Pac-Man Fever

3 minute read

Working up a playroom sweat

Pac-Man is bursting out all over. Not only has the 15-month-old arcade game swallowed up an estimated $1 billion in quarters to become the hottest item in the video-game market, but the little yellow creature is now invading homes and spawning nearly 200 offshoots ranging from jeans to a chart-busting pop song, Pac-Man Fever.

Pac-Man is a pie-shaped yellow figure that scores points in a video game by gobbling up dots, colorful fruits and four ghosts that inhabit its mazy world. Pac-Man, however, wilts and vanishes when one of the ghosts eats it. The game was originally developed in Japan and is based on a ravenous folk character whose appetite could never be appeased. The name comes from pahu, the Japanese word for “to eat.”

Retailers have been unable to keep Pac-Man cartridges on their shelves since the Atari division of Warner Communications Inc. introduced the home version in mid-March (list price: $37.95). Richard Simon, an analyst with Wall Street’s Goldman, Sachs & Co., expects Atari to sell a phenomenal 9 million units this year and to take in some $200 million in the process. He predicts that Atari’s Pac-Man earnings will ultimately surpass 20th Century-Fox’s profits from Star Wars, the bestselling film ever made.

Another big scorer will be Bally Manufacturing Corp.’s Midway subsidiary. It has sold more than 96,000 Pac-Man arcade games under a licensing arrangement with Namco Ltd. of Japan, and also holds royalty rights to virtually all Pac-Man spinoffs. Coleco Industries of Hartford, Conn., has come out with a battery-run table-top model, while Milton Bradley Co. will be offering a puzzle, a card game and a nonelectronic Pac-Man board game. In addition to a parade of toys, pajamas, lunch boxes and bumper stickers, there will be Hallmark cards and gift wrapping, Dan River sheets and pillowcases and J.C. Penney children’s clothing. Says Midway Vice President Stanley Jarocki: “I think we have the Mickey Mouse of the 1980s.”

Columbia Records’ Pac-Man Fever (sample lyric: “I’ve got Pac-Man fever/ I’m goin’ out of my mind”) was No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 last week. Book publishers are weighing in with works like Signet’s 128-page paperback guide, Mastering Pac-Man, which has put in an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list, and Pocket Books’ How to Win at Pac-Man. Meanwhile, Bally last week introduced the first model of a Pac-Man pinball machine. The company hopes it will revive interest in pinballs, which has been all but eaten away by video games like Pac-Man.

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