Building a World of Fun
From People to Products, Bandai Namco Continues to Make Its Mark
How great is it to know that the effort you put forth in your work every day contributes to the joy someone else will experience? It’s pretty great indeed! Bandai Namco Amusement America’s Frank Cosentino (Senior VP) said, “We help put smiles on the faces of families all over the world. What else do you need to make you want to do your best to help make that reality come true?”
The Bandai Namco Entertainment group of companies is about fun. From its development companies, amusement machine divisions, worldwide console and mobile sales groups to the operations group that does location-based entertainment, everything revolves around their stated goal of being the “global leader in providing fun.”
Bandai Namco Amusement America is the familiar U.S.-based team concentrating on the North and South American markets. Based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., the group handles local game development, manufacturing, localization of group products, sales and customer service. They manufacture in a number of different locations utilizing different contractors depending upon the specific project, and currently have games being built in the States, Japan, China, Taiwan and Brazil. However, the majority of their products are still made in the Midwest.
The group consists of a combination of industry veterans and young, talented newcomers, explained Cosentino. BNAA strives for a great balance of youth and experience in every department, he added, seeking to continue building the relationships and trust necessary between customers and suppliers.
“We’re an entertainment business, in general, so having people in the company that represent a wider age range and range of tastes is important,” said Frank.
“We do a lot of product testing, essentially throwing new products in front of our employees before they go on the street,” he continued. “Our employees are moms, dads, grandparents, young adults with young kids and more. It’s nice to be able to get that different perspective across the company … it informs us as to how a product will really work.”
The sales team consists of Anita Friedl, Steve Ignarski, Erik Gilly and Takahiro Ikawa. New blood has infused the team with a forward-thinking drive since the recent retirement of two Namco sales legends: Tom Siemieniec and Emilio Cabrera. According to Cosentino, the sales group has not missed a beat and has utilized the time spent with Tom and Emilio to help guide them forward.
“Both Tom and Emilio were in the industry so long, their knowledge and connections were invaluable. Luckily, they were able to impart a lot of their wisdom before leaving onto their peers in the sales team,” Cosentino said. “One of the reasons we wanted youth in sales was because we knew Tom and Emilio were close to leaving and wanted to tap into their vast wealth of knowledge.”
In addition to the many kind words Cosentino had for the recently retired duo, he also had plenty for the team today:
“Anita is the heart of the department. Everything that happens in sales passes through her hands at one point or another,” Frank said. “She is a veteran of our company for over 20 years and has been in the industry even longer. While she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this group, above all she brings a warmth and attitude that lights up the room.”
Steve Ignarski and Erik Gilly are good examples of the youth of the company and our philosophy of training and growth from within.
Steve started in the parts department nine years ago. “With parts and customer service experience prior to moving to the sales group,” Cosentino said, “he brings a great perspective and understanding of the product to the table.”
Erik Gilly started with Bandai Namco five years ago in the product strategy department. “His experience working with new products, marketing and promotions has also provided a great foundation for sales,” said Frank, adding “Erik’s and Steve’s views come from different directions, but they blend well providing for a balanced group.”
Another “new” face belongs to Taka Ikawa, who comes from the Bandai Namco Entertainment offices in Japan. Taka has been with the American office for two years and primarily works with sales and the product strategy group.”
Frank Cosentino, celebrating his 25th anniversary with the company this year, came from sales as well, after working in the service side of the industry for some years. He leads the products and services group of the company, which encompasses manufacturing, customer services, marketing, promotion, purchasing, and logistics.
The customer service group consists of Joe Blackwell, Greg McKay, Neil Goheen and Pierre Bermudez.
Leading by example, Joe Blackwell and Greg McKay are the gurus of the group. “These two fine customer service men have a combined 70+ years of industry experience and gladly pass their knowledge on every day,” Cosentino said. Neil Goheen and Pierre Bermudez, the younger members of the team have been with the company eight and ten years respectively. “Both of them are an integral part of the team and continue to grow and educate themselves to be future leaders,” Frank added.
The marketing, manufacturing and logistics group of team members wear many hats, according to Cosentino. Jim Roycroft is the manufacturing inventory, purchasing and BBQ pit master. Pat O’Brien, another long time industry vet, is the logistics, warehousing, building chief, plus soccer historian.
“These two guys bounce back and forth between tasks so often it’s tough to follow them,” Cosentino laughed.
Mario Cruz and Jesus Maldonado make everything move in and out of the building and around the world. They are responsible for shipping, receiving and inventory controls.
Nate Nissen is the newest member of the team, focusing on marketing, graphics, web and all around creative arm of the group.
Yoshi Sakamaki, VP, has been with BNAA for almost eight years from the operating part of the compamy and brings with him many years of experience both in Japan and in the USA. Sakamaki currently manages the business in Brazil.
Rich Wisniewski, Bonnie Buszkiewicz, Robin Perez and Joan Balfanz make up the company’s finance team. Wisniewski, CFO, is the leader of this team. He has been with BNAA for almost 10 years following previous positions in the industry with Konami and Atlas Distributing. Buszkiewicz, Perez and Balfanz handle the accounting, receivables, payables and HR functions.
