Why Pop-up Escape Rooms Aren't Worth it


Running a proper escape room games business for over fourteen years, here at ExitTheRoom we've certainly seen businesses come and go within this space. In the beginning, the whole idea of escape rooms was a bit of a fad. A fashion that would be popular for a year or so, and then gradually fade into oblivion. Well, the opposite proved to be true. There are now thousands of successful escape room games businesses running across all continents. 

But with this popularity comes those who want to make a quick buck, often at the expense of bonafide businesses. And that brings up the pop-up escape room. 

The first thing we want to point out is that we have nothing but respect for anyone who has the cajones to open their own business. Setting up an escape room takes time, money, and perseverance. So we’re not here to take a dump on anyone. But there are some important reasons why the pop-up model isn’t suited to escape room games.

Over Charging

Setting up a brick and mortar escape room is a very different scenario than opening a pop-up store version. The former takes massive amounts of planning, labor along with the higher setup cost. This is then reflected in the price. Many temporary pop-up escape room games lack any of the features to be found in a real escape room. How could they, as they lack the initial budget to make that happen. Being of a temporary nature puts a stopper on the immersive aspects of the game. It could be argued that without this essential ingredient, the game is all for nothing. You’ll find that these pop-ups have much smaller spaces, and far fewer clues and puzzles. But here’s the rub….they change the same price as a brick and mortar escape room game. We have nothing against what they're doing, but charging an equal price for an inferior experience can’t be right.

Lack of Amenities

Many pop-up escape room games appear almost overnight in a vacant downtown location. And, as is more often the case than not, they are constructed as cheaply as possible, keeping in mind that they will be gone within a couple of months. So you’ll find plasterboard walls that not only move rather alarmingly when leaned on but also transmit sounds from the outside to within. The finishing will be pretty rubbish and a lot of the furniture will be second or third hand. Often there are no toilets and certainly, no eye kept on health and safety. The whole setup will come across as cheap and rather nasty. But, for sure it came in well below budget! For kids, these are great, they don’t care for fire escapes and boring adult stuff like that. 

Poor Puzzle Design

We often see pop-up escape rooms advertising using a cartoon character who has nothing to do with escape room games. Of course, it’s just a whizz to attract the little ones. And it works. Because these businesses are not permanent, they can get away with a lot more than regular escape rooms. For example, many will advertise themselves as offering a huge variety of different puzzle types. But after you’ve paid your entrance you’ll be sad to discover that there’s just a pile of notepads and pencils. They will have some Rubik's Cubes lying around and between them some Sudokus, crosswords, and anagrams. You can’t help but feel an arrogant laziness to the whole venture. Because they are by nature short term, the “designers” put in as little effort as possible. Compared with a real escape room game, they come across as amateur and cheap. 

No Player Incentives

A real problem with pop-up rooms is that, because they are temporary, there’s no need to try and achieve anything. On the whole, people who strive for something like a reminder of it, passing by the location of their triumph once in a while. But if this business will be gone in a couple of months, then why bother. Customers want some kind of permanence that remains thanks to their efforts. A pop-up room is so blatantly “fake” that apart from young children, it’s impossible to become immersed in a story as it plays out during your game. Without this immersive factor, then the game becomes nothing more than light entertainment. 

If you see a pop-up escape room game, why not go and check it out. Here at ExitTheRoom we don’t recommend that you pay, as you’ll surely end up disappointed. Spend your cash with a proper and well thought out and executed escape room game.

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