Steve Ballmer was optimistic about motion controllers in 2001, but other Microsoft executives weren't.
Prior to the start of the current generation of gaming consoles, one man had an idea – and patents – for motion control technology that would eventually be used in the Nintendo Wii. Before Nintendo got its hands on the technology, however, Microsoft executives held meetings discussing the possible use of those patents.
Tom Quinn, a California inventor, founded a company called Gyration in 1989 and began developing uses for a patent portfolio of gyroscopic technology. After failing to see his technology catch on in aeronautics, one of the ideas Quinn had for his technology was a video game controller. According to a recent article by CVG UK, Quinn's first pitch was to Microsoft's chief executive, Steve Ballmer, in early 2001.
Quinn says Ballmer loved the idea and was "incredibly excited" about the technology. Ballmer liked the idea so much he proceeded to set up an interview between Quinn and Microsoft's Xbox team executives. "But the meeting went terribly," Quinn told CVG UK.
"The attitude I got from them was that if they wanted to do motion control, they would do it themselves and make a better job of it," he said. "I mean, they were just rude. In fact, the meeting went so terribly that one of the executives came over to me afterwards and apologized on behalf of others."
Microsoft wasn't the only console manufacturer to dismiss Quinn's idea, though. Sony also had a chance at the technology, and like Microsoft, it passed on the idea.
Quinn met with Ken Kutaragi, head of Sony's PlayStation brand, later in 2001. In that meeting, Quinn says, Kutaragi asked the California investor if he could make the technology for 50 cents. When Quinn said it was impossible, he was told Sony wasn't interested. Quinn's fortunes changed when he landed a meeting with Nintendo later in the year, however.
In his meeting with Nintendo executives, Quinn's presentation was stopped short 20 minutes in while the executives deliberated on Quinn's pitch. At the end of that deliberation, Nintendo offered to license the technology (the Wii would go on to launch in 2006 with the technology) and purchase a stake in Gyration.
Nintendo's investment appears to have been a smart one in retrospect. The Wii is firmly entrenched in the top spot of the current console generation, with worldwide sales of more than 97 million units. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, by comparison, have each sold about 70 million units. Both Microsoft and Sony eventually changed their stances on motion control as well, with Microsoft releasing its Kinect motion controller in 2010, the same year Sony released its PlayStation Move motion controller.