Thursday, 15 June 2017

The rise and fall of the London Trocadero and Sega World

The London Trocadero. While to the average Londoner, it may have just looked like a high-budget tourist attraction that crashed and burned several times over. But to thousands of gamers, both regulars and one time visitors, it meant so much more. 

While I wasn't around to experience it, I've made this article chronicling it's history to do the place justice, as while others have tried to I feel most have left a lot of stuff out. I hope you enjoy reading.

Background history and early years

Image result for london trocadero old
First a bit of background history.

While the Trocadero building itself had been around for a while and housed numerous things before (several theaters and music halls) it wasn't until 1896 that it got it's name when it became The Trocadero Restaurant. 

Owned by J. Lyons and Co., it remained popular for many years, and would prove to be the most permanent of the Trocadero's attractions. However, the place entered a period of decline after World War 2, and it eventually closed in 1965.

After this, the building was bought by Mecca Ltd, who reopened it as another restaurant (this time smaller and with new decor) and added in casinos and a bowling alley. But this was just the beginning...

Relaunch (1984 - 1995)

  (the original entrance to the Trocadero)
Besides the casino and bowling alley, the Trocadero would go on to lay dormant for almost 20 years. But, around 1984, it was redeveloped and became a entertainment centre with a Guinness Book Of Records Exhibition, shops, and an MGM Cinema, among other attractions. Then, around 1990, a little arcade named Funland opened.
(an awesome image)

Ran by Family Leisure, who already owned other arcades in London, it was a high-tech wonderland, full of the newest releases and innovations in arcade gaming. Of course, Funland quickly became a mecca for arcade gamers, always getting all the huge deluxe cabs and latest games before anywhere else.

They were also one of the very first British arcades, for better or for worse, to introduce redemption ticket games as part of the 'Laser Bowl' floor expansion it had in 1991, which also saw it gain a impressive new entrance.
Notable games that Funland housed included Ridge Racer Full Scale, Galaxian 3, Galaxy Force II, multiple Sega R360's, numerous imported sit-down 'Candy' cabinets, and the at the time cutting-edge Virtuality pods. 

Funland was owned by Family Leisure, who also owned most of the other arcades in Central London like Game Zone and Las Vegas. It was their main arcade, one of the first Family Entertainment Centres in the UK. At the time of opening, it didn't have a single gambling machine- just video games.

Thanks to the boost Funland gave it, slowly but surely the Trocadero became somewhat of a UK epicentre of virtual reality experiences. Moving towards the mid 90's, it would gain an Emaginator theatre, which sent people down a CGI mine cart ride seated in moving chairs, and Virtual World, a 3D paragliding experience. And then, there was Alien War, situated in the sub-basement level of the Trocadero. This video should tell you exactly what it was- simply amazing.

However, despite the new investments, there were still not enough tenants to keep the place afloat. In 1994, Burford Group Plc bought the Trocadero in hopes of expanding it into a part of the building that hadn't been used since it's early days. This is now where Sega comes in.

Sega's World-

To understand how Sega World London came to be, we need go back again to 1992. Sega were becoming an ever more dominant force in arcades than before, with their groundbreaking Model 1 (and later on Model 2) hardware having been unleashed on the world, with games like Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA, and House Of The Dead wowing arcade-goes with their innovative and early use of 3D graphics, and fun gameplay. 

But, Sega noticed something. Most arcades in the UK were a lot different from the ones in the US and Japan, in which they already had their own arcades operating. While Funland was a step in the right direction, the arcades at seaside towns across the country weren't as safe, weren't as clean or modern, and often had gambling machines to boot, usually making for a less than positive view in the eyes of the general public and parents.

So, they set out to change that.

The newly-established Sega Amusements UK had the idea of opening their own, branded arcades across the country, the intent of them being much more safer, to test their arcade games, and to raise the profile of arcade gaming as a whole in the UK. 

Around the time Sonic 2 was released, they opened the 'Metropolis' arcade in the basement of Hamleys in London. The venue was an immediate success, with a snack bar, impressive cabs like the R360, and the first Virtua Racing machines to enter the country.
Sega then upped the ante further with the opening of Sega World Bournemouth, their biggest arcade outside of Japan at that point. It had mini bowling, a Sega shop, a Burger King, and of course scores of arcade games. The location was once even home to a AS-1 simulator, essentially making the location a prototype of what Sega World London would become.
(Sega World Bournemouth, 1993)

More Sega venues started opening, at the rate of one every couple months, often situated in bowling alleys, shopping centres, or even Blockbuster Video stores. They were initially very well maintained and cared for, and were often location test sites for many arcade games, particularly Sega's of course.
(the Sega Park that was in Southampton's Bargate shopping centre)

Sega World London (1996 - 1999)

From this interview by Sega magazine 'Mega Power' with Sega, shortly after the Bournemouth venue opened, it is claimed that they already were planning to open a Sega World in the Trocadero- apparently similar in size and scale to their Bournemouth location. 

