Nintendo’s Annual Results Decline Slightly Amidst Hardware Shortages During The Company’s Best Year Ever for First Party Software Sales

Everyone that’s seen my latest earnings calendar knows the deal!

Nintendo is up next for this usual series of earnings recap and reaction articles for major gaming companies, this time focused on its annual results for the fiscal period ending March 2022.

While Switch hardware momentum slowed a bit, software is as strong as ever. In fact, stronger than ever.

As part of its report Tuesday, the Kyoto-based video game developer and publisher shared a variety of statistics around its yearly results. Software shipments from a units standpoint rose 2% last year. The firm even reported its highest level of first party software sell-through to consumers for a single platform.

And it’s had a lot of platforms since it entered the games business way back in the 1980s!

Its most recent in the Switch has been a commercial darling since launching in March 2022, spurring growth after the dark days of its failed Wii U console. While it didn’t see as much hardware success as fiscal 2021, it still achieved management’s latest shipment estimate plus had the second highest annual sell-through since it hit market outside of that first year.

Nintendo’s results, which saw dollar sales slow in the single digits and operating profit remain virtually the same, fits the industry theme of reverting to more normalized spending habits. Even if down from highs of last year, this was still its second best annual financial performance in more than a decade.

“Regarding Nintendo Switch, we will continue to convey the appeal of all three hardware models to maintain a high level of sales momentum and expand the install base,” the company wrote in its report. “Other software publishers also plan to release a wide variety of titles, and we will work to strengthen sales through the combination of existing popular titles and a continuous stream of new titles.”

Before moving into the full report, I want to highlight a recent article on Nintendo from friend of the site Kat Bailey at IGN. Entitled “Inside the Growing Discontent Behind Nintendo’s Fun Facade,” this investigative piece digs into the company’s culture and workplace conditions, notably its treatment of contract workers. It’s a rare peek behind the curtain, as relevant as ever considering how well the company is doing. Once you get done here, I highly recommend reading Kat’s fantastic coverage.

It’s time to dig into the nitty gritty.

On the financial side, Nintendo shared that net sales declined 3% to $15 billion. Operating profit lowered ever-so-slightly to almost $5.3 billion. Both of these were the second best amount respectively since fiscal 2010, came in above forecast and fit with the general theme of mean reversion.

These two metrics are displayed over time in the charts above, showing a slight contraction for both from highs a year back.

Splitting out by region, Americas was the leading contributor at 43%. That’s down slightly from 42% last year. Europe’s allocation remained consistent at 25% while Japan moved down from 23% to 21%. The remainder of countries outside these regions made up 10% of 2022’s total.

Nintendo shared insights into product category mix as well. Software sales contributed 52% of dedicated video game platform sales, while hardware made up the remaining 48%. That’s flip-flopped versus last year, when software was 47% and hardware comprised 53%. This shows the balance of Nintendo’s business exposure, plus a lean towards games in a time where console shipments lagged on the supply side.

Similar to my article on Microsoft’s latest financial report, here’s a rundown of how Nintendo stacks up to industry peers when it comes to the latest annual results. Tencent reports later this month, though most recently had an industry best $27 billion from gaming. Microsoft’s Xbox division posted $16.5 billion. Factoring the pending Activision Blizzard deal, it could be upwards of $23 billion to $24 billion depending on cost savings, etc. Unfortunately, both of these companies don’t break out profit from games. On the other hand, Sony also reported results today featuring $24.4 billion in revenue then $3 billion in operating profit. Thus, while Nintendo’s overall sales aren’t as much as these others, it’s currently more profitable than the PlayStation brand.

Digging into the aforementioned softening hardware sales, the Switch sold 4.11 million units during January to March which amounted to an annual total of 23.06 million. While that’s down 20% from the 28.83 million of fiscal 2021, it’s still the second best 12 months on record and exactly in-line with the company’s most recent guidance of 23 million. It’s worth noting this was revised downward twice from an original call of 25.5 million, signaling extended supply challenges.

Lifetime Switch console sales now stand at 107.65 million. An annual dip was expected given both the life cycle timing and global semiconductor shortage, it was just a question of how much. Tending to lean conservative, Nintendo’s initial guidance for the year ending March 2023 is an even lower amount of 21 million. That’s effectively returning to the amount of fiscal 2020, its third full year on sale.

Now that there’s three Switch models, Nintendo shares performance for all of them individually. The standard model is still the most popular of course, contributing 13.56 million to the year’s total. That’s down 33%, mainly due to the introduction of the OLED version which shipped 5.8 million boxes since hitting retail in October 2021. Finally, Switch Lite declined 57% to 3.7 million units in fiscal 2022.

