Chronicle of a Buyout Foretold
Today, the months of unconfirmed rumours, non-shown games and lots of talks in general that were spread about Rare during the year 2002, have been forgotten. However, some myths are still alive (some of them contradictory) fed by the little information that surrounded that event; and, because of that, many wrong points were given as truth.
The rumours that were on the media before the purchase were so intense that, when it was finally announced there were no explanations: it was something that was already assumed. Microsoft bought Rare and that was it. In the interviews from the event this was the pattern, they talked about the purchase but not about how they reached the agreement.
It's also shown on this article that the controversy came up from the fact that it was a company so close to Nintendo that many people though that Rare was a subsidiary of Nintendo that, from night to dawn, has gone to the enemy's hands, including its franchises.
So, we should investigate if that relationship was indeed like the one the media showed. It all began in...
- According to Rarenet, Rare, since 1997, owned development kits for PlayStation (PSOne), to get ready for a possible project for Sony's machine, which would never come.
- At the beginning of this year, a group formed by five guys from the GoldenEye team and the recently released Perfect Dark leave Rare to found Free Radical Design. One of them, Stephen Ellis, stated (in September 2002) that the purchase "was going to happen sooner or later. It was just a matter of who the buyer would be and for how much the agreement would come," which indicates that even then (remember, the beginning of 1999) Rare have thought about ending with the exclusive development on Nintendo's hardware, and one of the options they had was to put the whole company for sale.
- Rare have just begun a huge building (Manor Park) capable of hosting comfortably up to 250 people, alongside with the most expensive development tools.
- Nintendojo talks about some differences between Nintendo and Rare about new releases on Nintendo 64 that Rare doesn't want to accomplish. An economic agreement would extend Rare's situation on Nintendo 64. With nowadays information and the last comments made by Ellis, it is highly possible that the background of that little fight was the exclusivity of Rare developments for Nintendo systems, which was also extended. Later, it was known that one of the points in discussion was the election of Rare as the developer for titles based on the recently acquired by Nintendo Mickey Mouse's franchise, which later led to the release of Mickey's Speedway USA (N64, GBC) and Mickey's Racing Adventure.
- Summer, E3: Rare shows Dinosaur Planet for Nintendo 64. Miyamoto states that taking account of the similarities of the main character with Fox McCloud, it wouldn't be a bad idea to develop an adventure game based on StarFox.
- Autumm: speculation about the cancellation of Dinosaur Planet begins, and a little later, the rumour extends to the possibility of a moving the game to Project Dolphin (later known as GameCube). The game makes its appearance at the ECTS that year without convincing anyone, as it was the same little polished demo from the E3.
- According to the extinguished Rare Central, development for Conker's Bad Fur Day ended in November, and its team spread into others development teams, but Nintendo decided to delay the game to March 2001 so it doesn't interfere with their plans for the end of the year.
On March, Conker's Bad Fur Day is released under disgraceful circumstances. The game had no marketing on any specialized media, not even on the official Nintendo Power Magazine; the game only gets a mention on PlayBoy and a TV spot that was broadcasted after midnight.
Nintendo rejects bringing the game to Europe. Finally, negotiations with THQ makes the releasing of the game on certain European countries possible but very expensive, as it's published by a third party. Commenting on this, Rare's official site says: "Other recently-breaking news on the Bad Fur Day front is the confirmed distribution of a PAL version across Europe by THQ, following Nintendo of Europe's decision to pass on the opportunity. This should mercifully lay to rest all those nasty rumours of the game being denied a release on its home turf at the eleventh hour, and means that some of those obscure cultural in-jokes might end up being appreciated after all. Best of all, you should be able to get your hands on a brand spanking new PAL BFD as soon as next month..."
- Despite the agreement, in Spain, Proein, the local distributor of THQ, decided not to publish Conker. Obviously, it is not published on Japan either. Curiously, after the purchase, George Harrison from Nintendo America stated that they were expecting to sell a million units of that title, while alluding -at the same time- to the latest results from Rare as a reason to let them go.
- At the end of the year, Rare sends to some media a Christmas card featuring every videogame system and even a mobile phone. This raised lots of rumours and comments about Rare becoming a third party, and this was the starting point when Rare became the centre of attention of many rumours.
- At the beginning of the year, Rare started their contacts with Microsoft for a possible purchase. Another company interested on Rare was Activision. About the same time, Rare already had Xbox and PlayStation 2 development kits as many sources from the company stated to IGN in late May, to get ready to what could happen. Let's remember that we're talking about January-February, and the idea of Rare developing for other systems was still a bad joke.
