Mandatory temperature checks for all the employees and players.
• Players wash their hands with soap and water upon entering the venues and once again before playing the game.
• Hand sanitizer to be made readily available everywhere.
Online / Remote Escape Room Adaptations
While brands have enhanced the safety standards many fold to protect their customers, some of them have gone a step further. They have created new versions of these experiences that can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of their home.
We have collated a comprehensive list of the alternative ways that escape room brands have come up with to provide customers an amazing experience, at the comfort of their home.
Online / Remote Escape Rooms
Players come together and enjoy escape games through live streaming services like Zoom or Google Meet. Here, a live actor is placed inside the room and you get to instruct the live actors in your stead. The actor gets to interact with objects in the real space and act according to your directions to accomplish the mission.
This alternative experience has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the players as they find the experience intellectually stimulating, emotionally liberating, and socially connecting. Users report a unique fun experience as it is a blend of the online world and the REAL world, with a real person aiding the experience, while the players are in control of the mission. Also, they feel connected with their family, friends, and counterparts across the world.
As of June 15, 2020, 52 brands in the US and over 150 across the world are offering these experiences and more plan to jump on the bandwagon.
Web-Based / app-based Escape Room Games
Brands provide applications that allow the players to interact with various set pieces in the virtual world as they move about in the game and solve the mystery. There is no assistance from brands in these games. It’s a great escape room alternative for people who love video games. Amazon Prime Video recently collaborated with The Escape Game to create a digital puzzle game based on their famous series Hanna.
Onscreen Puzzle Prints
Escape Room brands share various kinds of puzzles on the screen and the players need to solve them within a specific time based on the guidelines provided by the escape room brand. These are single player-games but could include complex challenges to be solved.
Print and play
This is one of the more tangible alternatives to the escape game genre. Brands provide a set of puzzles that can be printed on paper and then solved. This could work well as a good replacement for a trivia night. Escape room companies have made these puzzles available to all at no cost as a goodwill gesture by brands.
Puzzle Kits / Portable Escape Rooms
This escape game alternative is similar to the rent a movie experience. Players can rent a puzzle kit to play. After the game is played, the puzzle kit is returned to the escape room company. It’s a great way to enjoy different kinds of puzzles with your friends and family.
Puzzle to the inbox
In this escape game alternative puzzles are mailed to the player’s email. Players need to solve these puzzles and mail them back to the brand and the answers are made available when you send back your responses.
Making the shift to online activities
With online escape games gaining popularity, the in-person interactions have been rendered obsolesce as a thing of the past. Customers expect the same services they once enjoyed at the physical locations, but now over video conferences and online interactions. This sudden demand for online services has put escape room businesses in a commotion to get their business online.
But switching your business from a physical location to an online platform is easier said than done. Things can be very tricky when making your services available online. It’s a whole another ballgame. First and foremost you need to put together the equipment and tools needed to make the switch and once you have those, there’s a learning curve the entire working staff must scale to ensure that once everything is up and running, they are ready for any sort of situation. Another challenge that the escape rooms face is modifying their experiences in such a way that they’re suited perfectly for the online medium. Over 54 escape room brands are now offering more than 126 online escape games with more brands jumping on the bandwagon.
All escape room experiences are designed as highly interactive physical games and when switching them over to online platforms, making some changes becomes imperative. The live actors that play the game following player instructions also play a very important role in the course of game. Taking on this massive shift by yourself can be a challenge and reaching out to professionals with experience can make the process much more efficient and convenient.
Use of digital tools for remote collaborations
The online escape game experience is heavily dependent on the tools and services that make the online interactions possible. So making sure that the entire working staff can use these tools properly is very important to maintain the quality of experience. Video conferencing apps like Zoom, Google Meet and Skype have made a huge impact on how various businesses and institutions approach online interactions. Zoom usage has soared from about 10 million daily meeting participants back in December to almost 300 million daily meeting participants in April. These digital tools have proven their merit in all kinds of scenarios, may it be social interactions, business meetings, digital services or fun gaming experiences.
The pandemic gave a heavy blow to the entertainment venues and escape rooms were no exception. With the business being stopped dead in its tracks, the escape room owners were left to face the choice of closure. But in those bleak times the digital tools and apps came as a blessing. By providing their services over the internet the escape room owners were able to breathe a new life into their businesses. The ability to stream the live feed from the room directly to the player eliminated any need for physical contact, the biggest threat that plagued the physical escape room experiences.
Unlike most businesses, escape room employees use video conferencing apps not just to interact with the customers but to enhance their experiences as well. Having effective digital tools at their disposal enables them to share real-time HD footage of the escape rooms with the players. This enables the employees to alleviate the influence distance has on the quality of cooperation and collaboration. Online escape games have live actors take the players’ place in the room, connect with players via a video stream and act on their instructions to beat the challenge.
Escape Rooms have been losing customers ever since the pandemic hit and in times like these web conferencing applications have come as a godsend. The escape room industry has been making use of these video call applications to host online escape games. These apps enable players to instruct the live actor present in the room to interact with physical objects in their stead. Unlike virtual games, online escape rooms gives them a real-time actual footage of the escape room which makes the experience much more immersive.
Online conferencing apps revolutionize academic and business operations
These tools aren’t limited to their use in business and entertainment sectors. The education system has benefited a lot from using these applications as a medium to connect teachers and students. With online classes being held on video conferencing apps, schools and colleges have been able to mitigate the affect of COVID-19 on the education system.
Many companies use online conferencing apps to ensure the smooth workflow during this pandemic situation. But with stress levels on the rise and no approachable way to alleviate them, the companies have started using these platforms to host online events and games. These endeavors help the employees relieve stress and learn new skills at the same time.
The Way Forward
Online Escape Rooms come as a godsend at times like these! While traditional escape rooms are a great way to unwind, online rooms are just as good. Do try these out and share your experience in our comments section below!
Even though these times may have gotten us used to this caged lifestyle but once the pandemic is no longer a threat, we will finally be able to get our lives back and enjoy ourselves. We all long for the time when we’ll finally be able to hang out with our friends, travel, and most of all physically escape our rooms.