Namco
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Namco
Namco Ltd.
Native name
?
Kabushiki gaisha Namuko
Formerly
  • Nakamura Seisakusho
  • Nakamura Manufacturing Company
Kabushiki gaisha
IndustryVideo games
SuccessorBandai Namco Entertainment
FoundedJune 1, 1955; 65 years ago (June 1, 1955)
(now Bandai Namco Entertainment)

March 31, 2006; 14 years ago (March 31, 2006)
(now Bandai Namco Amusement)
FounderMasaya Nakamura
Headquarters,
Japan
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Masaya Nakamura (founder)
ProductsVideo games
Arcade cabinets
Amusement parks
Films
Toys
ParentBandai Namco Holdings
Subsidiaries
  • Namco America
  • Namco Cybertainment
  • Namco Enterprises Asia
  • Namco Hometek
  • Namco Tales Studio
  • Shanghai Namco
Website

Namco Ltd.[a] (stylized as NAMCO)[b] was a Japanese developer and publisher of arcade and home console video games, originally headquartered in ?ta, Tokyo. Several international divisions were established, including Namco America in Santa Clara, California, Shanghai Namco in mainland China, and Namco Enterprises Asia in Hong Kong.

Namco was founded by Masaya Nakamura as Nakamura Seisakusho[c] on June 1, 1955, beginning as a producer of coin-operated amusement rides for Japanese department store roof gardens, seeing success with making children's rides for the Mitsukoshi chain. Renamed Nakamura Manufacturing in 1959, the company purchased the struggling Japanese division of Atari from Nolan Bushnell in 1974 and began releasing their games in Japan, where they quickly became one of the leading game companies in Asia. The acquisition inspired Namco to produce their own video games in-house, beginning with Gee Bee in 1978. Namco released their first major hit Galaxian a year later, followed by Pac-Man in 1980 -- the latter has since become the most successful arcade game of all time and one of the highest-grossing video games of all time.

In February 2005, Namco announced they would merge with Bandai to form Bandai Namco Holdings. The merge was finalized on September 25, creating Japan's third-largest video game entity by revenue and the seventh largest by revenue in the world. Both operated independently under the new holdings company until March 31, 2006, where their video game operations were merged to form Namco Bandai Games. The original Namco name was spun-off into a new company the same day, which handled the amusement park and arcade center operations of Bandai Namco Holdings. It was renamed to Bandai Namco Amusement during a corporate restructuring on April 1, 2018.

Namco produced several critically and commercially successful franchises, including Pac-Man, Galaxian, Tekken, Ace Combat, Dig Dug, Soulcalibur, Xevious, Ridge Racer and Tales, and was one of the world's most prolific video game companies. In the past, it operated several arcade centers and theme parks, alongside production of films, toys and speech-impairment devices. Namco is remembered for being one of the most important and influential video game companies in history, with several of their games being listed in many "greatest games of all time" lists by publications.

History

Origins (1955-1972)

Two mechanical rocking horses installed by Nakamura Seisakusho in 1955.

On June 1, 1955, Japanese businessman Masaya Nakamura founded Nakamura Seisakusho in Tokyo.[1][2][3] Nakamura used US$3,000 to purchase two mechanical rocking horse rides and install them in the roof garden of a Yokohama department store.[4] Each day Nakamura cleaned up and repaired the rides if needed, and greeted the mothers of the children that visited.[4] Nakamura also created a "goldfish scooping" game for the same store, however the fish were killed during a typhoon.[5] Nakamura Seisakusho was renamed to Nakamura Manufacturing Company in 1959, and a few years later in the early 1960s Nakamura made a deal with the Mitsukoshi chain to install a children's ride atop their store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. The ride, named the "Roadaway Race", was a moving mechanical train that proved to be very popular among children, leading Mitsukoshi to request that Nakamura and his company install similar rides for all their stores.[6]

