Murder mystery role-playing industry continues to grow in China while many venues shut down due to poor management
Published: Jun 06, 2021 06:24 PM
An escape room designed by Tu Chao in Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province Photo: Courtesy of Tu Chao

An escape room designed by Tu Chao in Chengdu in China's Sichuan Province Photo: Courtesy of Tu Chao

The number of murder mystery role-playing venues in China is expected to reach 60,000 by the end of 2021, although many venues have been forced to close down due to poor management, according to media reports.

Observers say that top brands are needed to lead this emerging industry to the next stage as its current market volume currently exceeds 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion). Meanwhile, the elimination of piracy in order to protect the intellectual property rights of scriptwriters will also be key to allowing the industry to thrive.

In China this type or role-play is called juben sha, or "script murder." It takes place in escape room-style venues where customers can throw themselves in an immersive environment for hours by playing different characters to solve a crime. 

The activity is becoming even more popular among young Chinese as the number of venues is expected to double to 60,000 by the end of 2021, compared to the current 30,000, according to media reports. However, not all the news is cheery as the hashtag "the number of script murder venues closed in April has doubled" was once trending on Sina Weibo in May.

An owner of a script murder venue told the Global Times on Sunday that his venue has been running "smoothly" for the past two years, but they have been barely managing to break even since the beginning of 2021. 

"The industry was quite prosperous last year as it kept attracting more people to invest. However, this is also a very competitive industry and only 5 to 10 percent of all venues nationwide became profitable since the beginning of this year," said the owner.

The owner's venue is in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province, a city with one of the most competitive script murder industries in the country. The city's industry growth rate ranks third right behind Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, and Beijing, according to a report from Chinese news outlet The Paper on Sunday.

"The smaller the venue, the less competitive it is based on the current situation," Lu Zhe, who has been working in the industry for five years, said in the report, "this is an industry where people who are familiar with the rules can take all the credit while newbie's earning nothing."

The script murder industry has an estimated market volume in the tens of billions of yuan, so more funds and professionals are needed to upgrade the industry, experts said according to the report.

Brand-building will be needed as well as a new industrial structure as players in the future will tend to choose a brand they're familiar with, Qian Yu, who owns more than 200 venues across the country, told The Paper.

Scripts are a key part of the game as such piracy of these scripts has impacted the industry's growth, Wang Huanyue, founder of a script distribution app, told The Paper, adding that a system is urgently needed to protect the IP rights of writers.

The game originated in the UK in the 19th century. It began to grow in China when a detective murder game Death Wears White was introduced in 2013, but it didn't take off until the Chinese variety program Who's The Murder popularized it in the eyes of Chinese audiences in 2016.