22 May 1980: Pac-Man hits the arcades

It didn't take long for Pac-Man, or Puck Man as it was originally called in Japan, to become a worldwide craze after it was released, on this day in 1980.

In the late 1970s the growing popularity of video gaming saw arcades stuffed with coin-operated machines springing up across the globe. Namco's Pac-Man was one of the most popular and successful games of the era. It had a design inspired by both the shape of a pizza missing a slice and the Japanese symbol for mouth and was developed by Toru Iwatani, a games designer at the Japanese company Namco.

In May 1980 it was released in Japan as Puck Man. It was relatively unsuccessful in its home market. But when Midway Games released an American version (retitled Pac-Man to stop people defacing the machine) in October 1980, it proved a massive hit. Its addictively simple design focused on a yellow character that ate dots and tried to avoid four ghosts (nicknamed "Clyde", "Inky", "Blinky" and "Pinky").

Within 18 months Midway had sold 350,000 cabinets at around $2,400 each ($6,900 at today's prices). It was also lucrative for the arcades who bought it the machines took an estimated $2.5bn in total revenue in their first decade, which would have been even higher had it not been for the huge number of clone and outright fake machines.

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One estimate suggests that as many counterfeit machines were sold as legitimate ones. As video gaming evolved, versions of Pac-Man for home consoles sold millions of copies. There was even a hit single, Pac-Man Fever, inspired by the craze.

In 2010 a "Google Doodle" with a playable version of Pac-Man caused an estimated $120m drop in global productivity as a result of time wasted. However, as an employee, Iwatani didn't benefit directly from his hit although he eventually became a senior Namco executive.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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