Ah, Rare, or how I (and many others) remember them, Rareware. What else can truly be said about them? They had a run from Donkey Kong Country to Conker’s Bad Fur Day that was the stuff of legends. It seemed everything they touched turned to gold, helping keep the Nintendo 64 afloat during a rough battle with the PSOne, and creating a catalogue of IP any developer would die for. Jet Force Gemini, Killer Instinct, Blast Corps, Perfect Dark, the aforementioned Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie. Mind you, all of this was in addition to older gems in their catalogue such as Sabrewulf, Lunar Jetman, Jetpak and Battletoads, as well as revolutionary games made from existing IP like Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye. Yet Rare’s fortunes seemed to change, arguably in 2001 with the rather divisive Star Fox Adventures, and certainly upon being acquired by Microsoft.
Despite what was more than likely a hefty sum paid by their new parent company, Rare had a hard time fitting in with the Xbox family. Titles like Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo, while good, failed to light sales and critical charts on fire, whereas games such as Conker: Live and Reloaded, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and Perfect Dark Zero proved incredibly divisive in their respective fandoms. There were definitely bright spots, such as the endlessly charming Viva Pinata, but the company and franchises many around the world fell in love with just weren’t the same. All of this came to a head when the storied company seemed more intent on making Kinect Sports games than revisiting their past.
However, over the past few years, Rare has been seeing something of a renaissance – or Rarenaissance (I’ll see myself out). Killer Instinct, a reboot of their beloved series made in conjunction with other developers such as Double Helix and Iron Galaxy, received rave reviews and has found itself a dedicated community. Rare Replay, a delightful compilation of some of the studio’s best (and weirdest) titles was released to acclaim from critics and gamers alike. Finally, Sea of Thieves has grown from an ambitious if underbaked title into one of Xbox’s biggest success stories of the generation. With future updates for Sea of Thieves, and a brand new, ambitious-looking IP called Everwild, the future of the studio is looking the brightest it has been this century. But what exactly can be done with their old IP? Will we ever get a Banjo game again? That is the question I’d like to try and answer.
First of all, the way I see it, Rare and Xbox have four potential choices ahead of them. The first of these choices is the easiest and probably going to be your least favourite… do nothing. These games have had their time in the sun, so they may as well move past it. This answer is simple, and leaves a lot of money on the table, but should nevertheless not interfere in the day-to-day life of the studio. But this scenario is no fun, is it? It doesn’t make a ton of economic sense, and it puts greater pressure on a new IP to perform in the coming gen. Sometimes there is something to be said for sticking to what you know.
The second choice isn’t necessarily much better: force Rare to make reboots and sequels to their old franchises. While this may satisfy fans, Rare currently has a great thing going pursuing games they have always wanted to make (again, look at the success of Sea of Thieves). This could cut their winning streak short if the passion isn’t there, and may lead to disappointed fans in the long-run. It is also especially important to note that many of the employees that made the older Rare titles have moved on from the company. Some, such as Banjo-Kazooie director Gregg Mayles, still work actively there today, but others such as the co-founders, the Stamper brothers, and acclaimed composer Grant Kirkhope left years ago. This means that future games may be missing some of the old Rare magic, even if they are still quite good. This also applies to the second and third choices.
The third choice is to keep Rare’s IP in house, and rent them out to first and second party studios. This is currently the strategy Rare is employing and it may expand in the future. DLaLa Studios is currently hard at work on a reboot of Battletoads, and The Initiative is rumoured to be working on a Perfect Dark reboot. This also leaves the doors open for Rare to revisit their IP if they want to. However, doing this is also a risk, as if the wrong company is chosen to reboot the IP, it could kill the franchise forever. Handing the reigns over to another team is always an incredible risk, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It is of the utmost importance that Rare is involved to ensure that the best possible team is picked for the job, or the fallout among passionate fans may be severe. To see this in action, just mention the words “Young Conker” to a hardcore Conker fan and watch the verbal, expletive-laden fireworks.
The fourth choice may be the most out there, but it is not without precedence: license the franchises out. Microsoft is the owner of video game rights to FASA properties such as Shadowrun, and they have licensed them out to other developers in the past. Microsoft also lent Nintendo Banjo and Kazooie for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Doing this allows them to make money off of their properties through licensing fees, gives them exclusive merchandising rights and keeps their properties in the public consciousness, but would likely come at the cost of exclusivity. It is for this last reason that I find this scenario rather unlikely.
So, which of these approaches do you like best? I personally prefer the third, but that is just me. Either way, I sincerely hope Rare continues their winning streak, and our favorite bird and bear, drunken squirrel, crazy toads, kick-butt agent and more get their time in the spotlight again.