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.
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 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.
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!
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.