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Pac-Man has a new wife, thanks to Ms. Pac-Man drama

Yes, money and lawyers are involved here

screen from Arcade Archives: Pac-Land, with a Ms. Pac-Man and Baby-Pac who are altered from their original 1980s appearances.
“And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house!’ And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful wife!’”
Image: Hamster Corporation/Bandai Namco Entertainment
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Quick, what’s Ms. Pac-Man look like? You definitely pictured the red bow, maybe also the go-go boots. Well, that version of Ms. Pac-Man, steadily disappearing thanks to a byzantine dispute involving Bandai Namco and AtGames, has been altered in a new release of Pac-Land launching today — and presumably in next month’s release of Pac-Man Museum Plus, a retro compilation which also houses Pac-Land.

Graphic artist Nicholas Caballero, of Paraguay, noted on Twitter Wednesday that the anthropomorphic Ms. Pac-Man appearing in 1984’s Pac-Land is instead what Bandai Namco calls Pac-Mom: She wears a pink hat, gloves, and heels instead of a red bow, orange gloves, and red boots. Baby Pac has been palette-swapped, for good measure, replacing her bow with a flower and removing her pacifier.

So, what gives? Well, return with us to 2019, when Bandai Namco sued AtGames, the makers of throwback mini-consoles and arcade cabinets, whose work on a 2016 Genesis/Mega Drive for Sega didn’t win them any friends. Among other things, Bandai Namco alleged that AtGames had interfered in the publisher’s negotiations with Ms. Pac-Man’s original creators — a group of seven MIT classmates calling themselves General Computer Corporation — to buy out their royalty rights.

Lo and behold, AtGames itself ended up buying that royalty interest, meaning that, going forward, if Bandai Namco released anything with Ms. Pac-Man (or Baby Pac) in it, it would owe residuals to AtGames, the people they were now suing. (Note: These rights are to be paid whenever the work is used; Bandai Namco still has full ownership and control of Ms. Pac-Man as an intellectual property, and can unilaterally make any product including her.)

Bandai Namco alleged some other unauthorized uses of their intellectual property; AtGames said Bandai Namco was punishing it for a private deal with rights-holders who weren’t happy Bandai Namco weren’t making anything with Ms. Pac-Man in it. The lawsuit was settled in November 2020, but AtGames still owns the royalty interest in Ms. Pac-Man.

Thus, when the Arcade Archives re-release of Pac-Land showed up on the Nintendo eShop today, Pac-Mom had stepped into the role.

The arcade in Pac-Man Museum Plus, featuring “Pac-Mom” as a collectible trophy.
The arcade in Pac-Man Museum Plus, featuring “Pac-Mom” as a collectible figure.
Image: Bandai Namco

Pac-Mom also appears to be the version that Pac-Man Museum Plus, launching at the end of May, will use. That anthology features 14 games from the Pac-Man franchise, going back to the 1980 original — but 1981’s Ms. Pac-Man is, you guessed it, not included. (Pac-Mom and the revised Baby Pac will apparently be collectible figures one can earn to decorate their in-game arcade, as shown in Pac-Man Museum Plus’ trailer.)

There hasn’t been a console re-release of Ms. Pac-Man since this collection’s predecessor, 2014’s Pac-Man Museum, for PlayStation 3, Windows PC, and Xbox 360. That was two years after Bandai Namco refused AtGames’ pitch to do a Ms. Pac-Man mini-cabinet, which was related to allegations made in the 2019 lawsuit.

Speculation has it that the publisher didn’t want to make anything in which it would owe royalties, and the lack of Ms. Pac-products is circumstantial evidence for it. Steve Golson, one of the original designers, gave an hourlong postmortem on Ms. Pac-Man at Game Developers Conference 2016, in which he discussed the tangled royalties agreement the two sides reached.

Polygon has reached out to representatives of both Bandai Namco Entertainment America, and the original GCC creators, for additional comment.

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