PAC-MAN has been a beloved franchise worldwide since its launch in 1980, and this year it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Asobimotto took this opportunity to gather some of the key figures who worked on the original game for a 3-part look at PAC-MAN’s history.
*This article was originally released in Japan on January 26, 2021.
In Parts 1 & 2 of this 3 part series we talked with those involved in the development of 1980’s PAC-MAN about what it was like back then. Here in Part 3, our final segment of this special feature, we hear from those who work to support the games, merchandise, and IP (intellectual property, in this article the character itself) today, and discuss the future of PAC-MAN!
Current Chief PAC-MAN Officer
BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc. President & CEO
Mr. Miyakawa joined BANDAI in 1981. He led the production of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny at Sunrise and was involved in the Gundam series from the 2000s onward.
First Chief PAC-MAN Officer
Former BANDAI NAMCO Games Vice President
Currently BANDAI NAMCO Holdings
IP Strategy Division Advisor
Mr. Unozawa joined BANDAI in 1981. After working on sales and planning for Gunpla in the Hobby Division, he moved on to be involved in the production of numerous films and anime such as Mobile Police Patlabor in the Frontier Works Division.
IP Business Division 3 Licensing Production Department
PAC-MAN Room Manager
Mr. Fuse joined BANDAI NAMCO Games (today BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment) in 2007. He is involved in marketing for home console games. Mr. Fuse reached his current position after working overseas and in licensing.
IP Business Division 3 Licensing Production Department
PAC-MAN Room Assistant Manager Advertising & Digital Content Licensing
Mr. Udetsu joined NAMCO (today BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment) in 1996. He worked in home console game development (Panic Park, cabinet graphics, industrial design), promotions (Taiko no Tatsujin, Mr. Driller series), home console game promotions (Tales series, Idolmaster), as a producer (Katamari Damacy series, Idolmaster series), and in licensing starting in 2017 (domestically for PAC-MAN and all NAMCO owned IP) before reaching his current position.
IP Business Division 3 Licensing Production Department
PAC-MAN Room Assistant Manager Product Commercialization
Ms. Kumagai joined Bandai Visual (today BANADI NAMCO Arts) in 2002 and was involved in licensing efforts for BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment.
IP Business Division 3 Licensing Production Department
PAC-MAN Room Assistant Manager Game Production
Mr. Okubo joined NAMCO (today BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment) in 1996. He worked in the Sales Division (securing locations) before being appointed to overseas development for mobile content in 2001, and is engaged in overseas expansion of classic content such as PAC-MAN.
In 2014 he transferred to home console content production and worked as a producer for the home console version of Tekken 7 and Soul Calibur VI before reaching his current position in 2020.
Getting to Know PAC-MAN – What were the impressions of PAC-MAN from these staff members who represent different generations?
To start off, can each of you tell us about your first encounters with PAC-MAN?
Udetsu: When PAC-MAN first came out in 1980, I was in my first year of elementary school in a fishing village in Toyama Prefecture. I remember my father bringing me to a hostess bar, for whatever reason, and there being just one cocktail table arcade machine–PAC-MAN. It was so bright and vibrant. That was where I played for the very first time. I’m pretty sure I mentioned this story during my recruitment interview.
Michiko Kumagai: My first time was sort of similar. My father was into tech, so when the Famicom came out he was so excited about how we could have a machine like that at home, so he went out and bought the console along with a copy of PAC-MAN. That was my first exposure to the series.
Unozawa: Mr. Miyakawa and I both joined BANDAI in 1981, so in 1980 we were still in school. I knew that PAC-MAN was NAMCO’s latest game when it came out. And I played it right after it launched, but I remember being just awful at it…
Miyakawa: I knew about the game when it first came out, but back then I was so heavily into music that I didn’t actively play it. I was impressed by how much the sound of PAC-MAN remained stuck in my head, though. NAMCO’s sound design was, and still is of course, really first-rate.
