In 2000, Microsoft attempted to acquire Nintendo to secure some Xbox exclusives ahead of the launch of its chunky original console - and it turns out that the Japanese company's response was ice cold.
This nugget of history comes from an article published by Bloomberg, covering the history of the Xbox, which was released in 2001. In fact, upon the millennium, Microsoft was exceedingly anxious about its relevance moving into the new decade, and especially about the progress of its competitor, Sony.
Fortunately, a handful of employees had a lightbulb moment. "Sony coming out and saying, 'PlayStation 2 is going to redefine the computer world,' that got attention inside of Microsoft," said director of third-party relations, Kevin Bachus.
"Everybody who made PlayStation games worked on a PC to make the game. And the attack that I realised we could make would be to just make the PC into the console," continued technology officer Seamus Blackley.
A foolproof plan, at first glance, and the development teams were determined to make it work. "We had competing teams looking at competing approaches. We were doing crazy demos for Bill [Gates]. It was different groups basically trying to slit each other's throats," added first head of Xbox Rick Thompson.
Once Microsoft's intentions to produce a console were proclaimed to the world, at the Game Developers Conference in early 2000, the next step was to attract studios to produce games for the Xbox. Serendipitously, the decline of SEGA and the Dreamcast dovetailed with Microsoft's ambitions, and so it approached Electronic Arts with the aim of bagging FIFA and Madden. That conversation did not bear fruit, but that was no matter, and it moved on to contact Tecmo, Konami, Square Enix, and Midway Games.
Perhaps the most astonishing of these tête-à-têtes was that Microsoft tried to use its millions to convince Nintendo to develop exclusive titles for the Xbox, and whether they would be interested in an acquisition. The meeting was disastrous.
"Steve [Ballmer, ex-Microsoft CEO] made us go meet with Nintendo to see if they would consider being acquired. They just laughed their asses off. Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you. That was kind of how that meeting went," said Bachus.
"We actually had Nintendo in our building in January 2000 to work through the details of a joint venture where we gave them all the technical specs of the Xbox," elaborated head of business development Bob McBreen. "The pitch was their hardware stunk, and compared to Sony PlayStation, it did. So the idea was, 'Listen, you're much better at the game portions of it with Mario and all that stuff. Why don't you let us take care of the hardware?'"
Nintendo didn't bite. When Bloomberg reached out for a confirmation from the Japanese gaming giant, the chairman of Nintendo of America had this to say: "Nintendo does not talk about confidential discussions with other companies. In any event, nothing came of these discussions." Still, it's an interesting alternate reality to ponder. If Nintendo had been swayed, maybe Master Chief would have been added to Smash years and years ago. Maybe Breath of the Wild would have been an Xbox Series X launch title. Maybe Age of Empires would have gotten a crossover DLC with Fire Emblem.
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