Breakout Games keeps busting out with expanded markets, new ideas

When was the last time your grandchild beamed at your brilliance, you cheered for your mom as she problem-solved or you high-fived an employee for their creativity in saving the day?

According to officials at Lexington-based Breakout Games, they and other staff get to witness such jubilant scenes every day as families, friends, couples on dates and team-building business associates attempt to “break out” of a room by solving puzzles and riddles, finding clues and cracking codes.

About 13 years ago, Toshimitsu Takagi created a popular escape room video game in Japan, according to the Breakout Games’ website, and since then, real-life escape room experiences have sprung up and expanded globally from its popularity.

With past business experience in nonprofit, education and entrepreneurship sectors, Nathan Cryder is partner, owner and cofounder of Breakout Games. He said his ex-wife first conceptualized bringing the games back to Kentucky after experiencing them on her travels in Asia. He experienced his first escape game almost five years ago, while visiting Istanbul and Singapore.

“It was actually kind of easier to find them overseas than here at the time,” he said. “I just thought they were really unique.”

Another appeal, he said, was that escape room concepts don’t require abundant startup capital. Once home, he said the journey to opening was a super-fast three to four months, with a soft opening of the Lexington location in early December 2014.

Now the company has 45 locations, all owned and operated by Breakout Games, along with a few minority partnerships, Cryder said. At startup, Cryder partnered with Jeremiah Sizemore and Bryce Anderson, who in 2010, along with Evan Morris, opened Orange Leaf, Lexington’s first self-serve frozen yogurt shop. Four years later, they also launched Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen.

“They brought the experience we needed to the team,” Cryder said. Other experienced partners include Lexington-based commercial real estate development and hospitality firm Greer Companies and Cryder’s relative, Aaron Martinez, who performs construction management functions.

Breakout Games grew to include 10 locations within its first year. By the end of year two, 25 more locations opened, then another 10 for a total 45. That number has remained purposely constant for the past year and a half, Cryder said.

Now there are 25 to 40 people on the corporate team in Lexington and between 800 and 900 employees across the country, in places like Louisville, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Boston. There’s even a new location in Sun City, South Africa.

Although children 14 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, Anderson, who serves as the company’s marketing guru, said people of all ages can enjoy escape room experiences. After booking online, arriving onsite and receiving instructions, the games begin under the watchful electronic “eye” of a game master assigned to monitor each room. If a team is obviously stuck and needs a helpful hint or two, the game master obliges.

The goal during the hour-long escape game, Anderson said, is to create fun, meaningful experiences for families and friends. Participants aren’t really “locked” into their rooms, and players can take a break if needed. “None of it is scary,” he said. “A lot of people think that, because they think they’ll be claustrophobic or it’s scary, but really it’s about having fun with your friends or family.”

Escape room themes are developed in-house and have included “Escape the Lost Pyramid” and “Mystery Mansion.” They’re changed regularly to keep content fresh, Cryder said. Rooms have evolved to include special sound and lighting effects to heighten realism. For instance, a submarine-themed escape room scheduled for an early 2019 release resembles a real submarine’s interior.

Following a successful partnership with Ubisoft, a new virtual reality room in the Lexington location allows viewers to navigate challenges using immersive, lifelike VR technology. And at the end of January, the company plans to open a new attraction called Color Chaos across the street from its Ashland Avenue building. The hour-long, team-based challenge will require players to gear up in protective suits before answering trivia questions, evading lasers, and ultimately getting blasted with glowing paint.

About a million players visit Breakout Games annually across all locations, Anderson said. The cost to reserve a game room is a set price, he said, so the per-person cost lessens as group numbers grow. Marketing the company has consisted largely of search engine optimization, social media ads and word of mouth, Cryder said, but also brochures and media coverage.

Cryder said his role was very hands-on at first, but now he’s delegated most of the daily responsibilities to his partners and others as he works on his latest real-life adventure, reviving the historic brewery Sig Luscher in Frankfort.

Thompson, who serves as chief operating officer, performs all final interviews with managerial candidates and site visits. He said the busiest times of year for Breakout Games are during school breaks.

Thompson said he appreciates that Breakout Games enables people to put down their phones for a while and enjoy working on something together. “I enjoy being able to create experiences where people can flourish,” he said. “They can feel like they’re the hero of the story for an hour, and that’s something very unique.”

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