This past weekend was the grand opening of a new arcade in London. Kevin Williams of The Stinger Report / DNA Association was there and he snapped numerous pictures and wrote up this article for us to share, along with plenty of pictures. First the article, then the pics:
The amusement scene in London has been in a desperate spiral of decline in recent years’ (as reported
recently in our feature in Arcade Heroes on the “Arcade Corridor”) – many in the trade feeling that the
reality of the situation is that there is no interest in the arcade scene anymore from the players! Well a
brand new opening in West London proved the lie of this attitude.
North Acton saw on Saturday 13th, 2013 – the opening of ‘Heart of Gaming’ (HOG), a brand new facility built by players for players! The site is not a traditional arcade but a “Social Amusement Venue” where players, and those that want to watch, can gather and compete on both amusement machines, as well as a selection of the popular home gaming consoles; a true reflection of the drawing ability and social inclusion of the specialist gaming environment. We would like to thank Mark Starkey and his team for inviting me to the opening and having a chance to chat over the thinking
behind this project and what led to its creation.
Fundamentally, what has fostered this development is that the arcade player scene in this area is split into three distinctive groups; the first being those old enough to remember amusement at its heyday and seek out that enjoyment, the second are those that remember gaming as it declined, and finally the new generation of players that have formulated their love of gaming through consumer consoles and are now enthralled by the appeal of playing in an amusement environment. All these groups have been poorly served by the traditional arcade scene.
The amusement trade has ignored these players who are fed up of an attitude of complacency and intransigence to change –the players have fought back! Having had to injure this attitude for far-to-long they have had enough and taken their destiny back into their own hands.
The Heart of Gaming facility has been months in the making, and has seen a dedicated group of players and collectors find a suitable location and amass a collection of machines to attract an audience of players. Not just hardcore, but a wide spectrum of those that are enthralled in the social environment, and enjoyment of the gaming experience. The site is populated with rarities such as SEGA Versus City, SEGA Megalo and SEGA Naomi cabinets – as well as a Taito VIEWLIX cabinet. While in an adjacent area PS3 and XB360 machines have been laid out for the console players – a hoard of arcade sticks avidly in action.
The venue on the day of opening is still under development, with a list of jobs still to be done by a loyal band of entrepreneurs and their slave labor. The site is one of the only facilities in the UK that has gathered together SEGA Versus City cabinets (12 networked units, running 2 x ‘Super Turbo Street Fighter’, 2 x ‘Street Fighter 3rd Strike’, 1 x ‘Street Fighter Alpha 2’, and 1 x ‘King of Fighters 98’) – right from the opening of the doors these machines were eagerly consumed by a enthralled audience.
Along one wall where a bank of SEGA Naomi cabinets (6 units, running ‘Ikaruga’, ‘Shikigami no shiro 2 (castle of shikigami)’, ‘Gigawing generations’, ‘Metal Slug 3’, ‘Strikers 1945’ and others) – The Taito VIEWLIX was populated with ‘Marvel vs Capcom 2’. The other amusement piece operational on the day of the visit was Atari ‘Gaunlet Legend’ – while the HOG team where working hard on the task to get their six SEGA Megalo cabinets running, with the feverish activity of wiring up the joysticks on the first system (running ‘Killer Instincts 2’). This is an amazing achievement and proof (if it was needed) that the Asian style sit-down cabinet experience is extremely popular with the modern playing audience.
In an area of the venue – aptly called the “graveyard” – a hoard of machines waiting to be brought back to life were collected, systems ranging from another VIEWLIX cabinet, a ‘Silver Strike Bowling’, and a twin ‘Initial D’ street racer. This machine had been famously salvaged from one of those depressed arcades in the London Corridor (the Las Vegas venues), while Mark spoke with me about how the Gauntlet Legend machine had been supplied from UK distributor Electrocoin’s vast warehouse of unused machines. There seem to be an Aladdin’s cave of brand new but never used machines – just not accepted by the traditional amusement venue operators.
Speaking with many of the supporters that came to the opening – they underlined how the players have had to take control of their future as the amusement trade has let them down. Attempting to dictate to the players how they played, ignoring their existence and even their preferences has resulted in the audience abandoning those whose wages they have been paying and taking responsibility for themselves. This is not the first venue to be opened that puts the players wants at the head of creating the best social entertainment environment – this is however one of the biggest – and an incredibly forceful statement to the health of social gaming, taken out of the hands of the traditional amusement
During the two days of the Opening Weekend event, HOG charged an introductory price of £15 – with all the machines on free play – with over 200 guests signing up through the social networking sites to attend. During the time of the visit a great number of players steadily swept through the strikingly painted entrance to the first floor venue. A vindication of the dream in creating such a venue for players by the players – many of whom have been organizers of tournament gaming events at the traditional amusement sites in London over the years. It is this tournament element that will be a major component of the HOG operation, as Mark suggested, you could look at HOG as an e-Sport’s style site, where audience based championship gaming will be a core aspect of its appeal.
Attempts will be made to get the message out across the capital and beyond, to the launch of this specialist environment, and the work is far than over in building on the site, with more machines to be installed, alterations and improvements to the layout of the site, and the inclusion of services to support the visitors. It is more than obvious that the HOG site has found the pulse of the playing community in the area, momentum and support for the project growing exponentially, nearly overwhelming those working hard to visualize the dream.
One final observation from the day of our visit – is that the HOG team has achieved a great success, and a compelling and vibrant venue in the London scene. As one of those that remembers the London arcade scene at its height, this venue recreated the excitement, but also drew on a brand new enthusiasm. We hope that we will see the site used not only as a player competition environment, but also as a test facility for new amusement pieces. Just a short journey from the famous Park Avenue location of the amusement trade Open Day – it will be important for the remaining trade to recognize that there is a vibrant and exciting life for video amusement that they can ignore at their peril.