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

(AFP) – Once an adventure of crafty passionate rabble-rousers, the escape game, this time-limited puzzle-based role-playing game, has turned into a professionalized business and franchise, in rooms full of technology.

Among potted mandrakes and old books, two players have been trying for nearly an hour to overcome a mutated plant that threatens to take over Paris. “Mushroom, dwarf, carrot!” shouts Florence Morin, 42, hoping this code will allow her team to emerge victorious from this tropical greenhouse.

In reality, there is no threat of a planetary apocalypse: it is an escape game, or “escape game”, a behind-closed-doors adventure where participants face puzzles and manipulations that must be completed within an hour.

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

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

– End of padlocks –

Where a few locks and codes in a small room were enough in 2015, “today there is more investment in sets and mechanisms, with much more automated games containing electronics, sensors, special effects, even actors”, details Benoît Bouthinon , manager of the Escape Hunt France Network, which brings together a dozen institutions.

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

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

The French spent more than €7.7 billion 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 room” sector alone, after +67% in 2018, the year during which the phenomenon gained momentum in France.

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

“The escape game has the reputation of not being the most competitive sector in the market, as it is impossible to replay twice in the same room: between escapes, we very often send players to each other”, underlines Rémi Prieur, from the Escape-website

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

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

– Franchise or independent –

On average, it costs between 20 and 30 euros per person per game.

“An establishment will be able to generate between 5,000 and 10,000 euros of turnover per room per month,” explains Tarek Moutawakkil, who manages two exclusive Escape Hunt rooms in Bordeaux. According to him, this figure can increase up to 100 thousand euros for a Parisian room.

Setting up a new room costs between 15,000 and 50,000 euros, details those who make their own sets or call a company specializing in film sets.

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

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

“I am free to create what I want when I want, that’s the main thing”, she rejoices.

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