boom History 101: Pac-Man
Pac-Man was developed by Toru Iwatoni, an employee of Namco, in 1979. The game took Iwatoni’s nine-man team an entire year to develop. They called it Puck Man and launched it in Japan in 1980. At the time, games like Space Invaders were more popular and so Iwatoni’s game only achieved moderate success. It wasn’t until Puck Man was picked up by Midway that it began to really take off. Midway changed the name from Puck Man to Pac-Man (to avoid vandalism of the letter “P”) and launched it in North America. Gamers couldn’t get enough and soon Pac-Man became more popular than anything in the game industry. It beat out Asteroids as the best-selling arcade game in the continent, grossing over $1 billion in quarters within a year.
Pac-Man spawned a number of spin-offs, the best-known being Ms. Pac-Man. Originally called Crazy Otto, this unauthorized version of the Pac-Man game was created by General Computer Corporation and sold to Midway without Namco’s permission. Namco sued Midway for exceeding their license but eventually struck a deal with the company to officially license Ms. Pac-Man as a sequel. Midway later released a number of other unauthorized spin-off games resulting in Namco severing business with Midway.
During the 80s Pac-Man became an icon of video game culture. A wide range of Pac-Man products hit the market: t-shirts, toys, even Pac-Man-shaped pasta. In 1981, Buckner & Garcia released the song “Pac-Man Fever” which hit #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It received Gold certification with over a million records sold by 1982. That same year a Pac-Man animated series aired on ABC, although it only lasted until 1983.
On July 3, 1999, Pac-Man history was made: Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida was the first person to achieve the maximum possible score (3,333,360 points). This required Mitchell to eat every possible dot, power pellet, fruit, and enemy without losing a single life, and then scoring as many points as possible in the last level. It took Mitchell approximately six hours to achieve this score. In September 2009, just over a decade after Mitchell’s Pac-Man record was set, David Race of Beavercreek, Ohio achieved a perfect score in 3 hours, 41 minutes, and 22 seconds.
On May 21, 2010, Google celebrated Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary by changing the Google logo on its homepage to a Google Doodle of a fully playable version of the game. The doodle was so popular that companies worldwide experienced drops in productivity estimated to be valued at $120,000,000. Some organizations even temporarily blocked Google’s website from workplace computers. Over thirty years after its genesis, Pac-Man’s intense popularity is still going strong. And with the recent release of the multi-player version of the game, Pac-Man will be eating those dots and ghosts for decades to come.