It's kind of amusing to me how incredibly convoluted the Bandai Namco Umbrella of companies can be. Both the Bandai side and the Namco side have many, many subsidiaries. And within Namco, you'll find groups with rather similar names that perform wildly different tasks. The main branches, in my eyes, are Bandai Namco Entertainment, which handles the development of home console games, and Bandai Namco Amusements, which handles the development of arcade games. Even those main companies, though, are made enigmatic by their many region-specific divisions. Namco USA, believe it or not, is not the U.S. branch of their video game division.
The subsidiary began in 1990 with the purchase Atari Games’ arcade operations, renaming it...well, Namco Operations. In 1993, Namco purchased the Bally-owned Aladdin’s Castle chain, merging with Namco Operations and renaming it Namco Cybertainment. This is the name most people are likely most familiar with, as its still plastered on many of their change machines to this day. However, in 2012, Namco had the bright idea to rename their operations unit once again, this time as Namco USA. The company currently operates arcade games in AMC Theaters, Walmart, and dedicated venues across the country. But now, Namco USA is rebranding their directly managed locations under a new name. Enter: Pac-Man Entertainment.
According to a November 27th press release (and first announced November 13th at IAAPA), Bandai Namco is expanding their U.S. operations under the brand-name Pac-Man. They will apparently be marketing under this unified brand for all “...new and remodeled locations.” This will result in continued development, scaling, and management of its directly managed locations, including Pac-Man Zone, Pace-Man Café, and Pac-Man Entertainment. Additionally, President and CEO Kiyoshi Saito stated that, “Over the past few months, we have evolved our full scale restaurant and entertainment center in Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, IL from Level 257 to Pac-Man Entertainment. It is only natural that we expand on this change and embrace it across our operations.”
In case you’d like to sift through the details for yourself, I’ll include the full press release. Then, we’re gonna discuss the heck out of it—in typical Wilcox Arcade fashion, of course.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 27, 2018
NAMCO USA INC. Announces Nationwide Expansion
Chicago, Illinois – November 27, 2018 – NAMCO USA INC., (NUSA), announced November 13th, 2018 at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, (IAAPA), that it is expanding its amusement operations in North America under the brand name of PAC-MAN. NUSA’s parent company, BANDAI NAMCO GROUP, (BNG), is committed to expansion in three key global markets over the next ten years; China, India and North America.
As the sole licensor of the PAC-MAN brand for operations in the Americas by BNG, NUSA will begin marketing under the unified brand for all new and remodeled locations. NUSA will continue to develop, scale and expand its direct managed locations (DML); Pac-Man Zone, Pac-Man Café, Pac-Man Entertainment.
President and CEO, Kiyoshi Saito, stated, “Over the past few months, we have evolved our full scale restaurant and entertainment center in Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, IL from Level 257 to Pac-Man Entertainment. It is only natural that we expand on this change and embrace it across our operations.”
About NAMCO USA, INC.
North American Operations were founded in 1990 and are now headquartered in Wood Dale, IL. NAMCO USA INC. (NUSA), is the owner and operator of 48 manned centers in North America and Puerto Rico that provide entertainment and encourage customers to “Play Together Again”. NUSA currently operates over 8,000 machines amongst over 1,000 revenue share facilities within other businesses.
Some of the statements in this press release may be forward-looking statements or statements of future expectations based on currently available information. Such statements are naturally subject to risks and uncertainties. Factors such as the development of general economic conditions, future market conditions, unusual catastrophic loss events, changes in the capital markets and other circumstances may cause the actual events or results to be materially different from those anticipated by such statements. NAMCO USA INC., does not make any representation or warranty, express or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness or updated status of such statements. Therefore, in no case whatsoever will NAMCO USA INC., and its affiliate companies be liable to anyone for any decision made or action taken in conjunction with the information and/or statements in this press release or for any related damages.
For Media Inquiries contact;
NAMCO USA INC.
712 N. Central Ave., STE B
Wood Dale, IL 60191
The first (and, as far as I know, only) Namco-operated venue to be affected by the name change is Level 257 in Schaumburg, Illinois. The restaurant/entertainment center has been under the Pac-Man Entertainment brand since October 12th, 2018. However, if Namco USA really is committed to a “unified brand,” they need to bring this name not just to their big restaurants and entertainment venues, but also their small game rooms as across the country. The first chain of game rooms that springs to mind is, once again, Walmart Gameplay. Since these outfits, no matter how small, are already branded and feature a sign above their spaces, I think it’s fair to expect this widespread brand unity to hit them, as well. “Gameplay” isn’t a great name for any kind of location. It’s hard to describe to others, so I usually just call these spaces Walmart game rooms. However, swapping out all of the Gameplay signage with Pac-Man Entertainment theming would do wonders for the brand and create a very real sense of consistency throughout Namco’s wide and varied operations.
And if they are, in fact, serious about expansion, there’s one aspect of Gameplay that’s in dire need: the game selection. Gameplay spaces look fairly consistent across all Walmarts they can be found in. They’ve got, at most, four actual video games (but usually just one or two); maybe a kiddie ride or an air hockey table; and a bunch of claw machines. The video games usually aren’t even Namco games, but rather used Raw Thrills pieces from 10-plus years ago. Unless you enjoy playing The Fast and the Furious over and over and over again (speaking from experience), the game selection is incredibly lackluster. These spaces remain fairly stagnant, too. The only major changes to my local Gameplay in the past two years have been the addition of The Fast and the Furious, the removal of Extreme Hunting 2, and the addition of an air hockey table. Now, the only two video games are F&F and F&F: Super Bikes. It’s...not ideal.
What makes this is especially frustrating is that, for some communities, Gameplay is their only arcade venue. Until my local bowling alley reopened with a revamped game room, the only two places I could go to play games were Walmart and a laundromat. While the old games at the laundromat are somewhat excusable because they are operated by a local company, the paltry selection at Walmart is beyond disappointing, considering a name as big as Namco is behind it. After the Pac-Man Entertainment rebrand, I want to see new games from Bandai Namco. I don’t want The Fast and the Furious; I want Maximum Tune. I don’t want Big Buck Hunter; I want Time Crisis. I want games like Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, Stars Wars Battle Pod flatscreen, Pac-Man Battle Royale, or even Pac-Man Smash.
And if Namco is insistent on purchasing other companies’ equipment, they might as well support indie developers. Within the past few years, we’ve seen a slew of new indie arcade games made specifically with the street market in mind. Instead of buying the same old Raw Thrills and I.C.E. pieces, Namco should support the industry by snatching up Skycurser, Rashlander, Cosmotrons, or Tipsy Raccoons. The fact of the matter is that Namco has the opportunity to fill Gameplay with their new releases and/or cost-effective indie titles, yet they still choose to purchase stagnant, used equipment.
I have always found it pretty odd that Bandai Namco Amusements doesn’t provide their operations unit with brand-new games. If I were a company that made and operated games, I’d see it as a big ol’ one-two punch. Not only would I have awesome games at my disposal, but I could also place them directly in front of consumers. But unless this Pac-Man Entertainment movement means actual expansion for all of their operations—not just a handful of restaurants—this will be nothing more than yet another unnecessary name change. I’m all for the brand unity, Namco; just give us the games.
Naturally, they’ve still got a long way before their brand is truly unified. Right now, the Pac-Man Entertainment website focuses on a single location (the ex-Level 257 restaurant), even though other directly managed locations will be updated as the year goes on.
I guess we’ll see what happens, right?
Update 3/7/19 2:20 AM: Bandai Namco and Namco USA, though under the same umbrella network, are two wholly separate sister companies. That's why they cooperate too much.