Microsoft tried to buy Nintendo, "who hit a bar", confidences 20 years later

Nintendo executives hitting a bar, or rather laughing out loud in front of Microsoft’s pundits during a takeover proposal, it’s not just a catchy title, it’s beautiful well what happened 20 years ago. An anecdote which made the headlines of all the media following a retrospective article by Bloomberg written by Dina Bass, and taken up by our colleagues from Kotaku . Because it’s been 20 years since Microsoft arrived in the small world of video games, and the announcement at the time, made at CES in Las Vegas, had been chaired by Bill Gates in person, who had not, moreover, not hesitated to solicit stars such as The Rock, always remained faithful to the brand since, the latter having received an Xbox Series X engraved with his name recently. Obviously, faced with 20 years of existence, many media are returning to the arrival of such a juggernaut as Microsoft in the gaming sector, which leaves room for a multitude of anecdotes, each more crisp than the other. .


We learn in Bloomberg’s paper that the first engine of Microsoft to want at all costs to get into video games, it is the obsession that the Redmond firm had for Sony. Without PlayStation, there would have been no Xbox, as the PlayStation would never have existed without the split between Sony and Nintendo for the creation of the CD-Rom adapter in 1991. According to comments relayed by Bloomberg, Microsoft was haunted by “relentless paranoia”, which saw the global success of the PS2 as a threat to the PC market, a sector that Microsoft dominated (and still does) with an iron fist. The words of Ken Kutaragi at the time, whose goal was to make the PS2 the new must-have machine in the living room, was to do away with the imposing computers in homes.

Very quickly, the executives of Microsoft asked their engineers to design a console capable of competing with Sony and its PS2, the initial idea being to make up a PC like home console. Steve Ballmer had just inherited the CEO position of Microsoft at the time, and there was no way he would waver in the face of the emergence of Sony and its console, which he saw as the biggest threat to their business. We also learn that the creation of the Xbox was not done smoothly and that meetings with Bill Gates often ended in bloodshed from the big boss of Microsoft who saw in the creation of the Xbox “an insult to everything he had done for the company”, since the machine lacked the Windows operating system. It was a meeting dated February 14, 2000, that is precise.


Once convinced by the machine, Bill Gates will leave the Black Card to Ballmer who will still get the tidy sum of 500 million dollars just for marketing in order to make Xbox the console that can counter the PS2. The floodgates are therefore open and Microsoft’s seduction operation is starting to take shape. It is therefore necessary to quickly find development partners and studios who can put themselves at the service of the American manufacturer. With a machine that was technically more powerful than the PS2, some big names in video games began to be seduced, knowing that internally, the technique to bait developers was to first evoke technology from the Xbox to enroll them, the business part arriving later … It was one of the wise advice of Jennifer Booth., who had joined the Xbox team at the time, she who had worked for PlayStation before, especially on the launch of the PSone.


We are in 2002 and the first major takeover that Microsoft manages to make is to pay for all the services of the Rare studio from Nintendo for the sum of $ 375 million. Rare who previously worked for Nintendo (Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark) sees himself flying the US flag overnight. But the Rare studio was not the priority of Microsoft at the beginning, which had already tried an approach with Electronic Arts, which declined the offer in a courtly way then on the side of Nintendo. This is where things get interesting. This is where a certain Kevin Bachus comes in, who was working at Microsoft at the time and who accompanied Steve Ballmer during the meeting with Nintendo. He testifies:

Steve (Ballmer) made us meet Nintendo to see if they were considering being redeemed. They just laughed out loud (Laughed Their Asses Off). Imagine someone laughing at you for an hour. This is a bit like how this meeting went.

It must be said that Microsoft’s approach technique lacked tact, perhaps even to the point of being insulting to the hardware that was Nintendo 64 at the time. This other anecdote, we owe it to Bob Mcbreen who explains that there were nevertheless 7 meetings between Microsoft and Nintendo:

We brought Nintendo to our premises in January 2000 in order to to work out the details of a partnership where they were given the Xbox spec sheet. The idea was that their hardware sucked compared to Sony’s PlayStation. And that was the case elsewhere. So we told them they were stronger in the software part with Mario and all that stuff … Let us take care of the hardware.

But Electronic Arts and Nintendo were not the only ones to have been approached by Microsoft at this time. The American giant also tried to acquire Midway Games, which already owned Mortal Kombat and a certain Squaresoft which had allowed the PSone major successes with the Final Fantasy saga. Here again, Microsoft has had nothing to do with it, since none of the studios saw themselves turning their backs on the PlayStation market.