Microsoft Nintendo acquisition hopes revealed by leaked Xbox exec email

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In the latest unredacted document oopsie stemming from the US Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to stop Microsoft acquiring Activision Blizzard, an email from Microsoft gaming CEO Phil Spencer has surfaced in which he discusses the idea of buying Nintendo.

The email was sent 6th August 2020 to Microsoft’s current chief marketing officer Chris Capossela and commercial chief marketing officer Takeshi Numoto. It begins with Spencer speculating that Nintendo may be receptive to approaches, thanks to one of Microsoft’s allies, San Fran investment fund ValueAct, buying up Nintendo stock and so, attempting to steer the company’s board towards accepting an acquisition.

“Takesji, I totally agree that Nintendo is THE prime asset for us in Gaming and today Gaming is our most likely path to consumer relevance,” the email begins.

“I’ve had numerous conversations with the LT of Nintendo about tighter collaboration and feel like if any US company would have a chance with Nintendo we are probably in the best position. The unfortunate (or fortunate for Nintendo) situation is that Nintendo is sitting on a big pile of cash, they have a [board of directors] that until recently has not pushed for further increases in market growth or stock appreciation.

“I say “until recently” as our former MS BoD member ValueAct has been heavily acquiring shares of Nintendo and I’ve kept in touch with [ValueAct CEO] Mason Morfit as he’s been acquiring. It’s likely he will be pushing for more from Nintendo stock which could create opportunities for us.

“Without that catalyst I don’t see an angle to a near term mutually agreeable merger of Nintendo and MS and I don’t think a hostile action would be a good move so we are playing the long game. But our BoD has seen the full writeup on Nintendo (and Valve) and they are fully supportive on either if opportunity arises as am I.”

Yep, he just threw Valve and their multi-billion-dollar Steam platform in there too. The idea of Microsoft buying Valve has been much-bandied-about and rumour-mongered over the years. Gabe Newell brushed the idea off when RPS spoke to him about it back in 2007.

The email also makes reference to a few other potential Microsoft acquisitions, one of which would come to fruition a few months later. “Confidentially we have two fairly active M&A discussions in Gaming right now, Warner Bros Interactive and ZeniMax,” Spencer adds.

“I took ZeniMax to the BoD last week and prior to the BoD discussion I asked Amy [editor’s note: presumably, Microsoft’s chief financial officer Amy Hood] and Satya [Nadella, CEO of Microsoft] if they wanted me to slow either or both of these given the TikTok discussions and they both emphatically told me “no”. They are fine doing all 3 of these if the deals make sense.”

For context, Microsoft tried to buy Tiktok in 2020 under apparent pressure from the Trump White House, only for the deal to fall through at the last minute.

“I won’t say WB or Zeni is Nintendo but both are for sale and gettable by us if things align,” Spencer adds. “Biggest obstacle in WB is IP ownership, we wouldn’t own any of the IP which hurts long term flexibility and the only obstacle on Zeni is valuation expectations of our founders. But I think it’s likely one or both of these happen which will help us continue to double down on our Gaming relevance.”

It was reported that Microsoft were sizing up a Warner Bros deal back in July 2020, with the latter’s owner AT&T asking for $4 billion or £3.1 billion.

“To give a sense of scale, ZeniMax is about the size of our current first party studios org, so that would be doubling our content asset,” the email goes on. “Downside is it’s more core, less broad, not mobile, more north American/European etc.

“I love this discussion and value you looking at the opportunities here. At some point, getting Nintendo would be a career moment and I honestly believe a good move for both companies. It’s just taking a long time for Nintendo to see that their future exists off of their own hardware. A long time…. :-)”

You can read the original email – brought to my attention by Tom Warren off the Verge, who I keep confusing with Tom Hollander – here.

The FTC-Microsoft proceedings have proven a treasure trove of revelations about the inner workings of vast corporations, from the release windows of future Elder Scrolls games to Microsoft’s dislike of console exclusives. Kaan rounded up a few of them for posterity.

Microsoft have long been in the habit of acquiring the competition, from Mojang to Ninja Theory – there’s a very short drinking game you can play that consists of typing “Microsoft buys” into Google and doing a shot for every different company in the autocomplete box. The US megacorp had a crack at purchasing Nintendo back in 2000 during the run-up to the original Xbox, but was laughed out of the room. Tantalising as it is that I might one day be able to write about Zelda for RPS, Graham has some cautionary words on the subject of consolidation that are worth revisiting.

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