For one hour every week, Ms Dian Intania willingly locks herself in a room with five friends. In order to get out, they have to crack puzzles that involve subjects such as mathematics, science and assorted general knowledge.
The 29-year-old assistant project manager is part of a growing group of escape game enthusiasts here. The activity first landed here in 2012 and there are now more than 10 escape room providers, with a quarter of them operating more than one outlet.
The premise of an escape game goes like this: Two to 12 players are locked in a themed room for an hour and have to uncover clues and solve puzzles in order to escape and emerge victorious. Rooms are equipped with an intercom or a button so that participants can seek help if necessary. There is no age limit, though kids under 12 are to be accompanied by adults to assist with the more challenging puzzles.
Ms Intania has been in more than 25 escape games since she started playing last June.
"Before I started playing escape games, having fun would be to head to nightclubs, but that's not really beneficial. Escape games are challenging, trains my mind and are definitely cheaper than drinking in a nightclub," she says.
One escape room operator which has grown rapidly is Lockdown Singapore, which opened its first outlet in July 2013. It now has two outlets in Clarke Quay Central and one in Suntec City Mall.
Last August, the Lockdown Group, which includes Lockdown Singapore, acquired escape game room operator Think Your Way Out and changed the name to ThinkOut Events, which focuses on large-scale regional escape games.
And the company is continuing to expand. By the middle of the year, Lockdown Singapore will open its fourth outlet in a central location as well as rooms in Malaysia and Indonesia, says Lockdown Group co-founder Jonathan Ye.
"By having more outlets located centrally, people in the area have the option to pop by versus having to plan to play an escape game," he notes.
He adds that Lockdown Singapore's revenue has doubled since it opened and he is optimistic about the enduring appeal of escape room games here.
"There is a severe lack of entertainment that is both fun and educational in Singapore. Entertainment such as movies and clubbing numbs our senses and provides temporary pleasure, but with escape games, participants are challenged and, after completing one, they discover their potential," he says.
Companies are also seeing the value of sending their employees to escape games as a form of corporate team building.
Since escape room operator Roomraider SG opened in January last year, more than 200 corporate events have been held in the 2,500 sq ft space with five rooms, says its director Adrian Chan, 35.
He reveals that business has been good, with month-on-month growth of between 10 and 20 per cent in revenue.
Two weeks ago, Mr Kerryn Chan, chief executive officer of Belgian bar and bistro Brussels Sprouts, rallied 80 of his employees for a team-bonding session at Roomraider SG in Orchard Central.
"I wanted to do something different and new besides dinner and heard about escape games. Unlike other team games such as laser tag where groups are pitted against one another, participants have to work together in an escape game to get out," he says.
The influx of escape game operators to Singapore, however, spells fierce competition.
Lost SG, the Singapore branch of Hong Kong escape game operator Lost HK, is banking on advanced simulation technology to stand out from the pack, investing a six-figure sum to set up here.
Opened in November, the five escape rooms within the 2,600 sq ft outlet in Peace Centre feature integrated electromagnetic switches, weight and voice activated sensors as well as lasers, says Lost SG co-founder John Tan, 26.
"Many of the existing escape rooms in Singapore still rely heavily on the traditional game play using padlocks and keys. Lost SG offers players a more out-of-this-world experience with advanced technology," he explains.
Escape room operators are also going beyond the confines of a room to large spaces such as a museum.
Lockdown Singapore and The Escape Artist have each organised at least one such big-scale public escape event in the past year.
Last month, The Escape Artist held its biggest offsite escape game event in collaboration with the Asian Civilisations Museum. The event, held over two nights, attracted more than 3,000 people. Each of the nine sessions saw 300 participants moving through the game in groups.
"We feel that the escape game concept has potential to go beyond rooms and a group at a time," says Mr Justin Lee, co-founder of The Escape Artist.
The reality of being trapped in a real museum at night was what made the event particularly intriguing for participants, notes Ms Sharinita Ismail, the museum's assistant director of marketing and corporate communications.
"The fact that you have codes and puzzles to solve in an hour in a real-life event is very exciting... All the puzzles had history and educational elements," she says, adding that the museum plans to hold more of such escape events.
Mr Lee says his company intends to hold two more large-scale off-site events this year.
The pioneer of event-based escape games in Singapore is Real Escape Game, whose concepts originate from Japan. Events company Vivid Creations, which manages Real Escape Game here, has held seven such events since 2012 in locations such as the National Design Centre. The latest one was held at Yio Chu Kang Stadium and attracted 2,600 participants over two days.
The company plans to hold four escape events this year, with the next one to take place at Gardens by the Bay next month, says Mr Danny Widodo, Vivid Creations' business development lead.
Other escape game operators have plans to take the game beyond the room this year.
But not everyone thinks that bigger is better.
Ms Josephine Lim, 38, general manager of BreakOut in Kreta Ayer Road, points out: "It's a different experience within a larger setting, you don't get that same feeling of being inside a locked room which you need to escape from."
Software engineer Ang Hong Da, 29, who has been to at least 10 escape games as well as the recent Real Escape Game event at Yio Chu Kang Stadium, prefers the escape rooms.