This, of course, did not happen. While it was a risky move, the Burford Group likely encouraged them to expand to the rest of the unused space in the building during planning. It was exactly what Sega needed for a theme park, and while it may have been somewhat premature and early on in their plans for a series of locations across the globe, they knew they wouldn't get a chance like this again.
Confidence in Sega on providing a successful attraction came from them being hot off of their popular Joypolis theme parks in Japan. Their Tokyo location, opened in 1994, in particular drew in 1.75 million visitors during its first year of operation alone. This became the target for London to achieve, and they soon set to work, determined to make the site ensured for success as possible.

Sega began to hype up the place's opening in gaming magazines and TV shows, using media buzzwords like 'futuractive', and creating high quality 3D renders of what the place would look like. Claims were made that it was the culmination of over $1 billion worth of research and development.

After 18 months of construction, which included a complete refitting of the centre itself to keep inline with high-tech branding, Sega World, and the new Trocadero, opened to the public on September 7th, 1996, with mass media fanfare and coverage.
Now, the inside of the Trocadero was almost unrecognisable from what it was before. Everything had gone from looking like a normal shopping mall to a futuristic entertainment centre. The mirror-clad, marble look of the 1984 atrium was now one of metal and neon. 3 now massive screens adorned the back walls, running advertisements and music videos. Sega and Pepsi signage was everywhere- the latter being down to a sponsorship deal made in the run up to the launch.
2 huge 'rocket' escalators were installed, leading crowds of people up to Sega World's reception, stopping once halfway through at a podium where you could see the screens up close, and also watch a animatronic show featuring a large alien monster called 'Trocadilla' once every hour.
But it didn't end there. It now housed one of the UK's largest HMV shops, a second Madame Tussaud's site titled Rock Circus which focused on rock music icons, a new Planet Hollywood restaurant outside the entrance, and the first IMAX 3D cinema in the UK, sponsored by Pepsi.

