When Microsoft’s Xbox was first announced in 2000, the console was met with some early trepidation. As Microsoft worked to secure partnerships with game publishers and studios, they also attempted to purchase several major players in the gaming industry, including Nintendo.
With weak launch games, Microsoft tried to purchase Nintendo (and failed)
In a report from Bloomberg, multiple people from the early days of the console’s release detailed Microsoft’s rocky development. Some of these accounts covered attempts by the freshman gaming company to acquire major gaming studios. The Xbox needed games and Microsoft went after some of the largest game developers of the time. Bob McBreen, head of business development approached EA first. They got a swift and curt “No, thanks” from the company.
Kevin Bachus, director of third-party relations, was then told to meet with Nintendo by former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer. Bachus’ goal? To purchase Nintendo. “Steve 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.”
McBreen tried again to pitch an acquisition to Nintendo, arguing that Nintendo’s hardware “stunk” compared to Sony’s. The outcome was the same.
Xbox goes after the makers of Final Fantasy
Microsoft even tried to go after Square, the studio that would become Square Enix, developer of the Final Fantasy franchise. McBreen and Ballmer met with Square’s CEO with a letter of intent to purchase Square. McBreen was turned away here too, this time not able to seal the deal because the offer was too low. “Square cannot go through with this deal because the price is too low,” proclaimed the developer’s banker.
Xbox would eventually secure a major win with the purchase of Bungie, a little known studio with a promising first-person shooter called Halo. At the time, first-person shooters were extraordinarily unsuccessful on consoles. Bachus wrapped up this sentiment by paraphrasing Microsoft Japan’s reaction to the launch title, “We’re not going to even ship Halo because as we all know, as an immutable law of physics, first-person games don’t do well on console.”
While Microsoft has gone on to become one of the largest gaming companies, it has not stopped acquiring new studios. Zenimax Media, the parent company of major studios like Bethesda and id Software, is currently in the process of being acquired by Microsoft to a tune of $7.5 billion.
If Microsoft had been able to purchase Nintendo 20 years ago, the gaming landscape would be a very different place. The revolutionary Nintendo Switch may have never been developed, but players could have Master Chief in Smash Bros. and Zelda on the Xbox Series X.