Rare Ltd.

Rare Ltd.
Rare Ltd.
Type Subsidiary of Microsoft Studios
Industry Interactive entertainment
Computer and video games
Founded 1982
Founder(s) Tim and Chris Stamper
Headquarters Twycross, Leicestershire, UK
Key people Tim and Chris Stamper (former founders)
Mark Betteridge (former Studio Director)
Craig Duncan
Products Video games
Owner(s) Tim and Chris Stamper (1982–2002)
Microsoft (2003–present)
Employees ~200[1]
Parent Microsoft Studios
Website http://www.rare.co.uk/

Rare Ltd. is a British video game developer located in Twycross, Leicestershire. The organization was founded in 1982 by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper as a company called Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. and published games under the name Ultimate Play the Game. They developed games for 8-bit platforms such as the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro. In 1985, the Ultimate name was sold to U.S. Gold in order to prevent a buyout of the whole company.

The company subsequently began to focus solely on the Nintendo Entertainment System platform, and in 1994 they entered an exclusive publishing agreement with Nintendo. Rare achieved great critical acclaim and earned an international reputation for creating successful Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 titles such as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie, among others. In 2002, Microsoft paid US$375 million for a 100% acquisition of the company. As a result, Rare is now a subsidiary of Microsoft Studios.

On 2 January 2007, it was announced that founders Tim and Chris Stamper left Rare to pursue "other opportunities". Rare's current Senior Studio Director is Craig Duncan, a developer who has previously worked on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the Colin McRae Rally series.



Ultimate Play the Game

In the early 1980s, Chris Stamper was studying physics and electronics at Loughborough University in Leicestershire. Stamper was intrigued in programming, and he soon quit his degree course to begin working in arcade game development.[2] After spending a couple of years mastering the ZX80 and experimenting with it, he, along with his brother Tim and other friends, decided to make their own games and founded Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. (ACG) in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1982. In 1983, they released their first game, Jetpac, a single-screen shooting game for the ZX Spectrum. Rather than publishing it under ACG, the Stampers opted to create the trade name Ultimate Play the Game. The game was a commercial success and sold over 300,000 copies, turning Ultimate in excess of one million pounds.[2]

Over the next months, they released Pssst, Tranz Am and Atic Atac, among others, and soon the company became the top game developer in the United Kingdom. In 1984, they released Knight Lore, a revolutionary title that was the first in history to display a detailed 3D world using an isometric perspective. Although a fan base quickly grew around Ultimate Play the Game, the Stamper brothers attended no interviews or trade shows. According to Tim Stamper, "We were just interested in seeing the software out there and getting fair reviews".[3] Additionally, as the company was understaffed, they did not have enough time. But in the meantime they kept developing new titles for the ZX Spectrum,[4] the Amstrad CPC series, the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro.[5]

Inception and rise

When Chris and Tim Stamper were realising that they had pushed the Spectrum to its limits, they started getting interest in the development of Nintendo Entertainment System games out of Japan. By the time, they sold off part of the Ultimate label to U.S. Gold and formed a subdivision inside Ashby Computers and Graphics Ltd. named Rare Ltd.[6] Having convinced Nintendo to allow them to develop games for their 8-bit console, Rare started producing a large number of titles for the system, including Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am and Captain Skyhawk. The company produced over 40 NES games as well as several additional Game Boy conversions in just four years.[7] 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'".[8]

Nintendo then revealed their new video game console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and Rare was not ready for the change after developing the number of games on the NES. Therefore, they limited their releases to some Battletoads games and decided to invest their significant NES profit in purchasing expensive Silicon Graphics workstations so that they could learn how to create a game with pre-rendered 3D graphics.[9] Working on a way of transferring the hi-res graphical output of their Silicon Graphics workstations to the SNES system, they created a demonstration of a boxing game. As a result, this placed Rare as a highly advanced developer in the industry.[9]