Back to Sega World itself. Before catching the two rocket escalators, visitors would walk through its shopping mall entrance way. Immediately, Sega's presence could be felt, with two Sonic statues- the first outside, a golden one above a circular LED sign advertising the centre, and a another by the start of the first escalator.  
In total, there were 6 floors to the place, linked together and accessed by visitors through a further series of escalators and travelators criss-crossing through floors and at the left and right sides of the very top of the Trocadero's atrium.
The first floor was the reception, where you could exchange money for game tokens, get ride tickets, and have a picture taken with the 'spinning globe' Sonic statue. A video wall, running a promo video informing visitors of the floors and attractions, ran behind this statue. Sega Saturn console setups could also be found here, often running new releases including NiGHTS Into Dreams.
Just below the reception was then the first proper floor, Combat Zone- which had over 70 action games, mainly shooters, lightgun games, and fighting games, like Virtua Cop 2, Virtual ON, Fighting Vipers, and Virtua Fighter 3- VF3 in particular had it's UK launch at Sega World, having only just been put out in Japan weeks before.
The Combat Zone also had the first ride- Beast In Darkness. This was one of the only rides to not have some sort of VR or 3D graphical feature- more of a glorified ghost train/haunted house type ride, with sensors, surround sound, and the occasional live actor walking around to simulate the 'beast' lurking around you.
Next was The Race Track- this floor had over 70 racing games and was one of the most impressive floors in the place. The ceiling had replicas of cars sticking out, and the centrepiece was the deluxe 8 player setups of Daytona USA and Manx TT Superbike, back to back of each other- even with running commentary provided by an announcer.
Many other linked multiplayer racing games were also situated here, including Scud Race, Sega Rally, Sega Touring Car, Le Mans 24, Harley Davidson & L.A. Riders, and Motor Raid.
One of the walls had an impressive racing-themed piece of Sonic art painted on it, previously used in a few promotional materials, and never seen since.
The very F1 car that Damon Hill once drove in the 1993 Formula One European Grand Prix, which Sega infamously sponsored, was also on show, though this was later removed.
The Race Track's VR simulator was Aqua Planet, also known as Aqua Nova at other Sega Worlds. In this attraction, riders would wear a pair of 3D glasses and be transported to an undersea world which has fallen to decay at the hands of a huge squid monster. At the end of this, you would shoot at the squid, with 3 separate endings depending on how well you did.
The 3rd floor was known as The Flight Deck- and featured 20 different flying games, like Sky Target, Wing War and 2 of Sega's infamous R360 simulators- which rotated a full 360 degrees. A very rare Sega Net Merc VR machine could also be found here, of which only 70 were produced with little making it outside of Japan. There was even a real Harrier Jump Jet hanging from the ceiling, which had to be lowered through the Trocadero's ceiling in a press event.
This floor's ride was VR-1 Space Mission, one of the premier simulators in Sega World, and arguably the best one too. This ride combined VR, hydraulics and sensors to provide a fully immersive VR experience, in which you would aboard a spaceship to 'deliver vital information to the planet Basco', destroying any enemy ships or debris that is in your way with your guns.
Sega World's biggest floor was The Carnival- a floor dedicated to ticket redemption machines, and more family-orientated games, with bright, garish colours everywhere. As such, there was a prize desk, where you could win exclusive merchandise, as well as Sega's consoles and games themselves.
While the UFO Catchers and ticket games were this floor's main draw, there was also a section on this floor called 'Segakids'- with crazy, Sonic themed decor including palm trees and gold rings painted on the walls, a McDonalds outlet shaped like a box of fries, and a soft play area next to it.
This floor also had 3 rides- the first was Power Sled, a bobsled simulator that used four moving replicas of sleds and large projection screens, to best simulate the feeling of flying down a sloped sled track.
A later addition to the park in 1998, this was at a few other Sega World's and was also not limited to them- a few turned up at other amusement centres in America and Japan, though this was the only known one in the UK.
The 2nd was House Of Grandish- another later addition from 1997, but this one came and went, didn't appear to be made by Sega themselves, and was also at other attractions before Sega World, so it may have been more of a 'travelling circus' type of attraction. 
This was similar to Beast In Darkness in that it was another haunted house type attraction, with the added difference of your heart rate being monitored throughout it and given to you on a card by the exit.
The 3rd attraction was Ghost Hunt, an interactive ghost train. Riders would get in two seater pods, using transparent projection screens to overlay 3D monsters onto the real life background of a haunted mansion. These monsters could then be shot at with gun yokes, and players would be graded on how well they did by the end of the ride.
The final floor was The Sports Arena, which had 90 sports themed games, like Alpine Racer, Wave Runner, and Sega Bass Fishing. A huge surfing Sonic statue adorned the centre of the floor, and not only that, his two arcade games were situated here- SegaSonic Arcade, and Sonic The Fighters.
The floor additionally had a bar, which was often used for corporate parties and events booked at the venue. Bands would even play there occasionally, as can be seen in a two part video of one such corporate party on YouTube.
This floor had 2 rides- AS-1, one of Sega's first rides they developed, was on this floor. AS-1 was like a normal motion simulator, only better- it could hold more people, and was interactive. Sega World had two shuttles, one running Scramble Training, the other, Megaopolis: Tokyo City Battle.
Both saw you take control of the game with a flight stick-type controller after brief introductions that utilised the technology, and had different endings depending on how well you did during the game.
The second ride was Mad Bazooka, a sort of bumper cars ride with a difference. On the floor was little foam balls that your car could pick up and shoot out- aiming at a target on other cars. You would only get so many hits until you were out. However this attraction was seemingly removed at some point during 1998, making no appearances in any leaflets or promotional material from then onward.
Also on the floor was the Sega Store, a prerequisite of any true theme park or tourist attraction. Sold in it was of course all kinds of merchandise, as well as Sega Saturn games and consoles.
With a strong lineup of hundreds of arcade games, several rides, and impressive theming, it sounded like nothing could go wrong. Surely, Sega World would remain successful for years to come. But, a literally costly decision was made right from the start, the entrance fee, at £12 for adults and £9 for children.

Visitors had to use their own money on the arcade games, sometimes costing up to £3- not only that, the expensive rides could only hold so many people at a time. A PR disaster was inevitable for Sega World, and on its grand opening day, in which numerous celebrities and members of the press visited, some rides had hour long queues, even with not many people in attendance. Some attractions could only take in 40 people every 60 minutes. They were simply not designed to power through the footfall that a Central London location could bring.
Needless to say, newspapers and critics who reviewed the place from the media buzz were not impressed, criticising the cost of everything in the place and the long wait times for so little in return, and a dogpile of bashing began in the press. Sega World was not a high-tech theme park to many- it was a money-grabbing tourist attraction with no heart or character put into it.

