It is no surprise – and probably won’t be for a while – that the effects of the covid-19 pandemic will have changed a lot about the arcade industry, along with pretty much every other business sector out there. Because arcades are “location-based entertainment,” and public locations have either been experiencing a huge decrease in business either due to restricted openings, lengthy closures or the prospect of closures hitting them again, it’s a bit of a miracle that any have survived this long. Unfortunately, losses can’t be sustained forever, and eventually things like bank accounts reach their breaking point. The latest victim of the pandemic as we enter the 12th month of the situation is Namco USA.
Because the corporate entity known as Namco (or Bandai Namco to be exact) has several separate divisions, it’s often been rather confusing for people when discussed. You have divisions for the home side, then the amusement side, and they all have had some independence from the other. For Namco USA, their focus has been arcade locations – better known as “site operations.” They don’t develop games or have anything to do with that subject – they simply have staffed and operated quite a number of locations out there over the years, including the Play Time or Time Out locations found in places like Wal-Marts and AMC Theaters. There is also Pac-Man Entertainment, the highest profile part of their operation that tried to take advantage of arcade gaming’s mascot to bring people in. Their main website still reflects these aspects of the company, although that may change pretty soon.
This morning in Japan, Bandai Namco corporate issued a press release stating that after a loss of $13 billion yen (about $122 million USD), they have sold and divided Namco USA among three different, private bidders. I was wondering if something like this was about to happen, given that in January I was contacted by a distributor with a huge list of equipment at bargain pricing, all of it from shuttered Namco-operated locations. Who the buyers are is anyone’s guess (most likely some larger operators located in regions where Namco USA had done well), but most likely this means that the best performing venues will continue to live on, while the worst ones will be closed permanently. In a way this isn’t entirely unlike the situation regarding Sega Japan and the sale of their location business to GENDA, it’s just one that’s closer to home. Hopefully the jobs there are preserved, although that will depend on how many locations survive the transition.
Now there was something in the press release that had me a little confused, which was regarding the status of Bandai Namco Amusements America. I can’t stress enough – Namco USA and BNAA are not only different divisions, but they almost only share one thing in common – the name “Namco.” This news does not mean that “Namco is getting out of arcades” as some headlines are flubbing out there.
I reached out to Frank Cosentino of BNAA to clarify and he stated that BNAA is “a wholly owned subsidiary of BN. All development, sales and service to the arcade and home arcade business will continue,” so things should remain as they are in regard’s to games like Mario Kart Arcade GP DX and such. He also pointed out that “BNAA has always been completely separate from Namco USA. Maybe now people will finally believe it?”
Any thoughts on this news? Comment below.