Trocadero, the entertainment complex in central London, is closing down on February 25th of 2014, pending redevelopment. Thousands of young people once spent their weekends in this palace of arcade machines, fast food and sticky cinema floors. Now, with less than a week left to live, only a fraction remains open to the public and it stands as a monument to the fun that this generation has left behind as it grew up.
Trocadero was transformed in 1984 into a shrine to tacky entertainment. For many, the centerpiece was the video arcade, which launched in 1996 as Segaworld. It became known as one of the largest arcades in Britain and drew gamers from far and wide. Pockets were emptied of pound coins paid in tribute to the arcade gods, while gargantuan paper cups were emptied of bubbling soft drinks to keep the gamers going.
Unfortunately, Sega had chosen the wrong moment to launch such an ambitious arcade in the UK. By 1996, Sega, Sony and Nintendo had released their new consoles in the UK market: 32-bit and 64-bit machines that were for the first time capable of reproducing game experiences previously reserved for the arcade. While home gaming flourished, the market turned against traditional arcades. Sega abandoned its sponsorship of the arcade in Trocadero, which relaunched in 1999 as the smaller, less bombastic Funland.
As decay set in, Trocadero became less and less attractive
Around the same time, several large rides were shut down and never replaced. Large parts of Trocadero were closed off to the public. No-one found a purpose for the empty spaces that would be worth the effort and investment.
The arcade became a holdout for game experiences that could not yet be replicated well by home consoles. Dancing games, arm wrestling machines, and of course the dodgems (bumper cars) continued to draw a small crowd.
Trocadero is only a shell of what was once there, its past glories echoing through empty hallways
But judging by the faces of the people still passing through in the last 10 years, they were there more for the social aspect than for the draw of the attractions. Indeed, as decay set it, Trocadero became less and less attractive.
Now, as Trocadero breathes its last, it is only a shell of what was once there, its past glories echoing through empty hallways. The youthful energy that pulsed through this tower of electric extravagance has moved on.
How can a single-use arcade machine compete with a free and addictive experience like Flappy Bird?
A generation of London’s young people, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, trod those hallowed halls with a joystick in one hand and a dripping burger in the other. Today, these people are pushing through university exams, holding down full-time jobs or raising families. Their youth has passed away, as it does for every generation, and the lure of the Troc passed with it.
Ultimately, the world changed around Trocadero. Tastes in entertainment, and the capabilities of the devices in our homes and in our pockets, have advanced extraordinarily since Trocadero’s heyday of the mid-to-late ’90s. How can a single-use arcade machine costing thousands of pounds to buy and maintain compete with a free and addictive experience like Flappy Bird?
While our generation grew up, Trocadero just got old.