This week, our colleagues from IGN recorded a lengthy interview with Xbox co-creator Ed Fries, and the former exec revealed a lot of interesting details about the birth of Microsoft’s gaming Xbox and how the original Xbox team initially envisioned a PC in a console body. However, one of the most interesting bits from this interview may probably be Fries’ recollection of what he calls the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” which was the proposal meeting on Valentine’s Day of 2000 where Bill Gates had to decide between supporting Windows in a box or a closed gaming platform like other gaming consoles.
According to what Fries told IGN, the original Xbox team was not prepared to Gates’ initial reaction, to say the least:
Bill walks in, he’s holding our Powerpoint (sic) deck, throws it down on the table and says, ‘This is a [blanking] insult to everything I’ve done at this company’—basically was the quote. And that was the start of the meeting.
Following that brutal introduction, Fries explained that he and his colleagues all turned to former Xbox executive James Allard, but as the exec was “like in shock for a minute,” Fries stepped in just to be quickly shut down by Bill Gates. Following his intervention, both Allard and former Microsoft employee Robbie Bach were not more successful in reasoning to Gates, who was then supported by former CEO Steve Ballmer who shared his sentiment that the Xbox could not be financially sustainable.
As the meeting dragged on for several hours, Fries recalls that the relief finally came around 8PM when an observer asked “What about Sony?” before going on to explain that letting the Japanese company dominate the living room could be a “future threat to Microsoft.” From then, Fries explained that both Gates and Ballmer were quick to acknowledge that they needed to react if they wanted the company to stay relevant in the consumer market, and Gates and Ballmer finally approved the plan from the Xbox team. Unexpectedly, Fries and his colleagues had just earned “full approval to do Xbox” from Gates and also the right to work independently from the company.
Bill Gates has already earned a reputation as a difficult boss (especially in meetings), but we’re glad that the former CEO is also able to put things in perspective, and Microsoft today can be really proud of what its Xbox division has achieved over the last ten years. We invite you to watch the full interview, let us know what do you think of this anecdote in the comments.