Shifting into the Switch software category, Nintendo sold 235 million Switch games in the year ending March 2022. This is 2% higher than the almost 231 million of a year ago. First party games made up almost 80% of the platform’s annual software sales. Which essentially means 4 out of every 5 titles sold on Switch is published by Nintendo.

This sort of increased performance, happening as hardware sales slip, mainly proves how new and existing console owners keep buying games at a higher rate than even last year’s peaks. Which makes sense for a company known for its quality of output.

This annual growth led to lifetime software sales on the platform hitting 822.18 million. It was at 587.12 million back in March 2021.

Nintendo Switch ended fiscal 2022 with 39 “million-selling” titles during the fiscal year alone. This was at just 29 last quarter! For the year, 26 were published by Nintendo while 13 came from third-parties. Last year, Switch experienced 36 million-sellers: 22 from Nintendo, then 14 from external partners. A clear sign of catalog strength and what I call the “Switch Effect” on new titles in franchises normally considered as niche.

A couple headline releases during the latest quarter helped drive this consistency on the exclusive software side.

January’s Pokémon: Legends Arceus was the highest profile of the bunch, moving 12.64 million copies so far. That’s the third best start for a Pokémon game on Switch behind only 2019’s Pokémon Sword & Shield at 16 million and the nearly 14 million of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl last November. Truly an excellent beginning for Legends Arceus, which sold-through 11.4 million of those shipments, considering it’s a single release in a franchise that historically puts out two titles at a time.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land released towards the end of this period, rounding out the company’s first party slate for the fiscal year ending in March. It hit 2.65 million units shipped in those handful of days alone. Not only that, the cute 3D platformer sold-through over 2.1 million copies to buyers. This is undoubtedly the fastest-selling mainline Kirby in history; it will almost certainly pass the franchise’s best-seller of 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land at 5.13 million last count.

Expanding to earlier catalog launches, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe naturally maintains the top spot on the all-time Switch best-sellers list. Bolstered by new downloadable content, the game originally out in 2013 shipped nearly 2 million in January to March alone! That pushes it above 45 million copies lifetime, 45.33 million to be exact, as one of only a few games ever to hit this milestone.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons moved an additional million copies in the quarter, no biggie, to continue as the second best-selling Switch title with 38.64 million to date. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate stays in third, selling 770K units to fight past 28.17 million in aggregate.

Since launching at that nearly 14 million copies mark in November 2021, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl extended to 14.65 million as of March. That makes it the 8th best-selling Switch game and 2nd best-selling Pokémon title on the hybrid platform. Exercise experience Ring Fit Adventure raced past the 14 million milestone to date, legging out an additional half million units and rounding out the Top 10 Switch best-sellers.

Speaking of milestones, Metroid Dread is already the top-selling Metroid game of all time. While it only shipped 160K units during January to March, combining that with the massive start last October puts it at 2.9 million copies or just above the 2.84 million of 2002’s Metroid Prime. Talk about having a ball!

Elsewhere, Mario Party Superstars shipped 1.45 million in the quarter, ending it at 6.88 million. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD pushed another milly, now at 4.22 million lifetime. Both of these contributed to that ever-expanding million-seller list for this past fiscal period.

Wrapping up various miscellaneous indicators and tidbits of information, Nintendo indicated digital dollar sales rose 4.5% to $320 million. Downloads accounted for 43% of software sales for the year, same as during 2021. Its digital contribution is lagging the wider industry standard, which has been around 50% or more depending on the publisher or manufacturer, however that’s always been the case for Nintendo. It’s much more reliant on traditional retail sales than others.

In a bit of bad news for analysts, Nintendo still doesn’t report many player engagement statistics. The company has made up this statistics dubbed “Annual Playing Users” which really just means the number of accounts that logged into a Switch during a given year. Last year, this figure reached 87 million. It recently achieved management’s goal of passing 100 million by March 2022, ending at 102 million.

You’ll notice this isn’t the most descriptive of metrics. It’s very much a parallel to the number of Switch hardware units out there. It doesn’t reveal too much. I’d much prefer to know more about monthly active users or revenue per user. Wishful thinking in this context.

Another area with a distinct lack of information was Nintendo Switch Online, the company’s somewhat rudimentary online offering. There’s no update on subscribers, a figure that hit 32 million back in September 2021. All management said was sales of add-on content for Animal Crossing: New Horizon and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe “grew” this past year.

With Nintendo, I’ll take what I can get.

