Microsoft tried to buy Nintendo before launching the Xbox, but Nintendo laughed it off

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Steve Ballmer photo via Shutterstock

It was twenty years ago that Microsoft fully unveiled its foray into the console market with the original Xbox, at the 2001 edition of CES. To celebrate the occasion, Bloomberg’s Dina Bass recently interviewed multiple members of the team responsible for the launch, as well as partners Microsoft reached out to at the time.

While the whole story is interesting for Xbox fans, there’s a tidbit in there that also involves Japanese rival Nintendo. In the interview, Kevin Bachus, then director of third-party relations, revealed that Microsoft met with Nintendo, hoping to explore the possibility of an acquisition. However, the offer wasn’t taken seriously, with Nintendo laughing it off. In Bachus’ words:

“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.”

In addition to the acquisition attempt, Microsoft had also tried to approach the Japanese giant with the possibility of a joint venture, where Microsoft would provide the hardware while Nintendo would focus on software development.

At the time, Nintendo was developing the GameCube, a console that would eventually become one of Nintendo’s least successful systems. While Nintendo finally moved to optical discs for games, it used a proprietary miniDMD-based disc, which meant it couldn’t play actual DVDs, plus the discs could only store about 1.46GB of data, much less than a DVD. According to Bob McBreen, head of business development at Microsoft at the time, Microsoft’s pitch was that Nintendo’s hardware sucked and that Microsoft could handle that side of the business. Of course, as we all know, that didn’t pan out.

Bloomberg reached out to Howard Lincoln, then chairman of Nintendo of America, regarding these talks, but in typical Nintendo fashion, it got a non-answer:

“Nintendo does not talk about confidential discussions with other companies. In any event, nothing came of these discussions.”

While Microsoft didn’t get access to Nintendo’s franchises, it did end up buying Rare, which had closely partnered with Nintendo up until that point. Some franchises and games that were exclusive to Nintendo platforms, such as Conkers Bad Fur Day, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark, all moved to Xbox platforms.

Twenty years later, the two companies continue to be rivals, though we’ve seen them work closely together in some instances, with titles such as Cuphead and the Ori series coming to Nintendo Switch. Still, it’s interesting to wonder about what could have been had Nintendo taken a different stance at the time.

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