Want to escape? Take a stab at Clue Ave.

Shh...Playing the escape game at Clue Avenue. don't ask/Courtesy

Part game, part theater, part team-building exercise, escape rooms are taking off around the world, and that includes Escondido and San Marcos.

Growth has been explosive. The number of permanent rooms world-wide has gone from zero at the outset of 2010 to at least 2,800 worldwide today, according to MarketWatch calculations based on rooms registered to escape-room directories. The concept was birthed in Japan, spread through Asia and reached U.S. shores in 2012.

Clue Avenue high above Vinz Wine Bar and Patio Playhouse along Broadway at Escondido and Mighty Awesome sequestered away at the Shops at Lake San Marcos right next to the beautiful Lakehouse Resort are leading the way when it comes to the North County friendly arts of escaping themed rooms.

“The four couples — eight people — who own Clue Avenue Escape Rooms are close friends that live in Escondido,” Nick Pryor, one of Clue Avenue’s co-owners, said.

One Sunday afternoon, early 2016, the group of friends were looking for something fun to do and drove down to a San Diego escape room, according to Pryor.

“We had a blast playing it,” Pryor said. “Since a couple of us had some business experience, we naturally started the discussion of what would it take for us to start one of these in Escondido.”

Following some research, development and venue scouting, Clue Avenue opened in July 2016 with “thousands of customers,” embracing the experience since then, Pryor said. It features one themed room called ‘The Villain’s Lair,’ and  recently added a second one called ‘Dreamscape.’

The story line of the current Villain’s Lair themed room, according to Pryor:

“An evil super villain with a vendetta against the world has created a poisonous substance that he is planning on releasing first to all of San Diego county, then the world! We sent our spies in months ago to infiltrate his lab and get more info, but we haven’t heard from them in a week. With the safety of the entire world at stake, we need your help.”

Pryor added: “Escape rooms in general are a super fun an entertaining thing to do with Friends and Family, and can even be used as a perfect team building event for companies and organisations.”

For the record Clue Avenue Escape Rooms is at 201 E. Grand Ave. Hours are 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. For more, visit https://www.clueavenue.com or call (760) 349-6609. Players receive 30 percent off of any entire group’s price by using the discount code “ESCGRAPEVINE”. Simply enter in that discount code when booking a game at ClueAvenue.com (just click on the green “Book Now” button and follow the instructions from there).

‘”There must be some way out of here”
Said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief…’ Bob Dylan/Courtesy

California State University San Marcos alumni Cory Reeder created Mighty Awesome Escape Rooms, an entertainment business service that produces escape rooms, in early 2016.

Reeder, and his girlfriend, Kelly, whom he refers to as his partner in mystery, created the escape rooms as a means of escaping our technology-focused society, according to tiffany Trent, opinion editor of the CSUSM Cougar Chronicle.

Cell phones aren’t allowed into the escape room, which encourages visitors to utilize their own knowledge without the help of Google, according to Reeder.

“While experiencing the escape room, people can learn about history and geography to solve puzzles without even realizing they went through a teaching moment because they were so enrapt in the game with the clock ticking down,” Reeder said.

Mighty Awesome Escape Room is located on 1030 La Bonita Drive Ste 140, San Marcos, CA 92078. All CSUSM students can get 30 percent off their escape room reservation by using the promo code MIGHTYCSUSM during checkout. For more information or to book an escape room reservation, visit www.mightyawesomeproductions.com.

Puzzling it out at a New York escape room/Courtesy

In most escape rooms, clues lead to a physical key. But the story of why you’re in the room — you’re trapped in a mysterious lab! You’re seeking lost treasure! You’re stuck in a New York City–sized apartment! — and the way in which action unfolds differs by room and location.

“People are looking for a new type of experience,” says Doc Preuss, a producer for Real Escape Games, which has rooms in San Francisco, New York and, soon, Los Angeles. It is run by SCRAP Entertainment Inc., which opened the first escape-game event in Japan in 2007. “It’s cerebral, [and] it’s exciting. The way we design [the games, there are these emotional highs. It’s like a roller coaster. It’s addicting.”

Pryor and Reeder didn’t disclose financial details, but a typical room costs $7,000 to start up, According to MarketWatch and can be quite lucrative. Nick Martin opened the first escape-room in the Pacific Northwest in 2013 and said he earned over $600,000 in 2015.

Escape room logistics/courtesy

SCRAP’s revenues grew by 800% in its first year in the U.S. The company has been profitable and seen revenue growth every year since then, MarketWatch reports. Many have noticed its success.

London-based Escape Plan creator Brendan Mills told the Financial Times, “Experiential games such as escape rooms are a far cry from the time people are spending behind their iPads and laptops. It’s about interacting with people and using your brain against the clock, and I believe their popularity will only grow.”

“There is a growing consumer demand for social play experiences that are live and unique and can’t be repeated,” USC School of Cinematic Arts Assistant Director of the Interactive Media and Games Division Sam Roberts told the LA Times. “You can charge premium prices for it.”

Millennials have been an early (and the primary) driver of the trend, but corporate accounts are proving particularly key to revenues as businesses view the teamwork and cooperation skills required as useful elements in a team-bonding experience. Google, Amazon and Facebook have all taken staff to escape rooms.

While there are many escape rooms opening in prime retail locations or within already established entertainment venues like movie theaters and bowling allies, according to Forbes, many more are opting for unique placement in abandoned warehouses or hard-to-find alleys. Golden said an escape room typically only needs 5K SF, leaving them plenty of options.

More and more landlords are taking advantage of this, soaking up vacant space with escape rooms. But how long will the industry’s explosive growth last?

According to Escape Room Artist, a blog that keeps close tabs on the industry, the U.S. market remains under-penetrated. Market demographics also point to future growth. Major players like HBO, Ford, Disney and others have already used escape rooms in marketing campaigns, but the majority of the population has not heard of the concept, leaving plenty of potential to tap into, Trapped Escape Rooms claimed in a press release.

There is still plenty of room for product development, according to Escape Room Artist. Many games remain low tech, but are still making a comfortable profit. As competition increases, customers will develop specific preferences, and the overall product quality will rise. It remains to be seen on which axis: whether production quality, tech quality or some other product feature will drive users’ preferences.

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