It holds the record for the most-played video game of all time – Namco’s Pac-Man has achieved iconic status throughout the games business. I met Masaya Nakamura, president of Namco, as he was then, many times from the 1970s onwards. He was always a very formal, excruciatingly polite Japanese gentleman.
He didn’t invent the game, of course, that was one of his engineers, a young 25-year-old named Toru Iwatani in 1980. But it was Nakamura who took the development, recognised its potential and marketed it so skilfully that it gave the company the basis for its subsequent great success.
Nakamura, as I recall, had a great personal rivalry with Hayao Nakayama, his equivalent at Sega. The two companies battled fiercely for supremacy in a video games market in Japan which dominated the world at that time.
Although I met him many times, like many westerners I never really got to know him, even when he was in more relaxed mode as he often was on company jaunts to which they took distributors and a crop of trade press. Even in a beach setting such as a memorable visit to the Dominican Republic, he sported colourful shorts but remained stiff and formal.
But the entire industry owes a considerable debt to Masaya Nakamura for bringing to us a game which, in its many derivatives, dominated the industry for several years and, like Space Invaders, was to provide the foundation for the industry to thrive.
It is a legacy which will endure.
The following is a comment from Michael Green of United Distributing Company:
“I first met Masaya in the mid-60s when he asked me if he could show a machine called Zero Sen on our stand at the ATE. He came and he and I struck up a friendship that has existed through the years. We didn't sell a single machine at the show. He went back to Japan saying that he had learned a lot about the western market that he would use in future games. The rest is history and I know many people will write magnificent tributes about him that I look forward to reading
“I just wanted to write about my relationship with him over the years. Whenever we met we laughed about Zero Sen, as I don't think there is anyone still in the industry that knew him as long as I have.”
Kevin Hayes added:
"My former boss and mentor, his sad passing was announced today in Tokyo. I had known for a week but, for once, kept quiet until the private funeral had taken place. Nakamura-san was one of a kind, a unique man, who lived life to the fullest, on his own terms. I first met him in Tokyo in 1980 at JAMMA and worked for him in various ways for over 20 years from the mid 1980s to 2008."