With business doing well, Nakamura Manufacturing began constructing different types of mechanical games. One such game was Periscope in 1965, which Nakamura claimed to be the first he designed himself.[7] A new manufacturing plant was opened up in 1966 so that the company could construct their own mechanical rides;[8] the same year, Nakamura struck a deal with The Walt Disney Company to produce children's rides using the likenesses of their characters.[8] In 1971, Nakamura Manufacturing began releasing games under the name "Namco", an acronym of their name, and began production of several coin-operated electro-mechanical arcade games, such as Racer in 1970 and Formula-X in 1972.[3] Nakamura Manufacturing also created a robotics division, led by Shigeki Toyama,[9] that produced robots for use in entertainment centers and other locations.

Atari Japan acquisition (1970s)

In 1973, Atari, Inc. opened up a Japanese division titled Atari Japan, led by general manager Hideyuki Nakajima, as Atari founder Nolan Bushnell sought to distribute their games outside the United States and to get a foothold in the expanding Japanese coin-operated entertainment industry.[4] Nakamura visited Atari Japan shortly after its formation, and was in talks with Bushnell over selling games. In the beginning, the company was a disaster, which Nakamura claims to have attributed to poor maintenance and placing games in inappropriate locations across the country.[4] Nakajima, who had been using his own personal savings to keep the company afloat and claimed that employees were stealing money, begged Bushnell to keep going; however, undercapitalization led Bushnell to close Atari Japan in 1974 and sell it to the highest bidder.[10]Sega offered US$50,000 for the company, however Nakamura saw the opportunity as a great way to get into the video game market, placing in a US$800,000 bid to shock out competitors.[2] With the deal finalized at US$500,000, Bushnell sold Atari Japan to Nakamura the same year, with Nakajima keeping his job and the company becoming Atari's chief Japanese distributor, given the rights to sell Atari games in the country.[4] By this point, Nakamura Manufacturing was Japan's sixth largest game company, behind Sega and Taito.[4]

Atari sent Nakamura Breakout in 1976, which was a commercial success in North America.[4] As soon as he saw it, Nakamura recognized it as a sure-fire hit, and he offered to sell the game in Japan.[4] To his disappointment, Atari only allowed Nakamura Manufacturing to distribute the game in the country and was forbidden from exclusive manufacturing rights.[4] Nakamura in response asked for as many Breakout cabinets as possible.[4] After its release in Japan, Nakamura noticed an unusual number of copy-cat "block breaker" games flooding the market -- upon investigating, he found out that a Yakuza clan had been creating counterfeit Breakout machines.[4] Nakamura instructed his staff to survey the factories the Yakuza had been using to create them, while he himself would meet with the leader of the group to request they cease production.[4] The leader instead offered to "suppress" Nakamura's competitors and make his company the biggest in the video game industry.[4] Fearing this would lead to the downfall of both his company and the industry as a whole, Nakamura declined and instead requested Atari ship him additional units to work around it.[4]

Both Nakamura and Nakajima flew to London to meet with Bushnell at the annual Music Operators Association (MOA) tradeshow to discuss the issue.[4] Nakamura claims that Bushnell was in a hangover and unable to listen to him, leading to him deciding that Nakamura Manufacturing simply make Breakout cabinets themselves, which soon made them one of the largest game companies in Asia.[4] Bushnell refuted these statements, saying he and Atari were unaware of Nakamura making his own Breakout machines and were under the impression he no longer needed them, believing the game didn't catch on in Japan.[4] Shortly after, a representative of Atari visited the country and reported seeing far more cabinets than the company had shipped, leading to an argument between Nakamura and Atari that concluded with a lawsuit winning in Atari's favor in the late 1970s.[4] In 1977, Nakamura Manufacturing was renamed to Namco and established Namco Enterprises Asia in Hong Kong[11][3] -- per request by Nakajima, Namco opened up a North American division named Namco America on September 1, 1978, headquartered a few blocks away from the Atari building in Sunnyvale, California. Nakamura became the chairman and Nakamjima the company president; Nakajima soon hired an attorney named Dennis Wood and later a man named Satish Bhutani, who became the vice president.[12][4][10] Namco America was tasked with marketing all Namco products in the United States and Canada through licensing agreements with other companies, notably Midway Games and Atari.[12] In 1977, Namco released Shoot Away in Japan, a successful skeet-shooting mechanical game that became the first game from the company to be distributed outside Japan.[5][12]

