It’s time for the last holiday recap of the big three gaming console makers, as I’ve previously covered a shaky quarter for Microsoft and Sony’s record-setting result.
Nintendo posted its third quarter fiscal 2023 announcement in Japan today. The company’s still exhibiting strength when compared to most recent years, though exercising caution going forward into the same tricky macroeconomic environment that many consumer tech firms are facing.
While hardware shipments are slowing as Switch moves towards its sixth birthday next month, the hybrid reached a new milestone this quarter and passed the sales of two legendary devices in the process.
The company shipped 8.25 million Switch units in the three months ending December, now achieving 122.55 million across its lifetime. That moves it above Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo’s own Game Boy/Game Boy Color which reached 117.2 million and 118.69 million, respectively.
It’s now behind only PlayStation 2 and Nintendo’s DS handheld line on the all-time list, making it the 3rd best-selling gaming hardware to date. It’s technically 2nd on both home console and portable lists if breaking them out individually. I don’t remember anyone saying this would happen when it launched back in 2017. I was among the most upbeat on its prospects. This is the type of monumental run that’s near impossible to predict.
Also contributing to Nintendo’s solid quarter was the historic launch of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. After shipping an unreal 10 million units during its first three days on market, it’s now crossed another milestone at 20.61 million shipped between its November start and year-end.
Not only is this the fastest-selling Pokémon release ever, it has better initial sales than any game ever released on a dedicated Nintendo device. This monstrous start makes it already seventh place on the Switch best-sellers list, outpacing huge catalog titles like Super Mario Party and Ring Fit Adventure.
“For the months of October through December 2022 which encompass the holiday season, the effects of shortages of semiconductors and other components was largely resolved, and shipments generally went according to plan,” management said in prepared remarks. “However, unit sales were down compared to the same period last year, when Nintendo Switch – OLED Model was released.”
“Shipment volumes for software generally went according to plan. The release of new titles including Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet contributed to unit sales, but overall software unit sales declined year-on-year, affected to an extent by the decline in hardware sales.”
Even with generally softer hardware output, Nintendo’s top-line is proving resilient when scanning the past decade. Especially considering the sort of inflationary pressures facing consumers and a lineup lacking major titles outside of Pokémon. I’ll now move into the underlying numbers, then a look ahead to guidance and predictions for the months ahead.
I pulled the above gallery of slides from Nintendo’s Q3 report, where it showcases 9-month performance in the period ending December. I’ll back into the quarterly figures, then illustrate trends over a longer period of time as well.
Revenue for the three months ending December 2022 came in at $4.68 billion, down 8% since last holiday. Operating profit experienced a more precipitous dip, moving down 25% to $1.39 billion. Two of my charts in the next section map out movement over time.
Taking this into account, sales for the fiscal year to date have declined a modest 2% to $9.5 billion. Income from operations is trending down 13%, to $3 billion.
Executives said sales dipped slightly despite the yen’s depreciation, primarily because of semiconductor shortages in the earlier quarters and component parts impacting hardware supply. Still, that top-line figure is more resilient than expected, achieving the second best Q3 sales since back in fiscal 2010. Even quarterly operating profit is the third best since that same year, despite the recent double-digit decline. Demand for a spanking new Pokémon generation certainly helped.
I’ll now dig into the current product category mix that impacted last quarter. Leading the charge was Hardware, at nearly 51% of the split. Compare that to 54% this time last year, when Nintendo was shipping more units to retailers. This means software moved from 46% during last year’s December quarter to 49% now, bolstered by the proportion from first-party being 85% of the total. From a geographic standpoint, Americas is 43%, the same as last year. Nearly 25% of Nintendo’s sales came from Europe, down from 27%. Japan made up most of the difference, contributing 24% versus last year’s 21%.
Expanding to see how the latest quarter affects annual sales, check out the second set of charts in the next gallery. Nintendo’s annual sales are currently trending towards $12.25 billion, effectively flat year-on-year. It’s been hovering around a similar value since mid-fiscal 2021. Which proves that, even with a down quarter, annual revenue has been consistent. On the other hand, annualized operating profit dipped to its lowest level in ten quarters, at $3.9 billion. Higher expenses and the yen’s movement are its biggest headwinds.
Similar to recent articles, I’ll list a quick comparison to industry peers. Tencent is the world’s biggest gaming company by sales, currently at $25.8 billion. PlayStation’s record holiday led to $22.84 billion in annualized revenue, its best to date. Microsoft ranks next at $15.56 billion, though could be upwards of $19 billion to $20 billion if it acquires Activision Blizzard this year. That’s based on the latter’s $7.53 billion annual figure reported yesterday, accounting for overlap and redundancies. Nintendo slots here at $12.25 billion, noticeably hamstrung by recent exchange rate shifts. However, Nintendo is currently more profitable than Sony’s PlayStation division when using the latest 12 months, earning $3.9 billion compared to $2.11 billion. Likely due to the cost of producing more PlayStation 5’s and developing AAA titles like God of War Ragnarök.
