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Escape Room Themes: All Beginnings Are Bloody Simple

by | Oct 16, 2020

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Whether in prison, as a detective or on the run from zombies: ideas for escape room themes come quickly. But not all of them inspire the players. We’ll show you a list of the most popular scenarios and talk to an escape room owner who has designed her rooms completely by herself.

“Our escape room themes come about naturally,” says Danièle Ronck. “But thinking through the whole scenario with all the puzzles is hard work.” The director of 216k Escape Room in Luxembourg develops all ideas herself with her partner Marc Bernard Francois Rausch.

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Her rooms “Release Miss Rose”, “Modern Art Gallery” and “Haunted” can be divided into the categories “Police/Crime”, “Magic” and “Supernatural”. But which escape room themes are there anyway? And how popular are they?

Escape Room Themes sorted by popularity among Escape Room Enthusiasts

  • Police/Crime
  • Sherlock
  • Spy
  • Tomb/Ancient Civ
  • Supernatural
  • Serial Killer
  • Science
  • Space
  • Prison
  • Carnival
  • Historical
  • Music
  • Pirate
  • Library
  • Heist/Thieves
  • Medical/Asylum
  • Vampire
  • Airplane
  • Bomb Diffusion
  • Western
  • Office
  • Military
  • Adult 18+
  • Horror
  • Zombie
  • Dream
  • Magic
  • Themelesss

The data comes from the Escape Room Enthusiast Survey 2019, in which people from all over the world participated. If you examine the data by region, you will find that preferences differ.

Top 5 in North America

  1. Space
  2. Tomb/Ancient Civ
  3. Supernatural
  4. Spy
  5. Science

Top 5 in Western Europe

  1. Tomb/Ancient Civ
  2. Supernatural
  3. Space
  4. Sherlock
  5. Police/Crime

Top 5 in Eastern Europe

  1. Tomb/Ancient Civ
  2. Sherlock
  3. Spy
  4. Supernatural
  5. Police/Crime

Top 5 in Asia (excluding China)

  1. Police/Crime
  2. Sherlock
  3. Spy
  4. Tomb/Ancient Civ
  5. Universe

Top 5 in China

  1. Police/Crime
  2. Sherlock
  3. Spy
  4. Serial Killer
  5. Prison

As if this selection wasn’t enough, you can also create seasonal escape room themes for events like Easter, Halloween and Christmas. But be careful: Seasonal escape rooms are usually only used for a few weeks a year. So you should check carefully if there is a good balance between effort and profit.

Escape Rooms from Harry Potter to SAW

Movie heroes are no longer just given offshoots in video games or as action figures. The Harry Potter Escape Room, for example, is no longer fiction but reality. And for horror fans there is the official SAW Escape Room.

But caution is advised: Before you build your own escape room based on a film, you should clarify all legal questions. Because names like Harry Potter and SAW are protected by trademark law. That means you can’t use them just like that.

Instead of entering into long negotiations with the film studios, it is advisable to develop escape rooms based on Harry Potter or SAW without mentioning the name of the franchise. You could think of a scenario in a magic school where the young magicians are locked into a mysterious room. Or even in a meat packing plant where a crazy mass murderer is waiting.

Harry Potter Escape Room

Which themes do Escape Rooms really use?

After we have looked at all possible escape room scenarios, it would be interesting to know which topics escape room operators really offer. The Escape Room Industry Survey provides information on this.

The theme most popular with escape room owners is the mystery scenario, followed by fantasy-based themes (like superheroes), science/lab and horror.

Military, steampunk, police/crime (such as pulling off a robbery, getting rid of evidence), school (finding notes on an exam, escaping and so on), playroom and cartoon/anime were the least popular themes among owners.

This is an interesting finding, because topics like “performing a robbery” are quite popular among escape room players (see results above). Science/laboratory and horror on the other hand are not in the top 5.

The decision making process: Which Escape Room topic should it be?

You now have a pretty accurate overview of the common escape room scenarios. But which one do you want to implement?

Inspiration for new escape room ideas can be found in many places – whether in books, movies or elsewhere. You can make the decision easier if you look back on your own experiences. Danièle Ronck opened her room “Modern Art Gallery” partly because she is an artist herself. 

Since I am an artist, Marc and I decided that we could include all the art objects that had accumulated over time in one room. This is how the idea of an art gallery came about. Then we refined the idea further, invented an exciting story about it and hid secrets in some of my works.

Danièle Ronck

Founder, 216k Escape Room

Also important: a competitive analysis. “If there are already three prison rooms in your city, I would not build another one,” Danièle says. “Unless you are absolutely sure that your prison is much, much better than the others.” If not, she would leave it alone and choose another subject.

What belongs to a theme?

Once you’ve chosen an escape room theme, it’s up to the details. This is where the challenges mentioned by Danièle at the beginning of this article come up to you, to fill your scenario with life.

“The phase in which the sequence of the whole scenario and the puzzles that go with it have to be worked out is the most strenuous part,” says the 52-year-old. “The story has to make sense, the sequence of events has to be adapted very precisely, and the puzzles have to fit the theme, of course”.

For the escape room puzzles, Danièle and Marc often rebuild parts of the puzzles themselves or even completely rebuild them. Especially the technical puzzles require a lot of work and have to be tested and improved again and again until everything works the way they want it to.

At the end of this process you should have the following:

  • a complete story
  • a plan about the flow of your room
  • puzzle and decorative objects
  • the electronics for your room (or at least an overview of the escape room props you need to buy)

The Escape Room Enthusiast Survey 2019 also found that puzzles and a smooth and logical gameplay are the most important things for players in an escape room. However, they were not interested in special high-tech features.

Images from 216k Escape Room

Build or buy the Escape Room?

You now know a lot about escape room themes. But one important question is still unanswered: Is it worth developing your own ideas and building your own escape room? Or can’t you simply take advantage of a supplier’s offer or join an escape room franchise?

That depends on your individual case. Basically speaking, building your own escape room is recommended especially if you have a certain passion and affinity for the subject. Knowledge about craftsmanship is also an advantage.

On the other hand, if you see escape rooms only as a business, you may lack the passion to develop your own room.

Advantages of a self-built escape room

  • Development and construction are a lot of fun (passion for the topic assumed)
  • Your room is really unique
  • You know all the details, even the weaknesses, which can make repairs easier
  • You can make adjustments at any time

Disadvantages of a self-built escape room

  • You have to get deep into the matter
  • On the way from the idea to the finished room unexpected hurdles can prolong the construction time
  • You are on your own for problems/challenges

A mixture of own ideas and ready-made scenarios is offered by the Outdoor Escape Game Software from Cluetivity. You can adapt the ready-to-play games Operation Mindfall, Magic Portal and The Last Secret to your region and needs with little effort and thus build up a lucrative additional business within a short time.

Danièle and Marc are partners of Cluetivity since 2017. “An important point for us in the cooperation is that we can accept larger groups thanks to Cluetivity. In our 3 rooms the number of participants is limited to 18 persons. With our 8 ActionPacks from Operation Mindfall, however, up to 80 people can play at the same time. This opens up completely new possibilities for us, for example, we can host scavenger hunts for team building!”

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With Cluetivity’s ready to play games, you create augmented reality scavenger hunts for team building as well as for city tours, birthdays and stag parties within no time at all.

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