Last but certainly not least is the company’s President and CEO, John McKenzie. Working from what sometimes seems like a mobile office in the sky, McKenzie directs the U.S. amusement operation, as well as the Bandai Namco Amusement Europe group of companies. While the American and European groups have a long history together, the synergy and cooperation has never been stronger, said Cosentino, who added, “John McKenzie’s leadership has truly created a ‘one company’ attitude that stretches across the Atlantic.”
For many at Bandai Namco, the idea that what’s old is new again (or at least can be) is a driving force for innovation and product generation. While many industries, including the amusement industry, have a great deal of sequels, the Namco classic games have provided spinoffs and sequels that have entertained generations. Since their release in the early ’80s, these classics have spawned a number of new products and the list grows yearly.
“Certainly we tap into our own intellectual properties consistently and try to create something new,” Cosentino said. “Pac-Man has been a major icon of our industry for so many years, and because he so recognizable, we have been blessed with the opportunity of putting him in areas you wouldn’t usually expect.”
The newest of these sequels is World’s Largest Pac-Man which started shipping earlier this year. The game is not your ordinary Pac-Man; this new version has a 2-player competitive and/or cooperative game play that offers all of the fun of the original with so much more. World’s Largest Pac-Man was developed by Bandai Namco and Raw Thrills together, and according to Cosentino is proving itself to be the next “must-have” game for the FEC market.
“It has an outstanding presence that draws the player in and an infectious, recognizable gameplay that keeps them playing,” Frank explained. “It also features an advertising mode that allows the location to use it’s billboard-like display to advertise custom messages while the game is not being played.”
Another classic spin-off, Galaga Assault is helping the company to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its classic Galaga this year. While this is primarily seen on location as a video redemption game, it can be operated as a non-redemption video for the bar arcade market or other non-redemption locations.
“As we do development, we certainly try and find a property that may deserve a sequel. We’re working on one now, a sequel to something we did 10-12 years ago, and hopefully it will be ready for this fall’s IAAPA show,” Cosentino hinted. “We also look for trends in the business and what people seem to be liking so we can capitalize on that as well.”
In addition, Namco classic games for the home rec room market continues to be a great business as homeowners look to create the perfect man-cave. Frank said, “Over the next year, we will be releasing a number of new titles and products for the home rec room market. The ‘Pac-Mancave’ is on its way!”
Bandai Namco’s product lineup is as diverse as it is recognizable, with games such as Time Crisis 5, Mario Kart Arcade, Pac-Man Battle Royale and Star Wars Battle Pod covering the video group while others like Galaga Assault, Whack’em Funky Gators and Pac-Man Chomp cover the redemption category. Pac-Man Smash (new slimline edition) and Pac-Man Basketball help fill out the novelty group, proving that the company strives to keep a good balance of every type of game a location may need.
“We’ve always produced all sorts of games, but certainly our focus has been more on video than redemption,” Cosentino said. “Part of that is because a great deal of our development is done in Japan and redemption is not legal there. As a result, development for those types of games is done here specifically for this market. But our main reasoning, I’d say, is that there’s a lot of great companies out there that build great redemption games, but not many that are still doing video. That’s where we really excel.”
What’s Brand New?
The Slimline is the latest version of the company’s Pac-Man Smash, the game that adds a twist to classic air hockey. This new unit is thinner than the original, but will still accommodate four players. According to Cosentino, the company has also taken steps to reduce the unit cost so it can be financially accessible to more locations. He explained that they’ve done so without changing the game’s innovative “multi-puck” feature that throws 20 mini pucks on to the playfield during game play.
“This game has become a staple in so many FEC locations, drawing crowds every time a group gets on it to play,” Cosentino said.
One of the upcoming games that is causing the biggest buzz in the player community is Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 5 (above). The “Maxi Tune series has the largest worldwide community of arcade driving game players, and every day around the globe, thousands of players tune up their cars by playing the game in order to compete with others. The U.S. Maxi Tune playing community, which stalled for a few years due to the small number of locations capable of running online games when Maxi Tune 4 was released a number of years ago, will be treated to a newly kickstarted series with Maxi Tune 5.
“It has been great to hear all of the positive feedback from U.S. players anxiously awaiting its arrival. We should be ready to go in November of 2016 so make sure your location is on board,” Cosentino advised.
One benefit of a game like Maxi Tune is its ability to bring in repeat traffic. Thanks to the video’s competitive features and worldwide leaderboards, communities of avid players have stayed active in the States even though BNAA hasn’t sold the game here in over six years.
“A typical American only visits an FEC one or two times a year,” Cosentino said. “But a Maxi Tune player will be there weekly!”
With numerous games coming down the Bandai Namco pipeline and its recognizable brand, it’s fair to say that keeping an eye toward the company is smart business. As its classic Galaga celebrates 35 years of entertaining and amusing the world, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact the company’s games have had on the industry and on pop culture.
“I remember several years back there was an article in Variety or Time about the 100 greatest icons in American history,” Cosentino concluded. “There were only two animated icons in the group, one was Pac-Man, the other was Mickey Mouse. I think that says a lot about how Americans think of Pac-Man!”
For more information on the iconic amusement company, visit its website at www.bandainamco-am.com and look for its newest games at the coming IAAPA show in November.