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Rare Ltd.

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Rare Ltd.
Rare logo 2015.png
Founded 1 July 1985
Founders Tim Stamper
Chris Stamper
Headquarters Twycross, England
Parent Microsoft
"We've been making golden memories and redefining gaming genres since 1985, and that's not about to change. Everything we do is true to our goals of pursuing new experiences and putting players first. Still ahead of the game after three decades of evolution, there's no other studio in the world quite like Rare."
—Rare, 2015[1]

Rare Limited, often known as Rare, is a British video game developer. The company was founded in 1985 by Tim and Chris Stamper, as the successor company to Ultimate Play the Game. They have developed a wide variety of games, with genres such as first-person shooter, platformer, action-adventure, fighting, puzzle, and racing.

The company initially developed several games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, with an unlimited budget granted to them by Nintendo. Some of their most successful releases have included Wizards & Warriors, R.C. Pro-Am, and Battletoads. Beginning in 1994, Rare would become a prominent second-party developer for Nintendo, with the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark going on to become widely-acclaimed, best-selling titles.

In 2002, Rare was acquired by Microsoft, subsequently ending the studio's relationship with Nintendo. Rare would retain their original brand, logo, and intellectual properties, while the Donkey Kong franchise was retained by Nintendo. The studio has been a first-party developer for Microsoft since the acquisition, having released games such as Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo: Elements of Power, and the Viva Piñata series for the Xbox line of consoles. Fans and former employees, such as Grant Kirkhope, have been critical of the Microsoft acquisition, citing a noticeable drop in critical reception. Rare continues to make new and successful titles, among them Sea of Thieves and Everwild, while reviving older IPs in collaborations with other studios,[2][3] resulting in Battletoads and Perfect Dark reboots.


Early years

Rare evolved from Ultimate Play the Game, a company which mainly designed games for the ZX Spectrum, such as Jetpac and Sabre Wulf, and would become the biggest UK-based video game development companies. The ZX Spectrum was only popular in the UK, and at the time had a large problem with piracy of home computer software. Believing they hit a dead end, the Stamper brothers sought another console to create games on.[4]

In 1984, Tim and Chris Stamper got their first look at a Japanese home console, the Famicom. Because the Famicom was more advanced than the ZX Spectrum, the Stamper brothers saw potential in the console. In 1985, the brothers formed a subdivision of Ultimate Play the Game, called Rare, which was dedicated reverse-engineering the Famicom. With successful results and with the help of Joel Hochberg, the Stamper brothers were arranged to meet Nintendo executive Minoru Arakawa in Kyoto, Japan.[5] During the meeting, the Stamper brothers presented a few software demos to Nintendo. At the time, Nintendo had a quality-control measure that restricted its third-party developers to the number of games that they could produce for the Famicom, or the Nintendo Entertainment System, in a given year. Nintendo was impressed with Rare's results and granted them a license to release as many games as they wanted.[6] To help fund Rare, the Stamper brothers sold off Ultimate Play the Game to U.S. Gold.[5]

Rare would become one of the first companies outside of Japan to develop games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.[6] The first project Rare worked on was Slalom, a downhill skiing game.[7] Rare then worked with various gaming publishers, including Tradewest, Acclaim Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Sega, Mindscape, and Gametek, to produce over 60 games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and several additional Game Boy conversions. Several of these games were licensed properties, but Rare would also develop some of their own intellectual properties, such as R.C. Pro-Am, Snake Rattle 'n' Roll, and the Battletoads series. The development of four of Rare's games were outsourced to Zippo Games, including Wizards & Warriors and Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warpship, the third game of the Jetman series. Rare eventually bought out the studio, and they were renamed to "Rare Manchester".[8]

When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released, Rare was not immediately ready for the transition. Around the same time, Rare began to limit their releases and focused mainly on creating more Battletoads ganes. With the profit earned from their NES library, Rare purchased expensive Silicon Graphics workstations to create three-dimensional models while developing games. This move made Rare the most technologically advanced developer in the UK, and situated them high in the international market.[6] With these workstations, Rare's priority was changed to focus on quality games instead of quantity.

