On November 23, Microsoft launched its virtual Xbox 20th Anniversary museum and with it, revealed a letter from 1999 where the company made an attempt to acquire Nintendo. Suffice to say, things didn’t work out.
The newly published document was sent by Rick Thompson, Xbox’s hardware chief in 1999, to Nintendo of America’s business boss Jacqualee Story. In the letter, Microsoft inquires about meeting with, now-legends, president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi, and Nintendo’s hardware chief Genyo Takeda.
Unfortunately, the majority of the letter is not visible due to large green lettering spelling out “Microsoft tries to acquire Nintendo” on it, but the beginning and a bit of the end can be seen. The letter starts off with, “Dear Jacqualee, I appreciate you taking the time to try to arrange a meeting with Mr. Takeda and Mr. Yamauchi to discuss a possible strategic partnership between Nintendo and Microsoft on future video game platforms. I understand Mr. Takeda’s concerns about the possible partnership and will try to [redacted] the guidelines that he has requested.”
What’s remaining of the letter is not clearly visible; however, a small portion says Microsoft is developing its “Xbox project” and that they could “help make Dolphin the best.” In 1999, “Dolphin” was Nintendo’s codename for its GameCube.
In early 2021, Microsoft published an oral history of the first Xbox. In it, Microsoft’s former director of third-party relations detailed the meeting they had with Nintendo saying, “Steve [Ballmer, ex-Microsoft CEO] 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.”
Microsoft made another attempt at Nintendo, making a pitch to discuss a “joint venture where we gave them all the technical specs of the Xbox.” The then-head of business development Bob McBreen explained, “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?’.”
Nintendo was unsurprisingly not interested in either of Microsft’s pitches. If either proposal had gone through, the gaming industry might look very different today.