PlayStation 5 Shipments Reach 17.3 Million as Sony Reports Best Third Quarter PlayStation Operating Profit Ever & Lowers Hardware Forecast

In what’s continuing as the busiest year in gaming news ever, Sony is back after announcing its $3.6 billion acquisition of Bungie to this time reporting its fiscal year 2021 Q3 earnings results.

An eventful one, it was.

In addition to providing updated figures on PlayStation hardware, software and engagement, Sony’s results showed that the gaming division recorded its second best quarter ever for top-line sales. Quarterly revenue exceeded $7.15 billion, which is second only to last year’s $7.77 billion.

Even further, operating profit rose 15% to $817 million in PlayStation’s single best operating profit for a third fiscal quarter. This is the coveted holiday period between October and December, which is most significant for consumer tech companies because of peak demand in various parts of the world. This record profit result and strong growth happened against a high comparable last year around the launch of PlayStation 5.

Right now, and in the immediate future, we know it’s availability dictating a lot of where the business is going. So these results are wholly impressive given this environment, which is continuously supply-constrained and facing delays on the software front. Behind the resilience is add-on content, an expansion in PlayStation Plus memberships plus a shift towards digital software.

On the hardware side, lifetime PlayStation 5 console shipments since launch are now 17.3 million after moving 3.9 million in this latest quarter. When compared to PlayStation 4, the brand’s fastest-selling console, that was at 20.2 million by this point. Its second holiday quarter was a strong 6.4 million, which is 2.5 million above PlayStation 5. It’s clear the current generation is starting to lag in a historical sense, facing various outward pressures amidst the semi-conductor crisis.

Oh, I guess this also means PlayStation 5 has officially passed the 13.56 million units that Nintendo’s Wii U reached across its lifetime. Add it to the list.

Because of supply concerns, Sony reduced its full year annual hardware guidance for PlayStation 5 to 11.5 million units. Previously it expected in-line with PlayStation 4 at upwards of 14.8 million. This implies only 2 million more PlayStation 5’s shipped in this quarter ending March 2022, which would also be below PlayStation 4’s 2.3 million in the corresponding period.

“Limitations on the supply of components are expected to continue going forward, but we are continuing to exert every effort to meet the strong demand for PlayStation 5,” said Sony’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki.

Here’s a full breakdown of the overall results plus PlayStation business segment, then the various supplementary statistics Sony shared. There’s even more color around the Bungie acquisition later in the article. Numbers, charts and more below!

For the company as a whole, both sales and profit metrics experienced double-digit gains and set new all-time highs for a fiscal third quarter.

Revenue increased 13% to $26.66 billion, while operating profit rose an impressive 32% to nearly $4.1 billion. Major growth in Pictures and Imaging & Sensing Solutions business segments boosted these historic results.

Drilling into Game & Network Services (G&NS), aka the PlayStation business, this is still Sony’s leading category by revenue at nearly twice as much as the next contributor in Financial Services. The PlayStation brand accounts for 27% of Sony’s sales and 20% of aggregate profit.

I’ve already mentioned the $7.15 billion in revenue, down 8% since last year, and $817 million in operating income during third quarter for G&NS. Slides from the company’s presentation cite declines in hardware, peripherals, first and third party software overtaking the impact of exchange rates on the sales side. Alternatively, lower expenses and better margins for PlayStation 5 spurred profit growth.

Those that have read my recap articles know what’s coming. Let’s frame these quarterly figures in context. There’s charts in the above gallery displaying trailing 12-month time frames for each of these.

Over the last four fiscal quarters, which is also calendar year 2021, PlayStation sits at almost exactly $24 billion in revenue. While down from the all-time high of $24.67 billion three months ago, it’s still the second best on record. Not too shabby. For operating profit, the most recent annual number is $2.56 billion and a slight increase over last quarter’s $2.45 billion.

The dip in trailing revenue makes sense, given the slowdown in hardware units and nearly every sub-category within the gaming business. The profitability bounce-back is more noteworthy, in my opinion. It reflects that amidst slowing production of hardware, there’s lower costs bumping up margins giving good impact to PlayStation’s bottom line.

The last of my charts in the gallery shows every product category within the gaming unit and where it’s been in recent quarters. My main observations are it’s the best time for digital software, the second best quarter for add-on content and even hardware, the latter two previously set during holiday 2020. There’s also the slow and steady upward trajectory of Network Services, proving that online play and the related software perks of PlayStation plus are keeping players in the ecosystem. The rumors around a potential combination of services into code-name “PlayStation Spartacus” would bolster this particular slice. I expect this trend-line to continue.

Now that Sony has reported, let’s quickly compare to industry peers. Pulled from my recent article on Microsoft’s results, here’s how it plays out. Sony’s trailing 12-month revenue of $24 billion still comes in below that of Tencent’s gaming businesses, generating $27.3 billion as of September 2021. Microsoft’s record $16.28 billion from annual Xbox sales is up next. If combined with Activision Blizzard, it would be $25.33 billion and actually could exceed Sony’s latest figure. Nintendo reports tomorrow, so I anticipate this figure to rise, however its latest for now is $14.7 billion. Keep in mind there’s impact from exchange rates of course plus Tencent won’t report until next month, though I like to show how each stacks up on a relative basis.

Beyond the fancy financials, Sony provided various updates on players, software and services within its PlayStation ecosystem.

