It’s been 50 years since Nakamura Corporation began life offering
wooden horse rides on the roof of a department store in Yokohama.

It’s been 25 years since the fast-growing toy company (by then, called
Namco) created videogaming’s ultimate icon, Pac-Man. In the blossom of
gaming’s youth, there followed a string of genuine classics like
Galaxian and Dig-Dug.

Namco’s business today encompasses all areas of gaming, including
mobile games, manufacturing coin-ops, managing arcades, and even theme
parks, one of which is dedicated to the world of noodles.

Sales last year came in at $1.6 billion, up 3.5 percent on the previous
year, with profits up 25 percent. It was this power that led toy giant
Bandai to step in and pick up Namco earlier this year in a deal worth
$1.8 billion. Namco will operate under a Namco-Bandai umbrella. How
this affects the U.S. business is yet to be announced.

For the last 10 years Namco’s most significant contribution to gaming
has been the fighting series’ Tekken and Soul Calibur; Japanese RPGs
such as Arc The Lad, Xenosaga, and Tales of Symphonia; shooters such as
Time Crisis, Dead to Rights, and Ace Combat; as well as innumerable
reiterations of its arcade heritage and the venerable Ridge Racer.

Modest U.S. Sales

Those RPGs aside–and despite their high profile among the specialist
press, U.S. sales are modest –it’s a lineup that one might expect from
a company steeped in arcade lore. But through U.S. subsidiary Namco
Hometek there are signs of diversification.

Last fall, former Maxis development chief Grantley Day was appointed as
director of PC development. He promptly signed up the Warhammer
license, suggesting a move toward a more Western idea of role-playing.
Namco also has a deal with Flagship Studios, led by former Blizzard
developers, to develop Hellgate: London for PC.

This year we can look forward to the sequel to original puzzler
Katamari Damacy and Dead to Rights II, more of those luscious RPGs, and
Pac-Man in a few more guises. Not to mention Soul Calibur III.

Despite its glorious history, and its evident mass, Namco is some way
from achieving the kind of U.S. penetration its considerable brand
might warrant. In 2004, the firm’s market share was just outside the
top 10 (NPD). But through its leading brands it generally delivers the
kind of quality that gamers, reviewers, and retailers appreciate.