Masaya Nakamura, a Japanese toy and game entrepreneur whose company’s most enduring creation, Pac-Man, became a worldwide cultural touchstone, died on Jan. 22. He was 91.
His death was announced Monday by Bandai Namco, the business where he retained the title of honorary adviser. No cause was given, and the company did not say where he died.
Mr. Nakamura began making a business of amusement in 1955. A decade after Japan’s calamitous defeat in the Second World War, the country’s economy was springing back to life and the sombre mood of the first post-war decade was retreating. The Japanese were ready to embrace fun and games again.
His first venture – installing two wooden horses for children to ride on the roof of a department store – was simple, and turned into a modest success.
Rooftops gave him more success as time went on. In the early 1960s, he secured a deal with Mitsukoshi, a leading Japanese department-store chain, to install another children’s ride, this one using small replica automobiles running on tracks, on the roof of its flagship Tokyo location. The attraction, Roadway Rides, proved popular, and Mitsukoshi commissioned it for all of its stores.
Real fame and fortune came later, with the rise of video games.
Mr. Nakamura was an early believer in their potential. In the 1970s, he hired software engineers and directed his growing company, Nakamura Manufacturing – later renamed Namco – to develop titles for arcades. His first hit was Galaxian, a Space Invaders derivative that he sold to the U.S. company Midway Games in 1979.
Pac-Man was born the next year.
It was conceived by a 25-year-old Namco employee, Toru Iwatani, who would say later that he was inspired by the shape of a pizza with a slice missing. The “Pac” came from the Japanese onomatopoeic word “pakku,” equivalent to the English “gobble” or “munch.”
And as fast as Pac-Man could gobble up pellets in his maze, players gobbled up Pac-Man.
“I never thought it would be this big,” Mr. Nakamura told an interviewer in 1983, after the game took the world by storm. “You know baseball? Well, I knew it would not be a single. But I thought maybe a double, not a home run.”
In the 36 years since its release, it is estimated to have been played more than 10 billion times. The Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art have Pac-Man machines in their collections.
Mr. Nakamura was not a game designer, but unlike his rival and contemporary Hiroshi Yamauchi, the long-time president of Nintendo, who was said never to play video games, Mr. Nakamura tested Namco’s products intensively. Employees said he would play for up to 23 hours a day before a game’s introduction.
Despite that habit – or perhaps because of it – he warned against what today would be called screen addiction.
“I am a little concerned about the way some young people play it so much,” he said at the height of the Pac-Man craze. “Once it goes beyond a certain level, it is not good for young people.”
Namco continued to develop video games, though none could top Pac-Man’s success. The company expanded into other businesses, including a chain of food-themed amusement parks in Japan, most of which have closed or been sold off. In 1993, it bought the then-bankrupt Japanese film studio Nikkatsu, known for output ranging from samurai epics to soft-core pornography.
Mr. Nakamura led Namco until 2002, when he took on a more ceremonial role. When Namco merged with a rival toy and game maker Bandai in 2005, public tax records indicated that Mr. Nakamura was Japan’s 68th-richest person.
Born in Yokohama, Japan, on Dec. 24, 1925, Mr. Nakamura attended what is now Yokohama National University. He studied shipbuilding, according to a short resume provided by Bandai Namco.
The company did not release information on survivors, citing what it said was his family’s wish for privacy.