Pac-Man, Tekken Dev Turns Focus to "Casual" Market

Imagine playing popular fighter Tekken on Facebook or competing for a high score in Pac-Man against players on iPhones, computers and consoles.

That's the vision behind Namco Bandai's decision to roll Namco Networks into a single game label this week.

"The key reasons we are uniting these two companies (Namco Bandai and Namco Networks) are: Accessibility, sociability and open development," Carlson Choi, vice president of marketing for Namco Networks told Kotaku.

That means blending the lessons learned by Namco Networks, the arm of Namco responsible for casual PC, mobile and iPhone games, with those learned by Namco Bandai, the publisher and developer responsible for franchises like Pac-Man, SoulCalibur and Tekken.

"We strive to make games accessible to gamers across multiple platforms. Combining the companies' deep pools of talent and resources is the best way for us to achieve our goal of broadening our consumer base," said Kenji Hisatsune, President, CEO and COO of Namco Networks. "I am very excited about uniting these dynamic groups and look forward to delivering top-notch content that's appropriate for multiple gaming platforms and communities."

Choi was quick to point out that in Namco Bandai's view the difference between casual and hardcore gamers isn't about the games they play, but the amount of time they spend playing them.

"About 25 percent of the market are spending 100 hours a month playing games and they will go to any device to get a game," he said. "Then you have 75 percent of the market, which a lot of us would define as casual, who spend 10 hours a month playing games. They won't buy a piece of hardware to get a game."

The best way to capture more of that larger market is to make games that can be played on any platform and that allow gamers to compete with one another across platforms.

It's not a new idea for Namco Networks.

Pool Pro Online 3 allows gamers to play matches of pool with people from around the world and it doesn't care if you're playing on a PC, iPhone or iPad.

"Bill Gates has talked about going from display to display and the content following you," Choi said. "For us, those are the types of visions we are going to try and deliver."

Hisatsune calls Pool Pro Online 3 an example of where the company wants to be heading. And it's not just because the game allows players to compete with one another no matter what platform they're playing on. The game also taps into Namco Bandai's two other tenets: Sociability and open development.

Choi says that a key development for Namco Bandai moving forward will be building communities for games, doing things like adding leaderboards to casual games or, perhaps, having traditionally hardcore games, like Tekken, dip their toe into community sites like Facebook.

Finally, the company is interested in opening up their development resources to other developers, allowing Namco Bandai to build a community and then making it accessible to other game developers.

"This open system is a very unique vision," Choi said.

News that Namco Bandai and Namco Networks are combining to form a single company is a reminder of the growing importance of not only mobile gaming, but digital distribution and online gaming.