In a special feature for Arcade Heroes – industry specialist Kevin Williams, breaks the news of the closure of the latest London amusement space (NAMCO Funscape London), and views the state of the business in the important capital. This comes in contrast to the recent string of new location openings across the UK (covered in our Location Watch coverage here and here), but as Kevin points out below, with this closure, not all is grim down the road.
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News was broken this week by The Stinger Report, that one of United Kingdom’s most beloved Family Entertainment Centers (FEC) would be shuttering its doors permanently in early August. The ‘NAMCO Funscape London’ will close after entertaining the tourist and local scene for over 25-years at the same location, having seen a calculated 50 million visitors during this time.
Operated by NAMCO UK, the ‘Funscape London’ location is being forced to vacate its site due to the redevelopment of part of the London County Hall site that it occupies. The FEC comprises three floors of entertainment, including a 12-lane bowling space, bars, bumper-cars, and some 150-amusement and redemption pieces. The site also recently installed a ‘VR ZONE Portal’ running the popular ‘Mario Kart VR’ experience and included ‘Virtual Rabbid’s’ and other VR pieces, along with a physical laser maze attraction.
The owners of ‘Funscape’ are NAMCO UK, who operate now some six ‘Funscape’ amusement facilities around the UK. Part of BANDAI NAMCO, representing the amusement facility operations business in this territory. Recently we have seen restructuring of the BANDAI NAMCO amusement site business, with the breaking up of the North American amusement facility division NAMCO USA (PACMAN Entertainment and PACMAN Zone properties), with the sale respectively to NEN and GENDA.
NAMCO UK representatives were keen to emphasize that the London closure was due to the redevelopment of part of the County Hall site, a very popular attraction area on the South Bank of the Thames. A location that also houses ‘The London Dungeons’, the ‘London Eye’, the ‘Shrek’s Adventure’ and ‘Sea Life Aquarium’ attractions – all operated by Merlin Entertainment. Details on what will replace ‘Funscape’ after the redevelopment of the site is unclear – though rumors are circulating of at least two new style-FEC developments under consideration in the heart of the Capital.
With the loss of County Hall, the traditional London amusement scene is represented by the equally iconic, and legendary ‘Las Vega Arcade Soho’ – underground Mecca for the player scene. The original remaining dedicated video amusement venue in the capital for over 30-years. Also, at ‘The O2’ entertainment venue, there is ‘Hollywood Bowl’ comprising video amusement, redemption and the now the remaining ‘VR ZONE Portal’ in the capital, (operated in partnership with BANDAI NAMCO). This is not the only video amusement in the city, with numerous bars offering retro arcade action. Prime examples include the reopening ‘of The Four Quarters’, and the brand new ‘Freeplay City’ location).
While traditional amusement failed to adapt, the explosion in Social Entertainment in the capital is marking a new trend in Out-of-Home entertainment, with new facilities opening across the capital that offer social fun. Examples include ‘Puttshack’ with its technology mini-golf and cocktails – an operation just receiving $60m in investment to launch across North America. Or the soon to open in the city, ‘Boom Battle Bar’ – an entertainment chain offering axe throwing, shuffleboard, crazy golf, and the latest augmented reality darts setup, and even amusement – all supported by a strong cocktail bar. Venues in a highly popular sector thriving in the post COVID entertainment landscape.
For ‘NAMCO Funscape County Hall’, the writing is on the wall, with the venue closing permanently on August the 12th. For all those in the London area this will be their last chance to visit such an influential venue, marking a footnote in the redefining of location-based entertainment in the capital.
About the Author – Kevin Williams is a widely-respected expert on entertainment and technology. A regular presenter at international conferences, Kevin is also a regular speaker at the Foundation Entertainment University (FEU), a bootcamp for FEC investors. He also holds the role as one of the senior judges of the VR Awards.
Kevin’s consultancy KWP Ltd specialises in helping international clients develop immersive and interactive entertainment. Kevin has recently become Co-Founder and Technology Director for Spider Entertainment, a Global leader in Out of Home Entertainment for retail destinations.
Kevin is editor of the Stinger Report, a-must-read for those working or investing in the amusement, attractions, and entertainment industry. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market – currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.