It’s here. My first big recap article of this latest earnings season!
In case it wasn’t clear from my recent calendar post, late July signals the start of that season. Let’s kick it off with Microsoft’s fourth quarter fiscal 2022 results, which means I’ll cover both quarterly and annual figures. The more, the better!
This latest 3-month period featured somewhat mixed results that capped off a historic year for the company’s gaming division, where it achieved the best ever fiscal revenue for Xbox as a brand.
As anticipated, gaming revenue declined in the quarter ending June 2022, dipping 7% to roughly $3.45 billion. Like many results lately in the industry, it sounds a lot worse than it was. This number is the second best Q4 in Xbox history, trailing behind only last year’s massive $3.71 billion spike.
It’s one of those “good enough” scenarios, falling perfectly in-line with the company’s, and my, expectations of a mid-to-high single digit decline. Either a big beat or epic miss would have been much more newsworthy.
What’s important is the impact on fiscal year revenue from Xbox, which moved past $16 billion for the first time ever. That’s yet another all-time year for gaming at Microsoft. It’s the sixth straight fiscal year where Xbox has achieved record sales.
Underlying this growth was upward movement in Content and Services, which houses software sales along with the likes of Xbox Game Pass and cloud offerings. A constant here has been claims from management that Xbox Game Pass subscriptions have been steadily increasing, although the team still hasn’t shared an updated sub figure since the 25 million I wrote about back in January.
On the other hand, Xbox hardware sales have stagnated over the latest 12 months which resulted in a double-digit decline during the year. Which is curious, considering comments from Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella indicate the family of devices is selling better than ever.
“We’ve sold more consoles life-to-date than any previous generation of Xbox and have been the market leader in North America for three quarters in a row among next gen consoles,” Nadella said in his prepared remarks on the earnings conference call.
The declining revenue along with high unit sales indicate a major talking point to me: There’s a high proportion of unit sales coming from the lower-priced Xbox Series S. Which fits with mounting evidence and anecdotes that these are much easier to find and plays from a manufacturing cost standpoint because they are less expensive to make. Plainly, Microsoft and its suppliers can’t produce enough high-end Xbox Series X boxes to grow hardware revenue. I expect high input costs to continue, thus this trend will keep up into the new fiscal year.
Now I’ll dig into the underlying numbers and highlight key trends from this report.
Peeking first at the above slides from Microsoft, they show that 7% decline in quarterly gaming revenue which gets us to that $3.45 billion figure. Not bad considering Xbox achieved a best-ever Q4 result this time last year!
The main reasons for lower sales proved to be people spending less time and money on the platform over those 3 months, which impacted purchasing of both first-party and third-party software. The main bright spot was growth in Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. I’ll go more into these segments in a bit.
Expanding to a longer time frame is my chart, which shows 12-month trailing sales figures for the Xbox business unit. This shows a couple major points.
First, if we focus strictly on each fourth quarter, it displays that record high fiscal year from Xbox: $16.22 billion between July 2021 to June 2022 compared to the prior record holder of fiscal 2021 at $15.37 billion.
Subsequently, the full chart illustrates last quarter was the first decline for trailing annual gaming sales since back in Q2 of fiscal 2020. That initial rise back then corresponds to quarters leading into the start of quarantines during the pandemic, and the figure has since leveled off right around $16 billion lately. Still, it’s only a 2% decline from last quarter’s all-time best. Which is something I’ve expected given the strong prior years and macroeconomic forces at play, including inflation.
Note: These dollar totals are based on growth rates over the prior year. Microsoft has yet to publish its 10K filing, I’m confident the math will be very close.
Where does this put Xbox sales right now in comparison to major peers in the games industry?
Since Microsoft is the first to report, I’ll use the latest annual figures for the likes of Tencent, Sony and Nintendo. Tencent is the clear leader of the pack, aggregating to annual sales of $33 billion. Sony is up next, reaching $24.4 billion. That number will refresh later this week when the company reports on Friday. That leads into Microsoft’s $16.22 billion, which will increase when the Activision Blizzard deal closes to somewhere between $23 to $24 billion depending on redundancies and cost-savings. Lastly, Nintendo is close to Microsoft’s current figure, hitting $15 billion in yearly sales.
The main caveat I’ll note when comparing across the industry is how revenue is one of many metrics used to gauge financial strength. I’d prefer profitability when available, however Microsoft does not report this granularity for Xbox alone.
That doesn’t mean we can’t glean anything on Xbox’s profit contribution from this recent report. The broader segment of More Personal Computing (MPC) experienced an operating income decline of 5% as expenses rose 8%. Microsoft called out Windows, Search and news advertising as main drivers of this weakening profit dynamic, which indicates that gaming’s contribution likely remained consistent. Which I’d say is good news, especially for the cost of making consoles.
For the quarter ending June 2022, both of Xbox’s main segments of Xbox Content & Services and Xbox Hardware suffered declines. Although the latter was more precipitous, neither was very concerning to me because of where we are in the broader cycle plus supply conditions being nowhere near normal.
Starting with Content & Services, this segment contributed 6% lower sales than a year ago. Which, like total Xbox revenue, was in-line with the company’s guidance and my own expectations. This equates to $2.77 billion in Q4, implying it contributed around 80% of the total. Another way to consider this is 4 out of every 5 dollars spent on Xbox was on software, downloadable content, subscriptions and non-hardware purchasing.
