Could Microsoft buy PlayStation, Sega or Nintendo? The day Xbox collided with the pride of Japan


There have been countless occasions when the rumor has jumped that Xbox was looking to buy a Japanese studio. Nintendo, Sega, Square and a host of video game companies have been on Microsoft’s bullseye for many years. The question is: could an acquisition of such magnitude come true?

The video game industry has experienced a major earthquake with the purchase of Activision-Blizzard by Microsoft. With this maneuver, Xbox Game Studios further expands its video game production capacity after the acquisition of Bethesda in September 2020. An action of such magnitude is not remembered in the industry, and it is very possible that it will not be the last. since you arrived Phil Spencer, the move to acquire studios is seen by Xbox as a “natural and healthy part” of the industry.

Although it is true that the executive ruled a few years ago that he was not interested in companies like Electronic Arts, and we learned other things such as the attempt to buy Bungie was a hoax, we should not rule out any possibility in the coming months (they already said it). Microsoft goes all out to make Game Pass the most complete service possible, let’s not forget, it already has integration with EA Play. However, although Xbox with Western studios has been successful, Japan seems to be raising an insurmountable wall. Why is it that Microsoft has not been able to cross Japanese borders? It’s not because they haven’t tried.

In the past, their alliances were well known. Surely you remember exclusive games like Blue Dragon or Lost Odyssey from Mistwalker, as well as Ninja Blade from From Software. The sadly canceled Scalebound from Platinum Games was also very popular. There have been numerous collaboration strategies, with the attempt to buy several Japanese studios, both large and small, as revealed by Bloomberg. However, the curse seems to be still there. In the following lines I will explain the situation with several very illustrative, curious and surprising examples. In addition, at the end I will explain the Japanese business philosophy, essential to understand why Xbox has crashed against the eastern wall on several occasions.

Xbox and its black history of purchases in Japan

Could Microsoft buy PlayStation, Sega or Nintendo?  The day Xbox collided with the pride of Japan

Microsoft began to entertain the idea of ​​acquiring studios even before the release of the first Xbox. Imagine the situation. You have PlayStation and Nintendo as great rivals. You are the new guy who still doesn’t know how to start, but you have a lot of money. What are you doing? Obviously buy. In order to have software for its new platform, Microsoft asked Nintendo an agreement to provide the hardware (Xbox), while the Japanese would put their licenses and software.

Nintendo was not for sale, but they could try it with their partner: RareThis curious meeting took place in January 2000 in the Redmond offices, and it basically consisted of an exhibition in which the Americans kept saying how little Nintendo had to do against Sony. “You need an ally like us!” That was the message. However, Kevin Bachus (director of relations at the time) says that the Japanese did not stop bursting with laughter during the hour that the meeting lasted. Here began and ended the adventure with Nintendo, one probably less painful than the one they had with SHE a short time ago, who told them a terse “no, thank you”.

In its early days, Microsoft negotiated a strong collaboration with Nintendo.In its early days, Microsoft negotiated a strong collaboration with Nintendo.

Xbox may have thought that if Nintendo was not for sale, they could try it with their biggest non-Japanese partner at the time, the mythical Rare, and they were right! Probably knowing that those from Kyoto were in low hours due to the poor sales of the Gamecube, they decided to borrow a few million from Bill Gates to acquire the developers of Banjo Kazooie, Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct. This was a hard blow for the Japanese company, which saw its catalog of exclusives reduced. Double play by Microsoft.

Could Microsoft buy PlayStation, Sega or Nintendo?  The day Xbox collided with the pride of Japan

However, although Xbox won victories with Western studios, the Japanese resisted until exhaustion. Bob McBreen (head of Xbox development business) says that they traveled to Japan to meet with the executives of the then Squaresoft. Their account executive basically told them to save the change, because the company’s price was much higher. In this abrupt way, the negotiations with the producer of Final Fantasy VII culminated, a game that at that time had already sold millions of copies.

A similar story happened with Midway Games, the then owners of Mortal Kombat. Apparently, this purchase was closer to materializing, but the dependence on PlayStation made the operation difficult and made it very unattractive. At this point in the story, you will surely be aware of the situation. Xbox had just started and needed support. All at the stroke of a checkbook. At the same time, these attempts sought to destabilize Nintendo and Sony, who ran the sales rankings in Japan. It was a double play if it went well. But there was the problem: they always hit a wall.

Midway Games (Mortal Kombat) could be another of Microsoft's first purchases.Midway Games (Mortal Kombat) could be another of Microsoft’s first purchases.

Another memorable purchase attempt? the of Sega. The king of arcades has been in Microsoft’s sights since 2000, also coinciding with the launch of the Xbox project. However, legend has it that Bill Gates dismissed the operation, since he did not see it as sufficient support to deal with PlayStation. The truth is that Xbox and Sega had a good relationship since long ago. They had collaborated in the development of the Dreamcast operating system and titles such as Panzer Dragoon Orta, Crazy Taxi 3, Jet Set Radio Future and improved versions such as Shenmue II were released for Xbox. Recently, rumors of alleged collaborations (and even purchases) have appeared, but there is nothing on the horizon, at least that we know….

Sorry but I’m not for sale

Could Microsoft buy PlayStation, Sega or Nintendo?  The day Xbox collided with the pride of Japan

It is worth making a final reflection on this whole situation. It seems clear that Xbox has it much easier to close a multi-million dollar purchase in the West than in Japan. Why? This is where it comes into play the Japanese mentality and its way of understanding business. A good starting point is to think that the Japanese worker has a well-established concept of “membership”, of belonging to a group. Work is your second family. It is common for a recent graduate who gets his first job in a company to keep it for life. There is a strong company-worker bond based on trust and loyalty. is the call lifetime system.

Xbox has it much easier to close a purchase in the West than in JapanTo a certain extent, and to understand it, selling a Japanese company implies sowing uncertainty about the job security felt by its employees. Japan stands out for very low unemployment rates, stable jobs, promotions, pay and other benefits until the end of their working life. Employees of companies like Nintendo, Sega, Capcom or Square Enix are very likely to experience a great sense of belonging, something that can be clearly seen in the fact that figures such as Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, Tetsuya Nomura, Hidetaka Miyazaki and a long etcetera have started (and probably finished) their careers in their respective video game companies.

In the past there were rumors of purchases in Poland, the country of Techland, CD Projekt RED, etc.In the past there were rumors of purchases in Poland, the country of Techland, CD Projekt RED, etc.

Even in cases like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hideo Kojima or Yoshinori Ono, they were at Square Enix, Konami and Capcom for many years before leaving. For what is this? It could be said that Japan owes part of its success to working as a group, concentrated, with strong involvement. Because of that, attached to a strong national feeling, Japan is likely to pose a historical barrier to the acquisition of its companies. Another indisputable barrier is language. It is not the first time that the Japanese have rejected agreements, alluding to difficulties in communication and cultural differences, as well as in the way of working.

Microsoft has a lot of resources, and in fact it seems that recently it also went shopping in Poland. But something tells me they will continue to have it very complicated in the country of the rising sun. The Japanese are more into collaborating with each other, although… who knows? Following the seemingly unimaginable acquisition of Bethesda and Activision, Phil Spencer could work his magic. It would be something unheard of, incredible, but not impossible. What do you think? Let us know in the comments if you think the Xbox team could pull it off, and which studios might be most likely to buy.

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