Partnership with Nintendo

Their progress with the SGI graphics impressed Nintendo's Genyo Takeda, and in 1994, Nintendo bought a 49% stake in the company, making Rare a Nintendo second-party developer.[9] Rare then applied to trademark the names "Rareware" and "Rare: Designs on the Future". The company was one of Nintendo's key developers and had enough recognition that Nintendo offered them their catalogue of characters to create a SGI game. The Stamper brothers asked for Donkey Kong. The resulting game, Donkey Kong Country, which was the first to use pre-rendered 3D graphics on a console, was a critical and commercial success, and sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library.[9] Donkey Kong Country's success led to Rare creating two sequels: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, which were released to both critical and commercial success.

Around the same time, Nintendo acquired the rights of the 1995 film GoldenEye and asked Rare to produce a video game based on it. The developers initially decided to approach the game as a first-person rail shooter, but it was eventually changed to a free roaming 3D shooter for the Nintendo 64.[10] GoldenEye 007 was released on August 25, 1997 to universal critical acclaim and commercial success, eventually selling over eight million units worldwide. The game received numerous awards and Rare won the BAFTA award for "Best UK Developer".[11] Other Nintendo 64 games include: Banjo-Kazooie, released in 1998 with high critical praise and commercial success, won in the Console Action/Adventure and Art Direction categories and sold over three million units;[12] Jet Force Gemini and Donkey Kong 64 were released in 1999 to generally favorable and very positive reviews respectively, though not as high as their previous titles.[13]

Prior to these events, Rare had already publicly lost staff from other teams. In 1997 a small number of these employees (Oliver Davies, Oliver Norton, Steve Patrick, Jeff Stafford, Christopher Gage, and Adrian Smith) left and formed a new studio to be known as Eighth Wonder. They were signed with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and were all set to develop a new PlayStation game, but by 1999, the studio no longer existed. On the other hand, some key members of the GoldenEye 007 development team left Rare in 1998. Head of software Martin Hollis was the first to leave, working at Nintendo of America on the GameCube, and in 2000 he started his own company, Zoonami. Other members, such as David Doak, left soon after Hollis and formed Free Radical Design which went into administration in December 2008, but was then acquired by developer Crytek in 2009.[14] Doak left prior to this and set up a new games development company, named Pumpkin Beach.[13]

In 2000, Rare released the spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark. The game was given near universal critical acclaim from the gaming media, and the company was awarded the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Moving Images Award for 2000 and the Golden Satellite Award for Best Interactive Product in 2001.[11] Rare's last games for the Nintendo 64, Banjo-Tooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day, released in late 2000 and 2001 respectively, were very well-received by reviewers. Conker's Bad Fur Day won the 2001 BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for sound,[11] 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 N64's lifecycle.[15]

Microsoft era

Up from the end of 2000, people from Activision and Microsoft visited Rare.[16] In September 2002, the Stamper brothers sold their 51% interest in Rare to Microsoft; following this, Nintendo sold their 49% stake in the company as well. Microsoft paid a total of $375 million to own 100% of the company.[17][18] Because of this, Rare is now a first-party developer for Microsoft's Xbox and its successors. This left Donkey Kong Racing, which was due to be released for the Nintendo GameCube, unreleased.[19] 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.[20] Star Fox Adventures, originally planned as Dinosaur Planet for the N64, became the only Rare game produced for the Nintendo GameCube.[15]

Despite the acquisition, Rare still kept developing games for Nintendo handheld consoles,[21] 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, an interquel 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.[22] 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.

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.[23] 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.

