Escape games attract Hong Kong youth

Juliana Liu joins some Hong Kong fans of escape games

When 27-year-old commercial video producer Danny Ip wants to blow off steam, he does not automatically head to the nearest shopping mall or karaoke joint.

Instead the Hong Kong native is fond of frequenting a non-descript office building in the heart of the city's Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood.

Inside, behind several doors, he can choose to escape to the old American West, a Chinese Wuxia (martial arts) adventure, a gory haunted house or a cartoon wonderland - but only for 45 minutes at a time.

Mr Ip is a fan of playing real-life room escape games, the latest trend to catch on with Hong Kong's young, technology-savvy generation.

"Hong Kong is a busy city. We don't have much time for leisure," he said after a recent game with three of his friends.

Generation Asia graphic

"We always go to the same stuff, like karaoke and bars. It's the same thing over and over again. But this is something new, something different. That is why we enjoy it here."

His friend, Ophelia, agrees: "It's very smart and full of imagination. You trap yourself inside a room and you have to use all your brain juice to come out. I think it is fun."

The group had just successfully solved a series of puzzles and escaped from cowboy country.

In reality, they were playing in a series of three small rooms designed to look like Wild West.

It is the physical equivalent of computer games Mr Ip played as a child. But instead of playing alone, you must join forces with at least one other person, solving riddles and breaking codes as a team.

Start Quote

Maybe they want to escape from reality, because reality is very stressful and very competitive”

End Quote
'Escape from reality'

The games, in either Chinese or English, are being offered by Freeing Hong Kong, the first company in the city to offer room escape games.

It was started less than a year ago by chief executive Raymond Sze and three other partners. They estimate about 100,000 people have played so far.

The company now has locations in five Hong Kong neighbourhoods, as well as Taipei, Singapore, Macau and Guangzhou.

All the games are created in-house by a team of about three dozen developers led by Mr Sze, who is also a 20-year-old student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (UST).

His parents were entrepreneurs, but they did not want the same for their son. Instead, they admonished him to study hard.

Raymond Sze Raymond Sze says his parents have begun to support his business endeavours

But Mr Sze, who got his first job at 16, had other ideas. He was dying to start his own business and fulfilled his dream at the age of 19, when Freeing Hong Kong opened.

"One of the reasons they like to play these games is that it provides a different experience for them. Maybe they want to escape from reality, because you know, reality is very stressful and very competitive," Mr Sze says.

"It's not because they need to think about their food or their way to live. It is something about society's expectations. They need to achieve so many things."

Although Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in Asia, its success has made life difficult for many young people, who struggle to land high-paying jobs to get their foot on the property ladder.

The city has some of the most expensive real estate in the world - a recent survey from the Chinese University of Hong Kong suggests salaries are falling far short of property prices.

And locals are increasingly competing against ambitious mainland Chinese and Western expatriates for jobs.

Mr Sze says he wants to create a healthy outlet for players.

"You know, Hong Kong people love computer games and actually they lack communication with their friends or their family. In these games, they need to solve the problems and co-operate with each other," he says.

Gap year

The four founders were friends who loved Japanese comics, mysteries and adventure novels.

It takes anywhere from a week to three months to come up with a concept. Because they get many repeat players, all the games must be updated or replaced regularly.

Mr Sze jokingly calls his school the "University of Stress and Tension", and is currently taking a year off to focus on expanding the firm.

He says he had no idea how to set up a company at first. "I Googled everything: how to start a company, how to get a licence, how to get fire insurance," he recalls, laughing.

The work seems to have paid off, at least personally.

"Actually it was very tough for me at the very beginning, but after a few months, when the game became more popular, my parents started to see the media coverage and said, 'Okay, you can take a gap year for this'."

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    10:00: Rental prices
    ONS

    The graph above, courtesy of the ONS, shows the trend of percentage increases in rental prices. After rises nearing 3% in 2012, the dip to 1.5% may well have ended.

     
  2.  
    09:43: Rental prices
    rents

    Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.7% in 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics. A 2% rise in Scotland led the charge, while English rents grew 1.8%, and 0.2% increases were logged in Wales. As can be seen, London rent rises have outgunned the rest of the country.

     
  3.  
    09:32: Bank of England lending data

    Mortgage approvals rose in December for the first time since June, the Bank of England said. This could mean that a steady reduction in home loans could be ending. There were 60,275 mortgage approvals last month, up from 58,956 in November.

     
  4.  
    Via Twitter Richard Westcott BBC transport correspondent

    tweets: BBC News - Crossrail makes tunnel breakthrough under Liverpool Street Station

     
  5.  
    09:12: Plane order
    ana

    All Nippon Airways has placed an order with a list price of $2.2bn (£1.46bn) for 15 planes from Boeing and Airbus. The Japanese flag carrier is looking to expand routes at Tokyo's central Haneda airport. The airline said it would acquire eight planes from US-based Boeing and seven from fellow duopolist Airbus.

     
  6.  
    08:54: Eurozone crisis
    Alexis Tsipras

    Watch out for Greek fire. Or, continuing the Greek theme, maybe we'll see the golden mean. The prime minister who heads the nation's new anti-austerity government, Alexis Tsipras, has it in his diary to meet Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the current head of the eurozone group of finance ministers today to discuss the conditions of Greece's massive bailout.

