Namco planning prototype upscale entertainment restaurant to expand arcade business

Namco Entertainment Inc, the arcade arm of game developer and publisher Namco Bandai, is in the process of opening an upscale entertainment restaurant in the U.S., Polygon has confirmed.

The "restaurant-centered, destination entertainment concept" will be a prototype for a possible international chain of such locations, according to our sources and confirmed by a Namco Entertainment Inc. official.

"It's no secret that we've been exploring a number of new business models and noodling the future of Out-of-Home entertainment for several years now, and our current planning does include an ‘upscale' restaurant with ‘entertainment elements'," David Bishop, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Namco Entertainment Inc., told Polygon. "And yes, we've been working with an established American restaurateur, as well as some other really talented external professionals, to develop the concept!"

Originally codenamed Level 256, a reference to the last levels of the original Pac-Man and Dig Dug arcade games, the restaurant is being developed in partnership with a restaurateur in Kansas City who runs a variety of upscale European bistros in the Midwest, according to Polygon sources. The greater Chicago-area company is currently eyeing possible locations in Chicago for the prototype.

Bishop declined to discuss the details of the upcoming venture saying that a launch date hasn't yet been set for the restaurant concept.

The venture will be a prototype that could lead to a chain of Namco gaming restaurants.

"We hope to be able to announce something soon," he added. "The project is still in a relatively early stage of development."

Namco Entertainment Inc. is North America's foremost entertainment operator, according to the official website for the Namco Bandai Group subsidiary. The company has nearly 20,000 commercial games, rides, attractions and automated equipment in nearly 1,000 locations in North America and the Caribbean.

Arcades the company ran since 1968 include Time Out, CyberStation, Aladdin's Castle, Spaceport, Pocket Change, Atari Expo and WonderPark. The company also places games in theaters, restaurants and bowling alleys around the country.

This prototype concept sounds like it will be akin to existing restaurant and entertainment businesses like Dave & Busters, GameWorks and Jillian's.

The amusement industry has been drawn to restaurants, cafes, bars, taverns, hotels and resorts since the birth of video arcades, said Kevin Williams, founder of the Digital Out-of-Home Interactive Entertainment Network Association and author of The Stinger Report. That early interest was spurred by 1972's PONG and its successes in a local bar.

As arcade gaming has evolved, he said, so has the relationship with social out-of-home entertainment.

"The ability to increase the dwell time of patrons (and their spend) that all restaurateurs want to achieve, can be accomplished by adding gaming," Williams said. "Be this a pool table or shuffleboard, video games, or new immersive attractions."

Williams points out that Namco has a long history of dabbling in the marriage of restaurants, nightclubs and gaming. In 1999, he said, the company developed a concept facility called XS Orlando that included a PAC-MAN Cafe game area. While the concept ultimately failed, Williams believes it gave the company a taste of the potential of combining "food and fun."

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And combining those two isn't something that just Namco is looking into, he said.

"We have seen an explosion of Gamebar-stye taverns spring-up across the States, facilities that marry classic arcade cabinets in a highly social brew pub environment," he said. "The popularity of what has been coined 'social-tainment' is a fundamental component of the draw of video amusement (playing while an audience cheering you on). Club concepts like Insert(s) Coin - Interactive Nightlife has added the DJ / nightclub atmosphere to the mix, classic arcade titles, intense competition and a bar proving a heady mix.

"A number of established restaurant chains have been undertaking secret projects to experiment adding a ‘gaming-mix' to their facility brand."

Williams sees this expansion of gaming restaurants as another sign of the growing interest in digital out-of-home entertainment.

"The Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment (DOE) sector is in assurgency from the malaise seen in the traditional arcade scene," he said. "The new development in the technology has seen an increase in the presentation of a gaming experience which is unique to an out of home approach."

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