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Microsoft recalls time it rejected Rockstar's pitch to put GTA3 on the original Xbox

"I don't think the game is going to be able to make the transition from 2D".

As part of its fascinating Power On documentary series released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Xbox, Microsoft has discussed the time it rejected Rockstar's pitch to put Grand Theft Auto 3 on the original Xbox back in 2001 - a decision that would ultimately lead to the multi-million-selling phenomenon being snapped up by Sony as a timed exclusive.

The story, which follows similarly candid recollections from Microsoft in Power On - including the admission its closure of Fable developer Lionhead Studios was one of the company's "biggest missteps" - comes in the third episode. Here, various members of the original Xbox team discuss Microsoft's preparations for the console's launch, which saw the group going on a "barnstorming tour" across America, Europe, and Japan to build excitement and convince developers its machine could be a success.

During that tour, as recounted by Kevin Bachus, head of Xbox 3rd party relations at the time, Microsoft was approached by a "small game publisher" that was planning to revisit one of its 2D PC games. Drew Angeloff, of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group from 1999-2004, picks up the story, recalling how a group of "newly important executives in Xbox who would review all the pitches from publishers and developers" said "'I don't think the game is going to be able to make the transition from 2D'".

Power On: The Story of Xbox - Official Trailer.

"They felt that is was complicated," Bachus continued, "they didn't really understand the interface, they thought that it was based on a game that hadn't been all that successful. To my surprise it was rejected".

That game was, of course, Grand Theft Auto 3, which became a timed exclusive on Sony's PlayStation 2 after Microsoft's rejection. "It ended up selling 14.5 million units," Bachus laments, "it was the top-selling game of 2001, and it would have been the top-selling game of 2002 if it wasn't beaten by its own sequel."

We've heard versions of this story before, of course - author Dean Takahashi first related the tale in his 2006 book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked, pointing the finger of blame at a group of executives, rather pompously known as The Star Chamber, under J Allard's command - but it's always refreshing to hear a major corporate entity like Microsoft readily admitting to, and reflecting on, its past mistakes in such a candid, public fashion.

And there's plenty more where that came from; Microsoft's Power On: The Story of Xbox documentary series is a whopper, consisting of six 40-minute episodes that span everything from the gestation of the original Xbox to the present day. It's well worth a watch, and, when you've done with that, there's the official Xbox 20th Anniversary virtual museum to explore too - an experience equally comfortable immortalising Microsoft's missteps alongside its successes, such as the infamous red ring of death and that time Microsoft tried to buy Nintendo.

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Matt Wales

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Matt Wales is a writer and gambolling summer child who won't even pretend to live a busily impressive life of dynamic go-getting for the purposes of this bio. He is the sole and founding member of the Birdo for President of Everything Society.