What Ever Happened to Rareware?

Rare got its start in 1982, under the name Ashby Computers and Graphics Limited. It was founded by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper, along with John Lathbury and Carole Ward. Before starting their own company they designed arcade games, including Jetpac, Tranz Am, Psssst and Cookie, with the company “Ultimate: Play the Game”. Ultimate was sold in 1985, and the quartet of people moved on to bigger and better opportunities.


The Stamper brothers changed the name to Rare: Designs of the Future, which was shortened to Rareware, later to be shortened again to just Rare. They continued to create games with their focus on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. They created over sixty games in about five years, and less than half of them were actually innovative and something they alone had come up with. The brothers popularity was taking a hit, but they didn’t care because they loved making the games. When Nintendo started dominating markets in the USA their games became cash cows and their popularity soared. Then, Nintendo came out with the SNES and the Stamper brothers equipment went out of date. In response, they took some of their money and invested in Silicon Graphics workstations which made them far beyond almost every game company in the world. In 1994 they entered a publishing agreement with Nintendo, to start making games for the SNES and then the Nintendo 64. They became one of Nintendo’s biggest developers of games. After a while, Nintendo gave them a choice of a few different characters to be able to create a new 3D CGI game.  The Stamper brothers chose Donkey Kong, and made one of the second most successful games in SNES history “Donkey Kong Country” (selling over nine million copies). Also in 1994, Rare continued its work in the Arcades, and Martin Hollis (who had been with Rare for a year) created “Killer Instinct” which became a hugely popular game in arcades around the world.

The second best selling SNES game of all time

One of the biggest games put out by Rare was “Goldeneye 007” directed by Martin Hollis and it was a smash amongst video gamers in 1997. It was the first non-PC first person shooter to come out. It was reported that 1 in every 4 Nintendo 64 users had the game and the game won multiple awards.


During 1997, and for the next couple of years Rare had a lot of employee turnover. due to the high demand in games, and the fact that the Stamper Brothers felt like they needed to have their hands in every game Rare was working on, a lot of people were fed up and left the company. The first big walkout was in 1997, when a group of employees walked out on the company to form their own called “Eighth Wonder” (which never published any of their own games, and bankrupt after two years). A little later, in the middle of creating the sequel to “Goldeneye 007”  Martin Hollis also left Rare.

In 1999 they released “Donkey Kong 64” (selling five million copies) and “Jet Force Gemini” (selling one million copies) which both got decent reviews, but were considered disappointing and got less praise than Rare’s previous games.


Based on the framework of the sequel of 007, that Hollis left in the middle of, The Stampers decided that they weren’t going to go with another Bond game, but made “Perfect Dark” instead. The lack of satisfaction amongst the employees about the success of “Perfect Dark” (only selling 2.5 million copies) caused another group of people to leave the company.


“Conker’s Bad Fur Day” released in 2001 was the next game that Rare decided to produce and publish on their own. This game was something that Rare had never put out before, because the protagonist, Conker,  was very sarcastic and the game contained a lot of potty humor and sexual references. It was because of the dramatic difference from the usual games Rare put out, that the critics loved it, and Nintendo did not. Nintendo did not list the game in any of their magazines or in anything published by them. They essentially disowned the game due to its content.


The last game put out by Rare under Nintendo was in 2002, and it was for the Nintendo Gamecube. “Star Fox Adventures” hit stores in September of 2002 (selling almost two million copies) but almost as soon as the game hit the market, the Stamper Brothers sold Rare to Microsoft.

Star Fox Adventures

Microsoft paid the Stamper Brothers 375 million dollars to come and develop games for them. They immediately went to work on games for the Xbox. The two games that were put out for the Xbox were both failures in reviews, and sales. “Grabbed by the Ghoulies” and “Conker: Live and Reloaded” sold less than one million copies combined. But despite their bad sales, Microsoft put Rare in charge of making them “system sellers” for the upcoming Xbox 360. Rare came up with Perfect Dark Zero, and Kameo: Elements of Power (which were both projects they had originally intended for the Gamecube) which were considered a success  selling about 1 million copies each.

Kameo Elements Of Power COVER

The next game in line, and something solely made for the Xbox 360 system was “Viva Pinata” which was considered a more gentle game (something Rare hadn’t put out in years). “Viva Pinata” was considered to be the best game Rare had put out since they had been bought out by Microsoft, but sales were not impressive. Critics loved the game, but people just weren’t buying it. `


Then, in early 2007 the Stamper brothers left Rare because they wanted to “pursue other opportunities”. They left Greg Mayles (Creative Director) and Mark Betteridge (Studio Director) in charge of the company.

Just after the Stamper brothers left, Rare put out another sequel to “Banjo-Kazooie” called “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts”. Critics had mixed reviews, but were mostly positive, but the fans were on the other side, mostly disliking the game. The reason behind it was because they didn’t think the sequel stayed true to its roots. The game sold about 700,000 units.


The next set of games that Rare was put in charge of were the Kinect Sport games and their sequels. Kinect was introduced in 2010, and Kinect Sports was one of the games available at launch. Because of the overwhelming popularity of Wii Sports (81 million copies sold) Kinect sports was sure to be a hit. It was in a sense, selling almost six million copies (just a very small portion of what “Wii Sports” sold) it was still considered to be financially successful for Microsoft.


Rare has several projects that had just come out for the Xbox One, such as “Kinect Sports: Rivals” and “Killer Instinct” (which is a remastered version of the arcade game). They are hoping these games will finally get them back on the map of gaming.

Looking at the numbers, Rare put out 30+ games between 1994 (when they were bought by Nintendo) and 2002. Then, from 2002 (when Microsoft bought them) to now they have put out 12 games. Because they have put out fewer games you would assume that the quality of the games must be great. It makes sense to think that, but you would be wrong. Fans have been complaining that quality has gone down a considerable amount since Microsoft bought them out. A quote from Justin Cook (A design developer for “Viva Pinata”) says this “The biggest change for me was the closing of the testing department. I’d already ‘escaped’ into design but the shock of losing the up-and-coming talent being developed in testing was a big wake-up call”. Another quote, taken from former employee Martin Hollis says, “Microsoft and Rare was a bad marriage from the beginning. The groom was rich. The bride was beautiful, but they wanted to make different games and they wanted to make them in different ways”.

Will Microsoft be Rare’s downfall? Some would say it already has been, but we could always hold out, and hope that Rare will regain the charm it had oh so long ago. Rare once stood above other developers as the shining example of ingenuity, uniqueness, and the ability to take on changing markets and technology, but maybe that’s not who they are anymore. Hopefully, if we hold out long enough, Rare will make it’s masterpiece and we can fall in love with them all over again.





Sources: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-02-08-who-killed-rare http://www.giantbomb.com/rare-ltd/3010-174/



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