Rareware era (1994-2002)

Rareware logo, used from 1994-2003

Using the Silicon Graphics workstations, Rare created a boxing game demo and presented it to Nintendo. The Super Nintendo could not render all of the SGI graphics at once, so Rare used the SGI graphics to produce 3D models and graphics, before pre-rendering those graphics onto the Super Nintendo game, a process known as "Advanced Computer Modelling". Nintendo was impressed by Rare and bought a 25% stake in them, which gradually increased to 49%, making Rare a second-party developer for Nintendo.[6] During this period, Rare formed the trademark name Rareware, which they used as the name for their software.[9] Nintendo offered their entire catalogue for Rare to make a game from. Rare decided to create a game named Donkey Kong Country, which became one of the best-selling Super Nintendo games and rooted the lucrative relationship between Rare and Nintendo. Around this time, Rare also developed a fighting game, Killer Instinct, on their own custom-built arcade machine. It was released for Super Nintendo a year later.

Donkey Kong Country was followed by two sequels, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!, and the Donkey Kong Land series of spinoffs. Nintendo's stake purchase of Rare allowed them to expand significantly. The number of staff members increased from 84 to 250, and Rare moved out from their headquarters at the Manor Farmhouse.[10] Killer Instinct was followed by a sequel, Killer Instinct 2. In 1996, Killer Instinct 2 had a Nintendo 64 release, Killer Instinct Gold, which was their first release on that console.

Rare's first original release for Nintendo 64 was Blast Corps, which, to Rare's disappointment, only sold one million copies.[11] At the time, Rare was split into several teams, each working on a different project. The first project was GoldenEye 007, which was based on the GoldenEye film; the project was led by Martin Hollis and development was done by an inexperienced team.[12] GoldenEye 007 became a best-seller and had a significant role in the history of first-person shooters for demonstrating the viability of game consoles for the genre, and for signalling a transition from the then-standard Doom-like approach to a more realistic style.

Around 1997, Rare developed Pro-Am 64, which would be part of Rare's early R.C. Pro-Am series; during development, Shigeru Miyamoto suggested the inclusion of Diddy Kong, and the game became Diddy Kong Racing. Upon its release, Diddy Kong Racing became one of the fastest-selling games of its time, according to Guinness World Records.

Two characters in Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo and Conker, would later receive their own franchises. These games, Banjo-Kazooie and Twelve Tales: Conker 64 were first unveiled at E3 1997 alongside Diddy Kong Racing. Banjo-Kazooie started development as a The Legend of Zelda-inspired game for the Super Nintendo, Dream: Land of Giants. It was a pirate-themed game starring a young boy named Edson. During development, Dream moved over to the Nintendo 64. Edson was replaced by Banjo, who would receive a sidekick named Kazooie, and Banjo-Kazooie was released in June 1998. Twelve Tales: Conker 64, originally Conker's Quest, started as a 3D platformer similar to Banjo-Kazooie. The game went through a few delays before being planned for an October 1998 release. At the time, the game was criticized for being too family-friendly and similar to Banjo-Kazooie. The game was canceled without announcement, and a year later, it was reannounced in January 2000 as a Mature-rated title, Conker's Bad Fur Day.[13] In 2001, Rare's last Nintendo 64 game, Conker's Bad Fur Day, was released. Although the game was well-received, it sold poorly due to being released near the end of the Nintendo 64's lifespan and receiving minimal promotion from Nintendo.[6]

When Banjo-Kazooie finished development, Martin Hollis immediately started work on a sequel to GoldenEye 007. The game was originally meant to be a tie-in for Tomorrow Never Dies, although Rare was significantly outbid by another publisher, forcing Rare to develop a new concept with new characters. With a major emphasis on lighting, the game became Perfect Dark.[14] After 14 months into Perfect Dark's development, Martin Hollis left Rare. Around the same time, numerous employees left the company and formed new studios. With major project leads departing, a new team took over Perfect Dark's development and diminished the role of lighting in the game, making it a more straightforward first-person shooter.[6] Rare's other teams were unaffected by Perfect Dark's troubled development. While Perfect Dark was still in development, Rare released two other games in 1999, a third-person shooter titled Jet Force Gemini and a Donkey Kong game in the style of Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64. Perfect Dark was released in mid-2000.