As Nintendo closes the books on another year, it’s clear there’s currently limited downside on financial performance because it keeps fans purchasing software even when hardware is taking a hit from international semiconductor shortages, limited part availability and higher cost to produce consumer technology. This is the sixth fiscal year for Switch after all, as it will end the 2023 period just after celebrating its 7th birthday.

Looking ahead, the company’s forecast is conservative. I think rightfully so, even with a slate of anticipated titles in successful franchises.

In fact, the forward looking guidance is quite familiar. It’s literally the same exact numbers as last year. Nintendo expects revenue to decline 6% to $14.2 billion, while operating profit should dip 16% to $4.45 billion. As displayed by my earlier charts, these will still be healthy numbers in the perspective of the last decade or more.

“If COVID-19 interferes with production or transportation in the future, this might impact the supply of products. Other unpredictable risks to the development and marketing of products and services also continue to exist,” the company’s press release read. “In addition, the production of products might be affected by obstacles to the procurement of parts, such as the increase in global demand for semiconductor components. The consolidated earnings forecast is based on the premise that we will be able to secure the parts needed for the manufacture of products in line with our sales plans.”

Starting with that hardware guidance for the 12 months ending March 2023 of 21 million, I believe it’s a reasonable expectation. It would be down 2 million from the 23 million achieved this year. Right now, based on chipmaker leaders globally and experts saying shortages may last until even 2024, I’m targeting 20 million to 21 million Switch shipments in my models.

The elephant in the room is: What about new hardware? Will there be an update? Could the company produce yet another revision?

Well, Nintendo’s upper management has made a slight yet important tonal shift on that topic. As recently as last quarter, President Shuntaro Furukawa hinted how there’s no successor in sight because the current Switch is mid-way in its life cycle. Today, during a question and answer session after the earnings press release, he declined to even comment on Nintendo’s next hardware.

Personally, as has been the case for a while, I’m not a believer in a Switch Pro or even any upgrade until the successor which I expect to be a “Switch Part 2” with the same fundamental features and various improvements. I believe Nintendo’s strategy will lean on new releases, catalog software and online packs for at least the next two years. Supply conditions alone mean console generations will be longer than ever, so my current forecast is January to March 2024 for the company’s next hardware.

I’m much more upbeat on the software slate and monetary contribution from this business segment going forward, as Switch owners keep proving they want to buy games. Especially given Nintendo’s track record of mostly quality titles, then partnering with others to enhance its platform especially via independent games. From a unit standpoint during the year ending March 2023, it expects software sales to decline 11% to 210 million. I believe it will be higher.

So, what are the flagship upcoming games that will drive this resilience?

First, those with dates. Nintendo Switch Sports kicked off a couple weeks back. Mario Strikers Battle League and Fire Emblem Warriors Three Hopes are scheduled for June, while Xenoblade Chronicles 3 moved up to July. Splatoon 3 is the latest with an actual date attached, launching in September. These all seem locked in, I’d be surprised if they shift.

Pokémon Scarlet & Violet don’t have a date, but rather “Late 2022” as the window. I’ll assume November, and GameFreak will certainly hit that given the franchise’s usual cadence. Bayonetta 3 is much more in flux with a nebulous 2022 window. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t slip to calendar 2023.

In what’s currently the biggest pending Switch game, and the most annoying to write, The Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was recently delayed to Spring 2023. Could that make this fiscal year? I’m betting March 2023.

Then there’s the curious case of Advanced Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, which was supposed to be out by now yet pushed back in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. That and Metroid Prime 4 are listed as “TBA” in Nintendo’s reporting. I expect the former might launch sooner than latter, while the latter won’t be for a while more and thus won’t contribute to the upcoming fiscal period.

There’s also how Shigeru Miyamoto told everyone on Twitter how the Mario movie was also delayed out of holiday season. Was the plan to have a counterpart mainline Mario release to coincide with the film’s marketing? If so, will that also be moved?

I’m wagering there’s definitely a surprise or two that no one knows about, except those working on them. I am betting on that new Mario title, likely 2D, plus a rejuvenated franchise that no one is expecting.

Well, that’s the rundown on Nintendo’s most recent fiscal year. It’s a lot to cover during an eventful time for the company. What stood out the most? Were you surprised by the results or any of its forecasts? What might management be hiding from us as part of its fiscal 2023 lineup? Is this the year it reveals the Switch’s successor?

I’m always available here and social media for discussion. Be well, and stay safe all!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥112.34.

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, IGN, The NPD Group, Nikkei Asia (Image Credit).

-Dom

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