Bloomberg has recently uploaded a feature on Microsoft’s first gaming console called “Xbox: The Oral History of an American Video Game Empire.” The article provides details about how the Xbox became established as the most successful video game console from an American-owned company. Segments of the interviews collected for the oral history prominently feature former chief executive officer of Microsoft Steve Ballmer, who revealed a lot about the business side of the Xbox before its debut.
In order to get their hands on some exclusive game content for the Xbox, Microsoft negotiated with several companies with the intention of acquiring them. These companies included Square, Midway, Electronic Arts, and even Nintendo. Obviously none of these offers went through, but fans are paying the most attention to the mention of Microsoft’s meeting with Nintendo.
Microsoft’s former director of third-party relations, Kevin Bachus, stated as part of an interview that Steve Ballmer had sent him with a team to talk with Nintendo to have them consider being acquired by Microsoft. The meeting centered around the advanced technical capabilities of the Xbox compared to Nintendo’s consoles. The idea seemed to be that Microsoft wanted Nintendo to make the games for the Xbox while Microsoft handled the hardware components, which would then beat the competition Sony’s Playstation had created.
Bachus recalls that the meeting ended with Nintendo executives “laughing their asses off.” He went on to say that it was like imagining “an hour of somebody just laughing at you.” After the bid for Nintendo failed, Microsoft was able to strike gold by acquiring Halo developer Bungie, whose game series continues to be the biggest exclusive for the Xbox consoles.
Even though Microsoft was able to elevate the Xbox to grand success in the gaming market, their console is still outgunned by other companies in terms of exclusive titles. It is possible that a change is going to come in this regard considering that Microsoft acquired Bethesda and Zenimax Media in September 2020. It’s too early to know what this deal implies for the future of games for the Xbox, but it feels like a step in the right direction for Microsoft to attract more gamers with beloved content you won’t be able to get under the banner of Sony or Nintendo.
All in all, things worked out the way that they were meant to. While it is curious to think about what Nintendo would have done for the Xbox, there’s comfort in knowing that Nintendo stuck to their guns. In this timeline at least, Xbox has still prevailed and the Playstation hasn’t been knocked out by a mega-merger.