In the Early 2000s, Microsoft Tried Buying Nintendo

When Microsoft’s Xbox brand was first getting started, things weren’t looking so great. There was relatively little third-party support, for a long while after launch the number of triple-A titles on it could be counted on one finger, the company had a poor corporate image, and cracking the Japanese market was a difficult hurtle.

Microsoft decided to do something about it, and they decided to shop around for second-party support. And it so happened that Nintendo was one of the companies up for consideration. So Microsoft sent some reps and approached the old Japanese company, and it went about as well as you’d expect.

Nintendo pretty much laughed at the offer. Hard.

Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft president, explained it this way: “Like, imagine an hour of somebody just laughing at you.”

Because, of course they did. While explaining as much may only benefit the random boomer whose gaming outlet is strictly PC, Nintendo is not merely some random game development studio, they are one of Japan’s oldest, richest companies.

While PC gamers may chalk it up to it being Nintendo wanting to do things their way, there’s more to it than that. The fact is, Microsoft has nothing Nintendo would want. Nintendo has already been a massively-successful company, for a long time. Not only that, Nintendo has so much money that they can fund their own projects, and not have to turn to external financing. If you can imagine a person being so rich that they can just buy a car outright, or purchase their entire college education up-front, it’s like that, but on a much larger scale.

One can imagine the confusion of Microsoft execs who, after having thrown their money on the table with the full expectation of compliance with their wishes, were instead met with laughter.

When American companies meet Japanese companies, the difference in cultures becomes apparent. As I’ve pointed out before, the Japanese are more strongly characterized by a desire to produce a superior product. While Americans tend to view profitability as justification for a company’s existence, the Japanese tend to be more altruistic in philosophy. Japanese companies usually justify their existence in their belief that society is a better place for the services and products that they provide, and Japanese workers are generally sincere in their desire to excel at what they do, whatever they do. Exceptions to the generalities exist on both sides of the ocean, of course.

When Microsoft initially tried winning over SquareEnix, they ran into some hurtles at first. Mostly because the Microsoft reps sent over to Japan to SquareEnix treated their meeting like an American business meeting. You know the kind: where a bunch of overpaid suits loudly boast about being “in the money”. The Japanese weren’t as fond of that, and the SquareEnix employees distanced themselves from them, resulting in a huge setback between the two companies.

After the meeting, a SquareEnix rep met with a Microsoft rep, and asked him, “What is your philosophy” when it comes to game-making. If you understand Japanese corporate culture, you’d understand such a question for the blow that it is.

Considering all this, it becomes clear why a company like Nintendo would not allow a company like Microsoft to purchase them, though one wouldn’t expect an ethically-challenged American conglomerate to admit as much: For the owner of a Japanese company to sell his company to a company like Microsoft would be like betraying all the people in his employ who count on him to maintain the company’s cultural identity.

On a related note, Sony Computer Entertainment became headquartered in California, USA. Now, you see the game company tending more towards western notions of woke culture, alienating the company’s initial Japanese culture, who is turning more towards Nintendo for games.

Oh hey, I’ve got an excuse to use this piccie, again:

As the situation with SCE develops, it’s likely to become yet another case study in what happens when a company compromises with its culture.

The fact is, corporate culture does matter, and there are people out there that wouldn’t give up their company’s identity, even if presented with a huge mound of money. I don’t know how many of America’s wealthiest people would understand that, but I suspect that it might not be very many.

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