The Daily Telegraph described the park as “little short of a disgrace” and a “joyless tourist trap”. Cosmo Landesman of the Sunday Times felt that it was overall “very tacky". John Tribe of The Times reported the rides to be a “glitzy con-trick”. Even Nick Leslau, who owned the Burford Group which bought the Trocadero and helped make Sega World a reality, was very discouraged from the outset. He went on record to say this after the first day of business:

"Sega could not deliver what they said they'd deliver. It looked amazing, but their rides were not capable of delivering the number of people they needed to deliver to support the operation. People were queuing for ages. It was a question of over-anticipation and under-delivery."

Sega quickly realised the criticisms, and in response put all the arcade machines on free play. Despite getting the word out through important outlets for gamers, like Channel 4's Gamesmaster series and various magazines, the move fell on deaf ears for the general public. 

They then took the entrance fee down to £2, bringing the games back off freeplay and charging customers redeemable tickets for the rides of their choice- cheaper, and in theory beneficial for all involved. This too did nothing to dispel the notion on the site, and although few realised it at that point, Sega World's fate was essentially already sealed.

Burford Group's directors sensed a financial disaster around the corner for anyone involved with the Trocadero, and bailed out on ownership of it just months after Sega World opened. They sold the centre to Chorion, an international media production company with offices in London.

Chorion took the site on, fully aware of Sega's shaky returns, and their higher-ups immediately resented them- chief executive of the company, John Conlon, was heard to remark he 'wanted to get rid of Sega', the day after he joined the company on the 2nd of September 1997.

By the time its first full year of operation was over, Sega World had drawn in 950,000 visitors, missing Sega's original target of 1.7 million by a wide margin. Large losses were already beginning to be made, with management often only barely covering the high rent for a location in Central London as a result of this.
Meanwhile, the Trocadero itself wasn't doing too well either. In desperate bids to generate more interest in the place, Pepsi again sponsored an indoor tower ride, the Pepsi Max Drop. An interactive James Bond ride named Licence To Thrill opened in the basement. Both initially attracted buzz from the media, but in the end helped little.

With no end of losses in sight and an increasingly displeased Chorion, Sega then decided to ditch the entry fees entirely, also upping the price of ride tickets. This only further fuelled the argument that the place was just a glorified and oversized arcade- one, in the opinion of some, that was worse than the still-open Funland, and Namco's Wonder Park arcade, with a basement full of fighting games, only a short walk away on Great Windmill Street. 
The free entry at least increased visitor numbers, but did also turn out to be somewhat of a fatal move, as some visitors ended up just passing through the floors, only playing a few arcade games and buying tickets for one VR simulator. And while people would still come to play their favourite arcade games, the only edge it had over other arcades in London was the the guarantee of Sega's titles being playable before elsewhere.

Hardcore players, particularly the fighting games crowd, preferred other establishments like Las Vegas in Soho (ran by the same operators as Funland, Family Leisure), and Casino Leisure on Tottenham Court Road (owned by Electrocoin, with links to companies like Capcom and Konami). Even Funland, virtually next door to Sega World, was said to be drawing in more regular visitors.
However, the UK arcade scene as a whole was showing signs of decline during this period, another factor that didn't help Sega World. More reliance was put on deluxe sized cabinets, usually lightgun and racing games, to provide experiences that properly couldn't be had at home- the average punter wouldn't be able to tell the difference between playing Tekken on a regular stand-up arcade machine, and playing it at home. 

While these deluxe machines were often of good games, there was little substance or replayability in comparison. Playerbases outside of cities like London dwindled, which in comparison to places in Japan, were never as big anyway. And yet, two games were soon to be released that would change the scene drastically- Konami's Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania.
Image result for dance dance revolution arcade posterRelated image
Both of these would be classed as being of the then-obscure 'rhythm action' genre, which had little representation on consoles, let alone arcades. But, two recent popular releases on the PlayStation, Parappa The Rapper and Bust A Groove, spurred Konami on to take the winning formula of those two games, and make it suitable for arcades. Upon testing in Japan in 1998, they were both massive successes, and waves were already being felt overseas as plans of an international release began.

Unfortunately, despise the imminent revitalisation of the scene which Sega World potentially could've benefited from as a theme-park arcade hybrid, it was looking very real that the venue simply could not generate a sustainable profit for the Trocadero and Sega themselves. As a theme park or arcade, it wasn't working. Visitor numbers were just not enough to justify Sega's constant investment. 