Galaxian, Pac-Man, and later arcade successes (1978--1984)

Based on the success of the Atari Japan deal, Nakamura grew interested in having his company create video games in-house, rather than publishing those from other companies. He led Namco to purchase a surplus amount of PDA-08 microcomputers directly from NEC and instructed that employees study the hardware,[13] while simultaneously hiring software engineers to work under him.[14] Namco released Gee Bee, their first internal video game, in October 1978.[13][2] Designed by new hire Toru Iwatani, Namco allowed Gremlin Industries to release the game outside Japan -- while the game failed to meet the company's expectations,[15]Gee Bee helped Namco gain a stronger foothold in the market.[13] A year later in 1979, following the overwhelming success of Space Invaders, Namco released Galaxian, credited as one of the first video games to use RGB graphics.[16]Galaxian was a massive hit for the company, which led Namco to approach American company Midway Games in hopes of releasing it overseas. Midway agreed to the deal after being impressed with the game's sales in Japan, with Namco becoming Midway's biggest partner for importing video games.[4] After its release, Namco imported two Death Race arcade cabinets from developer Exidy to potentially release it in Japan, however these plans were scrapped due to the game's violence and controversy in the United States.[5]

Pac-Man has been Namco's mascot since the character's introduction in 1980.

Towards the end of 1979, designer Toru Iwatani grew disappointed with the rising Japanese video game industry, thinking that it only appealed to male players through its use "war" games and Pong clones.[17] Iwatani decided to create a game that appealed to a female audience through its use of cute characters and easy to understand gameplay, based around the concept of eating.[17][18] The main character was based on an image of a pizza with a slice removed, and from rounding out the Japanese symbol "kuchi", meaning "mouth".[19][20] The end result was Pac-Man, initially test-marketed in May 1980 and released later that year in July.[4] Originally known as Puck Man in Japan, Pac-Man was an astronomical success worldwide, quickly selling over 100,000 arcade units and becoming the best-selling and highest-grossing arcade game of all time.[21] Some arcades purchased entire rows of Pac-Man cabinets.[4] In the United States, where it was published by Midway Games, Pac-Man received dozens of merchandise, breakfast cereal, and an animated television series produced by Hanna-Barbera.[22] A hit-single based on the game produced by Buckner & Garcia, Pac-Man Fever, became one of the best-selling albums of 1982.[23] The character of Pac-Man has since become a pop culture icon and Namco's official mascot,[2] appearing in more than 30 licensed sequels and spin-offs.[24]

Namco continued to release several critically and commercially successful titles throughout the golden age of arcade games in the early 1980s, including Rally-X (1980), Galaga (1981), Dig Dug (1982), Pole Position (1982), Xevious (1983), Mappy (1983) and The Tower of Druaga (1984), many being cited as influential to the industry as a whole.[2] To help promote their games, a newsletter magazine called "Namco Community Magazine NG" was launched and handed out for free at Japanese game centers, featuring developer interviews and info on upcoming releases.[25] The Namco America division quickly grew in size and brought in a significant amount of money for Namco, due to their licensing deals with Midway and Atari.[10] In 1984, the Nintendo Famicom was dominating the home console market, however development of new games for the system was slow -- to counter this, Nintendo created a licensee program where third-party companies could produce games for it. Namco was the first company to sign for the program,[10] and began porting some of their most popular arcade titles under the "Namcot" brand name,[26] starting with Galaxian in September.[27] The Famicom version of Xevious, one of the biggest arcade games in Japan at the time, became the console's first "killer app" with over 1.5 million copies sold.[28][29][10] Namco also began production of games for the MSX the same year.[5]

