We’ve had a bit of hard news lately so why not end the work week with an article? This is penned by Kevin Williams who heads up the The Stinger Report and DNA Association. Here he takes a look at the arcades of London to provide an up-to-date look at the situation there.
“A Trip through the London ‘Arcade Corridor’”
By Kevin Williams
[London 17th, February, 2013] The reality of the London amusement scene has become a stark landscape for the traditional video amusement mix. A combination of apathy leading to venue closure compounded by the growth and domination of the Licensed Bettering Office (LBO) superseding the more traditional amusement offered for gambling and gaming as traditional venues vanish.
As an avid follower and chronicler of the changing amusement landscape – I visited the old stomping ground of the London “arcade corridor” that slices through the capital and once represented the heart land of amusement gaming for the faithful. Rumors on the wire that yet another of the venues housed
in this corridor was about to bite-the-dust adding a poignancy to this pilgrimage.
At the top of this perceived corridor would be Tottenham Court Road – and the ‘Leisure Casino Center’. Operated by Electrocoin (UK distributor), the dilapidated venue was a temple to the video amusement scene and a previous vital test facility for imported releases. As with venues in this area of the London high street environment, the Casino is a retail unit with a basement converted to hold additional games.
In the basement area a sorry sight greeted me on this visit – only a handful of sit-down cabinets remained, the last motley crew of a once wide selection of universal cabs, the back area now commandeered by pool tables. Of those machines left two imported Delta cabinets remain – testament to a failed experiment by the owner to encourage adoption of this platform. The ‘Street Fighter IV’ games some of the few officially imported into the EU.
Upstairs of the Casino and the rear of the facility is divided into a host of gaming machines, while the front of the venue has the most modern video titles in the site, with further examples of failed tests. A Taito ‘Landing High Japan’ dedicated cockpit sits next to a twin set-up of ‘Battle Gear 4’; these examples
of the close but now ethereal relationship that the operator has had with the Japanese factory.
Though no information was available directly – it seemed clear that the word on the street was validated, and that the Casino facility was in the last days of its life as a viable venue. A sad loss but a clear reflection of the hostile waters that greet those that try and survive operating traditional amusement venues with no mind towards modernization.
Moving down the corridor and we reached the Wardour Street – ‘Las Vegas’ venue. The iconic facility has a long and illustrious history purveying amusement entertainment. The site is operated by Family Leisure, one of the few companies that still retain an amusement presence in the corridor – and an
operation that has charted the stormy seas that represent the business.
The operation has moved its remaining amusement interest to the majority of the basement. Among the pool tables that inhabit this space, the wall area contains a reasonable video amusement presence including dancing stage games such as ‘Pump It Up Pro 2’. The newest machines in this space are the
drivers with ‘GRID’ and ‘Dead Heat’. The site also includes the other ‘Street Fighter IV’ Delta cabinets.
While upstairs at the front of the site is a ‘Real Puncher 2’ machine – a lonely video amusement title while the rest of this space is dominated by gaming and gambling products. This sites basement area has become a haven for the hardcore fans that have departed the collapse of a number of the amusement
haunts in recent years, establishing a bond with this venues operator. But the site has succumbed to the draw of gaming, and walks a tightrope of viability in a depressed market.
At the other end of Wardour Street and next to the offices of Family Leisure is ‘Game One’ – also operated by them. This unusual three level facility has seen gaming take the majority of the ground floor, except for a prominently placed ‘Wangdon Mighnight’ lineup (exclusive Japanese imports). In the venues basement pool tables are kept company by one of the few imported ‘Tekken 6’ machines in the UK. While on the first floor with more pool tables a smattering of Japanese Candy cabs have been re-located with some traditional JAMMA action.
This venue has been an anathema when charting the London Corridor – how this site has survived to still include video’s while the remaining sites in the area have succumbed to being 100% gaming only sites seems to have been achieved due to the close proximity to Chinatown. What has played a factor in the existence of the London Corridor is the Chinese enclave at the heart, supplying a generous number of the regular clientele to the areas arcade venues.
Representing the premature end of the corridor in 2013 – Coventry Street retains the controversial ‘London Trocadero’ – Entertainment Complex. The mausoleum towards failed amusement dreams, the site plays host to the remnants of the previous tenants haunting the site. Looking up and the disused second to fifth floors hold the derelict remains of SEGA World, while the first floor is littered with the shuttered remnants of the LunaPark and Funland arcades and bowling alley.
But before writing off the Troc as dead to arcade the reality is quite the opposite – the remaining space of the bizarre-style venue is littered with video amusement pieces. In the basement (lower ground) area of the space and two new arcades have appeared. ‘5D World – Arcade World’ is a venue that houses a
hoard of video amusement pieces – including many of the machines that previously resided in the failed Funland space. A novel addition to this space is a 5D theater and next to this a 7D interactive attraction – the latest in amusement tech next to some of the oldest!
On the same level on the opposite side is the ‘Star Attraction’ venue – populating the loading dock of the Troc, a hoard of arcade pieces have been shoehorned into the area; scattered arcade machines also salvaged from the failed venues. Going up to the first floor outside the shutters of the Funland spaces and a number of video amusement machines have also been set up. An unorganized mess of machine placement, literally catching passing trade as they circulate round the site.
The Troc has been in a limbo state regarding its amusement presence since the ignominious closure under a cloud of the Funland facility; located in Europe’s busiest shopping areas with the reported largest footfall in any other city. The reality is that even though these previous sites closed, the actual profitability of amusement is still strong in this area – poor business acumen the real reason for their collapse – and the current operators in opening 5D World continue to prove that video amusement draws revenue.
The Troc space takes on a doubly lamentable atmosphere as it also houses a number of retail elements that have been pounded by recent economic pressures in the UK economy. The entertainment media chain HMV running a liquidation sale in its Troc venue space – the site containing a ‘Gamerbase’. This PC LAN center has proven a popular draw away from the traditional amusement – though it will be closed with the HMV site in a matter of days. It was interesting to see the arcade machines outside the site being avidly played as the Gamerbase prepares to close its doors!
This would mark the end of the traditional amusement scene in the corridor – but not the end of amusements operation in the capital. Across the Thames and located at Westminster Bridge Road, is currently most successful amusement venue in London. ‘Namco Station’ sits on two levels of the County Hall site located next to tourist attractions surrounding the London Eye giant Ferris wheel view experience (visited by over 3.5 million people annually).
Operated by the UK amusement division of the Japanese factory – Namco Station offers an entertainment mix representing the modern amusement venue construction. A heavily themed family entertainment site that also embraces hospitality, bowing, bumper cars and a wide mix of video
amusement, redemption and prize machines in an eclectic placement; the site attracting walk in traffic as well as a lucrative private hire business.
This quick snapshot of the video amusement existence in what used to be the London Arcade Corridor paints a complex picture of closure and decay, amongst a continuing interest and appeal towards the entertainment that these machines purvey. Attempting to write-off these machines and those that play
them is impossible (no matter how hard some media tries) – but it is true to say that this market is just surviving for the majority of sites in the corridor.
The majority of amusement presence outside of this area is found fundamentally in cinemas, bowling allies, and family entertainment centers in the country – the traditional ‘arcade’ is no longer a representation of what amusement represents in the modern market (machines unable to hold a
standalone approach to revenue generation). What is next for amusement seems to be a reinventing of both the machines, and the venues they inhabit – Namco Station pointing towards a new direction.