Fuse: The first time I played was in high school. It was while I was studying abroad and I played it at the home of one of my US friends. This friend of mine wasn’t particularly into games and didn’t have many at home, but they did have PAC-MAN. I wasn’t all that great at English back then, so this friend might have asked me to play figuring, “You can probably understand at least this much.” I went on to join the company later, and it was just two years ago when I began getting involved with PAC-MAN, but I’ve really been left with a renewed sense of just how impressive the IP is.
Okubo: I remember playing a lot of PAC-LAND (1984), myself. My parents moved out of our old home around 5 years ago, and when I went to go gather up my things I came across some writings of mine when I was in my fifth year of elementary school, and looking through them I found a drawing of PAC-MAN under the hobby section of one of them.
Udetsu: No way!
Okubo: I was pretty surprised to find I had drawn PAC-MAN as a kid and had this powerful moment reflecting on how that same kid has now grown up and works on PAC-MAN games himself. It makes me want to go back and cheer on my 5th grade self.
“PAC-MAN Room” & “Chief PAC-MAN Officers” – Created to Support PAC-MAN
President Miyakawa, you’re the current Chief PAC-MAN Officer, can you tell us how this role came to be?
Miyakawa: In the BANDAI NAMCO Group we have positions meant to drive our IP, such as the “Chief Gundam Officer” for the Gundam series. This position started from the idea of doing the same thing for PAC-MAN.
BANDAI NAMCO Group also has other IP leader positions such as “Chief Tamagotchi Officer” and such.
Unozawa: These positions originated when BANDAI NAMCO consolidated in 2000 as an effort to work towards a sort of reconciliation. It took BANDAI’s system of placing importance on its IP and did the same for NAMCO’s flagship, IP PAC-MAN. BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment’s president at the time, Mr. Shukuo Ishikawa, appointed me as the very first Chief PAC-MAN Officer.
What does the work of the Chief PAC-MAN Officer entail?
Miyakawa: In loose terms, it’s to keep telling everyone “Let’s hype up PAC-MAN!” I think continuing to remind people is important. If you don’t keep putting it to words, people tend to forget. Even for PAC-MAN’s 40th anniversary, I went around saying “Let’s hype up PAC-MAN” until people came to me with measures they thought up and implemented.
The CAT Trial Series (*1) collaboration video was one such impressive initiative. Efforts like these provide a real sense of PAC-MAN’s potential as a celebrity.
*1 CAT Trial Series: Video series produced by the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar (CAT). Features a variety of challenges tackled using CAT heavy machinery.
The all-new PAC-MAN Room was founded just this year to focus solely on PAC-MAN too, right?
Fuse: Right. We originally worked with copyrights and game production matters were handled by dedicated divisions, but both have been combined into one with the PAC-MAN Room. One of the main goals of the PAC-MAN Room is to focus our business around the IP. We operate around three teams. There’s Ms. Kumagai and the product commercialization team, Mr. Okubo and the game team, and Mr. Udetsu and the advertising and licensing team.
Miyakawa: One interesting thing I’ve noticed in working with PAC-MAN’s 40th anniversary is just how much the IP has changed. Looking at all the different PAC-MAN projects, you see how things are always changing. While there are some characters whose appeal comes from how they have remained unchanged for decades, with PAC-MAN, it’s as if as long as the character remains yellow and round, we’re free to do whatever we want with him. I have a bunch of PAC-MAN style guides from over the years with me here, but it’s actually quite unusual for an IP to come out with these so frequently.
It’s clear PAC-MAN is changing, even with the games alone, there are side-scrolling games, puzzle games, 3D games, and even AR games.
Udetsu: Even after the release of the original, PAC-MAN has evolved with each entry in the various series that have come since. Sometimes multiplayer, sometimes as side-scrolling action, sometimes with PAC-MAN talking. As for the style guides…
Kumagai: PAC-MAN’s current style was adjusted for the 30th anniversary.