In early 1999, plans were made for Family Leisure to sub-let the 6 floors under their Funland name, with no drastic turn around for Sega and the venue in sight. By September 1999, the plans were set in stone, and Sega World was soon to be no more.
Budgets were cut for maintenance, with rides often out of order and a couple even being entirely removed- replacements being "Bar On 4", a restaurant, and a hastily made dodgems track. Less money was spent on marketing the centre too- the above flyer, with a badly photoshopped render of Sonic wearing sunglasses, demonstrating what little care went into the place now as a whole.

The top floor began to have visible renovations being made and arcade machines began to creep in where they hadn't before- looking closely in the video below , there are UFO Catchers and a boxing machine in view around the Sonic statue, as well as a temporary barrier made around it. And while new machines were still being bought for the centre, actual exclusives and location tests were rarer, taking away Sega World's small advantage over other arcades in the area.

By the start of 2000, the re-branding was finished, and after a few days of downtime, the new Funland was ready to open. Sega's dream was over, and by March of that year, a good half of their UK arcades were no more, and sold the licence to use their 'Sega Park' branding with all of the remaining ones to the Leisure Exchange arcade operators, seeing no point in running the venues themselves still.

Why did Sega World London close? There were factors like the failure of the Saturn, Sega's concentration on the Dreamcast, and the massive losses those made themselves. These did contribute to the diminishing of the valuable brand recognition that Sega could provide, but were not direct influences- the place was of course managed by the company's amusement sector, which was largely a separate matter financially.

No, the main reason was that as part of the original 1996 deal, Sega would have to drop their involvement with the Trocadero if they hadn't made over £3 million from the facility after 3 years had passed. They hadn't.

The Aftermath, and new Funland (1999 - 2002)

Sega World was now Funland, and its own two preexisting floors were absorbed and joined together in the process. All the Sega signage was removed, but most of the games and rides were still there, with new ones still being added. By this point, Chorion had sold the Trocadero back to the Burford Group, who now continued a good relationship with Family Leisure.
In 2000, Family Leisure tasked an architectural firm which they had previously worked with, Proun, to update some of the old Sega World floors with new, more modern decor- particularly the former reception, Race Track, Carnival, and Sports Arena floors. A go kart track, sports bar, new bowling alley, and ghost train were installed, some of which can be seen in the pictures provided by Proun themselves below.
The buyout and subsequent refurbishment of the Sega World floors proved to be a resounding success at first- gamers from all over the country flocked to the place, with it now being considered one of the best arcades in the country again. It was also going mostly unopposed in its area- Namco had now closed their nearby Wonder Park location, and had moved operations a little further out to its Southbank "Namco Station" arcade, with the Troc winning over more tourists in Piccadilly Circus than ever.
And fuelling Funland's new success was the huge boom in rhythm gaming. It had now well and truly hit the west, with Konami releasing special localised versions of DDR to Europe under the Dancing Stage moniker, as well as arcades importing Japanese mixes and other newly established series like Guitar Freaks and Drummania. 

Naturally, along with all of the newest fighting, racing, and shooting games, Funland would also get the latest rhythm games before most anywhere, most notably the numerous instalments of the Pump It Up, Beatmania, and Dancing Stage/DDR series, among others. 
The dance games crowd would hold organised tournaments, bringing in players from around the country, and practice their expert skills regularly to the amazement of the general public. The King Of Styles tournaments were the biggest in the area, and by the time of the second one, in January 2002, the hype was at fever pitch. 
A massive part of the dance games scene at the time was the huge increase in internet activity and forums, like something that older arcade goers never got to experience. These websites would be used to share tournament videos and images, some of which still exist today and have been uploaded to YouTube.
While some were of the opinion that the scene was intimidating, and was different to the arcade communities that had came before, it breathed new life into a declining market, at least for that time. Friendships and relationships were forged through the scene, and for some, their whole adult life would even be formed through it, with the Trocadero right at the centre.

However, despite the revitalisation of Funland, Sega's pulling out triggered a knock on effect that would further the decline of the Troc as a popular tourist attraction. The trusted brand recognition, even if small by the time of 1999, had pulling power for the Trocadero, and without it, the place was considered as slightly less of a noteworthy attraction. 

Pepsi were the next to go in early 2000, after another IMAX opened elsewhere in the centre of London. While the IMAX and sponsorship branding around the centre was removed immediately, the Pepsi Max Drop stayed for another few years, renamed as 'London's Scream Ride'.
The Madame Tussauds branch in the basement followed suit in 2001, and some of the more upmarket shops and former VR experiences (Emaginator, Virtual World) were hastily replaced by shops and snack bars upon their closures. The Trocadero's reputation was already declining, but it still wasn't as bad as it was to soon end up being. Funland's success was not to last.

