Microsoft’s specific pitch did make some amount of sense. At the time, Nintendo was lagging behind Sony badly from a hardware perspective. So Microsoft figured it could take on hardware production and leave Nintendo to focus on the software. “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,” said head of business development Bob Mcbreen. “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.”
While this is certainly the most notable of Microsoft’s failed acquisitions, there were a few other notable developers who passed on the company’s overtures. EA was the first company that Microsoft reached out to; the software giant passed with a more simple “no, thanks.” Microsoft also was meeting with Square (now known as Square Enix) and Mortal Kombat developer Midway.
One acquisition that did go through gave Microsoft what’s been the flagship franchise for the Xbox since day one. At the time, Bungie was a little-known developer, but Halo: Combat Evolved arrived alongside the first Xbox in November of 2001 and was met with immediate acclaim. It’s not a stretch to say the game gave the Xbox immediate legitimacy and helped it carve out a significant chunk of the gaming market despite the dominance of Sony and Nintendo. For more on how the first Xbox came to be, Dina Bass’s oral history at Bloomberg is a must-read.