Udetsu: Before moving over to work with copyrights, I worked as a producer for the Virtual Console games (*2), for the PS Game Archives titles, and for PAC-MAN Championship Edition 2 (2016), but I’ve been left with the impression that PAC-MAN is a strong IP with overwhelming popularity in the US. In Japan, I felt more like PAC-MAN was widely known, but only at the surface level. But then around 5 years ago when COACH did a collaboration with us, I questioned whether targeting women would really sell and was told that the IP was strong in the field of fashion. I had my doubts, but the collaboration really did sell.
*2 Virtual Console: A service by Nintendo that allowed for certain past computer and arcade games to be downloaded and played on Nintendo game consoles (Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U).
Interesting. Perhaps it’s because the IP has changed so much over the years, that how it’s viewed and is adored has also changed with the times.
Udetsu: I think it’s also because PAC-MAN’s core concept is so universal. Eating is something everyone has firsthand experience with, so no matter how many different ways all the creators cook it up, the core essence of the original is always there. Plus, the design is fully complete with its 16×16 pixel art and vivid coloring, so even simply using the character as-is provides an attractive aesthetic. I think this is part of why the appeal of PAC-MAN never dulls no matter how many years go by. Of course, when you’re working on the games like Mr. Okubo is, this is actually a source of anxiety instead.
Okubo: The original PAC-MAN released in 1980 was distilled to the absolutely simplest form and left the game as an incredibly complete package. This means that while we have many different ways in which we can add to it, it’s hard to surpass the perfection of the original. With the formation of the PAC-MAN Room this April, we’ve been given a more long-term outlook on game development, allowing us to expand out in a number of strategic ways and try and create an all-new PAC-MAN.
Drawing the World Back to PAC-MAN – 30th Anniversary Campaign “PAC IS BACK”
PAC-MAN merchandise has covered quite a wide-range of items, as well.
Okubo: Domestically things have certainly grown these past 5 years or so, haven’t they?
Udetsu: For sure. But things have been growing internationally for much longer.
Kumagai: The PAC-MAN fever of the 1980s brought about a number of products, but things settled down for a while after that until the 30th anniversary in 2010 when the whole company was put into motion to really hype up the IP again. I didn’t start working on licensing for PAC-MAN until a few years afterwards myself, but when I did it was right as the animated TV series announced alongside the 30th anniversary was making its global release and licensing efforts for the original were actively underway both domestically and abroad.
Okubo: I hadn’t attended any PAC-MAN related meetings for a while, but when I did then, for the first time in around 5 years, I remember being taken aback by all the merchandise that had launched.
If I recall correctly the tag line for the 30th anniversary was “PAC IS BACK.” Do you think that played a large part in conditions you find today?
Unozawa: Up until that point we had never managed to find the right timing to build up excitement at home, and it felt as though we were just occasionally releasing new games overseas. Which is probably why it was the right move to create the position of Chief PAC-MAN Officer to hype things up.
For the new, full-CG TV animation we produced for the 30th anniversary, “PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures,” we took time to focus again on the core concepts of PAC-MAN, looking at what PAC-MAN does or doesn’t do, or what sort of personality he should have. We had Avi Arad, known for producing the Marvel movies, draft a story and act as executive producer. With him onboard, we basically worked with a Hollywood staff on creating it. The end result was an animation that was well received, and so popular that it aired 50 times in a single week in the US.
President Miyakawa, what was your view of PAC-MAN at the time of the 30th anniversary?
Miyakawa: I was at Sunrise working on the Gundam statue back then, so PAC-MAN wasn’t really on my radar. But listening to everyone talk about it now, I think everything that was done for the 30th anniversary is what brought us to where we are today. Long running series do not remain popular the whole time, you see. This is the fate of any IP. Even Gundam has had its own down times. PAC-MAN went a long while without receiving the same level of acceptance in Japan as it did overseas, but I think the 30th anniversary helped to change that and give the IP another chance.
