How the mighty have fallen. The last three games Rare developed were, in reverse chronological order: Kinect Sports Rivals, Kinect Sports: Season Two, and Kinect Sports. Now, Microsoft is distancing itself from the device Rare’s last few games have relied on by taking Kinect out of the core Xbox One package (opens in new tab). Coincidentally, CVG has reported that close to 20 Rare employees are being let go (opens in new tab). Among those ex-employees are senior staff members Chris Sutherland and Gavin Price, both of whom have been with the company for over 15 years. These layoffs comprise roughly 10% of Rare’s staff–and, sadly, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
It’s become clear over the last few years that Microsoft is unsure of what to do with the remnants of this once-illustrious studio. After losing the founders and much of the top leadership over the course of the last console generation, Rare failed to produce any commercial hits, despite putting out some very well-regarded titles. Since their last non-Kinect title, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, they’ve been continually hit with layoffs, further diluting the brand and reducing the studio’s output to minigame collections and the occasional Xbox Live Avatar outfit.
Seeing Rare scale down and move away from their well-known franchises was tough, but at least they were still in business. And for what it’s worth, the Kinect Sports games were reasonably well-liked. But just as Rare had begun settling into a comfortable new space for themselves as one of the only reliable Kinect developers, Microsoft has pulled the rug out from under them once again. Now, Rare’s most recent title is a whole lot less desirable, and their direction moving forward is even less clear.
For many, the news of a Kinect-less Xbox One package is welcome. The price is dropping, and people who are uncomfortable with or indifferent towards the Kinect no longer have to pay for it. If anything, the price drop will likely drive sales and get the Xbox One into more homes, which, in the long-term, will be good for developers and consumers alike. But in the short term, it can be pretty scary for developers like Rare, that are working on (or have recently completed) games which live or die by the Kinect’s installed-base.
Harmonix is another developer that’s banking heavily on Kinect. Fantasia: Music Evolved (opens in new tab) is nearly here, and with the success of the Dance Central franchise on 360, there’d be no reason not to continue it on Xbox One. But it seems that Microsoft didn’t keep the studio in the loop, since some of its employees seemed rather miffed (opens in new tab) by the news of Kinect’s excision. They’re right to be afraid; soon, many Xbox One owners won’t have Kinects, and one or two good games won’t be enough to convince them to grab one.
Of course, Rare is owned by Microsoft, and Microsoft isn’t abandoning the Kinect entirely. They’ll want to continue to sell units; and with most third-parties likely saying “peace” To Kinect, somebody will have to make games for the thing. In that sense, Rare may be shielded from the Kinect fallout, and these layoffs may be the end of the consequences. But crippling the few developers who were trying to keep the Kinect afloat certainly won’t do Microsoft any favors.