On the hardware front, this segment continues to cool. Although Switch is showing its age from both a commercial and spec standpoint, it’s still not quite near the end of its life just yet. Nintendo is committed to this device, and is still planning out its transition to the next one.
Unit shipments for Switch during the three months ending December totaled 8.25 million, compared to 10.67 million last holiday, or 23% lower. That brought the current 9-month total for this fiscal year to 14.91 million. At this same point in fiscal 2022, the figure was 18.95 million which implies a 21% decline. Interestingly, that’s the same percentage decline between 2021 and 2022.
Out of the units shipped through Q3 this year, 5.22 million were base model Switch. That’s down a whopping 56%, mainly because of the shift towards the OLED model being the standard version. The OLED model shipped 7.69 million in the last 9 months, nearly double the 3.99 million of its debut year since it started in October 2021. As for the Lite counterpart, sales through the third quarter declined 37% to 2 million units.
Referencing the aforementioned lifetime figure of 122.55 million, it’s approaching all-time best-selling gaming console territory. Can Switch really become the top seller? Well, it would have to beat out two devices in order to earn the crown. Which is a tall order.
After launching in 2004, Nintendo DS ended its life years later as the best-selling handheld device ever, achieving 154.02 million in sales. Almost two decades later, no portable has even come close. Then, the all-time leader right now is Sony’s PlayStation 2, which hit stores in 2000 and skyrocketed to 159 million throughout its tenure. Thus, Nintendo has to ship between 31.47 million and 32.45 million more Switch to reach these heights. If Switch’s successor launches in Late 2024 or Early 2025, that leaves seven to eight quarters for this to happen. An average of 4 to 4.5 million per quarter. While I do think it’s probably attainable, I don’t think I’d bet on it.
Shifting back to this recent report, Nintendo shared insight into numbers around Switch sell-thru to consumers. (Until now in this article, I’ve been talking about units shipped to retailers.) Executives say that people continue to have a “diversification of motives” for purchase, which includes first-time buyers or upgrades to OLED. Even so, sell-thru declined compared to last year, as it did in 2022 as well since it’s been trending downward after peaking during quarantine days.
It stands to reason that, while there’s still an appeal to grab a Switch especially at a retailer discount, fewer people are doing so which signals a nearly saturated market. Combine that with inventory difficulties and a lower average selling price, and we’re seeing a natural downswing in units produced plus revenue generated.
Software shipment data held stronger than hardware for Nintendo, mainly because of just how much demand there was for Pokémon and certain legacy titles reached new sales thresholds.
During the quarter, Switch software sales totaled 76.71 million. Compare that to 85.41 million units last year, thus a 10% decline. Across the three quarters ending December, software units were 172.11 million, down 4% against last year’s 179.29 million.
Software sales over Switch’s lifetime are drawing toward an incredible milestone. Last quarter, overall Switch software was at 917.59 million. Now, it’s 994.3 million. Nearly one billion games sold for the device since 2017! It’s likely cleared that by now, and we’ll know by exactly how much when the company reports next quarter.
During the latest 9-month period, the hybrid featured 27 titles that have sold a million units or more within that time period. Out of that, 19 were published by Nintendo. The remainder were third-party titles. Over the same length of time in fiscal 2022, the amount was 29 in total, 22 of which were Nintendo. Quality software remains the major appeal for Switch, even if existing users are purchasing them as opposed to new console owners.
November’s Pokémon Scarlet & Violet drove today’s results, as mentioned. It’s sold-thru 18.2 million copies to consumers over seven weeks. As if it wasn’t clear how ridiculous its start was, this stat will really put it into perspective: After mere weeks on sale, these are already the fourth best-selling titles ever in the franchise. That’s across all releases since Pokémon Red & Blue kicked things off in the mid-90s! I expect by the end of Switch’s time, it could be the best-selling Pokémon to date. We’re talking one of the biggest entertainment franchises in history! Truly unreal.
Bayonetta 3 hit stores in October as the other new release, and it’s officially a million seller. Developed in conjunction with Platinum Games, the action title started at a hair over 1 million, reaching 1.04 million during the period. That’s equivalent to lifetime sales of its predecessor’s port onto Switch, which hit the platform in February 2018.
Beyond the brand new games, Nintendo provided updates to those launched in earlier quarters during fiscal 2023. Splatoon 3, which splattered series records with its 7.9 million unit start back in September, has since passed the 10 million milestone, settling at 10.13 million. June’s Nintendo Switch Sports sold-in an additional 2.46 million units in the holiday months, scoring 8.61 million to date.
