Microsoft just memorialized its failed attempt to buy Nintendo in 1999 by sharing a letter it sent the Japanese gaming giant

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Microsoft just memorialized its failed attempt to buy Nintendo in 1999 by sharing a letter it sent the Japanese gaming giant
Duane "The Rock" Johnson, when he was still a professional wrestler, appeared on stage at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show alongside Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates to promote the still-unreleased original Xbox console.Jeff Christensen/AFP via Getty Images
  • Before Microsoft launched the Xbox in 2001, the company tried to buy gaming giant Nintendo.
  • Nintendo executives reportedly "laughed their asses off" at Microsoft's entreaties.

20 years ago, in 2001, Microsoft launched the original Xbox.

Two years prior to that, in 1999, Microsoft executives approached Japanese gaming giant Nintendo with a proposal: Microsoft would create the hardware — a gaming console — and Nintendo would create the games.

Moreover, Microsoft would outright buy Nintendo in the deal.

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Nintendo's response? "They just laughed their asses off," former Microsoft third-party relations head Kevin Bachus told Bloomberg earlier this year. "Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you. That was kind of how that meeting went."

Now, in a digital museum Microsoft created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Xbox, you can see a letter from that failed proposal:

Microsoft just memorialized its failed attempt to buy Nintendo in 1999 by sharing a letter it sent the Japanese gaming giant
Some of the text is obscured, but enough is visible to get an idea of the meetings between Nintendo and Microsoft in late 1999 and early 2000.Microsoft

Despite the "Spring 2000" note at the bottom, the date on the letter itself is October 20, 1999.

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The letter, sent by then Microsoft hardware vice president Rick Thompson to then Nintendo of America executive vice president of business affairs Jacqualee Story, appears to be a follow-up to a business meeting between Microsoft and two of Nintendo's most important figures: Nintendo hardware lead Genyo Takeda and Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi.

In the letter, Thompson said he "understands Mr. Takeda's concerns about the possible partnership." He also directly references Nintendo's "dolphin" console, which was the codename for what would eventually launch in 2001 as the Nintendo GameCube.

In late 1999, Microsoft was working on its first Xbox console at the same time that Sony was working on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo was working on the Nintendo GameCube. Sony would later beat both Nintendo and Microsoft to the punch by launching the PlayStation 2 in the holiday of 2000.

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Microsoft's proposal to Nintendo at the time was that, by working with Microsoft's hardware, Nintendo could more adequately compete on horsepower with Sony's PlayStation 2.

"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," former Microsoft head of business development Bob McBreen told Bloomberg. "The pitch was their hardware stunk, and compared to Sony PlayStation [2], it did."

But Nintendo didn't bite, and Sony's PlayStation 2 went on to dominate video game culture for the following decade as both the GameCube and the original Xbox struggled to keep up.

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Nowadays, however, the video game market is far more diversified and all three major console makers are successful in their own rights.

Check out Microsoft's 20 year anniversary celebration of the Xbox right here.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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