Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight. In march, our Final Boss was Craig Duncan, studio head at Rare
It was a while back now but what was it like taking charge at a developer as storied as Rare?
In some ways it seems a while back because we have achieved so much in the last eight years but it’s flown by so fast it feels like yesterday. Getting the phone call saying: ‘We would like you to lead Rare’ was a big career moment but one I looked at as a challenge that would need me to grow and learn. I knew Rare’s legacy and knew some of their current plans, but the future was there to be defined. I’d managed studios and large teams before, but this was Rare – a Rare as part of Xbox, with all the opportunity that could bring.
I’ve noticed there are no dogs in Sea of Thieves, are you sure you’re really in charge at Rare?
[Laughs] I do need to be careful with my creative input or we would have all sorts in Sea of Thieves. We have an awesome culture at Rare where we do invite creative input from across the team including me. I always need to caveat my input with: ‘This is not me giving direction but I think players will want x’ or ‘are we missing an opportunity to not do y’. It’s always a good discussion but I look to Mike [Chapman, design director] and Joe [Neate, executive producer] and the team to rationalise the right things in the right sequence and say no to me.
With the greatest respect to your current role, what is or was your dream job?
I was never good enough to play football for Liverpool or talented enough be the lead singer in a rock band, I’m OK at drawing, I’m an average engineer and I’m pretty creative but other people are better. I fell into gaming after doing a few different jobs in other industries prior to that. I feel lucky and privileged to do the job I do leading Rare. I probably have my dream job, unless I can be Iron Man!
You were studio head at Midway UK when the US parent went under, what did you learn from that experience?
I learnt a huge amount which was hard to rationalise at the time but is clear now I can reflect on it. To my detriment at the time I learnt how far I could push myself physically and mentally, I think I was averaging four hours sleep a night – don’t do that people! I learnt about communication and the right way to communicate when things are tough, and teams are worried. I learnt that sometimes despite doing everything you can you can still fail – that was a new, tough lesson for me to take as I was used to applying myself and succeeding. I learnt relationships and how you treat people matter, it opened doors for us trying to find solutions and more importantly I still work with a number of those people today across the industry and we will always have that shared experience of how we supported each other at the time.
What’s was the greatest single moment of your career to date?
When I joined Rare we had just shipped Kinect Sports. That franchise was hugely successful for the studio but, as that waned, Rare’s identity needed to be redefined so we went on a journey to do that. 2015 was probably the most pivotal year for Rare. I was so proud to stand on stage at E3 that year representing the team, to announce Rare Replay as a celebration of our 30-year heritage and announce our new IP in Sea of Thieves. It was our public coming out of our strategy and hard work.
Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction?
Our industry is moving fast and has many challenges, but I believe gaming can be a force for good. We have so many stories from our amazing Sea of Thieves community, players have reconnected with friends and family and shared experiences. Our game has helped players battle social anxiety, helped them through depression or helped them find fun when they have been going through personal tough times. On the flip side we have also had our first marriage proposal for a couple that met on Sea of Thieves. I’m proud our team have created something that can have a positive impact on people’s lives.