Rare headquarters in Twycross, Leicestershire
Video game industry
|Predecessor||Ultimate Play the Game|
|Headquarters||Twycross, Leicestershire, England, United Kingdom|
(Senior Studio Director)
Number of employees
Rare is a British video game developer located in Twycross, Leicestershire. The company was established in 1985 by Ultimate Play the Game founders Tim and Chris Stamper. During its early years, Rare primarily concentrated on Nintendo Entertainment System games, creating successful titles such as Wizards & Warriors, Battletoads, and R.C. Pro-Am. In 1994, Rare became a second-party developer for Nintendo and achieved international recognition with critically acclaimed games such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker's Bad Fur Day, among others.
In 2002, the company was purchased by Microsoft. It has since focused on developing games exclusively for Microsoft video game consoles. Notable releases include Kameo: Elements of Power, Viva Piñata, and Kinect Sports. In 2007, founders Tim and Chris Stamper left the company to pursue "other opportunities".
Founding and first years (1985–1993)
Rare evolved from Ashby Computers & Graphics Ltd., better known by the trade name Ultimate Play the Game, and founded by former arcade game developers Tim and Chris Stamper. The Stampers later claimed that, dissatisfied with their games for 8-bit personal home computers such as the ZX Spectrum, as early as 1983 they became interested in the development of Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. The NES was more sophisticated than the Spectrum, had a worldwide market, and its cartridges had no load times and were difficult to pirate. The Stampers sold off part of the Ultimate Play the Game label to U.S. Gold and formed in 1985 a sub-division inside Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. named Rare Ltd. Having convinced Nintendo to allow them to develop games for their video game console, Rare released their first title, Slalom, a skiing game that was originally released for the Nintendo Vs. System in 1986 and later for the NES in 1987.
Throughout the following four years, the company went on to produce over 40 NES games as well as several additional Game Boy conversions, including Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am, Captain Skyhawk, Snake Rattle 'n' Roll and Battletoads. According to Ste Pickford, who was part of the team at Rare throughout the late 80s and into the early 90s, they just "wanted to make as many games as they could in their 'window of opportunity'". When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was conceived, Rare limited their releases to some Battletoads games and decided to invest their significant NES profit in purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics workstations. This move made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the UK, and situated them fairly high internationally.
Partnership with Nintendo (1994–2001)
Their progress with the 3D graphics on the SGI systems impressed Nintendo's Genyo Takeda, and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 49% stake in the company, turning Rare into a Nintendo second-party developer. In this period, Rare started selling their games under the trademark name "Rareware" and the slogan "Rare: Designs on the Future". The company was considered one of Nintendo's key developers and had enough recognition that Nintendo offered them their catalogue of characters to create a 3D CGI game. The Stampers asked for Donkey Kong. The resulting game, Donkey Kong Country, was a critical success and sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library. The game received several Game of the Year honours and was followed by two sequels and several hand-held spin-offs. Prior to the release of the Nintendo 64, Rare also developed a CGI arcade fighting game, Killer Instinct, on their own custom-built hardware.
Rare gained more international recognition with the release of GoldenEye 007, a Nintendo 64 first-person shooter based on the film of the same name that is often credited for having revolutionised the genre. The title received very high critical praise and sold more than eight million units worldwide. It also received numerous awards and Rare won the BAFTA award for "Best UK Developer". Rare's other subsequent acclaimed Nintendo 64 games include Banjo-Kazooie, released in 1998, followed by Donkey Kong 64 and Jet Force Gemini in 1999. Around the same time, numerous employees left the company and formed new studios. The most notable of these studios was Free Radical Design, which was composed of several members of the GoldenEye 007 team. Free Radical Design developed the successful TimeSplitters series of first-person shooters, though the company was acquired by Crytek in 2009 and renamed Crytek UK.
In 2000, Rare released the spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark. The game was given near universal critical acclaim from gaming media, and the company was awarded the B.A.F.T.A. Interactive Entertainment Moving Images Award for 2000, and the Golden Satellite Award for Best Interactive Product in 2001. Rare's last games for the Nintendo 64 include Banjo-Tooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, both of which released to very positive reviews, and the latter of which being developed for a mature audience in response to claims that the company's games were too "cutesy". Conker's Bad Fur Day won the 2001 BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for sound, though commercial success was lower than expected as a result of lack of promotion from Nintendo and the fact that it came at the end of the Nintendo 64's lifecycle.
Microsoft era (2002–present)
Beginning in early 2000, workers from Activision and Microsoft visited Rare. On 24 September 2002, Microsoft paid a total of $375 million to own 100% of the company. Because of this, Rare is now a first-party developer for Microsoft's Xbox and its successors, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. This left Donkey Kong Racing, which was due to be released for the Nintendo GameCube, unreleased. The trademarks of the characters from the games that Rare made for Nintendo consoles, such as Conker of Conker's Bad Fur Day and Banjo of the Banjo-Kazooie series, were retained by Rare, whereas intellectual properties created by Nintendo, such as Donkey Kong and Star Fox, were retained by Nintendo. Star Fox Adventures, originally planned as Dinosaur Planet for the N64, became the only Rare game produced for the Nintendo GameCube.
Despite the acquisition, Rare still kept developing games for Nintendo handheld consoles, as Microsoft is currently not participating in the handheld video game console market: In August 2003, Rare and Microsoft made a deal with THQ for Rare to publish games for the Game Boy Advance, which have included Sabre Wulf, a game based on an Ultimate character; Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, a followup to the two Nintendo 64 games; and It's Mr. Pants!, a puzzle game that was originally developed as "Donkey Kong: Coconut Crackers", and featured the company's unofficial mascot. January 2005 saw the completion of this deal, with the release of Banjo-Pilot, originally known as "Diddy Kong Pilot" before being acquired by Microsoft. Rare also ported and extended the Donkey Kong Country series, which was published by Nintendo.
