Today the Xbox brand is known all around the globe. Even if you don't like games it's pretty safe to assume that you've heard about Xbox. That hasn't always been the case, though. Actually, not even the big shots at Microsoft were particularly fond of the Xbox idea from the start.
It was one of the creators of the first black and green box, Ed Fries, that in an interview with IGN shared an interesting story about how his team presented the Xbox idea to Microsoft founder Bill Gates and ex CEO Steve Ballmer. The presentation went so horribly as to warrant the nickname of the "Valentine's Day Massacre" afterwards.
Let's take it from the top. Fries explains that there were two internal teams that pitched the idea of a gaming console to Gates and Ballmer. Fries' team wanted to design a console that had a internal hard drive and functioned a bit like a "PC in disguise". The other team leaned more to the traditional direction where the main inspiration came from Sega's Dreamcast. As a matter of fact, the first Xbox controller in particular was heavily inspired by Dreamcast because, according to designer Seamus Blackley, "Dreamcast was king".
Anyway, Gates liked the first idea. It was decided that the console would run a version of Windows and the team had one year to come up with a business pitch and how everything would come together. During that period, however, they opted for abandoning Windows as the operating system in favour of a closed system that would be optimised to run games well. All of this eventually culminated in a meeting with Gates and Ballmer that, as you've no doubt guessed by now, took place on Valentine's Day and didn't go too well.
Below you'll find a transcription of Fries' own experience of the meeting, courtesy of Neogaf:
"So we go into the meeting and four o'clock Valentine's Day--Bill walks in he's holding a Powerpoint deck and yells, 'This is the blanking insult to everything I've done at this company' and that was the start, so we all looked at [Xbox director and designer J Allard] because we knew Bill's mad about the no Windows thing, because we forgot to 'pre-disaster' him, so J is in shock for a minute and Bill yells at me and shuts me down and Robbie steps up and Bill shuts him down anyway, and then Ballmer goes through and says we're gonna lose a lot of money and he's beating us up about that, hours go by it's five o clock, it's six o clock, it's Valentines Day! Most of us have something going on!"
"So we spent years working on this and looking at each other and convincing them this is the best plan, so finally one of the observers at the meeting just raises his hand and says, 'What about Sony?' and he says, 'Sony is slowly invading the living room with a processor here software there, they could be a threat to Microsoft.' So Bill and Steve stop and look at each other and go, 'Yeah...what about Sony?' And so Bill turns and says, 'I'm going to give you guys everything you want' and Ballmer repeats the same thing. And I turn to Robbie and say, 'That was the weirdest meeting I've ever been in.'"</i>
It sure sounds weird, but it's still an interesting footnote in the history of the Xbox.