Nintendo Switch Ships Over 100 Million Lifetime Units, Passing Wii & PlayStation During Nintendo’s Best Holiday Quarter Since 2009

While it didn’t announce any blockbuster deals or major investments like certain industry peers, Nintendo did just have a heck of a holiday.

That’s based on its fiscal third quarter announcement shared today out of Japan, where it passed a major milestone for its Switch hybrid console plus achieved its best Q3 results in over a decade.

A couple quick reminders. Nintendo’s filing is for the nine months between April and December 2021. Though I’ll dig into quarterly and trailing annual figures later in this piece. Then there’s the difference between sell-in versus sell-thru metrics. The former is shipment to retailers, while the latter is how many consumers ended up buying. Most of the talk here is shipments, unless specifically noted.

With those ground rules established, the big headline is how Nintendo Switch has officially passed 100 million units sold-in lifetime, now totaling 103.54 million. Fewer than five years after launch, this figure already exceeds the lifetime sales of both Nintendo Wii at 101.63 million and the 102.49 million of the original Sony PlayStation. Which is above all but the most bullish of analyst predictions, including mine. As upbeat as I was on Switch in 2017, I didn’t think it could attain Wii status.

Well, it has. Which means Switch is now Nintendo’s best-selling home console of all time. (Even if it’s also a handheld. Is that cheating?)

Considering this environment, moving 10.67 million Switch in the holiday quarter is an accomplishment and reflects demand for the latest OLED iteration. Still, Nintendo did revise its annual hardware forecast downward a bit. The company now expects 23 million in the year ending March 2022, off from 24 million last quarter which was already lower than original guidance of 25.5 million. Certainly reflects where production is at from an input availability and pricing angle. This guidance implies just over 4 million will ship in this current quarter.

On the first party software side, Nintendo had three major software releases with early success especially in a historical context.

Starting in early October, Metroid Dread has.. rocketed to 2.74 million units in just under three months. This is an incredible mark within the franchise, traditionally more a critical darling than commercial mover. For context, that’s almost equivalent to lifetime sales of the best-selling Metroid game in 2002’s Metroid Prime, at last count hit 2.84 million. It’s already above the original, which debuted on Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986 and accumulated 2.73 million lifetime.

Infamous party game and relationship killer Mario Party Superstars released in late October, reaching 5.34 million copies in its debut quarter. That’s slightly above Super Mario Party, which started at 5.3 million back in 2018. Prior to that, 2012’s mainline Mario Party 9 on Nintendo Wii hit 2.24 million in a couple quarters.

The biggest seller of Nintendo’s holiday period was, predictably, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl. The latest remake in the popular monster catching series amassed shipments of 13.97 million since November, immediately becoming the 9th best-selling title on Switch to date. Its launch quarter fell between two other Pokémon titles on Switch: Sword & Shield at 16.06 million in 2019 and the 10 million of 2018’s Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee.

For a quick financial overview, Nintendo reported single-digit sales and operating income declines since the highs of last year’s same nine-month time frame. Net sales in the last three quarters dipped 6% to $11.89 billion, while operating profit lowered 9% to $4.26 billion. For perspective, that first number is actually the third best Q3 reported in company history from a sales standpoint.

Alongside this, the company upped annual net sales guidance 3% and operating profit by almost 8% for the year ending March 2022. That positivity reflects this stellar holiday quarter plus a more optimistic software forecast, both of which I’ll recap soon.

“Switch is just in the middle of its lifecycle and the momentum going into this year is good,” said Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa on the firm’s conference call. “The Switch is ready to break a pattern of our past consoles that saw momentum weakening in their sixth year on the market and grow further.”

I’ve got a lot to cover. Get cozy and read on!

Based on Nintendo’s reporting of the year so far, we can back into quarterly figures. During the three months ending December 2021, revenue reached $6.27 billion or 10% higher than prior year. Quarterly operating profit grew 10% as well, to $2.27 billion. One of the charts above shows these tracked over time. This was the best quarterly sales since $6.3 billion in 2009. Operating profit hasn’t been this high since the $2.66 billion back in 2008. We’re talking exceptional figures during the holiday period, all the more impressive given input scarcity on the hardware side.

The other two charts above show trailing 12-months i.e. the year ending in December going back in time. As of this latest update, Nintendo’s annual revenue closed in on $15.1 billion. That’s down less than a percent. Taking expenses into account, operating profit for the last year declined 3% to $5.33 billion. This is really more indicative of strength earlier during 2020 when Animal Crossing: New Horizons was everywhere rather than recent weakness.

In terms of regional split, Nintendo’s figures showed 43% from The Americas which was up from 41%. Europe accounted for almost 27% and Japan contributed 21%, versus last year when these were 26% and 22% respectively.