     
  7.  
    BT results 08:37: Via Twitter Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

    tweets: BT says ultrafast coming within a decade - but will it look that fast in 2025?

     
  8.  
    08:29: Honda
    honda

    Honda cut its annual operating profit forecast by 6.5%. It has set aside more cash to cover its recall of cars to replace potentially faulty air bags. It now expects an operating profit of 720 billion yen (£4.1bn) for the year to March 31. It previously forecast 770 billion yen.

     
  9.  
    08:16: Paper review
    papers

    The Guardian splashes on a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which claims young workers have been hit hardest by a squeeze in standards of living. The FT digests Shell and US rival ConocoPhillips's investment cancellations. The Wall St Journal says bets against currency pegs, like Denmark's krone with the euro, are on the rise following Switzerland abandoning theirs. The Telegraph reports on a likely windfall for gas companies as wholesale costs drop.

     
  10.  
    Google results Via Twitter Stephen Shankland Senior writer at CNET News

    tweets: Google's capital expenditures jumped $1.13 billion sequentially to $3.55 billion in 4Q2014. Data centers ain't cheap.

     
  11.  
    07:50: Market update

    Japan's Nikkei index added about 0.4%, clawing back some of the 1.1% lost yesterday, while the Hong Kong Hang Seng index dropped 0.1%, to 24,570.01. Japanese factory output rose 1% from the previous month, below forecasts, while household spending fell more than expected, down 3.4% on a year ago.

     
  12.  
    07:33: PPI investigation

    The Financial Conduct Authority, the City watchdog, is planning to "gather evidence on current trends in complaints on payment protection insurance," it says. It could then decide to do an advertising campaign, a time limit on complaints or keep things as they are.

     
  13.  
    07:25: BT results

    BT have updated everyone on their pension fund situation and how they will deal with a £7bn deficit. BT will pay £1.5bn into the fund by the end of April 2015. This will be followed by £250m in each of the years to March 2016 and March 2017. Low interest rates have hit the fund.

     
  14.  
    07:16: Qatar Airways
    Qatar Airways plane

    Qatar Airways has acquired stake of just less than 10% in BA and Iberia-owner IAG. There's a cap on non-EU ownership of European airlines, but Qatar Airways might up its stake in future, it says.

     
  15.  
    07:05: BT results

    BT says third-quarter earnings before tax and interests costs rose 2% to £1.57bn. Gavin Patterson, chief executive says: "All the major communications providers are responding to the strong market demand for fibre broadband, helping to drive take-up in what is already a very competitive market."

     
  16.  
    06:57: US growth data BBC Radio 4

    US growth figures will be reported later on. What's the likely result, Today asks Ewen Cameron Watt of Blackrock? "The rate of growth is slowing a little bit but not enough to raise serious concerns," he says. Expect a "stable but robust rate of growth."

     
  17.  
    06:45: Greece Radio 5 live
    Greece

    Guntram Wolff is the director of European think tank Bruegel, and he's on 5 live, talking about Greece. "It was a mistake that Greece joined the euro, but it would now be a mistake for it to leave," he says. "We will have to come to a deal that will have a lower burden on Greece. I essentially think you will keep the nominal amount [owed to bond investors] but you will increase the maturity.. from 30 to 40 or 50 years."

     
  18.  
    06:30: Amazon results Radio 5 live

    More from Ewen Cameron Watt of investment manager Blackrock on 5 live. He is giving his views on US results overnight. "Amazon and Google both essentially reported that underlying demand over Christmas was pretty decent," he says. After tax, margins at Amazon are below 1%, he says.

     
  19.  
    06:20: Trademark news Radio 5 live
    swift

    The phrases "this sick beat" and "nice to meet you, where you been" have been trademarked by singer Taylor Swift, 5 live reports. Laura Harper of law firm Shoosmiths says she is trying to stop other people making money by putting the phrases on a t-shirt or other merchandise. She will have to prove the phrases are "synonymous" with her, she says.

     
  20.  
    06:09: Shell results Radio 5 live
    shell

    Ewen Cameron Watt of Blackrock is the markets guest on 5 live, talking about yesterday's results from Shell. "These are very historic results because they reflect an average price of $75" per barrel of oil, he says. Bearing in mind oil is below $50 today, "the pain is yet to come," he adds. The firm has cut $15bn of investments. The longer the price remains at this level, the more likely more investment cuts will come, he says.

     
  21.  
    06:01: House building Radio 5 live

    Figures from the National House Building Council show there was a 9% rise in homes built last year to 145,174, but the rise missed the government's 200,000 home target. Peter Vella of Countryside Properties is on 5 live. NHBC's figures don't take into account all homes started or built, so the industry could be closer to the target than thought.

     
  22.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning all. Overnight, online retail giant Amazon has reported weaker profits for the busy Christmas period. Stay tuned for the best business and economics news and get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • A car being driven by Cruise Automation technologyClick Watch

    The tech which could allow any car with an automatic gearbox to become self-driving

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.