Microsoft recently marked the 10th anniversary of Halo, bringing back lots of fond memories of the blockbuster Xbox franchise. And of course we’ve been innundated with great stories about Steve Jobs since the Apple co-founder passed away early this year.

But this week’s GeekWire podcast features a great story about both Jobs and Halo.

Our guest, Ed Fries, was the head of Microsoft’s game publishing group when the original Xbox was launched. But as we noted during the show, Bungie Studios was actually working to develop Halo for the Mac before Microsoft acquired the company. Fries then told this behind-the-scenes story.

Bungie was a Macintosh developer — in fact we really made Apple angry when we bought Bungie. I think I can tell this story, but I got a mail, I think, from Steve Ballmer, which was unusual, saying that Steve Jobs was mad because I had bought this company. … Ballmer didn’t really know what the company was, but all he knew was that Jobs was mad about it, and that I should calm him down.

It had a number I had to call, and I called, and sure enough, there’s Steve Jobs. He and I had a brief conversation, and he sent me to someone else, and we worked out a deal, and I ended up being on stage with him and the head of Bungie, announcing a broader deal with Apple to do some porting of games to the Macintosh to make good on this whole deal.

Ed Fries in the KIRO-FM studios

As you can see in the video above, Jobs had been touting Halo as a sign that the Mac was starting to see more good games, so it’s not a surprise that he was pissed.

Given the ultimate significance of Halo to the Xbox business, it’s interesting that Ballmer was apparently caught by surprise, as well. Then again, it was an unproven game at that point, and the franchise ended up being bigger than anyone could have imagined at that point.

After the show, we realized it’s actually not the first time this story has gotten out, but it was the first time we had heard it, and it’s particularly timely in light of recent events.

We had a great time talking to Fries about all sorts of topics, and kept him around for an extended conversation on the podcast after the radio portion of the show ended. Listen to the full interview here.

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  • Guest

    Bungie basically _was_ Mac gaming. The Mac fans I knew who were waiting for Halo, the successor to Marathon, all ended up buying Xboxes with their teeth clenched. It was a time of extreme bitterness in a culture of Mac gamers who were already used to having their hopes dashed year after year.

    Interestingly, even though Apple has been selling PCs left and right, Mac OS X’s game selection is still rather poor even by non-console-gaming standards. The only growth areas in Apple gaming are iOS and iPad; the Mac has been left to wither on the vine like so many grapes.

    • Guest

      “the only growth areas in Apple gaming are iOS”.

      That’s like saying the only growth areas in Google operating systems is Android. What more do they need? The success of iOS and gaming on those devices has taken Apple from gaming joke to gaming force.

  • chuck goolsbee

    “Then again, it was an unproven game at that point…” Huh? Halo was essentally “Marathon 4″ and was originally going to be a massively multiplayer extension of the Marathon franchise. Think “World of Warcraft” in space. Microsoft trimmed it down to just another Marathon, just without the Macintosh. Oh well.

    • Forrest Corbett

      Yep, and here I am 10 years later still waiting for the Halo that we were all excited about.

  • Guest

    Yeah, great example of why Apple has overtaken MS. There’s Jobs understanding the smallest detail, in depth, and following up directly. And on the other side is Ballmer, knowing little about this company even though MS had bought it, and delegating to some manager he rarely interacted with and probably barely knew.

    • Guest

      Gary, Apple sells far fewer home video game consoles than Microsoft does. I hardly think it’s fair to say that one has simply “overtaken” the other. Microsoft owns the living room and until the iTV comes out next year it shall continue to do so.

      • Guest

        Fred, I was thinking revenue, profit, market cap, growth, cash, brand appeal and loyalty, and general perception. But I guess I wasn’t too specific, so thank you for pointing that out.

        Good point about Apple not being a presence there now while MS has a big base that they’ve built over a long time. Say Fred, weren’t you and MS saying the same thing about WinMo right before iPhone hit, or tablets right before iPad hit? How did that work out?

        “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I think that might have been Churchill, Fred. But don’t quote me on that.

        • Guest

          Ernie, iPhone and iPad are still at this point a minor players in the business world. I recently asked a series of moneyed men (the 1%, the men who run this country) what they have. Windows laptops and BlackBerry (and sometimes Android) phones dominated. Honestly, the notion of “cool” is what Apple has going for it. You want to be cool, you buy an Apple. Your buddies at the malt shop will really flip over your iPad 2.

          You want to be a member of the productive business world? You want to run the country? Ditch the Apple and pick up a Microsoft.

          Ditch it, Ernie.

    • Guest

      I don’t know the details here, but are you maybe giving Jobs a little too much credit? What he knew was that the main gaming developer for the MAC platform had just been purchased by Microsoft. It doesn’t take a grasp of the fine details to understand the impact of that event. And as far as following up directly, that sounds more like a petulant child whining at the kid who got what they wanted. I’m not exactly sure what Microsoft owed to Apple for merely purchasing a company, yet Jobs obviously felt that they owed him something.

      On the flip side, the Microsoft Manager wasn’t being micromanaged, so he could make the decision to buy Bungie without needing to report every detail to the higher ups. That’s the kind of freedom that allows good executives to make quick moves.

  • Guest

    Yeah, great example of why Apple has overtaken MS. There’s Jobs understanding the smallest detail, in depth, and following up directly. And on the other side is Ballmer, knowing little about this company even though MS had bought it, and delegating to some manager he rarely interacted with and probably barely knew.

  • Rob

    In what way did Ballmer think that Steve jobs was “made because” Microsoft purchased Bungie?

    • Todd Bishop

      Thanks, just fixed that typo.

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