Analysis of escape room themes in the UK & Ireland

Don’t let the slightly dry title fool you, this post is going to get very nerdy. But it does have a pie chart, and we all love pie charts!

escape room themes photo

These aren’t the real results. If I posted them here you’d never read the article.

A few weeks ago there was some discussion on Escape Room Enthusiasts about some escape room themes being so widely used that they’d become boring and represented a lack of creativity on behalf of the owners/designers. I have no interest in getting into that debate now. But what tickled my interest bone was that the ‘evidence’ there was mainly anecdotal, so I thought I’d approach it more scientifically. What are the most common escape room themes in the UK & Ireland (UKI)?

I say “scientifically”; I don’t think my approach would stand up in court, or even much in the way of peer review. But this is a reasonably big job and I am but one man doing this as a hobby, so some shortcuts must be made. I’ll explain my method for you to consider before discussing the results. Please use them responsibly.

As anyone who tries to keep track of anything ‘alive’ will tell you, keeping up-to-date is a massive challenge. I don’t intend to try and maintain this data and see it just as a snapshot. I referred to ExitGames as my escape game directory which (with a bit of manual checking/updating) details 137 sites in the UKI. I visited the websites of all of them (where possible) and found that 118 of them were currently open, i.e. accepting bookings for at least one room.

For those 118 I read the descriptions of all open rooms (those ‘coming soon’ were ignored) and recorded a theme that I believe accurately reflected that description. This, of course, has a number of problems:

  • It’s subject to my interpretation
  • Some rooms could fall in multiple classifications
  • Some sites don’t describe their rooms, or do so in a very vague way
  • We know many sites sensationalise their descriptions, e.g. ‘You have to escape from the fireworks and candy factory!” But you’ll do so by crossing the HR office and Finance department.

There’s no answer to this other than “I know.” I also swiftly encountered and had to decide how to deal with multiple copies of the same room. I decided that multiple copies of a room on one site (interestingly much more common in London than anywhere else) would be treated as one room, but copies of the same room used on different sites (usually by a chain/franchise) would be counted as separate rooms. I tried to convey my thinking in terms of ‘design decisions’ but it sounded ridiculous so I gave up. It is what it is. I may go back later to cover the alternatives and see if that makes any interesting differences. Using that definition there are currently 251 individual escape rooms/games in the UKI covering 29 themes (plus the great unknown):

Escape Room Themes photo

I’m not sure the pie chart is that useful, but I did promise you one.

Some comments on some of the themes/classifications I used:

  • Science – covers anything that involves some time in a lab or looking for some type of cure/dealing with some type of outbreak. At times it comes close to ‘zombies’, but I reserved that for actually having to deal with zombies rather than doing work behind the scenes.
  • Detective/police – ranges from murder mysteries, through ‘what happened to…’, and into SWAT teams rescuing hostages. There’s very probably a lot of overlap with ‘office’ but these rooms emphasised your role as a detective/policeman rather than just as a random person. If you combined the two it would be the most common by some margin.
  • Office – In some ways the opposite of the above. You’re looking for information about a missing person/strange event, or the plans to build…, or investigating a shady corporation, but you’re doing it as a friend, some sort of journalist or it isn’t specified.
  • Serial killer – The classic Saw-esque “you’ve woken up in this room and need to try and get away”. The types of serial killer varies massively; red neck hillbillies, crazy cops (rooms like to use the word ‘Taken’ not in the way I would expect), film character knock-offs. But the basic premise is the same.
  • Spy – Sometimes another variation on the detective and office themes, but others specifically ‘behind enemy lines’ giving it more of a militaristic slant, and others in spy school (which, arguably, is a good excuse for having no theme at all).
  • Prison break – Probably the most obvious situation to escape from. The justifications for why you should escape (rather than accept your sentence) are more creative.
  • Unknown – Simply don’t know from the information available. If I do another edition of this I may attempt to contact the owners and ask.
  • Museum/Gallery – One half of the professional thieves. You’re trying to steal some ancient artefact or priceless painting. You’re probably going to encounter a lazer maze and references to Da Vinci.
  • Bank vault – The other professional thieves. This time you’re more concerned with advanced security systems protecting cash or diamonds. You’ll probably still find a lazer maze though.
  • Supernatural – This was originally two groupings but I joined them together. Some of these are haunted houses and other situations that suggest jump scares. Some are just ‘weird happenings’ which usually seem to take place in a hotel room. But anything that’s a bit spooky and/or scary is in here.
  • Time travel – Various time periods visited (some very unique, others just an excuse for another office) but if it specifically mentions you travelling in time to get there from the present day then it goes here.
  • Tomb raider – As opposed to ‘time travel’ these usually take place in the present day but with old surroundings. Usually the tomb being raided is Egyptian but there are a couple of exceptions.
  • Historical – The other variant of time travel. This time the story is simply set in the past rather than being interested in how you got there and/or getting back. The times covered are 1970s, Second World War, Prohibition-era America, on board the Titanic, and the Renaissance (that man Da Vinci again).
  • Local – Kinda linked to ‘historical’ but rather than a certain time period the rooms refer to something local to the site; either the town/city or the building itself.
  • Bunker – You were hiding from something (nuclear attack or an air raid) but now you need to get out.
  • Abstract – This was my term for rooms that are deliberately about nothing, at least in the traditional sense of setting or story.

I think the others are pretty self-explanatory but feel free to ask me if not.

Similar to the pie chart above, in the end I’m not sure how useful this information is. But now if anybody asks you can give them more than just your opinion; the most common escape room themes in the UKI are anything set in a laboratory or office. At least until the next one opens, which should be happening just… about… now.

2 Comments:

  1. I’ve had this open in my browser for about 2 months, this is brilliant work. I love that you did this analysis.

    • Thank you! Of course in those two months it’s become massively out of date (especially as my source directory was due a big update at the time) but as a snapshot in time I think it’s reasonably interesting.

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