They say that truth can be stranger than fiction and when it comes to the history of arcade games, you can’t make some of this stuff up. Ms Pacman may have been one of the top selling games of all time, but if it weren’t for some bold copyright infringement, it wouldn’t have even come about.
At the end of last year, ArcadeSushi.com published a great retrospective on the orgins of Ms. Pacman. The piece is an informative trip down memory lane documenting the orgins behind the game. The story seems almost unbelievable when you look back, but Namco almost nuked the game. You can read the entire article on their web site, but here is an excerpt how the team behind Ms. Pacman, went about funding the development of the game.
“Doug Macrae was a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, when he began operating his first coin amusement game on campus. The game was “Pioneer,” a pinball machine manufactured by D. Gottlieb and Company in 1976. The pinball machine had been his brother’s, who had placed it in his own fraternity house to much success. When Doug was given the game by his brother and put it on location in his dorm to start earning MIT students’ quarters, the profits were enough to quickly convince him to place even more games on location. Before long, Pioneer was joined by another pinball machine, Paragon, along with several new video arcade machines: Star Castle, Rip Off, Fire One, and three Missile Command games.
The money the games earned would eventually be enough to pay off his entire tuition at one of the country’s top educational institutions. The games were immensely popular explained Doug when he spoke at CAX in 2010:
“We decided the best way to keep the quarters circulating was to change the economics. We got known on campus that if anybody ever needed change we’d give out five quarters for a dollar. We knew they were all coming back to us anyway.”
I’m not sure if you could finance your college degree off of arcade games today, but Macrae would later use his education to create the infamous Crazy Otto game that would serve as the backbone for Ms. Pacman. It was his experience with diminishing returns that ultimately drove the innovation to adapt and create new games for people to play and while it may have involved some messy legal entanglements, in the end consumers ended up with a hit game.