In 1978, would-be gaming giant Taito Corporation released “Space Invaders” in Japanese arcades. The game, which was launched in the United States by arcade manufacturer Midway, was an instant success and sold over 400,000 cabinets, grossing over $3.8 billion by 1982. That’s nearly $12 billion in today’s money, making it the highest-grossing video game in history.
“Space Invaders” was developed by Tomohiro Nishikado and arguably changed the direction of video game programming by kickstarting the arcade boom. In fact, the arcade game became so popular in Japan that it led to a shortage of coins and led the nation to ramp up its 100-yen coin production. The goal of the game — to point and shoot at descending aliens before they reached the bottom of the screen — inspired several spin-offs and innumerable shooting video games, cementing “Space Invaders” as one of the most iconic video games of all time. That’s why it may be a shock to learn that the Taito Corporation actually got its start distilling vodka.
Founded in 1953 as the Taito Trading Company by Ukrainian refugee Michael “Misha” Kogan, Taito was the first producer to distill and market vodka in Japan. Branded as Troika Vodka, the spirit was then described by a Taito spokesperson as “very high-quality” and as having a “good reputation,” though the exact details of its production are still relatively fuzzy. It’s unknown whether Kogan opened a distillery to produce each bottle, or if he recruited the help of a shochu distiller who made the product for him. While vodka was a seemingly random spirit to produce in a country that is so tied to sake and shochu consumption, the timing of Troika’s release couldn’t have been better.
Following World War II, Japan was decimated, having lost millions of lives, $56 billion, and nearly 40 percent of all infrastructure. However, in the post-war years, Japan experienced what is known as the Japanese Economic Miracle, with the economy growing two times faster than the prewar standard by 1955.
With the unprecedented economic boom, bar culture in Japan was flourishing, and natives were excited to get their hands on as many foreign products as possible. As a former Soviet still retaining his penchant for vodka, Kogan took to selling the spirit to a market he thought may be interested in imbibing. Though distillation ceased just two years later in 1955, the product was apparently tasty enough to land it a spot on the Imperial Hotel’s back bar — one of the most luxurious hotels in Japan.
Troika may have been a quality spirit in its own right, but given the massive success of “Space Invaders,” we think Taito made the right choice in switching over to video game production.