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.