In 1999, Nintendo signed an agreement with Disney, and assigned Rare to develop racing-adventure games starring Mickey Mouse. Rare made two games; the first game, Mickey's Racing Adventure, was released for the Game Boy Color in 1999. The next game, Mickey's Speedway USA was first released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, and a Game Boy Color version was released in 2001, as Rare's last release for the handheld.

After Diddy Kong Racing finished development, another team was working on a Nintendo 64 game titled Dinosaur Planet, which had similar gameplay to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In 2000, some time after Dinosaur Planet was shown E3 2000, Shigeru Miyamoto approached the team and suggested for them to recreate the game as a Star Fox game for the Nintendo GameCube. After two more years of development, the game was released in 2002 as Star Fox Adventures, which retained a The Legend of Zelda-type gameplay even though Star Fox was established for its rail shooter gameplay. Star Fox Adventure was Rare's only GameCube release and their last release for a Nintendo home console. It marked the end of their partnership with Nintendo.

Microsoft era (2002-present)

Photograph of the Stamper brothers with Xbox vice president Ed Fries on the day of the acquisition

Game development costs gradually increased, and Nintendo did not provide Rare with more capital nor did they purchase the company's remaining stake. Tim and Chris Stamper were surprised that Nintendo did not directly acquire the studio.[15] Rare then looked for potential buyers. In the early 2000s, workers from Activision and Microsoft began visiting Rare with purchase offers. Rare was interested in Activision's offer, but the deal collapsed.[16][17] On 24 September 2002, the day after Star Fox Adventures was released in North America, Microsoft finalized their acquisition of Rare and bought them for $375 million.[18] Since then, Rare has become became a first-party developer for Microsoft's Xbox. Rare retained the rights to their intellectual properties, such as Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker, and Nintendo retained the right to the Donkey Kong and Star Fox franchises. This left Donkey Kong Racing, due for a GameCube release, to be unreleased. Development for the game was carried over to the Xbox, as Sabreman Stampede, although that game was also cancelled. 30 employees left Rare during the transition.[8]

Since Microsoft was not part of the handheld market, Rare continued to develop games for the Game Boy Advance.[19] In June 2003, Nintendo published Rare's Game Boy Advance remake of Donkey Kong Country, making it their first post-acquisition release and first for the Game Boy Advance. Both of its sequels, Donkey Kong Country 2 and Donkey Kong Country 3, were also remade for the handheld and released in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

Two months later, in August 2003, Rare and Microsoft signed an agreement with THQ to publish Rare's other Game Boy Advance games,[20] all of which were first shown at E3 2001. The two Donkey Kong games from E3 2001 were reskinned to use characters from Rare's franchises—Diddy Kong Pilot became Banjo-Pilot, and Donkey Kong Coconut Crackers became It's Mr. Pants!. The first Rare game that THQ published was Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge. The deal was completed in January 2005, with the release of Banjo-Pilot.

In 2003, the trade name "Rareware" was officially dropped, when Rare redesigned the logo.[21] The same year, Rare released Grabbed by the Ghoulies, which was their first release on an Xbox console and their first game after their trademark name was dropped. Grabbed by the Ghoulies, as its name suggests, is an action-adventure game set in a haunted mansion full of supernatural creatures. It was originally intended as a free-roaming game but was significantly streamlined in design and concept to attract a larger, more casual audience. The game received mixed reviews from critics, and was considered Rare's worst and least-popular game.[22]

At E3 2004, Ken Lobb said that Rare had obtained Nintendo DS development kits and was working on two games for the handheld. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft issued a statement that the company and its studios had no plans for Nintendo DS development. In July 2005, Rare posted job openings for Nintendo DS development on its website and said that it was creating "key" DS games.[23] In 2007, Rare released their first Nintendo DS game, Diddy Kong Racing DS, which was a remake of the Nintendo 64 game, Diddy Kong Racing. In 2008, Rare released their second and last game for the Nintendo DS and their only original title, Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise. Like the Game Boy Advance era, THQ published an original game from Rare while Nintendo published a remake of a Donkey Kong game. After Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise was released, Rare's handheld division was closed.

