Pac-ManPac-Man is an arcade game developed by Namco and licensed for distribution in the U.S. by Midway, first released in Japan in May 1980. Immensely popular in the United States from its original release to the present day, Pac-Man is universally considered as one of the classics of the medium, virtually synonymous with video games, and an icon of the 1980s popular culture. Upon its release, the game — and, subsequently, its derivatives — became a social phenomenon that sold a bevy of merchandise and also inspired, among other things, an animated television series and music.
When Pac-Man was released, most arcade video games in North America were primarily space shooters such as Space Invaders, Defender, or Asteroids. The most visible minority were sports games that were mostly derivative of Pong. Pac-Man succeeded by creating a new genre and appealing to both genders. Pac-Man is often credited with being a landmark in video game history, and is among the most famous arcade games of all time.
The game was developed primarily by Namco employee Toru Iwatani over eighteen months. Although it is often cited that the character's shape was inspired by a pizza missing a slice, Iwatani admitted in a 1986 interview that it was a half-truth and the character design also came from simplifying and rounding out the Japanese character for mouth, kuchi, as well as the basic concept of eating. Iwatani's efforts to appeal to a wider audience — beyond the typical demographics of young boys and teenagers — eventually led him to add elements of a maze. The result was a game he named Puck Man. When first launched in Japan by Namco, the game received a lukewarm response, as Space Invaders and other similar games were more popular at the time.
The following year, the game was picked up for manufacture in the United States by Bally division Midway, under the altered title Pac-Man. American audiences welcomed a breakaway from conventions set by Space Invaders, which resulted in unprecedented popularity and revenue that rivaled its successful predecessor, as even Iwatani was impressed with U.S. sales. The game soon became a worldwide phenomenon within the video game industry, resulting in numerous sequels and merchandising tie-ins. Pac-Man's success bred imitation, and an entire genre of maze-chase video games soon emerged.
The unique game design inspired game publishers to be innovative rather than conservative, and encouraged them to speculate on game designs that broke from existing genres. Pac-Man introduced an element of humor into video games that designers sought to imitate, and appealed to a wider demographic than the teenage boys who flocked to the action-oriented games.
Pac-Man's success in North America took competitors and distributors completely by surprise in 1980. Marketing executives who saw Pac-Man at a trade show prior to release completely overlooked the game (along with the now classic Defender), while they looked to a racing car game called Rally-X as the game to outdo that year. The appeal of Pac-Man was such that the game caught on immediately with the public; it quickly became far more popular than anything seen in the game industry up to that point. Pac-Man outstripped Asteroids as the best-selling arcade game of the time, and would go on to sell over 350,000 units.