Unozawa: I worked on the 30th anniversary. It came following the merger of BANDAI and NAMCO when NAMCO founder Masaya Nakamura was still the company chairman and I remember there being this strong love for PAC-MAN. It was around then that Avi Arad told Mr. Nakamura that he wanted to work on something for PAC-MAN. I thought we were going to get a movie, but Shukuo Ishikawa said “Why don’t we make a TV series?” Mr. Nakamura and Mr. Arad both loved the idea. From there I went to work deciding what kind of show we would make, and we took the CG characters we had for PAC-MAN at the time and used them to make an animation series.
For the 30th anniversary, starting at midnight on PAC-MAN’s birthday, May 22nd, you could play PAC-MAN on the top page of Google, which left everyone talking.
Kumagai: That was actually a project that they brought to us.
Okubo: A programmer at Google made it with essentially no input from us here, but it was still such a faithful rendition of the original.
So BANDAI NAMCO didn’t share any insider know-how for this project?
Okubo: None whatsoever. Which is why it was so surprising how they managed to recreate things that only those who had worked on the game should be expected to know. I really felt a strong love for the game. It had the algorithms for the ghosts and even the way PAC-MAN would turn corners a little faster if you pressed the input early. It was obvious created by someone who was passionate about the game.
Kumagai: As part of our efforts back then, we had a special 30 year anniversary announcement in Japan, hosted a PAC-MAN game tournament in New York, and held a PAC-MAN conference at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), the world’s largest video game show. We also held the PAC-MAN Exhibit which featured all the past PAC-MAN titles.。
Udetsu: 10 years prior to that, around the 20th anniversary, we only invited Billy Mitchell, Guinness World Record holder and first person in the world to play a perfect game of PAC-MAN, to the Tokyo Game Show to present him with an award and announced the PlayStation game PAC-MAN World 20th Anniversary. Comparing the two, you can see we did much more to stir up excitement for the 30th anniversary.
Have you noticed any changes in how the IP is received since then?
Okubo: One example might be how young kids today know PAC-MAN as a character from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (hereafter Smash Bros.)(*3). There are lots of children who don’t know the original PAC-MAN, but still know of the character through such exposure.
*3 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Competitive fighting game released by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch in 2018. PAC-MAN became a playable character in this entry, the 6th in the series.
Miyakawa: That’s interesting to think about. But it goes to show having a presence in all sorts of games provides more opportunities for exposure to PAC-MAN. These are the sorts of opportunities we should actively pursue. Having PAC-MAN present in a variety of places can only be a good thing.
Udetsu: I’m exceptionally grateful for PAC-MAN’s appearance in Smash Bros. because he has been made to show off everything that is great about the character. I thought it was strange that the kids I taught soccer to at my local club seemed to know PAC-MAN, but perhaps that was thanks to Smash Bros. too.
Why do you think PAC-MAN is beloved by so many?
Miyakawa: It’s got to be because of how cute the character is.
Fuse: There aren’t many other characters who find acceptance worldwide by so many generations. He’s a rare sort of character whose popularity knows no national or gender boundaries, and one that picks no fights.
Udetsu: Sometimes people will say, “PAC-MAN is smiling, right?” The way his mouth opens to eat makes it seem as if he’s smiling, apparently. Eating is a basic action performed by all humanity, and I think Mr. Iwatani’s choice of it as a theme for a game was a most excellent one.
Unozawa: PAC-MAN is also a digital character, too. I think that makes him a good fit for modern times. There aren’t many other characters like him among all the characters who have been around all these years.
Miyakawa: That’s a good point. He’s a digital character that started out as pixel art.
JOIN THE PAC – Making PAC-MAN part of daily life for the 40th anniversary
For the 40th anniversary you have a number of projects underway under the concept “JOIN THE PAC.” What sorts of thoughts and ideas went into this?
Kumagai: For the 40th anniversary we want to move one step beyond high levels of awareness and familiarity and get people to love PAC-MAN and be willing to participate. We want to make PAC-MAN a more active part of daily life for more and more people, so we settled on this idea of calling people into the world of PAC-MAN. Thus, “JOIN THE PAC.”
