(AFP) – Once an artisanal adventure game for passionate geeks, the escape game, this puzzle-based role-playing game to be solved in a limited time, has become a professionalized and franchised business, in rooms full of technologies .
Between potted mandrakes and old books, two players have been trying for almost an hour to overcome a mutant plant that threatens to invade Paris. “Mushroom, dwarf, carrot!” shouts Florence Morin, 42, hoping this code will allow her team to emerge victorious from this tropical greenhouse.
In reality there is no risk of a planetary apocalypse: it is an escape game, or “escape game”, an adventure behind closed doors in which the participants face puzzles and manipulations to be completed in an hour.
Behind the screen of his monitor, the “master of the game”, Redouane Touin, controls their fate.
“The software informs us of their progress in the various puzzles and offers us, if necessary, to add time or clues,” explains this employee of Escape Hunt, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris.
– The End of Padlocks –
Where in 2015 a few padlocks and codes were enough in a small room, “today we invest more in sets and mechanisms, with much more automated games containing electronics, sensors, special effects, even actors”, explains Benoît Bouthinon, manager of the France network at Escape Hunt, which brings together a dozen establishments.
The playing surfaces are also larger, to accommodate companies or families.
The director of the Escape Hunt franchise attributes this trend to the proliferation of facilities and the development of other types of indoor recreation: “We are in competition with virtual reality rooms, ax throwing, karaoke…”
The French spent more than €7.7 billion on private sports and leisure activities in 2018, according to a 2019 study by Xerfi. The same report predicted an average annual growth of 21% in 2021 in the “escape room” sector alone, after +67% in 2018, the year during which the phenomenon gained momentum in France.
France had 14 escape game brands at the end of 2014, now there are 871 of which a quarter are franchises and a total of 2,523 rooms, according to the Escape-game.fr website report. Between 2018, the peak of creation of new plants, and 2021, their number almost doubled, although now it tends to stagnate, until decreasing slightly in 2022.
“Escape gaming has a reputation for not being the most competitive sector on the market, since it is impossible to replay the same room twice: between one escape and another, we very often send players to each other “, underlines Rémi Prieur, of the Escape- site game.fr.
Nearly half of the rooms are located in the city centre, about 39% in commercial areas and the rest in rural areas or tourist sites, according to a study by treasure hunt and escape game designer Les Francs Limiers.
Some brands are part of leisure complexes that bring together different activities, such as Escape Lab, which includes areas for seminars and receptions and eight escape games on an entire building in Paris.
– Franchisee or independent –
It costs on average between 20 and 30 euros per person per game.
“A facility will be able to generate between 5,000 and 10,000 euros in turnover per room per month,” explains Tarek Moutawakkil, who runs two franchised Escape Hunt rooms in Bordeaux. This figure could rise to 100,000 euros for a Parisian room, according to him.
Setting up a new cinema costs between 15,000 and 50,000 euros, as detailed by those who create their own sets or turn to a company specialized in film sets.
Jennifer Roy, who launched Esc’Ape near Orleans in 2015, has more for “15-20,000 euros” to set up a room. “I do everything myself,” explains this independent (like three out of four brands).
A haunted house, a saloon, a mad scientist’s laboratory… Jennifer Roy seeks out her furniture and draws inspiration from it to invent her own concepts.
“I’m free to create what I want when I want, that’s the main thing,” she rejoices.