Former Xbox Executives Say Nintendo ‘Laughed Their Asses Off’ When Microsoft Offered To Buy It

Former Xbox Executives Say Nintendo ‘Laughed Their Asses Off’ When Microsoft Offered To Buy It
Photo: Drew Angerer, Getty Images
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Microsoft once proposed buying Nintendo in order to lock in its first-party games for the Xbox. The Japanese video game company didn’t just decline to entertain the offer; it laughed the tech giant’s executives out of the room, according to a new report by Bloomberg.

“Steve [Ballmer, Microsoft’s former CEO] made us go meet with Nintendo to see if they would consider being acquired,” Kevin Bachus, Microsoft’s former director of third-party relations for Xbox, said in an oral history on the creation of the Xbox. “They just laughed their asses off. Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you. That was kind of how that meeting went.”

Microsoft reached out to a bunch of companies with acquisition offers back when it was first getting the Xbox off the ground, the oral history explains. These included Electronic Arts, Midway Games, and Square, prior to its merger with Enix. EA declined; in Final Fantasy developer Square’s case, the offer was too low.

Then there was Nintendo, whose beloved series like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda Microsoft thought would combine well with what it considered to be the Xbox’s superior hardware. “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,” Bob McBreen, then head of Xbox business development, told Bloomberg. “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.”

Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Nintendo 64 was already out at the time, and Nintendo was preparing to release the GameCube, both of which ended up selling much worse than the SNES. Of course, a few years after that Nintendo would go on to release the DS and Wii, two of the most successful gaming platforms ever. You might not have heard, but the Switch is doing quite well too. In the meantime, Microsoft has continued gobbling up other gaming companies, announcing just last year an agreement to purchase ZeniMax Media, owners of Bethesda Softworks, makers of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout.

Still, it makes you wonder what might have happened if Nintendo had decided to take Microsoft up on the acquisition offer. Master Chief could have ended up in Mario Kart, and the Xbox Series X/S might have even ended up with some big first-party launch games.

Comments

  • As a force for positive growth for the games industry, Microsoft has been largely great raising the bar in a lot of ways for Japanese companies such as Internet connectivity, Game Pass etc.. As a positive force for the creative arts however, they certainly can’t match Japan and I’d hate to know what ultimately would’ve happened to the Mario brands etc. if Microsoft owned it. Probably given it to some two bit studio to develop games and we would’ve been flooded with crap games until the brand suffered and ultimately died.

    • “As a force for positive growth for the games industry…”

      From my experience, Microsoft just like Nintendo, Sony or games companies like Sega, EA, Bethesda, etc are only a positive force through competition. As soon as one company successfully makes anti-competitive moves such as takeovers and buyouts, it’s all downhill from there…

      • so long as there’s two companies competing, innovation will continue albeit to a lesser degree. I don’t see the larger game companies buying out dev studios as the particular problem, but EA and Microsoft have a terrible track record. Luckily we have almost five multinational corporations competing now in the business of video game distribution – MS, Nintendo, Sony, Google and Amazon. I think only the Japanese ones though are interested in innovation for survival – the US ones are competing purely on revenue.

  • Geez, what a scary thought….
    I’m sure the Nintendo brand would’ve survived the great purge but who knows what kind of state it would have been in.

  • To be fair they had a solid point. They were working on some of the greatest games ever made at this point and they pretty much tanked every one of them because they couldn’t make a compelling case for buying a GameCube. They did everything they could to bring the major studios to the GameCube and no matter what they tried they all ended up jumping ship the second sales data came in.

    Sure they eventually had financial success with the Wii but as far as consoles go it’s a bit cheeky to call it one of the most successful gaming platforms ever. Then they fell back into the GameCube spot with the Wii U where they had plenty of awesome first party games for an unsellable console. It’s all worth it to eventually get to the Switch but it was bumpy ride.

    I love Nintendo but they always find a way to pair god-tier games with insane decision making. That’s not to say Microsoft were making great choices along the way either.

  • “Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”

    They’re probably busy having another big laugh about it.

  • “The pitch was their hardware stunk, and compared to Sony PlayStation, it did.”

    Which is ironic given that the Playstation stemmed from a joint project between Nintendo and Sony to create a CD-ROM add on for the SNES.

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