How the original Xbox team convinced 'insulted' Bill Gates to green-light a console

Speaking to IGN editor Ryan McCaffrey (via GameSpot) in a video interview, Xbox co-creator Ed Fries reminisced kinda-sorta fondly about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the name whispered internally at Microsoft to refer to the day Bill Gates went into a tirade over the proposal for the original Xbox console.

Fries explained that there were two teams trying to sell Gates—then chairman and chief software architect, a position the Microsoft co-founder created for himself—and CEO Steve Ballmer on creating a game console. Fries headed one team, and put together a proposal for, in essence, a PC in a box. It would run on Windows and contain a hard disk drive to minimize loading times.

The other team, led by designer Seamus Blackley, pitched a box modeled after Sega's Dreamcast, on the basis that "at the time, Dreamcast was king. Influence," Blackley wrote on Twitter upon revealing his original concept sketches for the Xbox.

Gates threw in with Fries' team. He liked the idea of building a game console that served as a Trojan horse: a game machine to the untrained eye, but under the hood, another Windows platform. Gates allotted one year for the Xbox team to put a business plan together and get the ball rolling. The strategy underwent some modifications.

"Then we spend a year going over what it's actually going to take, the [second] team shuts down and joins us, and we become more like them, but at some point we drop Windows. We want this closed thing that runs games really well," Fries explained (via NeoGAF).

There was just one problem. Fries and his teammates, including Blackley and fellow Xbox co-creator J Allard, forgot to inform Gates that Windows would no longer comprise the beating heart of Microsoft's console. At a meeting scheduled for 4:00 pm on Valentine's Day, Gates blew his top.

"So we go into the meeting and four o'clock Valentine's Day," Fries said. "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."

An hour passes. Two hours. Fries and the others steal glances at their watches. It's nearing six o'clock on the most romantic day of the year, and Gates is still unleashing hellfire and brimstone. To Fries' amazement, one of the other attendees raises a hand. Gates pauses in mid-tirade and calls on him.

"'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.'"

Gates and Ballmer stared at each other. "Yeah," Gates said. "What about Sony?"

Gates turned to the Xbox team and promised to give them everything they needed to create their console, Windows or no Windows. Ballmer echoed the chairman's vow.

"And I turn to Robbie and say, 'That was the weirdest meeting I've ever been in,'" Fries said.

Visit Chatty to Join The Conversation