Rare Says Good-Bye To Nintendo – Ten Years Ago Today

Ahmed and I have been talking a lot about Rare in another article, and while I was looking for some sales data I happened to stumble across something I had forgotten, Microsoft purchased 100% of the company back on September 20th, 2002.  It’s incredible to think that ten years ago today millions of Nintendo fans the world over felt a bitter betrayal.  Why would Nintendo sell their shares to Microsoft, instead of purchasing the company outright?  Were Rare and Nintendo not getting along anymore?  These are questions the likes of which we will never truly know.

Rare’s story starts at the very beginning of our industry. Originally called Ultimate: Play the Game, Tim and Chris Stamper founded the company in 1982.  They gained critical and commercial success early on for their arcade hits Sabre Wulf, and Jetpac.  Eventually the two would change the name of the studio to Rare Ltd. in 1985, although there was some drama that happened in-between this time with the Stamper brothers actually selling Ultimate to U.S. Gold, and then buying the rights for their IPs back some years later.  Eventually Rare would develop exclusively on the NES, developing such hits as R.C. Pro-Am, and the fan favorite Battletoads.

Can I get a hell yeah?

The non-stop hits would eventually cause Nintendo to notice the company.  While working with a Silicon Graphics workstation, Tim and Chris Stamper started developing a boxing game that used pre-rendered graphics, which took the SNES hardware to a whole new level.  When Rare showed what they were working on to Nintendo, Nintendo was shocked and eventually purchased 25% of the company to ensure these magical wizards would remain exclusive to the Nintendo family of systems, which included the SNES and Game Boy, along with this mysterious 64-bit platform they were working on.  This was around 1993, and by 1994, Nintendo had purchased 49% of the company when they gave Rare the license to work on the first new Donkey Kong in a decade.

This was the nicest looking videogame ever released when it originally came out.

This micro history lesson comes to an end with a string of hits across both the SNES and N64 that all of you reading this article likely remember with fond memories.  From GoldenEye 007, to Killer Instinct, Rare was both popular and highly innovative, taking the industry to all new heights.

A console FPS that sold at PC levels, and helped revolutionize the entire genre. Not too shabby Rare, not too shabby at all.

In 2000 there were heavy rumors suggesting that people from Activision and Microsoft were visiting Rare, but no one had any idea why.  On September 20th, 2002 it was announced that Microsoft had purchased 100% of the shares, both the 51% from the Stamper Brothers and the 49% that Nintendo owned, so that Rare would become a Microsoft first-party developer.  The sweet deal cost Microsoft a staggering $375,000,000!

Even though this was a really fun game, it failed to live up to Microsoft’s expectations and is considered the beginning of the end…as if there really was a beginning.

While this move was seen as a huge win for Microsoft, who had already secured Bungie as an exclusive developer, the fact is Rare and Microsoft simply weren’t a good fit.  While Rare’s games retained the charm and fantastic gameplay they were known for, Rare had a very difficult time getting through to the Xbox fanbase and their sales never reached the lofty goals Microsoft set.  By the time Rare launched Perfect Dark Zero on the Xbox 360 (which was its big launch title), the writing was on the wall.  Microsoft was extremely disappointed with how PD0 and Kameo: Elements of Power performed, and while Rare continued to release a few more games, it wasn’t long before all of their projects were scrapped and the developer was downsized.  Today Rare is merely a shadow of its former self.  The studio only works on Kinect games, and the Xbox OS and avatar program.  It’s been a huge fall from grace for Rare, and all of us can’t help but wonder what Rare would be like today had they been purchased outright by Nintendo back in 1994.

Sadly, we will never know.

11 thoughts on “Rare Says Good-Bye To Nintendo – Ten Years Ago Today”

  1. This was a truly sad day for many of us. Rare shone so brightly during the time period wherein they developed for Nintendo consoles, and I thoroughly enjoyed everything right up to and including their last hurrah — Starfox Adventures. Once they parted ways with Nintendo and teamed up with Microsoft, I still thought they were on track for greatness with their Conker remake, and Grabbed by the Ghoulies (got mixed reviews but it was a fun beat-em-up). I even thought that Perfect Dark and Kameo were great games even though they didn’t live up to the expectations. Also, I never got the chance to play it, but I’ve heard that the Viva Pinata games are actually quite good as well. Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was a really fun game too, though not exactly what fans were anticipating. I just really hope that Rare has a chance to shine again, though it’s likely that a lot of the talent that used to be there has leaked out to other studios. What are Chris and Tim Stamper doing these days anyways?

    1. They’re out of the game industry completely Charles. Ahmed and I were actually just discussing this the other day. Rare for all intents and purposes is no longer the same studio they used to be. They have been greatly downsized and no longer work on AAA software. As a matter of fact they’re now the go-to guys for seasonal updates to Kinect Sports. It’s truly sad because they have a lot of excellent franchises that are rip for the picking.

  2. I’m sad to even think about this. So many great franchises have been collecting dirt under Microsoft’s care. I simply hope Microsoft sells them instead of doing nothing with them.

    1. Yeah same here Ahmed, but I really wonder about that. MS could look at it as potential weapons for some future battle instead of making a quick buck and someone else turning these IPs into long-lasting and profitable franchises. They could put a clause in there that the IPs must be published on Microsoft’s systems alone, but then that sort of defeats the purpose of selling them in the first place.

      Whatever happens, we need another Battletoads, Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini, and all the others!

  3. A quick google search reveals that the Stamper brothers turned to engineering and land development after they left Rare. A shame to see such talent depart from the industry for good. What a shame that Microsoft’s acquisition of the company occurred in the first place. Any other Rare-level developers that have went under in this way over the past decade that you can think of?

    1. Not offhand Charles, but the two co-founders of BioWare just departed the company so hopefully that doesn’t turn out badly. At the very least BioWare still has lots of AAA projects in the works. It’s a completely different situation, but whatever.

      I think the biggest problem with Rare is that they simply didn’t fit the Xbox brand. The same could be said for Silicon Knights. Once they left Nintendo development, they went bye-bye.

  4. Very true. Rare’s games simply hold more appeal with the demographic that typically follows Nintendo consoles. A shame about Silicon Knights as well, as I loved Eternal Darkness as well as their fabulous remake of MGS. To this day I still haven’t played Too Human but I actually still want to lol.

    1. I didn’t mind it as much as others, but it’s not really a videogame because there are no consequences. You can’t die in the game so basically you just make your way through the journey. Simple as that. It’s sad that this generation saw the death of both those studios.

  5. Wow, I had no idea it had been ten years since then. Nice article on the subject though.

    Anyway, I remember when I first heard about it I thought it was some kind of joke, but once it was confirmed to me it was a pretty crappy day indeed. Rare up to that point was like a household name among my gaming library and losing them was like a kick to the gut. However, even worse is seeing how they’ve ended up after all of these years where a lot of people consider them the butt of a joke more than anything now. I’m hoping that Killer Instinct rumor comes true if only for Rare to have a chance at redemption for themselves.

  6. Even if Killer Instinct comes out and is incredible, it won’t be made by “our” Rare. The people that made that place special are long gone. The studio is quite literally a shadow of its former self. I honestly think it was the chemistry. They never fit Microsoft’s userbase/style.

    I’d love to see Rare make some huge comeback if nothing else but to see their brand mean something again, but I don’t think Microsoft will give them that chance.

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