Atari Games, rifts with Nintendo and other ventures (1985-1989)

In 1985, Namco moved their headquarters to Ota, Tokyo; the building was nicknamed "Xevious" as the profits generated from the game's Famicom port helped fund its construction.[10][30] The same year, following the aftermath of the North American video game crash, Atari's parent company Warner Communications had split the company into two entities: Atari Corporation, which handled the home console and computer market, and Atari Games, which handled the coin-operated arcade game market.[4] Namco America purchased a 60% stake in Atari Games for $10 million, against the advice of their accountants at Price Waterhouse, which gave them the license to distribute their games in Japan such as Paperboy, Marble Madness and Hard Drivin'.[10]

While Nakamura hoped the acquisition would help form a strong relation between the two companies like it had in the 1970s, he quickly grew unhappy with the transaction; he soon viewed Atari Games as a competitor to Namco and didn't like sharing ownership with Warner Communications.[10] Namco America president Hideyuki Nakajima, on the other hand, found discussing deals with Nakamura a frustrating ordeal, and was also angered at Namco's "shoddy" distribution of Atari's games in Japan due to Nakamura refusing to sell them to competing arcade centers.[10] Nakamura also heavily disliked a subsidiary of his being mostly out of his control, leading to Namco selling their share of Atari Games to Nakajima in 1987.[10][4] Nakajima soon resigned as president of Namco America to run Atari Games and later Tengen, the home console division of Atari Games that would produce several unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System after being bitter with Nintendo's strict licensing.[4] Namco purchased the Italian Tomato cafe chain the same year and began production of speech-impairment devices and other electronics, such as the Talking Aid and Be-Say Phone.[3]

Namco released a competitive racing game in 1987, Final Lap, credited as the first arcade game to allow for multiple cabinets to be linked together to support additional players.[31] Atari Games was given the rights to distribute several Namco games outside Japan the same year, including Rolling Thunder, Pac-Mania and Galaga '88. Namco became involved in film production with Mirai Ninja, released as Cyber Ninja in the United States,[32] and sponsored a Japanese musical adaptation of Starlight Express the same year.[25] Games for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System accounted for 40% of Namco's total sales by 1989,[10] their capital having exceeded by 5.5 billion yen the previous year.[3]

For being one of the first licensees for the Famicom, Namco was given special preferential terms over other developers, such as the ability to manufacture their own cartridges[10] -- when Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi refused to renew the contract, Nakamura became furious and publicly criticized Nintendo for monopolistic business practices, boasting how Namco would instead shift console development over to the NEC PC-Engine and Sega Mega Drive.[10] Nakamura proceeded to file a lawsuit against Nintendo in the Kyoto District Judiciary for monopolizing the market, however the suit was ultimately dismissed -- Nakamura, fearing Namco would be unable to sustain in the console market without Nintendo, instructed his employees to continue creating games for the Famicom.[10] Later that year, Namco released a 3D driving arcade game titled Winning Run, cited as a milestone in 3D graphics technology,[33] and partnered with Japanese automaker Mazda to produce a driving simulation game called the "Eunos Roadster Driving Simulator".[3]

Acquisitions and later projects (1989-2004)

Thanks to the rejuvenation of the arcade industry towards the mid to late-1980's, Namco became a growing force in the market and quickly rose to being one of Japan's leading game manufacturers. With a constant supply of hits such as Pac-Land (1984), Metro-Cross (1985), and Rolling Thunder, and a willingness to set themselves apart from their competitors, Namco began investing money into researching future hardware endeavors and large-scale "interactive" machines.[34] The first of these was Metal Hawk (1988), a helicopter simulator game that used a motion-based arcade cabinet to create a sense of flight and movement within the game.[34]Metal Hawk was seen as a technologically-impressive title, but limited resources prevented it from being widely distributed.[34] Despite this setback, it gave Namco hope in these simulator games performing well; the same year, the company combined all of their arcade divisions to create a single research and development (R&D1) division.[34] Similar technology was employed into games like Ordyne (1988) and Assault (1988).[34] Towards the end of the year, Namco began opening dozens of arcade centers across the country, including Plabo in Osaka and Play-City Carrot in Tokyo.

