Rick Fothergill of Canada jams the throttle at the Pac-Man Plus video game at Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire during the International Classic Video & Pinball Tournament. Image Credit: AP


Remember Pac-Man? That video game character with an insatiable appetite, which along with Super Mario Bros. was such an enduring image of the 80s? No kid could do without the game or the console to try and steer away from the path of the pesky creature.

Fast forward to 2014 and the Pac-Man is making a reappearance in the Middle East, and it’s a supersized version. The first full-fledged Pac-Man Zone has opened in Abu Dhabi’s Mushriff Mall, following a master-franchise agreement signed by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hokair Group, which operates the Sparky’s chain of ‘family entertainment centres’, with Japan’s Bandai Namco. The plan is to create dedicated zones within select Sparky’s facilities, existing as well as new ones.

The promoters are confident that an icon of the distant 80s would capture the same audience interest now, when 3D and 4D experiences and high-octane gaming arcades are all the rage among the young. “It’s not for nothing that Pac-Man was still recognised the ‘most recognised video game character’ by Guinness World Record as recently as 2010,” said Thej John Roy, Regional Manager for Sales and Marketing at Al Hokair Group’s entertainment division. “Bandai Namco has over the years retained the fan base for the character through entertainment zones, through skills-heavy arcade-based video games.

“We felt the time was ripe to bring the character and the zone into the region.”

A new generation of followers could also be created with the region expected to air a new TV series (‘Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures’) before the year end, according to Roy. (For those thinking of taking it to the next level on the adventure stakes, there’s even a ‘world championship’…) Family entertainment centres have become veritable battlegrounds for supremacy among the competing chains in the UAE and Gulf territory. This is why alliances with global majors is seen as giving them an edge in coming out with new offerings that could catch the fancy of a demographic who tend to have low attention spans and whose definition of what’s cool may shift in no time.

“The need is to create destinations that are highly theme-sensitive, this way an operator can hope to pull in not just the young but other members of a family unit,” said Roy. “Everything depends on the numbers of hours that an individual spends at a facility — for the operator the challenge is to keep updating in the hope the number of hours will get longer.”