Pac-Man (or Puck-Man, how it was called back then) debuted in 1980 in Tokyo as a novel concept in arcade gaming and almost immediately conquered the global scene. Since then, everyone has played it. It remained to be the most played game and the one-of-a-kind bestseller, be it in its arcade or computer game variant.
What was the secret of Pac-Man, and how did it exactly change gaming forever?
In 1980, Toru Iwatani was a young game designer working for Namco. He realized that arcade games mostly revolved around shooting and violence and that they were mostly played by men. He wanted to change this, and to open up the world of gaming for women and couples. Toru understood that to do something like that, he would need to go beyond the current norms.
Toru had an idea to base the game around eating, and the legend says that while the idea was still not fully formed in his head, he took a slice of pizza from the box, and voilà – the shape of his character was before him: Pack-Man.
And yeah, sure, Pack-Man and his ghost nemesis have a rivalry. But this is a kind of playful rivalry that was inspired by Tom & Jerry, and in that way, the game was really different from the norm at the time.
The Debut and Success
The game’s success was amazing and went so much beyond any expectations. Its first debut was in 1980 in Japan, and it was received instantly. In 1981, it was exported to the US and distributed by Midway. The 1980s really were the decade of arcades, and the best way to describe Pac-Man’s success is to compare the sales of Pac-Man arcade units to its main competitors at the time.
One of the best games of the period, Asteroids, was released a year before Pac-Man and sold 100,000 units. The amazing Donkey Kong (1981) managed to reach the respectable number of 132,000 sold units. Street Fighter II is a 1990s game (released in 1991) but let’s add it to the list anyway. It sold 200,000 units. And finally, the iconic Space Invaders were released in 1978 and sold an amazing 360,000 units.
But check this out: Pac-Man sold 400,000 arcade units in two years, and that’s just between 1980 and 1982! Not only that, Pac-Man is the best-selling arcade game of all time. It has made more than $14 billion ever since, and has been produced continuously for 40 years!
Pac-Man’s Influence on Gaming
Pac-Man’s is very visible, and it managed to change the world of gaming in different ways.
First of all, this was the first arcade game that had a character in the center of it. Pac-Man was not only a recognizable character but a mascot that went beyond just the game itself. Pac-Man appeared in all kinds of media, and even as a cartoon character. This shows just how much ahead of its time this game was.
Due to its huge popularity, Pac-Man in time transitioned from arcade games to other forms, such as a computer or console games. Following this example, such transitions became normal, and seen often, as a way to save important games from oblivion. This doesn’t refer only to arcade games, but also to various board games, for example.
Many of them were adapted for computers or smartphones: chess, slots games (casino arcades), table and board games, pinball flippers, and so on. Another good example is casino games with roulette on top. At first, roulette with all its variants gained huge worldwide popularity. Then, it went from being a table game to getting the arcade version, and finally, today you can find it online in a form of a real money video game. And it’s not only that you can play American or European Roulette, but you can now even find guides with the best recommendations on where and how to play French roulette online. And this gets as surprising as being popular even in the Middle Eastern countries. Many games had a similar destiny, but Pac-Man was among the first title to start this kind of save-the-games avalanche.
Pac-Man also had a few elements that it practically invented and that later became standard in many games, and remain so to this day. One of them is the “power-ups”. Today we know them in the form of weapon upgrades, med packs, etc., but, back then, they were just power pellets that Pac-Man would eat, and the ghosts would change color and start running away from him.
One other innovation of Pac-Man, which later became the staple of gaming, is the cut-scenes. After each level was completed, there was an exciting scene that featured Pac-Man. For example, after the first level, there was a funny scene in which the ghost Blinky chases Pac-Man, just to be suddenly chased back by a now giant Pac-Man.
The example of Pac-Man shows us that behind a good game there is always an original but very simple concept. And even though Pac-Man can be described as a simple game, it was complex and innovative enough that it influenced gaming to this day. On the other hand, its simplicity also made it an iconic game that can in that regard be compared to archetypal games such as chess or roulette.
Because of all these reasons, Pac-Man is deservedly the most successful arcade game in history.