After writing about Microsoft’s earnings earlier in the week, it’s now time to recap Sony’s fiscal year 2022 first quarter results.
Mixed as they were. Overall sales and profit grew for Sony overall, in part due to a weaker yen and boosts from the likes of Pictures and Music. However, sales within its PlayStation business declined amidst a variety of factors. This was mostly expected based on a high comparable last year, a limited suite of first-party exclusive games plus signs of a broader slowdown in discretionary spending.
Sony’s Game & Network Services (G&NS) segment sales declined in the low single digits over the last 3-month period, marking the lowest Q1 output since fiscal year 2019. Profitability took an even bigger hit, moving down almost 40%, due to general weakness in software plus increased spending on its pending projects.
Hardware proved to be the main bright spot, experiencing a double-digit revenue rise as PlayStation 5 reached 21.7 million in lifetime units shipped. That’s after selling-in 2.4 million boxes in the April to June period, up ever so slightly from last year’s 2.3 million.
Sony also reduced its financial forecast for the PlayStation business, revising downward both revenue and profit metrics while highlighting it expects a bigger decline in 3rd-party software sales. Profit will also be impacted by closing the purchase of Bungie, which went effective a couple weeks back.
Somewhat surprisingly, management reiterated its PlayStation 5 hardware shipment target at 18 million consoles for full year. I tend to disagree, personally. I believe Sony’s management is exceptionally bullish in the face of continued pressure from multiple angles, including supply chain and broader price pressure. I expect reduced guidance within the next two quarters unless input costs drastically improve.
“At this point in time, we have made no change to our 18 million unit sales forecast for PlayStation hardware in FY22,” said executives in the company’s prepared remarks. “But since we are seeing a recovery from the impact of the lockdown in Shanghai and a significant improvement in the supply of components, we are working to bring-forward more supply into the year-end holiday selling season.”
Time to move forward into recapping the underlying financials and make some fun predictions of my own!
First referencing the slides from Sony in the above gallery, these display how it generated $17.86 billion in revenue during the quarter which is up 2%. Operating profit rose 3% to $2.37 billion.
Both these set all-time highs for a first quarter, when measured in local currency. I’m using an average exchange rate to convert into dollars.
Given the environment these are very good, even if slight, gains. Granted, it’s worth reiterating how a weak yen will help top-line growth for global consumer companies like Sony.
That currency impact is on display within the PlayStation business, where its top-line would have been even worse if the exchange rate impact wasn’t as robust. Sony’s gaming division saw revenue dip 2% to $4.67 billion. With higher costs recently, operating profit declined a precipitous 37% to $408 million.
As the G&NS segment slide shows, the top-line revenue includes a substantial foreign exchange rate impact. It also accounts for a decline in both 1st and 3rd party software, a trend consistent with Xbox’s quarter as well. Compared to this time in 2021, people simply aren’t spending as much time or money on software and related content, even if they still have demand for hardware.
This exact dynamic is reflected in the product category slide from its supplemental information and the colorful chart I’ve compiled. Sales from Physical Software, Digital Software and Add-On Content all fell double-digits in the quarter. Hardware and Others, which includes peripherals and first-party game sales not on PlayStation platforms, boosted 12% and 28% respectively. Network Services is also proving to be resilient right now, moving up a modest 4%.
The two additional charts provided expand Sony’s reporting over the latest 12-month period, a method I use to smooth out results and provide better perspective on how companies are performing. It smooths seasonality and considers the last four quarters in aggregate. On the revenue side, PlayStation revenue topped $21 billion. Which is up compared to this time last year when it was $20.6 billion. Operating profit is also up year-on-year, from $2.33 billion in the 12 months ending June 2021 to $2.44 billion now.
What does that mean? Well, in the scope of recent years, these quarterly drops aren’t as damaging as they seem because the last few quarters have been abnormally high for the games industry. It’s that normalization I’ve written about before, as things like global inflation and folks seeking other forms of entertainment enter the picture.
In comparison to industry peers like Tencent, Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony’s current gaming output is near the top. Tencent’s recent annual figure is roughly $33 billion, continuing its reign as the biggest gaming company in the world by sales. Then Sony slots in next at $21 billion, which is lighter lately because it’s converted from a currency in free fall. Microsoft recently reported $16.22 billion, while Nintendo’s latest from last quarter is around $15 billion. The last two years have been a healthy time for the biggest publishers, manufacturers and developers, given all that’s happened, so some headwinds now are natural.
In addition to the financial metrics I love to highlight, Sony shared a variety of additional figures on software sales, digital contribution, services and engagement factors. All very important in gauging the well-being of PlayStation as a business.
First, I’ll talk software sales, the bread and butter of any gaming ecosystem. We already know that revenue from these sources declined in the double-digits, which is reflected in unit sales as well. Full game software on PlayStation platforms dipped 26% to 47.1 million units. Within that, first party titles (those published by PlayStation) lowered even further, down 39% to 6.4 million.
This period includes the second quarter for titles like Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7 and MLB The Show 22. It could mean sales a few weeks out from launch are lower because people are playing less, which they are, or potential buyers are waiting until discounts because many new generation titles now start at a higher price point. Which extends the length of a title’s sales trajectory, though earns Sony less per unit sold over time.
