Innovation in escape rooms may seem like a funny idea – aren’t escape rooms intrinsically innovative? In a way that’s true: although they first came on to the scene almost a decade ago, escape rooms still are relatively novel. Even in Sydney, a city of almost 4 million people, there are only around a dozen room escape companies.
But an industry isn’t innovative merely because it’s new – at some stage, businesses will have to, ahem, level up their offerings. So when is that likely to happen? And what form might it take in the escape room industry (especially escape rooms in Sydney)?
Let’s think about this using the idea of the product lifecycle. Basically, this theory suggests that all products and services go through four stages:
- Introduction: the product is new and word is only just starting to spread about its existence
- Growth: the majority of consumers slowly become aware of the product, and the industry expands quickly
- Maturity: everyone has heard of the product, and the industry mellows (this is the technical term) as poor companies go bankrupt and good companies achieve lasting success
- Decline: the product loses its appeal, usually because it has been supplanted by something newer and better. This stage can be avoided by Product Extension, which essentially is a return to the Introduction stage, starting the lifecycle over.
Innovation and the product lifecycle
Innovation differs depending on which stage of the lifecycle we’re in. In Introduction, the existence of the product itself is an innovation. Growth is characterised by increasing levels of innovation brought on by more and more companies entering the industry. As the product reaches Maturity, companies that continue to innovate are more likely to survive a slowdown in sales, and as discussed above, the only way to avoid Decline is to innovate by revitalising the product.
Escape rooms and the product lifecycle
We think that escape rooms are the in early part of the Growth stage of the product lifecycle. Escape rooms exist worldwide (check out the International Escape Room Directory for confirmation!), but there are still people who haven’t heard of them. This varies a lot by country, of course – stay tuned for a later blog post on that international differences in the industry.
In Australia, at least, the rapid growth makes being an escape room enthusiast or business owner very exciting. As more people discover how fantastic room escape games are as a leisure activity, more rooms will open to meet growing demand. These new businesses bring new ideas – if they don’t, they’ll have trouble attracting customers. Innovation from new entrants should also prompt existing escape rooms to up their game.
We currently see this playing out in the industry in Sydney. Mission Escape (Sydney’s oldest escape room business) have just launched their flashy, super-long, punishingly difficult Lost Mine room. Next Level Escape went straight to innovation with our Blitz Room . And Sydney’s newest outfit, the Cipher Room, has already been turning heads with an unprecedented level of attention to theme (we are scouring our diaries for a chance to go and visit these guys, they seriously look amazing).
Innovation in escape rooms
What next for escape rooms, then? From our research, here’s a list of areas that are still ripe for innovation:
- Multi-sensory engagement: VR and AR (think Pokemon Go) are a big threat to escape rooms since, just like escape rooms, they create an exciting world for players. The best advantage for escape rooms in this battle is the ability to engage every sense, not just sight. In escape rooms we can use smell, touch, sound and taste… Currently, most rooms rely heavily on sight, so there are big opportunities to innovate in this direction.
- Serial adventures: currently escape room experiences are entirely contained within that initial 60–75 minutes. We think a great innovation would be to keep people coming back by designing a game with instalments. Try Chapter 1 this week, then return in a fortnight to continue your adventure with Chapter 2. This would be excellent for business – driving repeat visits – but would also really knock the consumer experience up another notch.
- Non-linearity: escape rooms currently don’t provide players with a full sense of agency – that is, players don’t (and can’t) feel totally in control of their own destiny. This is due to the linear nature of most rooms: until you’ve solved puzzle A, you can’t move on to puzzle B. Removing this restriction and allowing players to tackle the room in whatever order they choose would do wonders for immersion.
- Achievement metrics: at the moment, escape room players measure their success in two ways. The binary goal of whether they escaped or not, and their speed. And while that’s a relatively good and fair indicator, it’s disadvantage is that the most successful teams will have drawn the least value out of the room in terms of total entertainment time. So rather than being rewarded for being great, their experience is cut short. Here’s the big innovation opportunity, then: find a way to measure achievement such that speed isn’t the main goal.
These innovation ideas were just the best four we thought of – who knows what the future will hold for escape rooms? If you’ve got more ideas about innovations you think the escape room industry will/should embrace, let us know in the comments!
Image credit: Tools Group (http://blog.toolsgroup.com/en/demand-forecasting-over-the-product-lifecycle), with modifications by Next Level Escape.