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Escape room

Which Themes are the Most Popular in Attracting Players?

In the escape room game, the theme is everything. It will dictate the whole gameplay, along with the decoration and props. It's also the story that drives the game forwards. Yet if you take a look around the escape room business model, you'll quickly see that some themes appear to be more popular than others...
2020.12.21.

In the escape room game, the theme is everything. It will dictate the whole gameplay, along with the decoration and props. It's also the story that drives the game forwards. Yet if you take a look around the escape room business model, you'll quickly see that some themes appear to be more popular than others. Essentially there are niches within the game types. But the real question for anyone starting an escape room business is with what themes are you going to fill those limited number of rooms you have t your disposal. That's the real question, how can you maximize your return on investment by choosing the right theme?  Luckily, because escape room games have been a thing for over the past decade, some surveys will help you answer that pertinent question.

Mystery Escape Room Theme

This is by far the most popular type of theme. And when you think about it, it can't be any other way. The very concept of the escape room is one shrouded in mystery with all those hidden clues and puzzles. Of course, the term "mystery" is very broad and can be broken down into three main sub-genres. 

One could well be escaping from a serial killer. The player is essentially the victim, captured and imprisoned and awaiting the return of said killer. They need to escape within the hour and before the killer returns. So, with this we have the players pitted against an antagonist. The second example could be investigating the murder of a crime boss. The players are in the role of detectives and need to solve the mystery or the whole city will fall into open gang warfare. So, though you're still playing the game from within, your role is very different from the victim in our first example.

Finally, we have a third scenario. With this, you're needing to find evidence of a crime to help prosecute a criminal. You could either be on the right side of the law, looking for incriminating evidence or on the other side of the law,  trying to find the evidence before the police do. But with the genre of mystery, there are one thousand and one scenarios to be played out.

Fantasy

This is the second most popular theme. It's very, very broad in scope, encompassing all sorts of backstories and gaming concepts. For starters, you have all the world's different mythologies, ranging from Excalibur and King Arthur to all those Roman and Greek Gods. Then there are the ever-popular franchises like Harry Potter and  Game of Thrones. Lots of room for faeries, goblins, and all types of magic. Your room design needs to be spot on and look exactly like those found within the movies they are based on. Failure to achieve this will pull players out of what would otherwise be an immersive experience.

Science / Laboratory 

A laboratory is pretty much the perfect scene for an escape room game. There are so many hiding places and all the puzzles and riddles can be made to belong to the lab itself. This can be either a chemical or biological lab, though making a computer lab is also a goer, with the players having to decipher a code before the world ends. The great thing about having a laboratory theme is that it jells so well with so many other themes. For example, lab and horror are a heaven-made match. Likewise, a lab coupled with the theme of mystery is going to work well. Of course, everyone always likes to imagine that a lab accident has coursed a zombie infection and you're tasked with finding the antidote. 

Future / Technological

Often set in a future world, this theme pits players against some future doom scenario. There a lot of possibilities for building fantastic sets with lots of high-tech design-build in. You want to concentrate on the lighting as this can create the perfect futuristic settings. 

Horror

On to the fourth most popular game theme. As we're dealing with enclosed environments when playing escape room games, then adding a horror element makes for a much more exciting gameplay. If you think about it, a horror-themed escape room is just a couple of degrees removed from its equally ugly sister, the Haunted House. This is a huge business in its own right. Though many escape rooms have a horror element few focus solely on this theme. More often there will be elements of horror within another theme such as fantasy or mystery. There will be elements of horror or the occult incorporated into other themes. With horror, the back story is of paramount importance as laying the groundwork for a believable situation. You can go for a subtle approach with noises and props, or go full-on with jump scares, professional actors, and lots of fake blood.

Prison

On the whole, the prison set up will involve either breaking out or quelling a prison riot. In some ways, there's no better place to have to break out from than a prison in an escape room game. It's almost as if they were made for each other. Often this theme will cross over into mystery and sometimes into horror. 

Military

More often than not this thee will incorporate aspects both political and historical, with the most common being based on the Cold War. By using this historical context, you can introduce a nuclear bomb and either race to defuse it or simply find it. The back story here is relatively easy to write, and because it was a real situation at one time, there are enough facts to make things very realistic indeed. We must confess that this scenario is one that can appear super realistic, with plenty of props and decoration to produce an immersive experience. 

Steampunk

This thee tends to have more of a cult following than being popular in its own right. Essentially this is an aesthetic, which is more style over substance. The look is the important factor here, with a past or present being populated with some details from the future. Imagine Dr. Who appearing in the Victorian era. On the whole, you might find this style in an escape room game, but in truth, it's nothing more than that. in some ways, it might have some similarities with the Future/Technology theme, except that the set design would be a reflection of the past.

Crime

Crime and mystery go hand in hand. The general idea is to either find or remove the evidence before the police can obtain it. So the players are either on one side of the law or the other. A player might have to smuggle something to someone or get some dirt on a criminal rival. Deep down it must be admitted that crime is just a flavor. The actual there will be either mystery or military. 

Toy Room and Cartoon / Anime

Once again another niche flavor really for the very young players. On the whole, this concept will overlap into mystery and maybe crime, but in the lightest possible way. On the whole, players will need to discover toys and undo spells. This theme was a response to the whole ‘Pokémon Detective Pikachu’ movie. having said that, this is probably just a thing of fashion and it'll pass as quickly as the movie disappeared from cinemas. 

So, in conclusion, the themes of "Mystery", "Fantasy" and "Science/Laboratory" are the most popular. Coming up in the fourth place is "Horror". We think that the themes of Mystery, Crime, and Military are probably some of the most interesting, in that you can get your teeth into creating an immersive and yet believable story line. Also, these themes allow for some ambiguity when it comes to who the player represents, whether they're morally good or evil. If you have any extra space, it might be worth trying a niche theme, though you'd have to look into the cost of setting it up vs the number of possible players it might attract. 
 

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