So, if you are a fan of classic video games of the 8-bit era like I am, you are most likely fond of the iconic characters like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Space Invaders, Centipede, and Galaga. One of those classics, Ms. Pac-Man, seems to be the discussion as of late between three companies — Bandai Namco, General Computer Corporation … and ATGames.
To better understand what’s going on, you have to look at the past. Back in the day, Ms. Pac-Man was originally conceived as an enhancement kit for Pac-Man called Crazy Otto, created by programmers employed at the General Computer Corporation (GCC). While Crazy Otto was under development, GCC settled a lawsuit with Atari over their Missile Command conversion kit, Super Missile Attack. Part of the settlement terms barred GCC from selling future conversion kits without consent from the original game manufacturer. They bought the rights to Crazy Otto and worked with GCC and Namco to prepare the game for release. In final development, the game’s name and characters experienced multiple changes. Sprites, text, and minor game elements were altered to better reflect the Pac-Man series. The game was initially titled Super Pac-Man, containing Pac-Man as the lead character. Inspired by the cutscenes of Crazy Otto featuring Crazy Otto’s female counterpart, the lead character was made female and the game was renamed Pac-Woman. That name was dropped in favor of Miss Pac-Man, but the developers then realized that, given the third intermission showing a stork delivering a baby to Pac-Man and the player’s character, confusion could arise about their relationship. In light of this, the name was changed to Mrs. Pac-Man, and then finally to Ms. Pac-Man — which rolled off the tongue easier.
After the game became wildly popular, Midway and GCC undertook a brief legal battle concerning royalties. The Killer List of Videogames notes that the game was produced without Namco’s consent, causing both companies to eventually turn over the rights to Namco. Ms. Pac-Man was reportedly the first in a series of unauthorized sequels that eventually led to the termination of the licensing agreement between Namco and Midway. GCC co-founder Doug Macrae has disputed stories that the game was manufactured without Namco’s blessing. Masaya Nakamura, Namco’s President at that time, helped design the Ms. Pac-Man character. In an interview, Macrae said, “We sent out ROMs to Midway, and they sent them over to Japan for the President of Namco, Masaya Nakamura, to look at. He said, ‘Love the concept, get rid of the hair.’ Ms. Pac-Man lost her hair – it was actually Pac-Woman at the time, I believe. The beauty mark stayed, and the lips stayed. I think we added a bow and were quickly done with it, so Ms. Pac-Man had been created.” However, Macrae also said, “At the same time, there was a little bit of embarrassment, I believe, in-house in Japan, of the fact that the sequel was being done somewhere other than in their own laboratories … The arrangement that Namco had with Midway was that Namco would still get their royalty on Ms. Pac-Man, being the same as what they got on Pac-Man, and Midway could choose to do whatever they wanted in paying us royalty in addition to Namco.”
In the years since the Ms. Pac-Man license fell back to Namco (now Bandai Namco) after Midway went bankrupt in 2010.
It seems as of late that ATGames has been pestering Namco for the Ms. Pac-Man license, and Namco has turned them down because of the complicated royalty structures and ownership of that game (it’s understandable). Behind the scenes though, Namco has been in discussions with GCC (the original developers of Ms. Pac-Man) trying to buy them out once and for all so that they’d be the full owners of Ms. Pac-Man. ATGames apparently went behind Namco’s back and has been directly negotiating with GCC to buy their rights to Ms. Pac-Man (and also inherit the royalty structure/agreements with Namco) and have been claiming to sub-licensees that they’ve already done the deal.
Namco has confronted ATGames about this and, it being ATGames, they deny all of it. Namco is (at this point) unable to verify if ATGames has or hasn’t bought the rights from GCC. For this and various other reasons (including that fiasco with the ATGames Namco Blast plug-and-play), Bandai Namco is dragging ATGames to court. Yesterday, it was confirmed that ATGames did successfully buy the rights, and since they did acquire GCC’s rights to Ms. Pac-Man, I wouldn’t expect to ever see that game re-released again. Neither party can release the game without the other’s agreement.
It makes you wonder how ATGames thought this was going to work and makes me happy that Sega dropped them like a bad habit. Hopefully this court case won’t take forever, and every fan of Ms. Pac-Man will be able to play the game again.
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