Declining Trocadero (2002-2011)

In September 2002, the upper floors of Funland (the top 6 or so floors of the Trocadero) were completely shut off to the public by management. The lights dimmed, the media blast of the atrium died, and the Y2K heyday of the place was now effectively over. 

One of the reasons for this was the increased dominance of consoles, which had now properly caught up to arcades in graphical standards. But the main one was the huge investment Family Leisure had to continually make in ensuring the place would make a profit. 
They weren't used to running such a large centre as this, and often had issues with sufficiently staffing the numerous floors, leading to issues with crime and antisocial behaviour. Something had to give, and it did, as however hard the decision was to close the floors, it was for the best in the long-term survival of Funland.

The second rocket escalator was effectively rendered useless by this move, and was blocked off to the public- taking out the upstairs rides, McDonalds, and arcade machines with it. Looking to minimise costs alongside Funland, Trocadero management decided to remove the video wall, and some older decor of the centre, particularly around the shopping arcade. The Trocadero now began to look barren, as almost all of the big name restaurants and shops finally pulled out around this point, and most became tacky tourist traps. 
The Pepsi Max Drop, now stripped of its sponsorship for numerous years, was also removed, and relocated to the "Funland" fairground on Hayling Island (no relation), as well as the other rides that were installed on the upper floors.

However, the remaining 2 or so levels of Funland were still stocked full of games, and throughout its final years an effort was still made to get the newest releases. 

It was certainly still considered one of the premier arcades in the country, especially with numerous others going into worse decline than Funland itself.

Location tests for Dance Dance Revolution X and Jubeat were held by Konami, and it was the only arcade in the UK to regularly get the newest instalments in the Pump It Up dance game series- most places having abandoned it after the early 2000's due to its difference in style and music to the standard DDR.

Other imports and rarities like Street Fighter IV, Virtua Fighter 5, and Initial D Arcade Stage 4, meant that Funland was still well respected by many gamers. As a result, the place stayed open from the steady support and tourists who still bothered to come, despite it now looking rather rough around the edges- indeed, traces of the upper floors were never removed, with visible boarded up floors directly above the open ones, an obvious mark left by a removed McDonalds sign, and the 2nd rocket escalator almost comically being blocked off by a drink vending machine.
Sometime in 2005, a company called Criterion Capital, owned by property developer Asif Aziz bought the Trocadero, and started plans to yet again gut out the interior of the Trocadero to make a 500 room ''pod hotel'' and replace all of the existing shops with newer ones, including a TK-MAXX. 

This didn't spell good news for Funland and the rest of the Trocadero as a whole. During this time, Funland began to get even more run down as many games began to be replaced by fruit machines or just not replaced at all, going against the 'family entertainment' that the place originally stood for. Criterion were also slowly increasing the rent, in attempts to try and get them out of the Trocadero.
Criterion also allowed what essentially were market stalls to trade in the atrium. This gave the whole place an odd feel compared to what it was before, with most of the stalls selling very questionable, tacky goods. As the neon on the escalators burnt out, and decor installed in 1996 or even earlier started to decay, the Trocadero sunk even lower.

Meanwhile, above the 2 operating floors of Funland, building work was being carried out on the decaying floors of Sega World, removing the remnants of the decor. The only time the upper floors were used during this time were for the odd private party- the Gumball 3000 Rally Championship 2007 launch party was held there, and pictures of it can be found in this album on Flickr

But also, a few select people went up the closed off escalator and saw the remains of Funland and Sega World. Thanks to @Ricky_Earl on Twitter, who very kindly sent the pictures taken during research, of this blog post, we can now see what was left.
(up the closed off 'rocket' escalator...)
(lots and lots of dust!)
(once the sonic adorned entrance, now a torn down and empty floor of nothing)
(a closer look)
(some remaining decor on the walls of the combat zone floor which is recognisable from the videos)
(down a derelict stair way...)
( what could be the 'race track' floor. this picture somewhat matches up with a part from one of the videos, it may be the entrance)
(a massive mural on the 'flight deck' floor. still there, albeit defaced by spray paint)
(more of the flight deck floor. still mostly unchanged)
(a closed off floor, presumably still having work done on it- probably the carnival)
(...and back down into funland.)

Then, in 2011, the end happened for Funland. The rent and bills were becoming too much for Family Leisure, even with the removal of the iconic rocket escalators, taken out as a an attempt to bring down electricity bills. Family Leisure were just barely keeping the place alive, and something drastic had to happen for it to stay open.