In 2005, Rare released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of the N64's Conker's Bad Fur Day with updated graphics, sound to suit the Xbox and a reworked multiplayer option. The game received generally favorable 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.[11] On 2 January 2007, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper left the company to "pursue other opportunities".[24] 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 positive reviews, was their first major game developed without the involvement of the Stamper brothers in the company.[25]

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.[26] In March 2010, the company opened a new facility in Fazeley Studios, located in Digbeth, Birmingham.[27] 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 will be on Kinect.[28] 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."[29] Rare's first Kinect project was Kinect Sports, released in November 2010. Despite fair reviews,[30] the game was a commercial success, selling three million units as of May 2011.[31] In March 2011, Scott 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.[32]


Rare headquarters in Twycross, Leicestershire, UK

Unlike some other software developers, Rare gained a reputation for being a very secretive company. Their office buildings are heavily secured by cameras and are located in the remote Manor Park, just down the road from Twycross. Web video shows have been granted access in recent years, such as Eurogamer in November 2006,[33] The 1UP Show[34] 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.[20] 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.[20]

Tim Stamper, Video Games Daily interview, February 2003

During the Ultimate Play the Game years, the company gained an international reputation for being media-shy. The company itself, being understaffed, did not commit themselves to trade shows and only granted interviews once their current project was completed. Tim Stamper said in a CRASH interview that the only time off they had during the Ultimate years was two Christmas mornings. They worked all seven days a week, and the only hours in which they did not work were 2:00–8:00 am.[35]

Rare released a VHS tape that could be obtained via mail-in request with the purchase of Donkey Kong Country. The video details the game's creation and shows the animal models Rare used. At the end of the video, the host and some others are seen playing Killer Instinct. They quickly look at the cameraman before pushing him out a door and closing it as the video ends.[citation needed]

More recently, Rare has denied a fan site, MundoRare, from filming 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, claiming that the site could not support Rare's new direction.[36]


Rare has developed around 130 video games since its foundation, with sales nearing the 90 million units as of 2002.[18] Although the company is notable for its platform and shooter games, such as their Donkey Kong Country series, GoldenEye 007, the Conker series, the Banjo-Kazooie series, and the Perfect Dark series, 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, Jetpac Refuelled 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. Rare now focuses on the Kinect device, with their latest game, Kinect Sports, released in 2010 and the sequel Kinect Sports: Season Two released the year later. Rare is rumored to make a mature title for next Xbox console.[37]


