Rare has a long and detailed history which stretches back into the early history of computer and video games. The organization now known as Rare Ltd. was founded in 1982 as Ashby Computers and Graphics Limited by brothers Tim and Chris Stamper, along with John Lathbury and Carole Ward. The four had formerly been a development team for a US arcade manufacturer. Publishing games under the name Ultimate Play the Game, they initially produced a quartet of best-selling games (Jetpac, Tranz Am, Pssst, and Cookie) for the ZX Spectrum. Quickly expanding into other 8-bit platforms, Ultimate established itself as a leading games brand by releasing technically impressive games, and cultivated a mystique in the young software industry by rarely giving interviews and using opaque marketing, often consisting simply of the game title art. The "Ultimate" name and catalog was sold in 1985 to U.S. Gold to prevent a buyout of the whole company.
The Stamper brothers then started creating games under the name Rare: Designs on the Future which was changed to RareWare, and then later shortened to simply Rare. Rare continued to have success with its titles but began to focus solely on the extremely popular NES platform. The Rare Coin-It brand was used by a subsidiary company based in the U.S., and is credited on a few NES games and arcade machines.
Rare operates in its custom-built HQ in Twycross, Leicestershire, UK and its new 11,000 sq ft studio space in Fazeley Studios in Digbeth, Birmingham.
Partnership with Nintendo
In 1994, Rare entered an exclusive publishing agreement with Nintendo as the company's second-party developer to develop games on the Super NES and Nintendo 64. In this period, Rare started selling their games under the trademark name "Rareware" and the slogan "Rare: Designs on the Future". The company was considered one of Nintendo's key developers and had enough recognition that Nintendo offered them their catalogue of characters to create a 3D CGI game. The Stampers asked for Donkey Kong and the resulting game, Donkey Kong Country, was a critical success and sold over eight million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game in the SNES library. The game was known for utilizing pre-rendered 3D graphics and it became the standard feature of Rare. 1994, Rare developed Killer Instinct for the arcade and instantly became an international hit.
Rare gained more international recognition with titles for the Nintendo 64 such as Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Gemini and Banjo-Kazooie.
Acquired by Microsoft & The Stamper's Departure
In September 2002, Rare was acquired by Microsoft to develop games on their Xbox platform, for a reported sum of $375 million. Rare later moved on to become one of the flagship developers for Microsoft's new Xbox 360 console with the creation of two launch titles, Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power. On 2 January 2007, Chris and Tim, the original founders, left the company to "pursue other opportunities," leaving no statement regarding future plans. The company continued under the leadership of Creative Director Gregg Mayles and Studio Director Mark Betteridge. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was the first game developed without direction from the Stamper brothers and released in November 2008.
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was critically well received, but it didn't perform to Microsoft's expectations commercially. In early 2009, after Microsoft shuttered several other first-party studios including FASA and Ensemble, Betteridge released a statement saying there was a need to restructure Rare's development approach to create high-quality games. He also noted that a small number of current positions may be lost.
In February 2010 Microsoft announced it would create a new 11,000 sq ft facility in Fazeley Studios, located in Digbeth, Birmingham, for Rare to use as a "production, test, and usability site." Rare noted they chose the site due to its central urban location with proximity to several universities and as an ideal place to recruit talent. The studio opened in April 2010 and is reported to house around 90 staff members to complement its Twycross HQ.
In October 2010 Scott Henson, a long-time Microsoft veteran who was part of the original Xbox team, announced he was replacing Betteridge as the Studio Manager, with Betteridge returning to a more creative role. Henson's vision was to continue partnering Rare with the platform team, citing their pioneering work on Xbox 360 Avatars, and to build on the strong position of the the soon-to-be-released Kinect, beginning with Rare's launch title Kinect Sports, set for release in early November.
Kinect Sports was critically well received, with many reviews citing it as a strong example of the Kinect technology. Within 7 months of release it sold more than 3 million units, making it the best-selling Kinect game and Rare's most commercially successful game since its acquisition in 2002. In March 2011, Henson announced that Craig Duncan, whose previous work includes Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and the Colin McRae Rally Series, was hired on as Senior Studio Director.