After disagreements with Criterion, the landlord cut off the electricity for the arcade, and locked the fire exits on the 3rd of July. Since the Trocadero was proposed to be a hotel in the coming years anyway, they weren't too interested in getting it back up and running, and it was soon clear Funland would never return.
An outpouring of support and sadness followed on social media and forums- by this point Funland had been a staple of Piccadilly Circus for 20 years, and loved or hated it, lots of people had memories of visits. Funland's Facebook page tried to lift spirits by talking about moving to a different location, but it was not to be. Funland, one of the greatest arcades of all time, was gone.

The final years (2011-2014)

After the Funland's closure, the Trocadero looked just plain empty and sad. A small attempt was made to bring arcades and 3D experiences back to the centre in the basement, with the '5D World' and 'Star Attraction' arcades, but it was nothing compared to what Funland and Sega World were. It was even rumoured that the rent was free for these places, with them taking only 20% of the money made, the rest going to Criterion.

(virtually all that was left in the Troc after Funland closed)

More games were dotted around the 1st floor, with the only open attractions on that floor now that Funland was gone being the run-down Cineworld Cinema, still raking in some money from tourists and film-goers in the area, and a makeshift laser tag game where the IMAX once was situated. 

A substantial amount of the Trocadero was not open to the public now- in fact, less than back in 1984 when it had first opened as a shopping centre. The old decor and signs of Funland were still up, as well as a gaping, unfilled hole in the ceiling where the second rocket escalator once was- giving lasting reminders of the former glory the place once had, now long gone. 
The community spirit of Funland still remained somewhat in the Trocadero's underground access, which had now been transformed into a dancing area- thanks to the the dance games, there was crossover with London's street dance and b-boy scene, so they would still come to the space made available for them to dance. 
The last two big name tenants the Trocadero was hanging on to, HMV and Planet Hollywood, had now closed down and relocated to other premises in the capital, the former as a result of their unfortunate ongoing administration. The remaining shops left in the Trocadero hit a new low when a fake goods raid was carried out, with many extremely negative reviews now being posted on TripAdvisor. 

But the final, final end for the Trocadero happened during February of 2014. Plans for the hotel and shops had been granted since 2012, and work needed to start soon. Because of this, the central atrium of the Trocadero, with the 2 arcades, laser tag, and tourist stalls, was completely bordered off on the 24th of that month.

Some dilapidated remains of the decor, unchanged since the 90's, could be seen in the corridor that had been made for the Cineworld Cinema to stay open for business during construction, and the very last remnants of Sega World and Funland could be seen here- a few old, broken arcade cabinets, still taking money. However this was the farthest cry from what it was yet, and simply put, the Trocadero was now completely dead.

R.I.P. Trocadero, gone but not forgotten.

Loose ends, and the future of the Trocadero

The Cineworld Cinema (previously owned by MGM and Virgin), with the very last cabs scattered around it's entrance, only lasted until later in 2014. It was replaced and refitted into a Picturehouse Central in 2015, which also occupied some of Funland's former space. The last part of the Trocadero's status as an urban complex, the entrance with shops, was later taken out and replaced by just one tourist shop.

The other Sega arcades around the UK, mentioned earlier in this article, suffered a similar fate to Sega World London, with none being open now; needless to say, their new owners never put much care into their operations. A few have, however, been sold off to further new owners, and renamed as such, although they are reduced in size and feature fewer games than before.
 (around 1/4 of Sega World Bournemouth became an arcade called Fun Central)

It is unknown what happened to most of Sega World's branding and simulators. While it is safe to assume that they were simply binned, never to be seen again, some of the Sonic statues and wall fixtures were supposedly, however, taken back by one of the park's construction workers, who then sold them off after some years.

Some of Funland's games were sold to other arcades like The Heart Of Gaming in Croydon (VS City cabs, Naomi DX's), and others went to JNC Sales, who then sold them off themselves, and were bought by arcade machine collectors and other arcades. 
Some of them were also relocated by Family Leisure to Las Vegas in Soho, where they reside in its basement alongside new imported cabs like Taiko No Tatsujin and Sound Voltex. It has effectively now became the main arcade in London for the rhythm game scene, with other venues like Vega and Freeplay City opening off of the back of its success. The spirit of Funland still somewhat remains here.

And, around 4 years on from closure, here is the Trocadero as of typing this:

As you can see from the video, the building has been stripped completely bare now. It could be said that this isn't much work for 5 or so years of construction, but the Troc was of course occupying well over 8 floors, with a large gaping hole where some had been knocked through in its centre, making the construction of a hotel a challenge.