Through the latter half of the 1980s, Namco began experimenting with other entertainment venues. In June 1989, Electronic Gaming Monthly reported that the company was underway with creating a 16-bit video game console said to be as powerful as the then-upcoming Nintendo Super Famicom.[35] The system, tentatively titled the "Namco Super System", was reportedly being produced alongside the NEC Corporation, who prior to which worked with Hudson Soft to create the TurboGrafx-16.[35] Likely due to the increase in competition within the market, the console was ultimately cancelled.[35] Namco continued to market their Talking Aid devices to strong sales, and pushed production of electro-mechanical ("elemecha") machines; most successful of these was Gator Panic (1989), a whac-a-mole-esc redemption game that has become a mainstay in arcades.

With the simulation games and arcade chains returning a high profit, Namco began drafting ideas for a potential amusement park centered around their games and products.[36] The company was in a fierce rivalry with several other manufacturers, most notably Sega, and felt that ideas such as these would make them stand out from others. Namco also pushed to become more of an entertainment company than strictly a video game developer, specifically focusing on unique, technologically-impressive hardware and ideas. One of the first ideas for the theme park was a ride where players sat in a room and shot enemies with lightguns.[36] This became the basis for Galaxian3: Project Dragoon, a space combat arcade game that featured hydraulic-powered seats to move players around as they interacted with the game.[36]Galaxian3 was presented at Expo '90 in Osaka, also known as the International Garden and Greenery Exposition, in 1990 to critical acclaim;[37] it regularly saw coverage in newspapers and television, and turned a large profit for Namco.[38][39]

Nakamura resigned as president of Namco in 1990, passing his role to Masanabe Manabe and assuming position as the company chairman. Manabe resigned in 1992 due to health problems, and Nakamura returned to his position as company president. Namco participated in the International Garden and Greenery Exposition in Osaka, also known as Expo '90, showing off two theme park attractions named Galaxian3: Project Dragoon and The Tower of Druaga[37] -- both of these were moved to Namco's amusement park Wonder Eggs in Tokyo that opened in February 1992.[40] Similar parks opened worldwide throughout the 1990s, including Sennichimae Plabo in Osaka, Namco Namja Town and Egg Empire in Tokyo,[40] and Wonder Park in London.[41]

Namco America established Namco Hometek in 1990 as the company's main home console division, based out of Santa Clara, California. Namco continued to release several critically and commercially successful arcade games throughout the 1990s, notably Ridge Racer (1993), Tekken (1994), Point Blank (1994), Soul Edge (1995) and Time Crisis (1995). Along with companies such as Konami and Williams, Namco became one of the first third-party developers for the then-upcoming Sony PlayStation and began porting some of their most popular titles to the system.[42] 1993 saw the establishment of Shanghai Namco in mainland China[11] and Namco's acquisition of the Aladdin's Castle arcade chain from Bally Entertainment, merged into a new company called Namco Cybertainment. Namco purchased Japanese film studio Nikkatsu in 1996, with Nakamura being credited as an executive producer on many Nikkatsu movies.[43] Namco Cybertainment continued to acquire additional American arcade chains throughout the late 1990s, namely Edison Brothers Stores.[44]

After former Squaresoft employee Tetsuya Takahashi founded Monolith Soft in 1999, Nakamura expressed interest in the company due to him and Takahashi sharing many of the same ideas and goals;[45] Namco purchased the company the same year and made them a wholly owned subsidiary, publishing nearly all of their games until Monolith Soft was sold to Nintendo in 2007. On October 1, Namco created a mobile phone division to produce games for Docomo's i-Mode online service, beginning with ports of their arcade games X-Day and Abnormal Check.[5] Following the unveil of the Xbox in 2001, Namco formed an alliance with Microsoft to become one of the first Japanese developers to support it.[46] Due to a downturn in the Japanese arcade industry, Namco closed many of their older video arcades and theme parks in 2001.[4]