Its online service PlayStation Plus tallied up 48 million subscribers as of December, slightly higher than the 47.4 million at end of 2020. On the flip side, Monthly Active Users (MAUs) across all PlayStation Network declined to 111 million from 114 million last holiday.

This implies that while paid users for PlayStation Plus are consistent, people are spending less time playing. No doubt impacted by last year being the launch of a brand new console, higher availability of vaccines recently plus more open economies. Gaming is still a go-to entertainment, of course. It’s just that folks are spending time on different media.

On the conference call, Totoki echoed this sentiment on engagement. “Total gameplay time of PlayStation users in December 2021 was 20% lower than the same month of the previous year, which was immediately after the release of the PlayStation 5,” he said. “But gameplay time increased approximately 7% from December 2019. For a quarter in which there were only a few major titles released, we think this was solid performance.”

I tend to agree, primarily because Sony is monetizing its base even as they spent less time gaming.

Full-game software sales also showed a downward trend year-on-year, declining to 92.7 million from the recent high of 104.2 million in fiscal 2020 Q3. First party title unit sales were 11.3 million, or 12% of the total, compared to 19 million and 18% of the total prior year. Partially reflective of the limited holiday lineup on the exclusive side, while major seller Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales hit market last year.

Consistent with digital software being its highest ever from a product category revenue standpoint, the split of digital full game sales is increasing. 62% of all software was digital download, compared to 53% last year. All three quarters this fiscal year have been at or above this same 62% figure. Basically, between 6 to 7 out of every 10 software units sold are now downloaded.

Because of known limitations on the PlayStation 5 production side, Sony is still chugging along manufacturing PlayStation 4 consoles. It shipped 200K of its prior generation box during the quarter ending December, resulting in lifetime sales of 116.9 million. At this rate, it might someday pass Game Boy’s 118.69 million. In a few years, hah.

Projecting into the future, it’s a challenging environment for the PlayStation from a hardware perspective though there are plenty of opportunities on the software and services side.

We’ve talked to death about high demand, low supply. My economics professors would be so proud!

Production and inventories aren’t getting better, as clearly displayed by PlayStation 5’s vast under-performance during a holiday quarter when unit sales have historically been much higher. Consistent with Sony’s formal guidance reduction, I’m lowering my estimate for PlayStation 5 shipments in the year ending this March. Last quarter, I was ambitious at 15 million. Even then I said confidence was waning. Now, I’m down to 12 million which would mean January to March has to reach 2.5 million.

Intriguingly, Sony lowered its fiscal year revenue outlook for the G&NS segment to $24 billion from $25.5 billion yet decided to boost its operating profit target from $2.86 billion to over $3 billion. This is a telling turn of events, signaling further cost reductions that will outpace lower dollar sales for PlayStation. Manufacturing less consoles does have the benefit of lower expenses, I suppose!

The last fiscal quarter ending next month will ramp up on the first party software side, as both Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 are slated to launch. There’s also third party console exclusives like Sifu and now Ghostwire Tokyo, announced today for March 25th. While releases like this won’t drive console sales as much as in the past because of inventories, it will benefit software sales, notably that digital content segment, plus player time investment.

Finally on the topic of acquisitions, Sony’s executives naturally did not comment much when asked about Microsoft’s industry-changing $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard and if they had plans to snatch up any large publishers.

They did, of course, talk about their major purchase in Bungie. While I didn’t dedicate an entire piece to it, I did want to mention Sony providing additional flavor around the deal, the resulting relationship and how it fits with the future of PlayStation as a brand.

Bungie, creators of Halo and makers of my beloved Destiny, was one of the largest private independent studios in the industry at over 900 employees. To me the main reason to me why it made a deal with Sony, as opposed to a traditional publisher or a software and cloud company like Microsoft, is the trans-media potential of crossover with film and television plus the opportunity to remain mostly independent.

On Sony’s side of the bargain, the upside is huge. One glaring weakness in PlayStation’s portfolio is a lack of live service and ongoing game expertise, which is crucial in 2022 going forward. Bungie provides that, both from a business model and technology standpoint. Along these lines, execs claims global revenue in the games industry from live services have been growing at an annualized rate of 15% since 2014 or the year Destiny launched.

“We intend to utilize these strengths when developing game IP at the PlayStation studios as we expand into the live game services area,” Totoki pointed out. “Through close collaboration between Bungie and the PlayStation Studios, we aim to launch more than 10 diverse Service Games by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2026.”

Alongside this movement towards games-as-a-service, Totoki also discussed the mid-term plan to grow first party software dollar sales to double its current amount by fiscal 2025. Between this internal acceleration of exclusive IP, pushing more into ongoing games with the help of Bungie’s knowledge plus the potential for a Xbox Game Pass-like service in PlayStation Spartacus, Sony’s gaming approach is looking more balanced than it’s ever been.

It does seem to be a good compromise and united.. destiny for both companies.

That’s a wrap on a mostly successful quarter for Sony, especially as a whole with those record results, even considering the lag in PlayStation 5 shipments and downward revision for certain items in the PlayStation division. Other areas are picking up the slack, proven by the record profitability exhibited within its gaming business. While its forecast is lighter for hardware and gaming sales, that operating income guidance increase is reassuring.

Did anything stand out to you in the report? What was the most surprising part? Do you agree with my forecast for hardware or are you more conservative like Sony’s management team? Feel free to drop a comment here or on social media.

Be safe and well. Thanks for reading!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on the reported conversion: US $1 to ¥113.7.

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, LEGDAY on Twitter (Image Credit).

-Dom

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