Microsoft and the XBox team are pretty well known at this point for throwing their cash around to stay competitive. They sent shockwaves through the industry last year when they announced the purchase of Bethesda, publishers of Doom, Dishonored and Wolfenstein. But this behavior goes all the way back to the beginning, as a new report from Bloomberg reveals. When Microsoft was first looking to get into the gaming console business, a megaton purchase was one of their key strategies.
And no possibility was left off the table. Microsoft first knocked on the door of Electronic Arts with an offer to buy them out. The door slammed in their faces. They also made offers to Midway Games and Squaresoft (pre-Enix merger), with similar results. But no experience was more humiliating than their attempt to buy Nintendo.
Based on what we know about the secretive company by now and their immense sense of pride, Microsoft really had no chance of acquiring Nintendo. But they didn’t know that. Former employee Kevin Bachus recalls, “[CEO] Steve [Ballmer] 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.”
Before that, Microsoft pitched to Nintendo the idea of collaborating on a console, with about the same results. “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,” says another former employee, 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?’ But it didn’t work out.”
The problem here is that Nintendo was not yet the company that leaned cheap on hardware chips. If they knew so little about the specs of the N64 (which actually did overpower the Playstation, muddy textures aside), what hope did they have?
Microsoft ultimately was able to buy a studio, albeit a much smaller one than they hoped….Bungie. That investment paid off, though, and gave the XBox what it needed most…a must-have game right out of the gate.