Microsoft Discusses Buying Nintendo Or Valve In Leaked Email

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.


Every Franchise Xbox Now Owns After Buying Activision

An image collage shows different games Microsoft now owns.

Image: Xbox / Activision / King / Bethesda / Kotaku

On October 13, Microsoft completed its nearly two-year-long process of consuming Activision Blizzard King. And while it will take months and years for Xbox and all the parties involved to sort everything out and start bringing past Activision Blizzard games to Game Pass, for now, we can tally up everything Microsoft seemingly now owns.

To put together this list I dug around a few different places and double-checked some franchises to confirm who owns what. In some cases I wasn’t able to figure out a decisive answer, so I left those out. I also avoided adding every single game these companies have published, as some were one-offs that have never been touched since and that don’t feel like a “franchise.” Finally, just because Activision or other companies previously published an X-Men or ESPN-branded game doesn’t mean the publisher owns that brand or even that specific game. So those aren’t on here, either.

With all that said, here’s my best shot at assessing every gaming franchise Microsoft now owns (probably).


  • 3D Ultra Pinball
  • Call of Duty
  • Call to Power
  • Crash Bandicoot
  • Dark Reign
  • Diablo
  • Extreme PaintBrawl
  • Front Page Sports Baseball
  • Gabriel Knight
  • Geometry Wars
  • Guitar Hero
  • Gun
  • Hearthstone
  • Heavy Gear
  • Heretic
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Hexen
  • Interstate ‘76
  • King’s Quest
  • Laura Bow Mystery Series
  • Lost Vikings, The
  • Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX
  • Overwatch
  • Phantasmagoria
  • Pitfall
  • Police Quest
  • Prototype
  • Quest for Glory
  • SWAT
  • Singularity
  • Skylanders
  • Soldier of Fortune
  • Space Quest
  • Spyro
  • StarCraft
  • Tenchu (only the games released before Activision sold the rights to From Software in 2004)
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
  • True Crime
  • Ultimate Soccer Manager
  • Warcraft
  • World of Warcraft
  • Zork


  • AlphaBetty Saga
  • Blossom Blast Saga
  • Bubble Saga
  • Bubble Witch Saga
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Diamond Digger Saga
  • Farm Heroes Saga
  • Hoop de Loop Saga
  • Papa Pear Saga
  • Paradise Bay
  • Pepper Panic Saga
  • Pet Rescue Saga
  • Pyramid Solitaire Saga
  • Rebel Riders
  • Scrubby Dubby Saga
  • Shuffle Cats

Bethesda / Zenimax

  • Commander Keen
  • Deathloop
  • Dishonored
  • Doom
  • Elder Scrolls
  • Fallout
  • Hi-Fi Rush
  • Prey
  • Quake
  • Rage
  • Redfall
  • Starfield
  • The Evil Within
  • Wolfenstein

Xbox / Microsoft

  • Age of Empires
  • Age of Mythology
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • Bard’s Tale, The
  • Battletoads
  • Blinx: The Time Sweeper
  • Blue Dragon
  • Conker
  • Costume Quest
  • Crackdown
  • Crimson Skies
  • Fable
  • Forza
  • Gears of War
  • Halo
  • Killer Instinct
  • Kinect Sports
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator
  • Midtown Madness
  • Minecraft
  • Perfect Dark
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Project Gotham Racing
  • Psychonauts
  • R.C. Pro-Am
  • Rise of Nations
  • Sabreman
  • State of Decay
  • Thunder (Hydro Thunder, Arctic Thunder, etc.)
  • Viva Pinata
  • Wasteland
  • Zoo Tycoon

And consider this fun challenge while you take it all in: Try not to think about how sad it is that so few corporations now own so much of our pop culture. Let me tell you, I failed! But at least Call of Duty will be free on Game Pass in the future, right?