The escape game, from a geek passion to a professional business

(AFP) – Once an adventure of passionate geeks launched in an artisanal way, the escape game, this role-playing game based on puzzles to be solved in a limited time, has become a professionalized and franchised business, in rooms full of technologies.

Among potted mandrakes and old books, two players have spent almost an hour trying to overcome a mutated plant that threatens to invade Paris. “Mushroom, Dwarf, Carrot!” shouts Florence Morin, 42, hoping that this code will enable her team to emerge victorious from this tropical greenhouse.

In reality, there is no risk of a planetary apocalypse: it is an escape game or “escape game”, a closed-door adventure where participants face puzzles and manipulations to be completed in an hour.

Behind the screen of his screen, the “game master”, Redouane Touin, controls their destiny.

“The software informs us of their progress in the various puzzles and, if necessary, offers us to add time or clues”, explains this employee of Escape Hunt, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris.

– End of Padlocks –

Where a few padlocks and codes in a small room were enough in 2015, “today there is more investment in sets and mechanisms, with much more automated games that contain electronics, sensors, special effects, even actors”, says Benoît Bouthinon, manager for France network on Escape Hunt, which brings together a dozen companies.

The playing surfaces are also larger to accommodate companies or families.

The director of the Escape Hunt franchise attributes this trend to the proliferation of structures and the development of other forms of indoor leisure: “We are competing with virtual reality rooms, ax throwing, karaoke…”

The French spent more than 7.7 billion euros on private sports and leisure activities in 2018, according to a 2019 study by Xerfi. The same report predicted an average annual growth of 21% in 2021 in the “escape rooms” sector alone, after +67% in 2018, a year when the phenomenon took off in France.

France had 14 escape game brands at the end of 2014, of which there are now 871, a quarter of which are franchises and a total of 2,523 rooms, according to the Escape-game.fr site. Between 2018, the peak of the creation of new companies, and 2021, their number has almost doubled, although it now tends to stagnate, even to decrease slightly in 2022.

“The escape game has a reputation for not being the most competitive sector on the market, as it is impossible to play the same room twice: between escapes we very often send players to each other”, emphasizes Rémi Prieur, from Escape-game.fr Homepage.

Almost half of the rooms are located in the city center, about 39% in commercial areas and the rest in rural areas or tourist spots, according to a study by the treasure hunt and escape game designer Les Francs Limiers.

Some brands are part of leisure complexes that bring together several activities, such as Escape Lab, which includes seminar and reception areas and eight escape games over an entire building in Paris.

– Franchisees or independents –

It costs on average between 20 and 30 euros per person per game.

“A company will be able to generate between 5,000 and 10,000 euros in revenue per room per month,” explains Tarek Moutawakkil, who manages two Escape Hunt franchise rooms in Bordeaux. This figure can rise to 100,000 euros for a Parisian room, according to him.

Creating a new room costs between 15,000 and 50,000 euros, details of those who make their own sets or call a company that specializes in film sets.

Jennifer Roy, who launched Esc’Ape near Orleans in 2015, has more for “15-20,000 euros” to decorate a room. “I do everything myself”, explains this independent (like three out of four brands).

A haunted house, a salon, a mad scientist’s laboratory… Jennifer Roy hunts for her furniture and draws inspiration from it to invent her concepts.

“I am free to create what I want, when I want, that is the most important thing,” she rejoices.

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