One of the most influential names in the Japanese video game arena has passed away, it has been revealed.
A former engineer in the Japanese navy, Masaya Nakamura established Nakamura Manufacturing in 1955 after purchasing two mechanical horse ride for $3,000. Due to the intense competition in this arena at the time Nakamura rented space on the roof of a department store, and would personally service and run the rides himself.
His business grew, and in 1958 became Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company - or "Namco", the name we know today. Namco started working with Atari, acting as the official distributor for Japan. Nakamura would eventually come to own Atari's ailing Japanese subsidiary, paying $500,000 for it in the mid-'70s. This deal had also secured an exclusive license to distribute Atari's games in Japan for ten years, and turned out to be a wise investment.
However, it was 1980's Pac-Man which really put Namco on the map. The game became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring TV shows and pop songs, as well as other related merchandise. Even to this day, Pac-Man remains a profitable asset for the company. Other notable franchises released over the past few decades include Galaxian, Ridge Racer, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Splatterhouse, Dig Dug and Time Crisis.
Namco was one of the many Japanese companies which benefitted from the incredible success of the Famicom in Japan; in fact, Namco - along with Hudson Soft - was one of the first third parties to be allowed to create software for the system, and was given very generous terms as a result. In 1989, the agreement between Namco and Nintendo came up for renewal, sparking one of the most infamous examples of Nintendo boss Hiroshi Yamauchi's ruthless sense of business.
Nakamura expected the special treatment to continue, but Yamauchi insisted that all Famicom third party publishers should be subject to the same terms. Nakamura's reaction was typical of the man; despite the fact that Namco owed almost half of its revenue to the Famicom, he spoke out about Yamauchi and Nintendo's "stranglehold" over the video game market, telling Nippon Keisai Shimbun:
The game industry is still new. I want it to grow soundly. Nintendo is monopolizing the market, which is not good for the future of the industry. Nintendo should consider itself the leader of the video game industry and accept the responsibility that goes with it.
Namco had already supported the NEC PC Engine, released in 1987. It started making games for the Sega Mega Drive - Genesis in the US - but despite Nakamura's protestations, the company signed Nintendo's third party agreement and continued to support the Famicom. With Nintendo's stranglehold on the market, Namco simply couldn't afford to not have its games on Nintendo hardware.
Namco would support the Super Nintendo in the '90s, but by the middle of the decade it had allied itself with newcomer Sony, creating a range of arcade ports and original titles for its PlayStation platform. In 2005, the company merged with Bandai.
Nakamura's interests were not confined solely to video games. Namco purchased the film studio Nikkatsu in 1993, allowing its founder to dabble in film production. Nakamura's name therefore appears under the credit of "executive producer" on a number of Nikkatsu movies.
In recognition of his impact on the video game industry, Nakamura was inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame in 2010. He was also awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 2007 by the Japanese government in recognition of his achievements in the world of business and interactive entertainment. As one of the founding fathers of the industry we know and love, his impact cannot be understated; without Namco and Pac-Man, the video game arena would be very different today.
Our thoughts are with Nakamura's family at this difficult time.