Kameo: Elements of Power is a Rare game that was released as an Xbox 360 launch title

In 2005, Rare released Conker: Live & Reloaded, a remake of Conker's Bad Fur Day, featuring enhanced graphics and an exclusive Xbox Live-compatible multiplayer mode. The game received generally favorable reviews but became a commercial failure just like the original game. Later that year, the Xbox 360 was released, and two of its launch games were games developed by Rare, Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero, both of which were originally developed for the Nintendo GameCube. Rare removed several features from Perfect Dark Zero to meet its release deadline.[24] In Kameo: Elements of Power, the main protagonist, Kameo, shape-shifts into different creatures to solve puzzles. Both received generally positive reviews from critics and sold more than a million copies.

In 2006, Rare released Viva Piñata, a game about gardening. It incorporated elements of several other simulation franchises, including The Sims, Animal Crossing, and Harvest Moon, and it was acclaimed as innovative.[7] The game's commercial performance was a disappointment, and some Rare employees questioned Microsoft Studios' large marketing budget for Gears of War and its relative neglect of Viva Piñata.[25] Software engineer and marketing campaign James Thomas said, "Yet, so much of the money went towards Gears of War, which is going to sell millions anyway. It was a bit of like, 'What about the other franchise?' I think we got left in the wake somewhat."[26]

On January 2, 2007, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper left the company to "pursue other opportunities". Former lead designer Gregg Mayles became Rare's creative director and Mark Betteridge the company's studio director.[27] The same year, an Xbox Live Arcade title and remake of Jetpac was released, Jetpac Refuelled.

Rare unveiled work on Xbox Live avatars, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (the next game in the Viva Piñata series), and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts in 2008. Although the game retained its core development team of the first Banjo-Kazooie, it received significant criticism from players due to its focus on vehicle construction rather than traditional platforming.[28] Though generally receiving positive reviews, the company's games for Microsoft sold poorly and Microsoft decided to restructure the studio in 2009.[29]

In March 2010, Rare opened a new facility at Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, Birmingham.[30] Later that year, Microsoft confirmed that Scott Henson replaced Mark Betteridge as studio manager and announced a focus on Xbox Live avatars.[31] Rare also shifted their focus to Kinect, and their first Kinect game, Kinect Sports, was released in November 2010. Kinect Sports received average reviews, but it was a commercial success, selling three million units by May 2011.[32] Rare and BigPark, another Microsoft studio, collaborated on the development of a sequel, Kinect Sports: Season Two, which released in October 2011.

In March 2011, Scott Henson announced that Craig Duncan was hired as senior studio director.[33] In April 2012, Simon Woodroffe became the studio's creative director.

In 2013, the Killer Instinct series received a reboot, Killer Instinct. Rare and Ken Lobb had a supporting role in its development, assisting lead developer Double Helix Games.[34] Another Rare mascot, Conker, was featured in a different Microsoft game, Project Spark, in the episodic downloadable content, Conker's Big Reunion. Sometime after the first episode was released, all subsequent episodes for Conker's Big Reunion were canceled.[35]

In 2014, Rare released the third and final Kinect Sports installment, Kinect Sports Rivals, for the Xbox One. Although the first installment sold well, Kinect Sports Rivals was a commercial failure. Following Microsoft's announcement that Kinect would no longer be a priority, about 15 Rare employees were laid off, and the software team was refocused.[36]

On February 10, 2015, a group of former Rare employees announced the formation of a new studio, Playtonic Games, and planned a "spiritual successor" to the Banjo-Kazooie series titled Yooka-Laylee, which was released on April 11, 2017 with mixed reviews. At E3 2015, the compilation title Rare Replay was announced in celebration of Rare's 30th anniversary. It was released in August 2015 and included 30 of Rare's earlier releases, including some from their Ultimate Play the Game era. Rare Replay only had games that Rare owned the intellectual property to.[37] Rare Replay became the most pre-ordered game shown at E3 that year and received critical acclaim upon launch. At the same E3, Rare also unveiled Sea of Thieves, an online multiplayer adventure game. The game was delayed at E3 2016 and was only released in March 2018, three years after its introduction. Sea of Thieves received mixed reviews, but was a commercial success. In January 2020, Microsoft declared Sea of Thieves as the most successful IP it released in the eighth generation, with more than 10 million players.[38]

Since 2018, Rare has been working with Dlala Studios on a Battletoads game for the Xbox One and Windows. In 2019, Microsoft and Rare collaborated with Nintendo to add Banjo and Kazooie as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. At the X019 event, Rare announced it was developing Everwild, an action-adventure game for Windows and Xbox One. At The Game Awards in December 2020, a Perfect Dark reboot was announced as being developed by The Initiative.