"The large-scale ones are more Amazing Race style, where participants are running around trying to complete all the puzzles and be the first to get out. I feel more pressure to escape when I am in the rooms," he says.
One challenge that operators face is the lack of repeat business as most participants will try an escape room only once before moving on to another.
"After a couple of months, the operators will need to renovate their rooms as many people would already have played the games," says Ms Dian, who travelled to Johor Baru to try the escape rooms there as she has completed nearly all the games in Singapore.
BreakOut's Ms Lim also highlights challenges faced by several other industries too - high rent and manpower shortage.
"By marketing ourselves and working hard, we can attract new customers. Rental and manpower, however, are the bigger issues we face," she says.
Currently, BreakOut has 12 employees including part-timers, but Ms Lim says the company could use at least five to eight more people to aid with other aspects such as marketing.
Mr Eric Yeo, co-founder of Encounter in Jalan Besar, believes this is a trend that is here to stay.
"For one hour, players are without their mobile phones, disconnected from the outside world and dependent on one another to escape. You wouldn't find this form of experience by sitting in a movie theatre or chilling at a cafe," he says.
The lowdown: There are five rooms at Lost SG. Each is based on real-life places such as the infamous Alcatraz Prison in the United States or significant events such as the biblical exodus when the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt.
With realistic artefacts and decor reflecting each room’s theme, players might almost trick themselves into believing they are in that very place or time.
Where: 03-01/02/03 Peace Centre, 1 Sophia Road
When: Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 11pm; Friday and Saturday, 11am to 1am
Admission: Off-peak charge of $20.90 on weekdays, 11am to 5.45pm, peak charge of $26.90 on weekends, eve of and public holidays, and after 6pm on weekdays
Info: Call 6717-1688 or go to lost.sg
The lowdown: There are five rooms, including terrorism-themed S.W.A.T. Firestorm, which is set in New York’s Times Square subway station, cutesy
Where’s Cuddles?, spooky Dark Mansion and sci-fi Hyperion. A sixth room will be launched this month. Roomraider SG has a dedicated space for corporate events.
Where: 05-45 Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road
When: Daily, 11.30am to 10.30pm
Admission: $22, Monday to Thursday; $28, Friday to Sunday, as well as eve of and on public holidays
Info: Call 6636-8470 or go to www.roomraidersg.com
The lowdown: With six rooms across the three outlets, Lockdown Singapore is suitable for all ages, with family-friendly themes.
Where: 03-51 and 02-33 Clarke Quay Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street; 03-377 Suntec City Mall, 3 Temasek Boulevard
When: Daily, 11am to 10pm
Admission: Off-peak charge of $19 on weekdays before 7pm, peak charge of $22 on weekdays after 7pm, weekends and public holidays
Info: Call 6221-0120 (Level 3 Clarke Quay Central), 6222-6100 (Level 2 Clarke Quay Central), 6238-0370 (Suntec City Mall) or go to lockdown.sg
The lowdown: Each of the three rooms here gives players a completely different experience. Choose to be trapped in a mad scientist’s laboratory, to unearth a magician’s secret tricks or to break out from a creepy playroom.
Where: 31B Kreta Ayer Road
When: Monday to Thursday, noon to midnight; Friday to Saturday, 11am to 1am; Sunday, 11am to midnight
Admission: Off-peak charge of $19 on weekdays before 5pm, peak charge of $22 on weekdays after 5pm, weekends and public holidays
Info: Call 6226-2688 or go to www.breakout.com.sg
The lowdown: Unlike other escape room providers, the folks behind Encounter has created a suspense-themed apartment with the element of an escape room.
Within the 900 sq ft apartment, players navigate various rooms, including a kitchen and a toilet, in order to solve the case of the missing family who used to live there.
Where: B1-01 302 @ Besar, 302 Jalan Besar
When: Weekdays and Sunday, 11am to 10pm; Saturday, 11am to midnight; closed on Wednesday
Admission: Off-peak charge of $30 each (in groups of two to four) or $25 each (in groups of five to eight) from Monday to Thursday before 5pm, peak charge of $33 each (in groups of two to four) or $28 each (in groups of five to eight) from Monday to Thursday after 5pm, Friday, weekends, eve of and public holidays
Info: Call 6341-5830 or go to www.encounter.sg
THE ESCAPE ARTIST
The lowdown: With four games at its Bukit Timah outlet and five at the Prinsep Street space, players can have their pick of scaring themselves silly with at least three rooms bound to provide a hair-raising experience.
Where: 11-02 Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, 170 Upper Bukit Timah Road; 01-01, 52A Prinsep Street
When: Monday to Thursday, noon to 11pm; Friday to Sunday, noon to midnight
Admission: Off-peak charge of $18 (Bukit Timah Shopping Centre) or $22 (Prinsep Street) on weekdays before 6pm, peak charge of $23 (Bukit Timah Shopping Centre) or $28 (Prinsep Street) on weekdays after 6pm, weekends and public holidays
Info: Call 6463-6690 (Bukit Timah Shopping Centre), 6883-1540 (Prinsep Street) or go to www.theescapeartist.sg