- March - June: Computer and Videogames publishes, to everyone's surprise, that Rare could be purchased immediately by Activision (their position was "No comment"), and by doing so, they would be able to develop for every system. The source stated that Rare and Activision were very close to sign 'something'. However, in the end, the American company changed its mind because they couldn't beat Microsoft on the economic aspect.
- A fragment of an interview from IGN to Nintendo's Perrin Kaplan and Jim Merrick, where they stated that Rare "is not really a second-party" and that they could develop for any system in the future, causes a big shock and disappears the day after being published by Nintendo's orders. We saved those comments, though.
IGN: So what is up with the relationship between Rare and Nintendo?
Perrin Kaplan: Nothing. The status is the same as it's always been. But as you know, relationships evolve. I can't tell you what's next, but we've got good stuff coming from them this year and there's more that you will see.
IGN: Will Rare remain an exclusive second-party for the foreseeable future, as in the next few years?
Kaplan: For the foreseeable future, yes. But you also have to ask what it is that they want. As they have developed over the years into a deeper developer and publisher, I think their business desires may have changed a little bit.
Jim Merrick: We have what we call a pseudo-publishing relationship with them now. As Rare has grown tremendously in recent years, some of the games are published under the Rare label and others under the Nintendo one.
Kaplan: They're not really a second-party.
Merrick: Would they become a true third-party? I don't know. It's not that far away. But they don't have quite the publishing resources that a traditional publisher does today. But they are evolving.
Kaplan: You see a changing and maturing of the business all the time, but we will always have a good relationship with Rare.
IGN: So Microsoft isn't buying the company then?
Kaplan: Not as far as we know. Maybe you can let us know. [Laughs]
- The rumours began to be more serious and specific. According to IGN, Rare has changed one of their games for GameCube, Donkey Kong Racing, so it didn't have to use the Kong license, as it would definitely be released on another system/s. Nintendo states that their relationship with Rare remains the same. Rare doesn't say a word. An announcement is expected at E3.
- Just a week before E3, Rare decides to pull away all their games except StarFox Adventures; among them was Perfect Dark Zero, from which Miyamoto stated that he had images and videos. This last minute decision was probably taken after they had a closed agreement with Microsoft. Finally, at E3 only SFA is shown, while the four Game Boy Advance games announced the year before were missing in action. The big question at Nintendo's press conference was clearly if Rare was becoming a third party. "Our relationship remains the same," they state. Rare doesn't say a word.
- Some of the E3 guests see one of the Stamper Brothers in the Microsoft stand playing Blinx. Until then, and without an existent purchase agreement, Microsoft has had access to everything Rare was doing, they were able to talk with the teams, see the games, their facilities...
- At the beginning of June, IGN states that Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge for Game Boy Advance would finally be published, but not by Nintendo (who owned the franchise back then), which again pointed to the "third party" possibility. Now that we know it wasn't like that, it's clear that if in that moment IGN already knew that Grunty's Revenge wouldn't be published by Nintendo (being a license owned by them) was because they've already decided to give that franchise to Microsoft/Rare; so even then (June, as we said before) there were many things resolved, contradicting the informations from days before the purchase about some last minute bargains with some licenses.
- For the first time, the issue about the buyout of Rare by Microsoft appears as a serious business in websites like Spong and Computer and Videogames; but it wasn't really accepted as trustworthy due to the tradition of both sites of spreading the word about weird rumours. There was a very notable boredom among videogamers about the issue.
- At the end of August and early September, every one from Rare's staff was informed of the buyout.
- On September 6th, Raretopia, Rare fansite known for its reliability when talking about Rare, confirmed by internal sources the purchase of Rare by Microsoft with total security. It didn't add much to what CVG said, but it's reputation makes everybody take it seriously.
- On the 13th, Nintendo of America recognises that they won't ask Rare Ltd. to develop any other exclusive games.
- Between the 14th and 18th, Rarenet gets some comments from various employees from Rare with mixed feelings. On the other hand, Nintendo Japan states to an American press source that they won't sell their part of Rare. This is naturally a lie, but makes Nintendo's stocks to rise 2.6% on the Nikkei Index. It's already known that everything will come to an end on the X02 show, hold by Microsoft in Seville, Spain.
- On September 24h, Rare and Microsoft confirmed what all we know
- [Official Press Release]
- [Letter from the Stamper Brothers]