A leaked 2020 email from Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer reveals his sustained interest in buying either Nintendo or Steam developer Valve. The Northern District Court of California released the email—along with many other documents from the Federal Trade Commission v. Microsoft lawsuit that, earlier this year, unsuccessfully attempted to block Microsoft’s proposed merge with Call of Duty publisher Activision.
Microsoft first made a pass at acquiring Nintendo back in 1999, when it gave the Zelda developer an offer that caused its execs to “[laugh] their asses off” for at least an hour, Bloomberg reported in 2021. Microsoft has also been rumored to want to nab Valve in the past; though, in 2018, Valve co-founder and former ‘80s Microsoft employee Gabe Newell supposedly told a fan it wasn’t selling.
In the 2020 email, Spencer tells Microsoft’s chief marketing officer Chris Capossela and executive vice president Takeshi Numoto that “Nintendo is THE prime asset for us in Gaming.”
“I’ve had numerous conversations with the [Leadership Team] 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. [...] Nintendo is sitting on a big pile of cash.”
The rest of the email thread between the three executives discuss Microsoft’s ultimately snubbed attempt to buy social media platform TikTok (or “Tic Tok,” as Numoto writes) in 2020 and other, potentially lucrative buys, including Warner Bros. Interactive and Elder Scrolls developer ZeniMax, which Microsoft absorbed in 2021. Despite this, Spencer acquiesces that he doesn’t see “an angle to a near term mutually agreeable merger of Nintendo and MS.”
“I don’t think a hostile action would be a good move,” he continues, “so we are playing the long game. But our [Board of Directors] has seen the full writeup on Nintendo (and Valve) and they are fully supportive on either if opportunity arises as am I.”
“At some point, getting Nintendo would be a career moment,” Spencer says. “It’s just taking a long time for Nintendo to see that their future exists off of their own hardware. A long time…. :-)”
In 2022, to sweeten its controversial, planned Activision merger, and possibly to improve relations with Spencer’s apparent crown jewels, Microsoft made a 10-year promise to release Call of Duty on Nintendo consoles, and it sweared to keep releasing the shooter on Steam. Kotaku reached out to Microsoft for comment.