  1. ^ "MundoRare, Mark Edmonds and Duncan Botwood interview". http://www.mundorare.com/features/the-men-who-knew-too-much/4. 
  2. ^ a b Retro Gamer Magazine (2010-11-15). "Rare: A Complete History (Page 1)". NowGamer. http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1042/rare-a-complete-history. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  3. ^ Retro Gamer Magazine (2010-11-15). "Rare: A Complete History (Page 3)". NowGamer. http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1042/rare-a-complete-history?o=2#listing. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  4. ^ Martijn van der Heide. "Sinclair Infoseek: Ultimate Play The Game". World of Spectrum. http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekpub.cgi?regexp=^Ultimate+Play+The+Game$. Retrieved 2006-08-19. 
  5. ^ Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 1)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p1.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  6. ^ Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 2)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p2.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  7. ^ Retro Gamer Magazine (2010-11-15). "Rare: A Complete History (Page 4)". NowGamer. http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1042/rare-a-complete-history?o=3#listing. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  8. ^ "Interview with Ste Pickford". NES-Bit. http://www.nes-bit.com/?p=4328. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  9. ^ a b c d Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 3)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p3.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  10. ^ Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 4)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p4.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Rare: Company Awards". Rare Ltd.. http://rareware.co.uk/company/awards2.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  12. ^ List-All (2009-09-30). "Best selling N64 Games". Listal. http://www.listal.com/list/bestselling-n64-games. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
  13. ^ a b Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 5)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p5.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  14. ^ GameSpot Staff (2009-02-04). "Crytek metabolizes Free Radical". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/timesplitters3/news/6204109/crytek-metabolizes-free-radical?tag=newsfeatures%3Btitle%3B1. Retrieved 2011-07-02. 
  15. ^ a b Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 6)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p6.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  16. ^ Kris Pigna (2010-10-27). "Activision Initially Almost Bought Rare". 1UP.com. http://www.1up.com/news/activision-initially-almost-bought-rare. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 
  17. ^ Neil Doughty (2002-09-26). "Microsoft buy top games producers Rare". CBBC Newsround. http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/sci_tech/newsid_2283000/2283354.stm. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  18. ^ a b Ade (2002-09-26). "X02: Microsoft buy Rare.". MSXbox. http://www.msxbox-world.com/features/article/25/x02-microsoft-buy-rare.html. Retrieved 2011-07-24. 
  19. ^ Rus McLaughlin (2008-07-28). "IGN Presents the History of Rare (Page 7)". IGN. http://uk.retro.ign.com/articles/894/894511p7.html. Retrieved 2011-03-14. 
  20. ^ a b c Adam Doree (2003-02-17). "The Rareware Interview". Video Games Daily. http://archive.videogamesdaily.com/features/rareware_int.asp. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  21. ^ Craig Harris (2002-11-07). "Rare Still On for GBA". IGN. http://uk.gameboy.ign.com/articles/376/376678p1.html. Retrieved 2011-03-17. 
  22. ^ IGN Staff (2003-08-11). "Rare Line-up Revealed". IGN. http://uk.gameboy.ign.com/articles/433/433166p1.html. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 
  23. ^ Seth Walker (2004-05-16). "Post-E3: Rare Working On DS Titles". Kombo.com. http://gc.kombo.com/article.php?artid=2122. Retrieved 2011-03-16. 
  24. ^ "Rare Founders Leave to 'Pursue Other Opportunities'". 1UP.com. http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3156140. Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  25. ^ Brendan Sinclair (2007-01-03). "Stamper brothers leave Rare". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/banjokazooie/news.html?login=true&sid=6163684. Retrieved 2011-04-17. 
  26. ^ Tor Thorsen (2009-02-17). "Rare restructures, Microsoft warns of earnings slip". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/news/6204772.html. Retrieved 2011-04-16. 
  27. ^ "Rare Games confirms move to Fazeley Studios in Digbeth". Birmingham Mail. 2010-03-02. http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2010/03/02/rare-games-confirms-move-to-fazeley-studios-in-digbeth-97319-25944894/. Retrieved 2010-11-22. 
  28. ^ David Valjalo (2010-10-28). "Scott Henson Appointed Studio Manager Of Rare". Edge. http://www.next-gen.biz/news/scott-henson-appointed-studio-manager-rare. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  29. ^ Matthew Reynolds (2010-10-28). "Rare: 'Kinect will be our main focus'". Digital Spy. http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/gaming/news/a284690/rare-kinect-will-be-our-main-focus.html?rss. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  30. ^ "Kinect Sports". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/game/xbox-360/kinect-sports. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  31. ^ Tom Magrino (2011-05-12). "Xbox 360 tops April console sales, Kinect library to triple in 2011". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/news/6313539.html?tag=updates%3Beditor%3Ball%3Btitle%3B6. Retrieved 2011-05-13. 
  32. ^ Marcos Villegas (2011-03-21). "Craig Duncan becomes Rare’s Senior Studio Director". DasReviews. http://www.dasreviews.com/das-game-news/craig-duncan-rares-senior-studio-director/. Retrieved 2011-07-10. 
  33. ^ Eurogamer TV Show episode 4
  34. ^ 1UP Show Special — Tour of Rare's studios
  35. ^ CRASH 51 - Ultimate
  36. ^ "NintendoLife: MundoRare Shuts Down After Losing Faith in Rare's New Direction". NintendoLife. http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2010/07/mundorare_shuts_down_after_losing_faith_in_rares_new_direction. 
  37. ^ Eurogamer (2011-10-04). "Rare making 'mature' game for Xbox 720?". Eurogamer. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-10-04-rare-making-mature-game-for-xbox-720. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 

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