Miyakawa: I think it’s crucial to think about how we bring PAC-MAN into people’s lives as an icon. In that regard the “JOIN THE PAC” concept is an excellent idea.
You have a number of new titles releasing as part of the 40th anniversary, but the game pack for Minecraft gained particular attention.
Miyakawa: It’s great, isn’t it?
Kumagai: The Minecraft pack came about as an offer from their end which we then granted permission for.
Okubo: PAC-MAN Mega Tunnel Battle is available on Google’s cloud gaming subscription service and uses cloud technology to allow for up to 64 players to compete at once in a battle royale without the need for any particular hardware or even downloads. Anyone watching who thinks it looks fun can immediately hop on and play.
Both are quite in tune with the times.
Okubo: They are. PAC-MAN has evolved to be easier to pick up and have fun playing with everyone. The most important thing is allowing everyone to play together.
That sounds quite in tune with the concept of “JOIN THE PAC,” creating more places for people to engage with PAC-MAN. What are your thoughts on future developments for the IP?
Miyakawa: While I can’t share any specific details yet, we are working on something big this very moment. I’m very much hoping it comes to fruition, and I hope everyone looks forward to it.
Udetsu: I hope more people come to know and love the IP. In the PAC-MAN Room we handle not only PAC-MAN but also the rights for Galaga, XEVIOUS, RIDGE RACER, Mr. DRILLER, and other classic NAMCO titles. We want to raise awareness for these titles as well, and hope to see PAC-MAN help carry them along.
Kumagai: I would love to see PAC-MAN permeate into our everyday lives, becoming something people are more familiar with as a result of our efforts.
Fuse: On December 22nd, 2020 we announced our partnership with the NBA for the current season. We are planning to collaborate in games and licensed products, and have already launched NBA collaboration stages in the PAC-MAN mobile game.
In 2021 we are planning expansions into sports, food, and fashion, including our collaboration with the NBA, as part of our “Be PAC-TIVE” concept, bringing active, fun-filled times with PAC-MAN into people’s lives. My hope is that we won’t stop at just licensed products, but will expand into advertising, gaming, and other areas and reach countries and regions around the globe. I want to spread a love of PAC-MAN to even more countries than ever before.
Can you tell us more about the future of PAC-MAN games?
Okubo: With the creation of the PAC-MAN Room this year, we can now look further ahead than we ever could before and one of our goals is to create a game within the next 5 years that leaves players with the impression that there’s a new way to play PAC-MAN. As mentioned earlier, we’re laying down tracks in a number of different directions now in the hopes that we can bring an all-new PAC-MAN to more people in the future.
Unozawa: 10 years ago we had the 30th anniversary, today we’re here for the 40th, and I’m excited to see what PAC-MAN looks like 10 years from now when we celebrate the 50th anniversary. PAC-MAN stands on a foundation of worldwide familiarity, and while games today continue to grow more and more complex, PAC-MAN has the capacity to be a game that anyone can enjoy, so I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish here.
It sounds like PAC-MAN will continue to grow and evolve, both as a game and as an IP.
Miyakawa: Whenever people talk about IP they tend to focus on when its popularity will fade, pushing to create the next big IP before the first dies down, but I’m not a fan of this mentality. I think that IP are meant to continue on. From my point of view, this anniversary means the IP has been around for only 40 years. If you think about it in terms of human age, we still have so much life in front of us at age 40. Which is why I’d love for people to continue looking forward to what the future holds for PAC-MAN.
*Details from the interview are current as-of early November 2020.
*Participants removed their masks only for photographs.
PAC-MAN has remained a beloved series since the first game launched 40 years ago in 1980. PAC-MAN’s legacy will only continue to grow from here. How will the people of the future enjoy PAC-MAN? The answer to that question is one we should all look forward to.
Freelance writer & editor. More fond of entertainment than just about anything.