On the product category front, Hardware contributed more than half of sales at 53% of the total. Retail software was up next at 29%, while digital software comprised 9% of the pie. Subscriptions and Add-on Content then Mobile and IP Licensing filled in the remainder, at 7% and 2% respectively. Really this shows the continued importance of retail, both hardware and software, for Nintendo in particular as digital remains a much lower portion of its business than certain peers.

Speaking of, now that all of the “big three” have reported this season, it’s time for a final comparison. This time around, we’re also throwing in Tencent in recognition of its massive significance as the world’s largest gaming firm by revenue. As a reminder, Nintendo’s latest annual sales totaled $15 billion. This is very close to Microsoft at $16.28 billion, which was a record for Xbox. (Note this increases drastically when accounting for a $8.8 billion contribution from the pending Activision Blizzard acquisition.) Sony’s PlayStation division generated $26.66 billion and Tencent’s latest number, albeit back from September, was the highest at $27.3 billion. And it will be higher soon. Essentially, Nintendo’s annual sales are still the lowest of these however it’s actually much more profitable than PlayStation at least. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t disclose profit from gaming.

Focusing on Nintendo’s major hardware segment, shipments were down 21% in the nine months ending December to 18.95 million. Within that, 11.79 million were base Switch while 3.17 million were Switch Lite. The new Switch OLED Model racked up 3.99 million sales in its debut quarter. Compare that to base model in 2017 of 2.74 million and Switch Lite’s 2 million in 2019. Technically both the original and Lite launched later in the quarter, so it’s not a perfect alignment. What this does indicate is the impact of newer iterations on ongoing sales, and buyers doubling up with multiple Switches per household.

As shown in one of the gallery slides above, Nintendo also shared statistics around sell-thru to consumers with Nintendo Switch moving past 100 million to date. Which means most of its shipments are going to buyers. This fiscal year is shaping up to be its second best ever, down only from the highs of last year during more restrictive quarantines.

“The outlook for semiconductors and other components has remained uncertain since the start of this fiscal year and distribution delays remain unresolved, so production and logistics continue to be impacted.” said Furukawa. “But even though product shortages in North America have continued, particularly since Black Friday, total global sell-through for April through December reached its second-highest level ever.”

This consistency of hardware purchasing is reflected in Nintendo Switch being the best-selling console of 2021 in the United States, United Kingdom and Japan according to local industry tracking firms. That’s during a battle with the initial year of a new console lineup for its competitors in Xbox and PlayStation, which are certainly feeling the sting of supply plus have higher price points on average.

Flipping over to Switch software, which made up that 38% of Nintendo’s dollar sales, the company said units shipped in the nine months ending December grew 2% since last year to 179.29 million. 85.41 million of that happened in the holiday quarter alone. Lifetime, software for Switch is at 766.41 million. Comments from the earnings call imply around half of software sales right now are catalog titles from prior periods.

From a shipment standpoint, there’s currently 29 “million-selling” software titles on Switch during this current fiscal year. That’s the number of titles shipping more than a million copies in this time frame. 22 of those are Nintendo first party, while 7 are from third party publishers. This time last year had the same number overall at 29, with 20 of them from Nintendo and the rest by external teams.

At the top end, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still the best-selling Switch title ever by a wide margin and driving those catalog stats. It actually just had its best holiday, shipping 4.61 million units towards a staggering lifetime figure of 43.35 million. This is a game that originally launched on Wii U almost eight years ago! With this sort of momentum, and still being bundled with Switch, unfortunately I don’t see a new Mario Kart until the next full-blown Nintendo console.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons maintains second place for Switch best-sellers at 37.62 million. That’s literally more than every prior Animal Crossing game has done combined. Nintendo said this includes 10 million units in Japan alone, beating out the 6.81 million units of the classic Super Mario Bros. to take the crown as the country’s top-selling video game to date.

Rounding out the Top 3 is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild selling 4.37 million this past holiday to pass 28.5 million. Another mover and shaker included Ring Fit Adventure stepping firmly into the Top 10 on Switch at 13.53 million units, flexing its muscle by shipping 1.32 million in the quarter.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 has now surpassed the 11 million threshold, settling at 11.04 million. Both September’s WarioWare: Get it Together! and Big Brain Academy: Brain vs Brain, a remake released in December, passed the million mark at 1.24 million and 1.28 million respectively. Finally, June’s Game Builder Garage snuck onto the million sellers list at 1.01 million to date.

