Is Microsoft’s Xbox 360 studio Rare next on the chopping block?

September 27, 2008

Is Microsoft's first party studio Rare next on the chopping block? A couple of days ago I wrote a story about how Microsoft announced the closure of one of its first party studio, Ensemble Studios. The stated reason behind this decision to close one of its studios was due to lack of scalability. In other words, Microsoft execs felt that Ensemble as a venture could not grow profitably. This raises an interesting question; could the same fate fall upon Rare as well?

In the internal memo sent out by Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Game Studios, he said “it became clear to us that closing the studio and redeploying those resources to other more scalable ventures is the right thing for our business at this time.”  A scalable venture is usually when the effort remains relatively the same while the consumer demand increases exponentially.

Apparently, even though Ensemble’s Age series was profitable, Microsoft execs felt it wasn’t scalable enough. Age of Empires III was listed as the 8th best selling PC game and went on to selling over 2 million units. It seems the strategy to shift Microsoft’s portfolio towards the casual market is clear. The redesigned dashboard for the Xbox 360 is telling of this move.

In an interview with the Guardian, Peter Moore, former exec of Microsoft Game Studios (MGS), said:

“I think the industry had passed Rare by, … It’s a strong statement, but what they were good at, new consumers didn’t care about anymore.. their skillsets were from a different time and a different place and were not applicable in today’s market.”

Moore makes it pretty clear in this candid interview what he thinks of Rare. One could assume if Peter Moore was still the head of MGS, Rare might be facing a similar fate as that of Ensemble Studios. However, Moore is no longer in charge of MGS, leaving Phil Spencer to make the decision.

In an interview with Shacknews, Greg Mayles, Rare creative director, revealed his feelings about the comments made by Peter Moore. He also talks about his reaction to the news of Ensemble Studios’s closure.

Mayles seems to have taken a very neutral approach by indicating that he doesn’t want to read too much into what Peter Moore meant in the interview. Also, Mayles revealed that the closure of Ensemble Studios was as out of left field for him as it was to everyone else.

When asked how he reacted to the news, he said:

“Surprise like everybody else. I mean we kind of don’t know the exact details. There must have been a good reason behind it.”

Mayles also revealed that he is a bit concerned about the future of Rare, but feels that could be a great motivational driving force for him to develop the best game possible.

He said:

“Eh, I think if you feel too secure that’s kind of a–that’s a bad thing, because you get into kind of a comfy mode. We’re always trying to push what’s possible and think of new ways of doing things, and kind of look at ourselves and the games we do. Whether people want to play them is ultimately how we’ll be judged, and how people will look back on us in years to come.”

With Rare’s next big title, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, getting ready to launch in November it is understandable to be a little bit nervous, especially in light of recent events. We will be keeping a close eye on this upcoming title to see if this push will be the saving grace for Rare.

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