Video game arcades plan raises concern: Japanese to launch 'interactive' Sega centres

SEGA, the Japanese computer games company, is to launch a chain of

hi-tech arcades in Britain with the opening of a 24,000 square-foot centre in Bournemouth, Dorset, in July.

The pink, neon-fronted Segaland centre will be strategically placed on the town's seafront on the site of a former furniture store. It will be followed by an 9,000 square-foot centre in the chic new Yaohan Plaza in north London in August.

Yesterday a spokesman for Sega said the two centres were just the beginning. Ten are planned by the end of the year and the company hopes to have 60 up and running in Europe by 1998. 'The ultimate plan is to establish a Sega theme park somewhere in Europe,' he said.

Parents concerned by the financial cost and possibly physical and psychological effects of computer games on children will pale at the prospect of a chain of arcades offering bigger and better computer games than can be run at home.

Ian Brown, a psychologist at Glasgow University, said concern was justified. 'Most of the studies that have been carried out into the proportion of time and money people spend on video games and computers suggests that a significant minority will become addicted for a substantial length of time.

'If the addiction is not fed, it can lead to delinquent behaviour. More research is needed and parents are right to be cautious.'

But Sega said the 'family entertainment' arcades had proved highly successful in Japan and a small centre which opened in the basement of Hamleys toy store in London in November had already shown success could be replicated in Britain.

Sega believes the centres will eventually replace traditional arcades with their mixture of pinball and fruit machines. The first Segaland in Las Vegas opens in October. 'These centres are a different breed from the old arcades. There will be no gambling machines and no alcohol. They will be completely family orientated and staff will be trained to discourage children from the centres when they should be at school.'

Dr Jonathan Waldern, managing director of W Industries, which manufacturers virtual reality machines, believes the Sega-type centres are the future. Traditional arcades are finding it difficult to keep up with the quality of home computer games and can no longer satisfy children's preference for 'interactive' games. The new centres will provide computers hundreds of times more powerful than home computers.

Dr Waldern said: 'Sega and a few other companies are in the vanguard of a great change. But the new centres involve tremendous investment. One of our machines sells for pounds 28,000.'

The number of home computer games sold in Britain has more than doubled in the past year.

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