Nakamura retired as head of Namco in 2002, instead taking on a ceremonial role in the company's management.[6] Around the same time, Namco set up a "game school" called the Namco Digital Hollywood Game Laboratory, following in the footsteps of Konami with their Computer Entertainment School in 1997;[47] headed by Nakamura, the school allowed students to experiment with possible game ideas to hopefully become a fully-fledged game.[47] The game to come out of the school was Katamari Damacy (2004), a sleeper hit for Namco that won several awards and placed on multiple "greatest games of all time" lists by publications.[48][49] Namco purchased a 60% stake in Japanese developer Wolf Team in 2003, a then-subsidiary of Telenet Japan -- best known for creating the Tales series, Wolf Team was later renamed to Namco Tales Studio the same year and became the primary developer for the franchise.

In 2003, Namco was in talks with Sega over a possible merge between the two.[50] Although Sega announced they would merge with pachinko manufacturer Sammy Corporation on February 13, they were still discussing a merge with Namco as late as April 17, with Namco attempting to overturn the merge.[50] A day after Sega publicly announced the Sammy merge would not occur, Namco withdrew their offer.[50] A Korean office was opened on September 1, 2004, where Namco hoped to bring significant expansion to the Korean video game market.[11]

Merger with Bandai (2005-present)

Bandai Namco Holdings was founded on September 25, 2005, combining the corporate assets of Namco and Bandai.

In February 2005, in the wake of the company's 50th anniversary,[51] Namco announced that they would officially merge with Bandai to form Bandai Namco Holdings[52] -- Shigeichi Ishimura, the head of Namco's mobile game division in Japan, was assigned as the company's president on April 1, while current president Kyushiro Takagi became the vice chairman.[51] The merge was finalized on September 25, creating the third-largest video game company by revenue in Japan.[52] Bandai officially purchased Namco for US$1.7 billion,[53][54] with Namco receiving 43% of the shares for the new holdings company and Bandai receiving the other 57%. Both companies in a joint statement cited Japan's declining birth rates, development costs and expansions in technology as the reasons for the merge, and to increase their competitiveness and relevance to newer audiences.[55] Bandai president Takeo Takasu became the vice president and representative director of Bandai Namco Holdings, while Kyushiro Takagi became the chairman and director.[55]

No layoffs were expected during the merge -- prior to the deal being finalized, Bandai had 979 employees and Namco had 2,413.[56] Both companies worked independently under Bandai Namco Holdings until March 31, 2006, when their video game operations were merged to form Namco Bandai Games.[57] A spin-off company was created the same day using the original Namco name, which handled the amusement park and arcade center operations of Bandai Namco Holdings. Nakamura retained an honorary position in Namco Bandai Games shortly after.[1] On January 26, Namco Hometek and Bandai Games merged to create Namco Bandai Games America, the North American division.[58][59]

Namco Cybertainment was renamed to Namco Entertainment in January 2012, further renamed to Namco USA in 2015. During a company restructuring on April 1, 2018, the newer Namco company was renamed to Bandai Namco Amusement and absorbed the arcade cabinet production operations of Namco Bandai Games, renamed in 2015 to Bandai Namco Entertainment.[60][61] The North American division Namco America had already been renamed to Bandai Namco Amusement America in 2014. Namco USA and Namco Enterprises Asia remain the last Bandai Namco Holdings subsidiaries to continue using the original trademark,[62] although the label continues to be used by Bandai Namco Entertainment for console video games and other products.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Japanese: ? Hepburn: Kabushiki gaisha Namuko
  2. ^ Originally short for Nakamura Manufacturing Company
  3. ^ Japanese: Hepburn: Kabushiki gaisha Nakamura Seisakujo

References

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