Microsoft Shares Letter From Its Failed Attempt To Purchase Nintendo In 1999: ‘They Just Laughed Their Asses Off’

In the world of video games, there are three companies that stand tall above all others as the reigning kings of console-making: Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. However, back in 1999, one of these studios tried their hardest to make that three into two with a pretty ambitious (and ultimately naïve) proposition. In 1999, Microsoft tired to acquire Nintendo.

In an oral history of Xbox published by Bloomberg earlier this year (via Eurogamer), it was revealed that prior to the release of Microsoft’s first console — the original Xbox — the Seattle-based company actually reached out to Nintendo with an offer to purchase them. According to Kevin Bachus, Microsoft’s former director of third-party relations, Nintendo found the very idea of selling off the company hysterical.

“Steve [Ballmer, ex-Microsoft CEO] made us go meet with Nintendo to see if they would consider being acquired,” Bachus said. “They just laughed their asses off. Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you. That was kind of how that meeting went.”

Now, as a part of Microsoft’s 20th anniversary celebration for the Xbox, the company has created a browser-based Xbox interactive museum, where a letter sent during the companies’ 1999 negotiations now rests on display. While much of the document is concealed, the start of the letter can be made out and sounds pretty in line with how we recently learned things went down between the two tech giants:

“Dear Jacqualee, I appreciate you taking the time to try to arraign a meeting with Mr. Takeda and Mr. Yamauchi to discuss a possible strategic partnership between Nintendo and Microsoft on future video game platforms,” the letter begins. “I understand Mr. Takeda’s concerns about the possible partnership and will try to [obscured] the guidelines that he has requested…”

Despite this rejection, however, Microsoft ultimately made a second attempt at working with Nintendo the following year. According to then head of business development Bob McBreen, the two companies met up again in January 2000 to work through the details of a new joint venture in which Microsoft would develop hardware for Nintendo if Nintendo helped work on software for the Xbox.

“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,” then head of business development Bob McBreen said. “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?'”

While in Microsoft’s eyes, the acquisition was somewhat mutually beneficial, as Nintendo was arguably behind the times when it came to hardware and Microsoft lacked games for their upcoming system, Nintendo still refused to budge — which honestly makes sense when you consider the sheer success of the company in the 90s. While pondering what could have been certainly is amusing, it feels pretty safe to say things worked out for the best, as both of the companies continue to thrive and bring very different qualities to the games industry. And hey, huge kudos to Microsoft for now being able to laugh the whole thing off.