And there is hope for the Trocadero- despite the logistical problems in anything filling its space easily, some things have. For one, The Crystal Maze Experience, a tourist attraction re-enacting the popular TV game show, has somewhat brought the centre back to its roots as providing entertainment. Some tourist shops have also been cleared out in favour of restaurants, including a Forrest Gump themed one, and a Chinese hotpot chain, Haidilao. 

So, after the Trocadero's many failures over the past few decades, hopefully the large scale failure that Sega World was could never happen again. And maybe, just maybe, in the distant future, in the right environment, arcades could finally return, giving another whole new generation memories for years to come.
...and that's it. 

This took me a incredibly long time to make. An entire 2 months were spent sourcing videos and pictures, and making sure everything was verified and true. And despite a accident where I ended up losing most of what I'd written, I got it all back.

Thanks to everyone who uploaded the videos here, without them this probably wouldn't have been possible. Also as big as this article is, I have had to cut some stuff out that just didn't fit well with the rest of it.

...So I have included links to said content just below. They include Sega blogs recounting their memories of the place, to a archive of the original Trocadero website. Anyway, thanks for reading.

More Trocadero, Funland and Sega World-

A blog post about the Trocadero's impact on people's lives (by Toby Na Nakhorn, ex-community manager of Las Vegas Arcade in Soho)

Part 1 of a tour of Funland from December 2009

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

A Sega Saturn magazine's article on the place

The Sega World tag from a Sega blog, features a couple more videos and more

Saved snapshots of the Trocadero website from 2001 to the end

List of Sega arcades that were in the UK

Pepsi Max Drop Tower

Again, thanks for reading. This has gone on to be the most successful post on my blog, and from the bottom of my heart thank you all so much for the support and over 15,000 views.



  1. What an excellent write up, thanks for this, have found memories of the place and being blown away by its size back in its glory days.

  2. i used to live in this place great blog lots of memories thanx

  3. A very good read! I'm a fan of arcades as well and seeing this whole story amused me, especially with the fact that it is not an ordinary arcade in my place. Really sad to see its demise after a series of events and eventually to have it demolished, but I'm hoping a better future for the Troc!

    Also, were there Virtual-On cabs too? I remember there were two of those in my place (a shopping mall arcade) but the place in question was closed down so their whereabouts became unknown.

    1. Indeed there were. If you have a good eye you can spot them at 0:21 in this video:

  4. Ahhh thanks for including the link to my blog! Actually the company I work for (Family Leisure) owned Funland at the Troc.

    Our founder, Martin Bromley, was also one of the core 4 founders of SEGA

    As well as Las Vegas Soho and 4 othwr branches in London, Family Leisure have around 30 Chuck E Cheese franhises in the USA.

  5. What an amazing and heartbreaking account. As usual, poor management and money-men ruin what could have been a cultural icon.

  6. Excellent article. What a history the building has. Shame about Trocadero, my mum would never take me in, although I remember how excited I used to be just walking past :(

  7. Lot of association with this site - during the Lunar Park days, and the SEGA World and beyond. Worked with many that ended up developing the site including SEGA chief Bob Deith, and also attended many of the launches. The story is not over as new site owners ponder adding entertainment to the new opening!

  8. Amazing eye opening write up, thank you!

  9. Thanks for taking me back in time, I was too young to see this place at its best (Unfortunately my first time visiting was around 2005). I freaking loved this place though and was really sad to see it disappear - and worst of all - without a trace. :(

    1. I should probably mention that my brother was able to visit Trocadero/Sega World a couple of times during its glory days and told me stories about the place now and then. I'm forever jealous...

  10. Top write u p Ted, as ever. Keep it up.

  11. I am used to visit this blog regularly. Very Easily & in a good manner you have shared the experience of virtual reality center in london. Thanks for writing & sharing amazing videos.

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  13. Dear Ted, Thank you for documenting SEGAWORLD at the trocadiro centre, I 3D modelled and animated the project in MS DOS for the Architects and SEGA from the concept stage in 1994, link to the animation is on my website.

    Kind regards

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. Thank you for writing this wonderful article. It is as if I went through a time machine reading how sega world/funland begin and ended. I have only been to sega world a handful of time, but I did spent a lot of time from 2003-2008 in funland. It was the place to hang out with friends and stuff. I miss the place dearly

  16. Thank you for the write up. I was there twice in my teenage years, back in the 90s when I also was visiting London for the first time.
    Wonderful memories of the 8 player race setup, the Alien Wars and the Emaginator.

    One quirky thing I was fond of was the computer animated safety video you would see before getting into the Emaginator, with a faceless, morphing figure. Shame I cant find that anywhere on the web.