Those gamers that are buying software for PlayStation platforms are doing so via its digital storefront more than ever. The number of digital game units sold compared to the total reached 79%, which ties an all-time high set back during the quarter between January and March 2020. To say it another way, fiscal Q1 had the same digital proportion as around the beginning of major quarantines during the early parts of the pandemic.
With respect to player count and engagement, it’s another mixed bag. PlayStation Plus memberships rose 1 million compared to last year’s number, currently reaching 47.3 million subscribers. It’s almost the same number as last quarter, down only around 100K. On the other hand, the key metric of Monthly Active Users (MAUs) showed weakness, going down from 105 million last year to 102 million now.
Sony’s explanation is that hours spent on the platform came in below estimates. Which fits with my expectation, given the release slate and other entertainment options.
“Total gameplay time for PlayStation users declined 15% year-on-year in Q1,” management said in its remarks. “Gameplay time in the month of June improved 3% compared with May and was down only 10% versus June 2021, but this is a much lower level of engagement than we anticipated in our previous forecast.”
This report also marks a bittersweet milestone, as Sony no longer reports hardware sales for the PlayStation 4. The 2013 console ends its historic run around 117 million units sold globally. That’s enough to be the second best-selling home console of all time behind only the PlayStation 2. Where does PlayStation 5 stack up against its predecessor right now? Well, PlayStation 4 had shipped 25.4 million by its seventh quarter on market, meaning PlayStation 5 is lagging by almost 4 million units. Congrats to everyone behind the PlayStation 4, one of the highest-selling devices across the history of gaming.
Stepping back to take it all in, Sony’s fiscal first quarter results were mildly impressive overall while expected temporary weakness hit the PlayStation segment. Three months ago, I wrote about being more cautious than Sony’s management on its gaming prospects for the coming fiscal year. So, this sort of decline fits with that hypothesis, which I’m continuing here.
“The results forecast we announced in May incorporated an outlook for the growth of the global economy developed in January as well as major risks contemplated at the time of the forecast such as the direct impact of the situation in Ukraine and the impact of COVID-19 in China,” executives noted in the company’s prepared remarks.
The highest profile aspect of guidance is PlayStation 5 hardware, where Sony stubbornly kept the 18 million unit sales target for the year ending March 2023. While the next couple quarters will feature software titles that can be system-sellers, my problem is how chip prices could rise in the double-digits over the remainder of this year, and shutdowns or lockdowns will continue to impact part suppliers in the pipeline. My current target is between 15 to 16 million sold this fiscal year for PlayStation 5, implying it still has upwards of 13 to 13.5 million to go.
I also want to address a question that arose during today’s earnings call. Per a transcription from Video Games Chronicle, executives were asked about the potential for a price increase for PlayStation 5. That’s right, an increase! In fairness, Sony has recently bumped up prices for certain items in its local Japanese market plus Meta increased the cost of its Quest 2 virtual reality headset by US$ 100.
Even given the challenges faced by electronic manufacturers right now, I think it’s potential product suicide to drastically raise prices on consumers that are already cash-strained. Especially when it comes to the PlayStation 5, which already sees inflated secondhand prices amidst rampant scalping and limited inventories. Thankfully, Sony Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki agrees, for now, and dismissed the question.
On the financial forecast side for the remainder of this fiscal year, Sony raised its sales estimate by 1% while simultaneously reducing its operating income projection by 4%. For PlayStation alone, it revised revenue and profit downward by 1% and 16% respectively. That PlayStation profit reduction stands out the most, factoring increased costs associated with closing Bungie and Haven Studios acquisitions.
I’d say I’m cautiously bullish on this update. Even with big blockbusters like Madden 2023, FIFA 2023 and the highly-anticipated God of War Ragnarök on the horizon in the coming months, I’m worried about those diminishing engagement hours, lower spend on ongoing content and, of course, stagnating hardware production. Uncertainty is the enemy of those who make predictions, so I’ll keep my tentative outlook and say I think we might see lower results.
One wildcard in this scenario is PlayStation VR2, which has a launch roadmap that’s apparently in full swing according to PlayStation Blog. I continue to be shocked by how soon Sony is showing the device, which I didn’t expect for at least another year or more. It seems like it’s been in development for a long while, though release has been pushed back given the difficulties of supplying PlayStation 5, which is necessary to run the headset.
I don’t know if it’s a wise decision to spend on making and marketing both PlayStation 5 and PlayStation VR2 during a holiday season where costs are moving up across the board, and consumers can barely find the console at retail. Does Sony intend to launch the peripheral before March 2023 to meet that fiscal year deadline? Can it match the US$ 400 price tag I think it needs to be attractive? Based on where it’s at in development, I can see it. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the move.
Thus concludes another recap session during this busy earnings season. Hop over to my full calendar for more on when other companies are reporting in the coming weeks, and thanks for taking the time to visit the site! Be safe, friends.
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥129.4.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, Getty Images (Photo Credit), Meta, PlayStation Blog, Video Games Chronicle.