In 2003, Rare released their first Microsoft game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, to mixed reviews from critics. The game is a humorous action-adventure game that takes place in a haunted house full of crazed ghoulies. At E3 in May 2004, Microsoft's Ken Lobb stated that Rare had obtained Nintendo DS development kits and was working on two games for the Nintendo DS. Shortly after, Microsoft issued a statement saying that the company and its studios had no plans for Nintendo DS development. However, in July 2005 Rare posted job openings for Nintendo DS development on its official website, and stated that it was "creating key DS titles". The first of these games was Diddy Kong Racing DS, a remake of the Nintendo 64 title Diddy Kong Racing, now featuring the ability for players to compete over the Internet through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. They also developed Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise, which was published by THQ.
In 2005, Rare released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of Conker's Bad Fur Day with updated graphics, sound to suit the Xbox and a reworked multiplayer option. The game received generally favourable reviews. Later that year, in November 2005, Rare made something of a resurgence when Microsoft's Xbox 360 console was released. Two of the Xbox 360's launch games were developed by Rare: Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero, with Viva Piñata released the next year to very positive reviews. It also received a BAFTA nomination in Artistic Achievement. Some other games were cancelled, including a survival horror game titled Ordinary Joe and a futuristic racing game titled Arc Angel. On 2 January 2007, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper left the company to "pursue other opportunities". Previous lead designer Gregg Mayles reviews as Creative Director and Mark Betteridge replaces as Studio Director at the company, replacing the brothers on a permanent basis. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, released in 2008 to generally favourable reviews, was their first major game developed without the involvement of the Stamper brothers in the company.
Despite solid reviews, their Microsoft titles sold worse than expected. As a result, Microsoft decided to restructure the studio during the end of the decade. Several key employees quit or were fired around this time. In March 2010, the company opened a new facility in Fazeley Studios, located in Digbeth, Birmingham. Later that year, Microsoft confirmed that Scott Henson, a developer who previously worked on the hardware and software design of the new Xbox 360 console and Kinect for Xbox 360, replaced Mark Betteridge as Studio Manager and that their main focus would be on Kinect. According to Henson: "Kinect will be the main focus for Rare going forwards as it's a very rich canvas. This is just the beginning of an experience that will touch millions of people." Rare's first Kinect project was Kinect Sports, released in November 2010. Despite average reviews, the game was a commercial success, selling three million units as of May 2011. In March 2011, Henson announced that Craig Duncan, who has previously worked on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the Colin McRae Rally series, was hired on as Senior Studio Director. In April 2012, Simon Woodroffe, who previously worked at several studios including Adventure Soft, Midway Games, Ubisoft, and Sega, became the studio's Creative Director.
Following underwhelming sales of Kinect Sports Rivals and Microsoft's announcement that the Kinect would no longer take priority, several people have left the company. On 10 February 2015, a group of former Rare employees announced the formation of a new studio named Playtonic Games, planning a "spiritual successor" to the Banjo-Kazooie franchise called Yooka-Laylee. Playtonic staffers have kept in touch with their former co-workers at Rare and are privy to Rare's current ongoing project, which they say "sounds really good"; they also downplayed claims that Microsoft's involvement was the chief catalyst for Rare's declining quality of development.
At E3 2015, a new compilation game, Rare Replay, celebrating the studio's 30th anniversary, was announced and released in August 2015. The compilation contains 30 of the studios published titles, but lacks some of Rare's popular franchises like Donkey Kong and Goldeneye 007 due to licensing issues with Nintendo. At the same conference, Rare's upcoming game, Sea of Thieves, was revealed.
Unlike some other software developers, Rare gained a reputation for being a very secretive company. The approach to their office buildings, located in Manor Park near Twycross, is monitored by a number of cameras. Web video shows have been granted access in recent years, such as Eurogamer in November 2006, The 1UP Show and GameSpot UK's Start Select in May 2008. Internally, they are quite divided and operate in a slightly different way to other software houses. According to Tim Stamper:
Rare has a different philosophy. We don't really have much contact with other game development companies and we just do things the way they've evolved. We try to employ people who are great games players and games enthusiasts and they're really interested in seeing the other games we're developing in the Company, so it's really a group of games enthusiasts all working together to produce the best games they can – that's Rare.— Tim Stamper, Video Games Daily interview, February 2003
In 2010, Rare declined an offer from fan site, MundoRare, to film a documentary about their studios, at MundoRare's own expense. The film was meant to celebrate Rare's 25th anniversary, and would have been distributed over the Internet and Xbox Live. Rare, however, denied permission to shoot this film, claiming it was not "on message". This led to controversy about Rare's current direction with Microsoft, as well as the shutting down of MundoRare, which claimed that the site could not support Rare's new direction.
Rare has developed numerous video games since its founding, with sales nearing 90 million units as of 2002. The company is best known for its platform games, which include the Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker series, and for its Nintendo 64 first-person shooters GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. Despite this, Rare does not stick to a few specific video game genres. They have also developed several action-adventure games, including Star Fox Adventures and Kameo: Elements of Power, some fighting games such as the Killer Instinct series, some racing games such as R.C. Pro-Am or Diddy Kong Racing, and some classic Beat 'em up/Shoot 'em up games such as Battletoads and Captain Skyhawk, among others. Additionally, as Rare has usually been tied to a company that manufactures a video game console (e.g. Nintendo and Microsoft), most of their titles have been developed solely for a particular platform. The company also developed the Kinect Sports series for the Kinect device. Since E3 2015, Rare has been working on Sea of Thieves, a pirate-themed MMO for Xbox One and Windows 10 designed by Gregg Mayles, who's been developing games at Rare for 29 years.
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