1996. An interview with Namco's Masaya Nakamura (Arcadism)

"My fundamental philosophy is based on the relationship between knowing, liking and therefore enjoying." - Nakamura

In the mid-1990s, Namco’s prospects seemed bright. From successful ventures around the globe to its world-renowned amusement developments— Namco even had a hand in amusement, opening arcades and theme parks.

Like many of its competitors, the corporate behemoth would, unfortunately, dwindle in the midst of the coin-op amusement industry’s late 1990s decline, (eventually merging with Bandai in 2005 and becoming Bandai Namco.) Parts of Namco’s former empire remain, but often in a substantially reduced capacity.

Much before his passing and years before the downsizing of his role as CEO and founder of Namco, Masaya Nakamura gave this exclusive interview for the webpage for Namco’s European division. Official translations into French, German, Spanish and Italian can also be found at the end of this newsletter.

NAMCO’S DRIVING PHILOSOPHY - NAMCO EUROPE (1997)…

“Whatever the chosen criterion Namco is one, if not the major, force in the modern world amusement industry. Namco products continue to dominate the income charts throughout the world - with products such as Alpine Racer, Time Crisis, Prop Cycle and Alpine Surfer giving a new dimension to the industry. Add to this the company's status as the world's biggest retailer of amusement facilities, with approximately 900 units worldwide, and you get some kind of measure of the Japanese-based multi-national. In a rare interview with Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Masaya Nakamura, the following interview looks at the philosophy and approach which drives the 150 Billion Yen turnover Namco phenomenon.”

What is your business philosophy, and how has it influenced the development of Namco?

“My principle is one of individualism. If you devote yourself to a principle or an aim in life, no matter how much effort it takes to achieve it, it will not be painful. There's a Japanese proverb which sums this up: "If you feel the snow on your hat is your own, it will not be heavy." Similarly, Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, wrote: "To be fond of knowledge is better than simply acquiring it, and to take delight in it is far better than simply being fond of it." This is the motto by which I live my personal and business life and one which I frequently draw inspiration from.”

What was your first business venture in the amusement industry?

“I started Namco over 40 years ago in 1955 with modest capital of ¥300,000, and with just three employees. My first purchase was two second hand kiddie rides which I reconditioned, repainted and installed on the roof of a Yokohama department store. Because my customers were children I developed different ways in which they could enjoy what was being provided. For example, one of these enhancements included the addition of a "goldfish scooping", which is a traditional Japanese fairground game. So you can see that even from the earliest stage I was attempting to maximise the level of entertainment derived from amusements.”

What experiences from the early days have influenced Namco's success?

“As I mentioned earlier, my fundamental philosophy is based on the relationship between knowing, liking and therefore enjoying. This has been part of me for an extremely long time. But it is also important to maintain what I term a "venture spirit". In the earliest days of the business, the banks couldn't share my vision and were reluctant to provide the funds necessary for expansion. But we resolved to be patient and explore other ways of raising the capital. I think the very important experience gained 40 years ago has helped make our success of today.”

What aspects of the business give you the most enjoyment?

“I hope it's not imprudent if I say that the pleasure I gain from business is similar to that from playing games such as tennis, golf, mahjongg and cards. In all of them you are required to make decisions, think out tactics and attempt to get the best result. Clearly, in business the end result is profit.”

Can you explain your amusement to entertainment philosophy?

“The physical act of putting coins in a machine and gaining enjoyment comes under the term amusement. If, however, you add an attendant to this relationship this becomes entertainment.”

Where do you get your inspiration from?

“I find that the most creative parts of the day are what I term the midnight hours. I usually go to bed at 8pm, I wake up at 11pm and then spend about three hours working and thinking about the business. I then get some sleep, wake at 4am, go for a walk, get some more sleep and start the day at about 8am. It's really a question of making best use of my most creative time.”

You have a reputation for being a philosophical person. What great thinkers do you admire?

“I believe that the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga was a great benefactor of the amusement industry as he gave us a philosophical backbone and a justification for the business. Charlie Chaplin was a great entertainer who had the ability to appeal and communicate with a mass audience. He recognized the honest simplicity and tenderness of mankind. On occasions, I can be aggressive when trying to persuade others of my opinion, so his approach of being gentle but compelling is impressive for me.”

Can you name your all-time favourite arcade game developed by Namco?

“Galaxian is certainly memorable. At the time it was launched the appeal of Space Invaders had disappeared and some observers felt that it was the end of video games. Galaxian proved them wrong. More recently Alpine Racer has to be near the top, with 10,000 units sold all over the world. We heard that when Steven Spielberg visited the Sega Arcade on seeing Alpine Racer he commented: "This game is the most interesting."“

What do you perceive to be the main threats to the prosperity of the amusement industry?

“Technology is moving so rapidly that there is a danger that the industry's only concern is for high-tech. But our business is about human beings, and high-tech on its own misses the point. We have to recognize the value and need for "high touch" equipment. I am also concerned that young people may be devoting themselves too much to a world of screen illusion. This is critical for mankind and we as an industry must be aware of the moral framework in which we conduct business.”

What are the secrets of running such a successful business which employs over 10,000 people worldwide?

“It's important that all employees at every level share the same corporate philosophy. I believe that it is the responsibility of the Chief Executive to motivate employees to understand. Our corporate philosophy comprises the following three points: firstly that "To play is human"; secondly that "The 21st century will be an era of spirituality"; and thirdly that "Greater added values are attained as industry advances to a higher level of industrialization." All of these points are underpinned by the "Amusement to Entertainment" philosophy.”

How do players across the world differ?

“Using the basic principle of "To play is human" they are fundamentally the same. However, the price of play is very different in each country. This is an issue for operators who need to have confidence in the service they are providing.”

How do you see the link with Sony developing?

“I would like to answer that from an industry perspective. When Nintendo released the Family Computer it offered the potential for us to use our software in the home market. However, Nintendo became so strong that we were faced with a monopoly situation. Monopolies are not healthy and that's why we co-operated with Sega when they released their hardware to the market. As three companies are better than two to achieve healthy competition we also reacted positively to Sony Computer Entertainment when they joined the market. In addition, SCE hardware was excellent and complimented our 3D graphics.”

What corporations outside of the amusement industry do you admire?

“There are a number of business leaders that I find interesting. For example Mr Iida, President of SECOM, established a great company linking the system of "Safe and Assured" with business. Hattori-Seiko also has an interesting business approach. However, in overall terms I believe that the three key issues are a company's management philosophy, the company policy and the need for a charismatic company leader.”

Finally, what are your ambitions for Namco? Can you envisage the company celebrating its 100th birthday?

“It's impossible for me to look ahead to the 100th birthday, but I want to witness Namco's 50th, which I believe will represent a major landmark in the history of this company.”

“Mike Nevin, Managing Director Namco Europe, invites Mr. Nakamura to cut the ribbon at the opening of Namco's new European headquarters in London.”

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