In fact, the latest annual contribution from Content & Services is a big positive for the Xbox brand. It’s now above $12.5 billion, or 77% of the total, a dollar figure which is actually up 3% compared to the prior year. That means despite weakness in the fourth quarter, Content & Services had its best fiscal year in reported history.
The main factor, of course, is Xbox Game Pass momentum and its proven impact on spending habits for ongoing subscribers. While executives refuse to share anything beyond the 25 million figure, I estimate it’s closer to 30 million by now. I’d wager it hasn’t breached that milestone. Because otherwise Microsoft would have said so!
There’s also the element of offerings like Xbox Cloud Gaming plus recent partnerships with companies like Epic Games and Samsung. Microsoft is benefiting from rounding out its ecosystem play and expanding how and where people play, which has a tangible effect on revenue growth even as individual title sales may slow.
“We’ve partnered with Epic Games to make Fortnite available for free via browser,” noted Nadella in an example of this strategy. “Over 4 million people have streamed the game to date, including over 1 million who were new to our ecosystem.”
Hardware is proving to be the more challenging business line for Xbox, declining 11% in the quarter to under $680 million. That’s the second lowest output in the past seven quarters, no doubt impacted by higher margins and continuously low availability of the premium Xbox Series X version.
Along the lines of its counterpart, the annual numbers are more reassuring. Microsoft generated $3.7 billion from Xbox console sales in fiscal 2022, which is up from $3.2 billion previously. That’s a gain of nearly 16%. This is mainly due to excellent performance during the initial stages of this fiscal year, meaning hardware has trailed off recently.
That’s not to say demand isn’t there. It’s mainly that Xbox is selling its lower-priced SKU, which doesn’t boost the top-line as much. Last quarter, I posited that lifetime unit sales of Xbox Series X|S could be between 14 million and 14.5 million. After this latest period, I’m estimating it at 16 million to 16.5 million.
It’s unfortunate we don’t know for sure, especially since Sony and Nintendo are more transparent.
The last numbers I’ll cover before wrapping up are for Microsoft as a whole. The firm generated $51.9 billion in revenue, up 12%. Operating profit reached $20.5 billion, or an increase of 8%. Quarterly sales from Microsoft Cloud moved past $25 billion for the first time ever, jumping 28% year-on-year.
Focusing on the More Personal Computing (MPC) business unit, it was responsible for $14.4 billion in sales. This means Xbox, at $3.45 billion, made up almost a quarter of the segment’s total.
These results are quite staggering as the company benefited greatly from hybrid working models and enterprise cloud usage. Still, quarterly revenue and earnings both missed analyst consensus estimates.
During the full fiscal year, Microsoft posted $198 billion in revenue and $83 billion in operating profit. It’s hard to even understand these numbers!
Now to look ahead, let’s focus on gaming within the broader company.
According to Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Amy Hood, here’s the rundown of guidance for the first quarter of fiscal year 2023, which runs from this July to September. Note this does not include any impact from the Activision Blizzard deal, which it still expects to close by June 2023.
Gaming revenue is forecasted to decline in the “low to mid single digits” driven by a drop in first party software. Content & Services has that same exact guidance. Though the management team does anticipate Xbox Game Pass subscriptions will grow again and thinks Hardware will rise as well, albeit didn’t provide any more specifics.
Let’s assume “low to mid single digits” means a dip of 3%, that should be a good barometer. This implies total quarterly revenue from Xbox of around $3.48 billion, or the second best Q1 on record. Then, for both Content & Services to decline and Hardware to increase, the former must decline 4% or more. Which would follow that Hardware can increase a percent or two and the math still works out.
Personally, I do expect a slight decline in total Xbox sales during the current quarter. There’s a handful of major 3rd party titles, including a new Madden game in August, and Xbox Game Pass will certainly have a few great additions. It’s just last year’s high was powerful, it remains a tough comparison. I’m not so sure about Hardware gains, that’s where I’m skeptical. I’m expecting flat to slightly negative contribution there unless something changes with the split of Xbox Series S to Xbox Series X.
On a bit longer of a timeline, where’s the growth other than the traditional means? There’s the clear upside of bringing Xbox Cloud Gaming to other television brands outside of Samsung. Then the substantiated plus rumors of the team developing a dongle-like device like a Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick. And, of course, people calling for Xbox to make a handheld now that both Nintendo and Valve have active portable gaming devices.
“As announced last year, we’ve been working on a game-streaming device, codename Keystone, that could be connected to any TV or monitor without the need for a console,” a Microsoft spokesperson said to Windows Central, who first reported on the cloud stick’s development.
“We are constantly evaluating our efforts, reviewing our learnings, and ensuring we are bringing value to our customers. We have made the decision to pivot away from the current iteration of the Keystone device. We will take our learnings and refocus our efforts on a new approach that will allow us to deliver Xbox Cloud Gaming to more players around the world in the future.”
So, I’m a believer in the expansion of cloud and whatever this Project Keystone turns out to be. I don’t expect the dongle to hit market this fiscal year, so that will impact future time frames. And I really don’t think an Xbox handheld fits with its direction, for a multitude of reasons that I’ll probably write about at some point! What I do expect is for Xbox Game Studios to ramp up its output in 2023, featuring titles like Starfield and Redfall plus some surprises too.
That concludes Xbox’s results this quarter. I’ll be back soon with articles on other major gaming companies, and updates on social media throughout the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and be safe all!
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, Windows Central.