Additionally, the best-selling racing game ever in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sped past yet another mile marker this quarter. This time it’s the 50 million mark! Shipping 3.59 million units in Q3, it’s now at exactly 52 million lifetime. Two other high sellers achieved new milestones as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate smashed 30 million and Super Mario Odyssey jumped past 25 million, to 30.44 million and 25.12 million respectively.
Beyond software sales numbers, Nintendo tends to give tidbits around engagement and user base statistics. Back in September, Nintendo Switch Online reached 36 million paid members. I’ll update this section if the company shares an updated figure. Otherwise, the “statistic” of Annual Playing Users, which measures the number of accounts that have opened a single Switch game over the past 12 months, rose to an all-time high of 112 million in December. It was 106 million in Q2. So, the vast majority of Switch owners still use it at least once a year. Shocking revelation!
Despite the outlined financial and unit sales reductions, Nintendo had quite an impressive third quarter as compared to recent years. Especially for revenue. Nintendo Switch beat out two iconic gaming device families for lifetime sales and Pokémon Scarlet & Violet had a frankly ridiculous performance. No doubt there are signals that parts of its business are coming down off recent highs, yet Nintendo has the sort of quality software lineup to soften the blows of hardware slowdowns.
Moving into the final quarter of its fiscal 2023 period, management shared updated guidance in today’s announcement. This is where a bit of nervousness creeps in, yet I’m not as concerned for the overall health of Nintendo’s trajectory. Especially given where it was during the dire straits of the Wii U years, this looks almost as rosy as ever.
Intriguingly, just after raising financial targets last quarter, executives reverted back to lower estimates this period. They adjusted their revenue forecast down 3% to $11.73 billion, implying a 6% decline since last fiscal year. Similarly, operating profit guidance was revised downward 4% to $3.52 billion. Even so, these updated figures would be the third best annual results since fiscal 2010.
Then for the second quarter in a row, Nintendo reduced annual Switch shipment guidance. Management now anticipates 18 million shipments, down 5% from Q2’s 19 million. That means the firm has to produce 3.09 million between January and March to end the fiscal period. Personally, I think it’s now a bit too conservative. My bet is it beats the target, moving upwards of 19 to 19.5 million, which is slightly below my target from three months ago.
Along the same lines, Nintendo lowered its annual software estimate 5 million units, or 2%, to 205 million. This is where I’m more skeptical, mainly because of a light slate in the three months ending March. A good portion of the 32.89 million needed this quarter to achieve that target has to be follow-on sales of things like Pokémon and Mario Kart. New releases that will also drive this include Fire Emblem Engage, which launched a couple weeks back, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe later this month then March’s Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. These aren’t chart-toppers or anything.
One lingering question of course is might Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp launch in the coming months? While Nintendo still has it as TBA in its reporting, alongside the likes of Metroid Prime 4, there’s speculation recently based on retailers that it could hit market soon, which could bump up software results. I remain cautious, the same way I’m thinking Nintendo will narrowly miss its latest annual software sales guidance.
“Sell-in of hardware units during the third quarter was generally in line with expectations,” management said. “However, hardware sell-through during the holiday season did not perform as expected, and therefore the unit sales forecast for the fourth quarter has been modified. The software unit sales forecast has been modified as well, largely due to taking into consideration the modification of the hardware unit sales forecast.”
Near the beginning of next fiscal year, May’s The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is clearly the biggest launch for Nintendo in quite some time. It will be a massive success and compete for best-selling premium title of the year globally and in areas like Japan, though perhaps not domestically on The NPD Group’s lists since Nintendo doesn’t share digital sales here.
In an exceptional bit of news that bucks the industry trend lately, as many firms are laying off workers, Nintendo plans to raise employee salaries by 10% for those that work in Japan. Reuters reports this decision by management as inflation grips the local economy. While it will certainly increase costs, it’s the right way to maintain talent that drives its best-in-class output.
To showcase that output, the company is hosting its first Nintendo Direct of 2023 tomorrow. The 40-minute long presentation will primarily focus on Switch titles launching in the first half of the calendar year. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s there for Zelda, which ports Nintendo announces and any indication of future first-party announcements in what might very well be the final year of Switch.
Speaking of having fun, thus ends my latest big results recap of the season. What is your initial reaction to Nintendo’s results? Have you bought a Switch and contributed to that lifetime total? Will it reach that annual target? Are you betting it will be the best-selling console of all time eventually?
For now, feel free to leave a comment or hit me up on social media. Remember my earnings calendar thread for companies reporting this quarter across gaming, technology and media. Thanks as always for reading! All the best.
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥136.39.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, NBC News (Image Credit), Reuters.