The evolution of video game theme parks had arrived.
In the mid-1990s, gaming technology had evolved so quickly from the humble gaming console at home, to popular arcade places (TimeZone, for example) it was time to cash in on the phenomenon. Village Roadshow had already developed large indoor entertainment complexes called Intencity, which incorporated the latest in arcade machines, bowling, virtual reality game sets, and interactive sports (indoor golf).
The competition for which was a better gaming console (Sega, Nintendo, PlayStation) was a heated battle. In 1994, one brand tried to come out on top. That brand was SEGA.
SEGA had already established popular indoor theme parks in Dublin, Japan and London, so company JacFun Pty Ltd decided to bring the fun to Australia, by buying up a long term land lease in the heart of Darling Harbour, Sydney. Install a big red building with a large blue cone in the middle of it, throw in the latest in gaming technology, and you have the largest indoor theme park in the southern hemisphere – SEGA World.
But the development wasn’t all chalk-and-cheese.
In 1995, the idea of having SEGA World located in Darling Harbour had not ‘been approved’, with a few head-scratchers coming from the political side of things. With the idea eagerly pushed by SEGA, the plan of having the technological theme park had to be tested to the public, through the media.
Towards the end of 1995 though, a ‘thumbs up’ was pushed through, enabling for Darling Walk to be dug up for SEGA, thanks to then Minister Michael Knight.
Using SEGA’s iconic Sonic The Hedgehog as the driving force to promote the entertainment complex, SEGA World opened in 1997 for all the world to see. Entering the premises with simply up a small escalator, but once inside, you would walk through a ‘time tunnel’ full of colourful lights to highlight the theme of ‘past, present and future’ in gaming and technology.
The one-level complex was filled with 3D motion rides, dodgem cars fitted out with ball shooters, virtual reality rides, arcade machines, stage shows and much more – over 200 amusement games for old and new people. For the right amount, you could book out the entire complex for a private party.
Entry to the park itself was $30 for adults and $25 for childen, which in 1997, was pretty pricey for the time. To play the games, you would trade cash for “Sonics” – specially made coins with Sonic’s face on it. I remember keeping one after my one and only visit, and after a couple of years, it started to rust. Eventually the coins were replaced by a plastic swipe card which stored your “Sonics” credit on it, which you would swipe the machine to play a game.
It was the ‘must go to’ destination when you were growing up in the 1990s. You would visit the Powerhouse Museum, check out a film at IMAX, eat some junk at McDonald’s, then knock out a few games in SEGA World.
By 1999, the novelty had worn off, and the customer count had dropped dramatically. As Sydney was hosting the 2000 Olympic games, SEGA World planned to capitalise on the tourism dollar, but it was not meant to be. It barely was able to stay profitable, and in late 2001, SEGA World Sydney shut down, for good.
For years, the building laid dormant, at one stage turning into a furniture expo. But after a big legal battle with the State Government and JacFun Pty Ltd over land lease issues, in 2008, the blue cone eventually was pulled down.
As of today, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has a highly energy and environmentally efficient building in place of what would have been a high energy-drain theme park… and lost teen memories.