People might not know who Masaya Nakamura is by name, but players and arcade aficionados would likely know the company he created — Namco. Today, known as Bandai Namco, the company he founded in the 70s continues to be a top name in gaming with a massive library spread across a wide variety of genres ranging from arcade fighter action with Ace Combat to RPGs such as the Tales series alongside music titles like the Idolmaster series. But the company’s roots were born in the arcades of old.
Nakamura started out founding a company called Nakamura Manufacturing. With it, he built and installed kiddie rides like wooden horses and race cars at department stores bringing with it success.
As the 70s rolled around, Nakamura was witnessing the birth of electronic games and was even a distributor for Atari (as well as beating out Sega’s own offer for Atari’s faltering Japan division). That was when things really got interesting.
The company was renamed Nakamura Amusement Machine Manufacturing Company (NAMMCo, or as we know it today, Namco) in 1977 as they continued to experiment and expand into electronic games. Galaxian came out in 1979, but it would be the idea of a 25-year old named Toru Iwatani that would give birth to a legend in 1980 — Pac-Man. Decades later, Pac-Man continues to inspire players and stand as one of the permanent icons of the industry along with being the highest grossing game of all time.
One might draw parallels between Nakamura and Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s president who would lead the company into homes and change history with the Famicom. Unlike Yamauchi, according to the New York Times‘ own look back, Nakamura actually played games. According to Jonathan Soble’s writeup, “Employees said he would play for up to 23 hours a day before a game’s introduction.”
Namco, now merged with Bandai, continues to carry on his legacy of gaming with a huge footprint around the world especially on consoles as one of the ‘old guard’ that had successfully transitioned from the arcades of yesteryear and onto the latest and bleeding edge tech of each succeeding generation. It’s nothing short of amazing considering how many others didn’t quite make it out of those decades, but it did, and it continues to hold its own and take a few refreshing risks now and then. The Tales series are some of my favorite JRPGs and it’s always nice to drop into an action game like Ace Combat…or dive back into the dark dungeons and brutal challenge of the Dark Souls series.
Thank you, Mr. Nakamura.