Bandai Namco confirmed today that the founder of Namco, Masaya Nakamura, passed away on January 22, 2017 at the age of 91. He opened his company in 1955 and called it Nakamura Manufacturing, which later morphed into Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company, or NAMCO for short.
The company dabbled in mechanical rides and small coin-op machines. In the 1970s it became the official distributor of Atari arcade games in Japan, eventually purchasing the Japanese arm of Atari, giving Namco the rights to distribute their games for the next decade.
Namco’s breakout hit came with Pac-Man (originally called Puck-Man in Japan) in 1980. The game was an instant success and would spawn cartoons, cereal, and even a pop album. The sequel, Ms. Pac-Man was also a massive hit although it wasn’t created by Namco’s Japanese team, which resulted in some legal issues. Namco had several memorable arcade games during the early ‘80s, including Galaga, Dig Dug, and Xevious.
Namco and Hudson Soft were the first companies to sign on with Nintendo to make games for the Famicom in 1983. This was a huge boon for Namco, who would go on to create over 80 games for the system, by far the most created by a single third-party licensee. Despite this success, Namco created games for competing systems, like the P.C. Engine and Mega Drive, leading Nintendo to not renew their lucrative licensing agreement, which gave Namco a lower rate than other third parties. This didn’t please Namco, who eventually all but abandoned Nintendo and jumped ship to Sony’s PlayStation. That’s one of the reasons Ridge Racer was so front and center in all of Sony’s advertising for the new system. Namco would only publish three games on the N64.
Eventually Namco would return to Nintendo and publish games for its GameCube and Game Boy Advance. The relationship rebounded and current day Bandai Namco has been instrumental in assisting Nintendo to create some of its latest games, like Super Smash Bros. and Pokkén Tournament.
Mr. Nakamura was a pivotal player in the birth of the video game industry and brought many recognizable franchises to players across the world. Our condolences are with his family and friends.