As for copies getting to consumers, Nintendo said October to December 2021 was the single best quarter for first party global sell-thru since 2017’s Switch launch. Putting it plainly, both new titles like Pokémon and evergreen experiences like Mario Kart and Animal Crossing tag-teamed Switch’s best software holiday in its five years on market. Sounds like a happy holiday for the publisher and its employees, indeed.

Before I go, I’ll clean up some additional flavor text and chat about the near-term future in the context of Nintendo’s latest filing.

Within software, Nintendo said digital sales were effectively flat year-over-year at roughly $230 million during the first nine months of this fiscal year. Digital accounted for just over 40% of software sales for its dedicated platforms. For the holiday quarter, digital actually rose 31% to $100 million. This was attributed to an increase in downloadable versions of its titles, naturally!

One area Nintendo doesn’t share a lot is engagement statistics, skewing more towards the traditional unit sales metric. That said, it’s intriguing to see the figure of 98 million “annual playing users” for Switch in the calendar year 2021. That’s up from 80 million in 2020. Executives said the goal is to expand past 100 million users in the upcoming fiscal year.

This represents the number of users who play Switch software at least once during the calendar year, using data from Nintendo accounts. It’s certainly trending alongside the hardware trajectory, though it does show that the people buying them are at least turning them on. I’d like to know how many hours they are playing, and even further what the average revenue is per user. (Wishful thinking.)

There was minimal mention of its Nintendo Switch Online service, which at last count had 32 million paying subscribers. While it didn’t reveal a new user base figure, executives did say the following alluding to some sort of digital record:

“Sales grew steadily for Nintendo Switch Online, which launched a new paid membership service last October, add-on content like Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise and download-only titles, with digital sales for the same period reaching a record quarterly high.”

Peeking ahead into this January to March 2022 quarter, the final period of Nintendo’s fiscal year, the company is upbeat on its dollar sales, profitability and software momentum as it increased guidance for all of these.

The most aggressive forecast raise was a 10% upward revision for Switch software unit sales. In stark contrast to its lower hardware forecast, Nintendo thinks Switch unit sales will end at 220 million for the year, up from 200 million.

Part of that is Pokémon Legends Arceus, which launched in late January to solid critical acclaim. And, even more importantly for the bottom line, early commercial success. Even if that’s based on somewhat vague language from executives on the conference call. I mean, it’s a brand new Pokémon game with a fresh take on the formula. It’s going to do extremely well. The only wildcard is how it’s a single title as opposed to the dual release model used often by the franchise.

Rounding out the fiscal year for first party will be Kirby and the Forgotten Land in late March. While it won’t be the commercial juggernaut of Nintendo’s more popular brands, I could see it following Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a breakout seller in its respective series. Just not nearly to the magnitude of New Horizons, of course.

Nintendo’s only area of bearish guidance was Switch hardware, down that 4% to 23 million units. My prior estimate was 25 million, which I’m formally reducing to 23.5 million after monitoring the impact of both part availability and input cost. I really do see the firm beating on all counts here, especially operating profit above $5 billion which I believe would be its second best annual figure outside of last year’s high.

When asked about industry consolidation and potential acquisitions, Nintendo gave the answer one would expect given that it’s not nearly as aggressive as competitors. “Our brand was built upon products crafted with dedication by our employees,” said Furukawa. “And having a large number of people who don’t possess Nintendo DNA in our group would not be a plus.”

Intriguingly, management’s reply to a query around the Metaverse left open the possibility for Nintendo to be more forward-thinking than usual. According to a report collated by VGC, executives have interest and see potential however wonder what kind of “joy” Nintendo can provide.

Well, I’d say Nintendo’s solid holiday quarter results are indicative of where it’s at within the broader industry in how there’s uncertainty around hardware that’s being offset by growth in software and legacy titles. Generating its best fiscal Q3 in a number of years while facing headwinds from supply proves the resilience of its formula combining memorable experiences and high-quality IP.

What Nintendo lacks in online capability and ongoing service it makes up for with games that never go out of style and appeal to a huge audience of all ages. Throw in content here and there for Animal Crossing. Toss Mario Kart in every bundle. Launch collections of Mario Party and WarioWare mini-games. Remix the same Pokémon that people have always loved. Sprinkle in the fastest-selling Metroid of all time.

This, along with innovative hardware that supports multiple ways to play especially on the go and prompts people to purchase more than one version, is a recipe for Nintendo’s incredible success during the Switch generation. Which, apparently, is far from over.

What stood out for you in Nintendo’s latest report? Anything I might have missed? Any questions on the numbers? Give me a shout here or social media.

Until next time, thanks very much for reading and be safe all!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥111.06.

Sources: Company Investor Relations Website, Famitsu, GSD, The NPD Group, Video Game Chronicle.

-Dom

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