Main article: List of games


These are people who currently or have had a notable role at Rare.


For this subject's image gallery, see Gallery:Rare Ltd..


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  2. "Rare Studio Head on Possibility of Other Studios Working With Its IP — IGN Unfiltered" -
  3. Who saved Rare? -
  4. "Behind The Scenes At Rare: Killer Instinct Gold Interview". RareGamer
  5. a b Maher, Jimmy. January 14, 2014. "The Legend of Ultimate Play the Game". The Digital Antiquarian.
  6. a b c d e f McLaughlin, Rus. 28 July, 2008. "IGN Presents the History of Rare". IGN. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  7. a b 25 Years of Rare. GamePro Feature Story (archived).
  8. a b A Short History of Rare. Bloomberg. Published August 30, 2006 (
  9. "Rare Ltd. Rareware is the stuff we produce. I'd imagine." - Rarewhere: Scribes (June 19, 2000)" (archived from original)
  10. "GameCube Developer Profile: Rare". IGN. Published March 1, 2001.
  11. "The Making Of: Blast Corps" on NowGamer (archived). Published January 19, 2009.
  12. "The Making of Goldeneye" on Nowgamer (archived). Published May 13, 2011.
  13. "Conker Has a Bad Day". IGN. Published January 14, 2000.
  14. "Perfect Dark Interview" on IGN. (archived). Published May 14, 1999.
  15. "Interview with Tim Stamper". Develop (archived). Published August 3, 2015.
  16. "Who Killed Rare?". Published February 8, 2012.
  17. "Activision Initially Almost Bought Rare". (archived). Published October 27, 2010.
  18. "Microsoft Acquires Video Game Powerhouse Rare Ltd.". Microsoft. Published September 24, 2002.
  19. "Rare Still On for GBA". IGN. Published November 7, 2002.
  20. "THQ to publish four Rare GBA titles". EuroGamer (published August 12, 2003)
  21. "Are we still Rareware? Technically, we probably could be if we wanted to, but for now we've consciously dropped the name from the logo to concentrate on good old straightforward Rare." - Rare: Scribes (February 9, 2006)
  22. "Why Rare's supposedly worst, least popular game is actually my favourite". Gamesradar. Published October 22, 2015.
  23. "Rare DS Development Re-Confirmed". Gamezone. Published July 8, 2005.
  24. "Perfect Dark scaled down to meet launch deadline". Engadget. Published September 27, 2005.
  25. "A Rare Opportunity: On Piņatas, Microsoft and More." Gamasutra
  26. "Rare questions Piñata marketing". Eurogamer. Published October 15, 2007.
  27. "Rare Founders Leave to 'Pursue Other Opportunities'". (archived). Published January 2, 2007]
  28. "A Rare Look at Rare". (archived).
  29. "Rare restructures, Microsoft warns of earnings slip". GameSpot. Published February 18, 2009.
  30. "Rare announces “new studio facility” in Birmingham". VG247. Published March 2, 2010.
  31. "Scott Henson Appointed Studio Manager Of Rare". Edge Magazine. Published October 28, 2010.
  32. "Xbox 360 tops April console sales, Kinect library to triple in 2011". GameSpot. Published May 13, 2011.
  33. "Craig Duncan joins Rare" on Develop (archived). Published March 21, 2011.
  34. "Killer Instinct coming to Xbox One". Polygon. Published June 10, 2013.
  35. "Conker DLC Canceled as Project Spark Goes Completely Free (Not Free-to-Play)". GameSpot. Published September 28, 2015.
  36. "Layoffs hit Rare following Kinect Sports Rivals flop". Eurogamer. Published May 19, 2014.
  37. "'Rare Replay': gaming classics at their best-worst". Engadget. Published August 7, 2015.
  38. "Sea Of Thieves Is Now Xbox's "Most Successful" New IP Of The Generation". GameSpot. Published January 8, 2020.

External links