Namco Bandai Uses Pac-Man Franchise to Test Facebook Waters, Looks to More Established IPs

Between the two companies, Namco and Bandai have a rich history of established video games from which to draw ideas for Facebook products. The now-merged developer/publisher that is Namco Bandai this year brought one its oldest brands, Pac-Man, to Facebook in two separate games. Though unique, both serve as a way to test the social game audience and Pac-Man’s own fanbase.

The first game, Pac-Man, is a faithful rendition of the original arcade game. Users move the titular yellow character around a maze, consuming dots and bonus items while trying to avoid ghosts or to eat the ghosts after consuming a special flashing dot. The game monetizes almost in the same way as the classic arcade product with the user “inserting” Facebook Credits to continue the game if they run out of lives while playing. There is leaderboard support. Read the full review.

The second game, Pac-Man S, is a product that introduces power-ups and also uses leaderboards as a means to monetize and encourage socialization. Players still control the game in much the same way, but play is limited to two minutes in which time the player must score as many points as possible. The power-ups directly affect total score, which in turn impacts player rankings. Read the full review.

Carlson Choi, Namco Bandai’s VP of Marketing, tells us that though one game is considerably smaller than the other in overall size and the smaller game is still missing some key elements, Pac-Man’s introduction to Facebook is a successful learning experience for the company.

“We took a lot of time when we first looked at the project and we decided on two different approaches,” he says. “One is the classic Pac-Man everyone knows. Then there’s the S iteration where we want the consumer engaged using microtransactions and awards. S is really interesting for us because it’s an area where we can fail and learn from that and add an experience that make sense to the consumer. You’re going to see more things coming on S, but not on Pac-Man because we want to retain the authenticity of that product.”

Authenticity is what gives Pac-Man on Facebook the edge over its many pretender products. At 31 years old, the brand is easily recognizable even among non-gamers, as are the sound effects and music. Authenticity is also a quality that allows Namco Bandai to rely on the franchise’s existing fan base as opposed to spending resources on advertising for the game.

“We have a massive Facebook network with over 2.5 million Likes on fan Page, and we have fans from [the Google version],” Choi says. “Part of what we do instead of spending ad money is activating these fans like with rewards, discounts, or events.”

The trick there is activating those fans through promotions without spamming them. Choi says that Namco Bandai is only just now experimenting with cross-promotion within its network of social games and the company is mindful of intruding on a player’s connection to the Pac-Man brand.

“The second you start pushing people toward other brands, you upset that network of fans,” Choi says. As an avid gamer himself, he sees a player’s engagement with a game like Pac-Man as a private experience. “The last thing I want to do is intrude on the personal lives of fans. We want to maintain a balance of respect with our fans.”

Like many traditional video game developers and publishers entering the social games space, Namco Bandai is keenly aware that there is some unlearning to do around development. Its earlier Facebook offerings didn’t find traction on the platform, but they did teach Namco Bandai enough to prepare the Pac-Man S team for the process of launching a social game.

“It’s about acquiring the active consumer, so you have to change your mindset,” Choi says. “That’s the biggest trap that everyone doesn’t know about. They think they know, then they fall into it. They say ‘How much money did we make the first day?’ and you say ‘Uh, nothing. We got 10 users.’ And they [panic]. The day that you ship is the beginning of the life cycle. It’s constant optimization of play environment and play style. That is a huge change for the business model and for development resource allocation.”

Choi tells us that the plan is to continue rolling out new content to Pac-Man S while also updating DigDug S and New Rally-X S. It may also consider a version of its popular space shooter, Galaga, which turned 30 this month. Namco Bandai currently enjoys 2.3 million monthly active users and just over 100,000 daily active users, according to our traffic-tracking service AppData. More than half of this traffic comes from the classic version of Pac-Man.

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