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In context: Nintendo's intellectual properties are probably among the most coveted in the industry. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft views the company as a juicy target for a theoretical merger. A recently leaked internal document offers a closer look at Microsoft's acquisition strategy.
The enormous trove of court documents leaked amid Microsoft's legal battle with the FTC has disclosed yet more information about the company's internal workings. An email from Xbox head Phil Spencer reveals that Microsoft nearly purchased Warner Bros. Interactive around the same time it bought Bethesda parent company ZeniMax while also pondering how it could acquire Nintendo or Valve.
In a conversation from early August 2020, shortly before Microsoft announced the ZeniMax purchase, Spencer said Nintendo would be the biggest asset for his company and that securing the buy would be a "career moment" for him. He also believes that Microsoft has better chances than any other US company of accomplishing such a buyout while admitting that it's likely impossible in the short term.
Spencer titled the email "Random Thoughts," so it's unlikely that Microsoft was making earnest moves toward Nintendo or Valve. However, his exchange with Executive Vice President Chris Capossela illuminates the advantages, disadvantages, and roadblocks Microsoft sees during acquisition talks.
Nintendo's financials shield it from a buyout, and Microsoft doesn't see a hostile takeover as an option. Bloomberg notes that the last time the Redmond giant approached the House of Mario with a buy offer, former CEO Steve Ballmer and former Director of Third-Party Relations Kevin Bachus were laughed out of the meeting. However, Spencer mentioned a "long game," indicating it hasn't given up. Meanwhile, the biggest argument against buying WB is that it wouldn't have given Microsoft any of the properties WB has access to, such as DC Comics characters.
Although purchasing ZeniMax has given Microsoft its biggest exclusive release in recent memory – Starfield – Spencer admitted that it didn't help efforts to diversify the Xbox maker's first-party portfolio. Microsoft's recent acquisitions have overwhelmingly focused on high-end games targeting the North American and European markets, but Activision could be a significant step toward broadening its appeal.
The ongoing court proceedings against the FTC concern the company's attempt to purchase Activision Blizzard for $69 billion. Although Call of Duty has been the main flashpoint in Microsoft's legal struggle, one of its goals is Activision subsidiary King, which owns Candy Crush. Blizzard has also launched successful mobile games like Diablo: Immortal and Hearthstone.
It's unclear how Microsoft's acquisition roadmap has changed in the three years since Spencer wrote the leaked email. The Activision deal dwarfs anything discussed, so the company's appetite for the companies mentioned may have lessened for now.