Back in 2002, many Nintendo fans were disappointed by one of the worst pieces of news in gaming history.
Microsoft had purchased Rare, and the likes of Banjo-Kazooie would probably not be seen on a Nintendo home console ever again.
Above: And Donkey Kong fans got this…
But did you know it could have been very different? That instead of Microsoft buying Rare, it could have been Activision that had done the deal!
Yes, as this comment by Xbox co-creator Ed Fries reveals, Microsoft’s buyout only succeeded due to a last minute increase in their bid:
So we put in a bid and then Activision outbid us, and it looked like we were going to lose the deal. And then at the very last minute Robbie increased our bid and we won the deal. And that was it. Who knows what could have happened with Rare.
But imagine if that last minute bid increase had never come. That Activision had bought out Rare from Nintendo. What would it have been like?
Probably a mixed bag to be honest.
On the one hand, it would mean that Rare would be free to release games on all platforms. Which for Nintendo fans would mean we’d get the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Conker and Perfect Dark on the Gamecube, Wii and Wii U.
That’s especially good for news for Viva Piñata, Grabbed by the Ghoulies and Kameo, which underperformed due to their aesthetics and general themes being a poor fit for the Xbox. Okay, they may not have all sold fantastically, but you can imagine that more Nintendo fans would have tried them than Xbox or PlayStation owners.
Above: Perhaps not right for the Xbox
It’d also likely mean that their Kinect Sports phase would never happen. Activision has no interest in motion control gimmicks and wouldn’t force Rare to change everything like Microsoft did. So that’d be a positive point too. No long period of Wii Sports rip-offs here.
However, you can’t deny that Activision has a poor reputation for spamming sequels to popular franchises. I mean, they basically killed Guitar Hero by milking it to death in a few years. And well, we all know how they treat Call of Duty and Skylanders. As cash cows that needed to be milked every year on the dot.
This is not a good thing for Rare. Remember, Rare are infamous (to the point of rivalling Nintendo and Valve) for delaying their games to make them better. Heck, Diddy Kong Racing was basically only released when it was because Banjo-Kazooie wasn’t ready for the end of the year.
That wouldn’t sit well with Activision. For these folks, games are basically a merchandising business; get at least one title out per year, then release DLC packs and updates right up until the next one the year after. As a result, I suspect any Rare buyout by them would end up with us seeing a long string of mediocre Banjo games year after year with the hope being that it might become the next Spyro the Dragon or Crash Bandicoot.
Talking of Crash Bandicoot, I also suspect a Rare buyout by Activision would basically tie Rare’s IPs to Spyro and Crash more directly. For example, back in 2004 they released Crash Bandicoot Purple and Spyro Orange for the Game Boy Advance. These games had Dr Neo Cortex (Crash’s archenemy) team up with Ripto (Spyro’s archenemy) in a bit to defeat each others nemesises once and for all. If Activison owned Rare as well, I can see Banjo and Conker being involved in such a crossover deal too, with the likes of Gruntilda joining Neo Cortex and Ripto.
Above: Could Banjo have been in a game like this?
And then there’s Skylanders. Spyro and Crash got merged into that series in recent years, and it’s also become of their company’s biggest cash cows. With Rare owned by Activision, Banjo and Conker could be Skylanders too. Which would be a disaster for their fans, but good business for Activision as a whole.
Either way, Activision nearly ended up buying Rare.
Fortunately though, they didn’t. Releases on non Microsoft systems would not have made up for a glut of samey sequels to beloved classics or the franchises buried under waves of DLC.