A riddle for your noodle: What do you get when you combine trending technology with a live adventure game? If it is virtual reality and escape rooms you are talking about, you get VR escape rooms — the next big thing in real-world adventure gaming.
But before we look at ways VR is transforming the game, perhaps we would answer the question you may be asking — what is an escape room?
No, an escape room is not a prop used by Harry Houdini. Rather, they are real-life theme-based game rooms where groups of people must work together to solve problems in order to “escape” and be let out of the room. Enthusiasts across the world are happy to purchase tickets to participate in sessions, which typically last 45 minutes to an hour and involve 2 to 8 players. Players escape by:
- using objects placed within the room to help find clues needed to solve puzzles
- solving riddles
- finding hidden passages into adjoining rooms
- doing other activities that require keen observation, good communication, and teamwork
Physical escape rooms usually contain a combination of relevant and non-relevant objects. The players’ challenge is discovering what item can lead to a clue, and which ones are of no significance.
VR Escape Rooms
Now, imagine that your team is still gathered together and “locked” into the room. Except, in the case of VR escape rooms, there are usually no physical objects inside the room other than chairs. Gameplay still involves working together to solve problems and to ultimately escape, but the game environment is now virtual.
Instead of a physical room filled with mysterious hieroglyphs, mathematical puzzles, and medieval lock boxes, players are immersed into a make-believe world that can be anything the game designers can dream up. Nevermind looking for a key to unlock the door; how about using your powers of observation and problem-solving ability to escape from a futuristic space station?
But don’t think that immersive game play means isolation from other players. Through the power of VR, players can interact, see each other’s avatars, and even hand-off virtual objects to one another. In fact, teamwork, communication, and cooperation is just as present — and necessary — in the virtual gameplay environment as with non-VR rooms.
Business Opportunities for VR Escape Rooms
The growth of escape rooms is literally booming. Between March 2013 and December 2016, the number of escape rooms in the UK grew from 1 to 598. Yes, that’s a 598% growth within three years. One company, Escape Hunt, which owns a string of escape rooms across the globe, has already been listed on the London stock exchange — not bad for a business a lot of people have never heard of.
The explosive growth of escape rooms, alone, make them a wise investment. Not since the emergence of online virtual reality casinos has there been such an opportunity for ROI in the gaming sector. Add to that the additional growth that virtual reality brings to the escape room industry and you have a market earning potential that is staggering.
According to Penny Jones, co-owner of Riddles Escape Room in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, adding a VR game to their facility has given her business the edge it needs in a highly-competitive resort location.
“The virtual reality escape room has offered us a competitive edge in this market. Players are able to step into an entirely new dimension and experience, all from the comfort of their chairs,” said Jones.
Consider the raw numbers. The average ticket price for an hour-long a game session (VR or physical) is around $25 USD. If we assume an average of 6 members per team and 12 sessions per day, we have the following:
$25 X 6 team members X 12 sessions = $1,800 per day in sales.
And that is revenue earned per room. Many escape room venues operate 4 to 6 rooms. In case you were wondering, that all amounts to about $3.1 million per year, based on a 6 day operation. Now you can see why Escape Hunt, with 28 franchises, went public.
And ticket sales is not the only revenue stream escape rooms provide. The tremendous growth that is expected with the industry provides still further opportunities for escape room owners through promotional opportunities. For theme owners — Disney, being an example, VR escape rooms offer a great investment opportunity to capitalize on VR themes that reflect established and popular stories, places, and characters, real or imagined.
Unlike physical escape rooms, the owner of VR escape rooms does not need to completely rebuild a room to update or change a theme. All they have to do is load a new game. On a smaller scale, Oculus offers multiple rooms for single players. The principle is the same with multi-user VR escape rooms.
Apart from the cost of developing or purchasing content, the overhead expenses for operating the game facility is relatively low, which helps even more with the ROI.
The Possibilities are Endless
While the way to win in most escape rooms is to, well, escape, that is not always the case. Some escape rooms challenge players to accomplish other tasks within the allotted time frame, such as pulling off a jewelry heist. Here are just a few ways they can be utilized:
- interactive, historical games that are both challenging and educational
- futuristic and fantasy games that require imagination to win
- team-building, where games are designed specifically to build team skills
- specific themes that target players with common interests, such as sports fans
As the industry matures, one can expect the game to change to reflect popular interests and technological advances.
How to Create VR Escape Rooms
If you are not wondering how even you might capitalize on the emerging VR escape room boom, you should be. While it is too early to project market earnings in the short term, it is safe to say nobody’s losing money. More significant, some escape room owners have already seen astronomical returns on their investments, and the game has just begun.
The Cost of Development
Thanks to the nature of VR technology, VR escape rooms enable owners the flexibility to offer a huge variety of themes, without the need to expand their facility. While most VR game rooms currently co-exist alongside of physical game rooms, nothing says it must be so. The early popularity of the virtual game room suggest that many owners will operate virtual reality facilities exclusively as the industry matures.
The cost to set up a single room is basically the cost of a few chairs, a few mobile VR headsets, such as the Samsung Gear VR, plus the cost of purchasing or creating VR content.
While a room full of Samsung Gear VR headsets will cost less than $1,000, content is another story. For this new game sector to be a success, the immersive experience must be awesome. That does not mean you have to hire Sony to write your software, but you do need an expert developer who is experienced in VR platforms, gaming, and mobile app development. If you do not possess such talent in-house, you will need to either hire or outsource the development your game content. Depending on the complexity of your theme and the detail of your imagery, you can expect to spend $50,000 to $500,000 for a typical game. Considering the potential ROI of this sector, the investment in content creation is miniscule.
As for purchasing commercial software, we can be sure that the likes of Disney and the movie industry will not miss the opportunity to market their themes to VR escape room proprietors. Also, without a doubt, startups will flourish developing content the burgeoning new gaming market.
VR Escape Rooms — A Fad or The Future?
There has always been something about escaping from situations that intrigues the human psyche. That is why we like to see the bad guys get away at the end of a movie, it is why Harry Houdini made a career of escaping from impossible restraints, and it is why escape rooms are so popular. For this reason, escape rooms are here to stay — end of story.
And while virtual reality escape rooms might never totally replace physical escape rooms, they are very likely to create a billion dollar market at some point in the future. And that is a feat even Mr. Houdini would appreciate.