Published: September 17th, 2021
Author: Caitlynn Joann
Masaya (maa·saa·yuh) Nakamura (naa·kuh·moo·ruh) born in Yokohama (yow·kuh·haa·muh), Japan on December 24th of 1925. Attended Yokohama State University majoring in shipbuilding. During WW2, Japan was left with a devastating economy and little demand for work. Nakamura began working for his father repairing guns and manufacturing custom-made shotguns for their family business. He recalled these days with the London Times stating, “ I would spend my evenings cycling around Tokyo pasting up the posters. We were eventually able to sell new rifles, and I would visit the suppliers.” When Japan decided to limit and ban firearm sales as well as permitting games for hunters, repair shops were no longer in demand. Nakamura suggested manufacturing toy guns instead and the company expanded into children’s entertainment. In the 1950s, Nakamura purchased two wooden mechanical horse rides to install on the roof of their department store.
After his idea took off, Nakamura decided to begin a company dedicated to entertainment devices. In 1955 he opened Nakamura Seisakusho Co., Ltd. He later changed the name to Nakamura Manufacturing Co. in 1959 and lastly to what we know today, Namco, in 1971. The company’s main focus became children’s rides, stemming from a department store, Mitsukoshi (mit·soo·kow·shee), installed a Namco manufactured children’s ride on their roof in Tokyo. This chain placed similar orders with Namco to adorn their other department stores.
Namco didn’t delve into adult games until 1970 when it created a coin-operated driving device titled Racer. The next leap came in 1974 when Namco acquired a financial interest in Atari Games. A rival of Namco, Sega, was interested in Atari but was pushed away after Nakamura offered $800,000 at the beginning of negotiations. This was paid in installments of $550,000 upfront and then $250,000 a year for three years. Namco was criticized for this move but ultimately prevailed. Nakamura continued to push Namco in the direction of international arcade games and the company continued to thrive. In 1978 Toru Iwatani, a 23-year-old designer, created Gee Bee as well as Bomb Bee and Cutie Q, both of which were released in 1979. Namco exploded after releasing Galaxian in 1979 which was sold to the U.S.-based company, Midway Games.
Finally the moment you’ve been waiting for; in 1980 Pac-Man was released and was a huge driving force for the arcade video game industry, and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. But Pac-Man had a former identity; Puck-Man. This name is derived from the Japanese word “paku,” meaning to chomp. This is quite fitting, until Puck-Man was spread to the U.S., and teen vandals quickly altered the name when the opportunity arose, therefore forcing the company to change the name to Pac-Man. (If it weren’t for those meddling kids.)
Nakamura also shares that he realized young women made up half of the market but were not interested in shooting aliens. He discovered they were interested in fashion, food, and boys and therefore began creating games that were focused around food, i.e. Pac-Man. Also, may I add, Iwatani was inspired by the shape of a pizza with a slice missing, giving us the Pac-Man shape.
Galaga was created as a sequel to Galaxian in 1981 and as you can imagine was also a huge success, still loved to this day. Nakamura was heavily involved in the testing processes, specifically, Pac-Man, spending upwards of 20+ hours a day playing and giving the developers feedback. Nakamura shares in an interview he expected Pac-Man to be, “...maybe a double, not a home run.” Namco produced numerous successful games into the 1990s, including Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position, Final Lap, Ridge Racer, and Tekken. They acquired an interest in other fields including a chain of food-themed amusement parks in Japan and Nikkatsu, an adult film studio.
In 2002, Nakamura stepped down from CEO to a ceremonial role in the company’s management. Later in 2005, they announced the management integration between NAMCO and BANDAI. Nakamura was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 2007 for his contributions to the Japanese industry and was inducted into the International Video Game Hall of Fame.
Nakamura died January 22nd in 2017 and with the family’s desire for privacy, the cause and place are both not stated. To this day, Pac-Man remains the highest-grossing arcade game worldwide. There is no question as to why Nakamura is considered, “the father of Pac-Man.”