Switch & Software Sales Milestones Produce Nintendo’s Most Profitable Year Ever

It’s no secret that Nintendo’s Switch hybrid platform was a game-changer for the company after its difficult Wii U era. The hybrid console’s success and its corresponding software sales, especially for those that the Japanese gaming giant has published, have lifted it to the best revenue in over a decade plus record profits during its fiscal year ending March 2021.

These are staggering results. Fitting for Nintendo, I’m jumping right into it.

Previously I covered Sony and Microsoft’s gaming business results this quarter, with annual sales for those two competitors at $24 billion and $15 billion respectively. Nintendo’s latest fiscal result falls between them, generating approximately $16 billion overall. That’s an increase of 34% since last year and, most importantly, the highest yearly sales since the roughly $16.7 billion over a decade ago in 2010.

When it comes to profitability, the report is even more impressive. Operating profit boosted a staggering 82%, reaching just above $5.8 billion for the last 12 months. This is the best ever result for a company that’s been around longer than any of us. It’s also the second best growth rate since 2010, behind only 2018 at the start of the Switch generational cycle.

These figures blew past the company’s targets by a substantial margin, even if those estimates were conservative. During its presentation, Nintendo executives attributed it to a strong hardware presence especially in Australia and Asia, a shift in the ratio of digital sales plus three dozen million-sellers on Switch this past year. It’s attracting new customers and encouraging owners to snag an additional console. 20% of Switch purchases are second devices. And that’s only going to grow.

When I break it down more closely myself, the near or at record figures come from a combination of various underlying factors. Main one being a Switch hardware push, since the console represents more than half of the company’s business. Also, the launch of third party exclusive Monster Hunter Rise, continued momentum of nearly all first party software especially Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons plus impact from the end of the company’s 35th anniversary celebration of the Mario franchise. Particularly on Super Mario 3D All-Stars as it went off market simultaneously (and conspicuously) at the same time the fiscal year ended.

Now, the best part. To dig into the nitty gritty!

Profit is off the charts, top-line revenue is the best in years, Switch hardware is selling at a rate that not even the most optimistic predicted and Nintendo’s software figures are keeping pace in the current unpredictable environment.

After shipping 4.72 million Switch consoles in the January to March window, sales to date reached a major milestone in terms of broader industry comparisons. With a lifetime hardware figure of 84.59 million shipped, it’s now passed both Sony’s PlayStation Portable, upwards of 82 million, in addition to the 81.51 million of Nintendo’s own Game Boy Advance family of devices. And depending on which source, it’s close to if not above the beloved Xbox 360 from Microsoft.

(I say that because there are slightly different reports of Xbox 360 sales since launch in 2005. It’s anywhere between 84 million and 85.5 million since Microsoft stopped reporting exact hardware statistics. Suffice to say, Switch may have passed it by now when taking into consideration the month since March end.)

Based on the latest quarterly numbers, Switch units reached 28.83 million for this past fiscal year. Its best to date. This is a increase of 37% year-on-year, plus more than 2 million units above guidance. Which Nintendo had even raised. Twice.

Within the console segment, 20.32 million of those shipments were the standard Switch model. Switch Lite contributed 8.51 million. Both of these are up the same 37%, consistent with the platform’s aggregate growth.

Now at the start of this past fiscal year, Nintendo’s target for Switch hardware was unbelievably low. Even more so that it was issued right during the early part of the global pandemic and Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s meteoric early prosperity. Which is somewhat understandable. Companies tend to be conservative, that way it’s easier to beat guidance. It’s still no less impressive, proving there’s considerable demand still at this middle portion of its cycle. Nintendo doesn’t seem as affected by the global chip shortage that’s plaguing other manufacturers.

This sort of momentum is consistent with domestic results, and The Americas make up nearly 42% of Nintendo’s overall sales so it’s notable to compare. As I wrote in April, Switch has been the leading console by unit sales in the United States for 28 straight months. Over 2 years. Sure, most of this was during the last legs of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Which is why 2017 was the absolute perfect time for Nintendo to launch, supported over the past few years by the quality of its exclusives plus ongoing third party support, notably within the independent development space.

Expanding to a historical context, Switch is on a faster pace than the Nintendo Wii, launched way back in 2006, and 2013’s PlayStation 4 when measured by unit shipments. Both of which are ubiquitous within gaming, the former being Nintendo’s top-selling home console and latter as the second best-selling home platform ever. Switch strength has especially accelerated since this time in 2020, a period of notable growth for obvious seasons. I included a thorough chart from friend of the site Daniel Ahmad, Analyst at Niko Partners, which illustrates launch-aligned growth for many of the major console releases in history.

Lastly on the hardware side, out of its updated 84.59 million lifetime shipment figure reported today, 81 million have been sold through to consumers. Console sell-through during the quarter ending March alone surpassed the record high of the same period last year. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched!

Moving over to game performance, Nintendo Switch software unit sales topped off at 230.88 million for the fiscal year alone. This includes first and third party, retail and digital, remakes and ports, any and all individual games sold that works on the platform. That’s a jump of just under 37%, nearly perfectly in tune with hardware growth. This shows folks aren’t only buying up Switches with increased demand, it reveals that they are buying multiple copies of its most popular games. A trend we’ve seen for this platform since it started.

For the fourth quarter alone, Switch recorded 54.78 million software units shipped which is up from 45.59 million. All of this contributed to lifetime Switch software rising a whopping 65% year-on-year, to 587.12 million. It’s hard to even consider that type of figure in context.

Individual title growth stemmed a lot from newer games in the Mario franchise in addition to the most green of evergreen from Nintendo, then a particularly monstrous seller from Capcom.

Compilation Super Mario 3D All-Stars crossed the 9 million unit sold-in threshold since launch last September, no doubt boosted by Nintendo pulling it from stores in what I still consider a questionable decision for the sake of preservation. Subsequently, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury launched this past February during Nintendo’s final fiscal quarter. Since then, it’s shipped 5.59 million and sold 4 million of that thru to buyers. For perspective, the original game on Wii U has only moved 5.87 million copies across its entire time on market.

In one of the more ridiculous numbers when stepping back, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold 10.62 million units last year alone. We’re talking an increase of 43%! This is for a game whose first version started on Wii U back in 2014. It’s the highest-selling Switch title to date and probably will always be, currently standing at 35.39 million copies worldwide. That’s over 5 million more than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latter of which is frequently parodied for being available on nearly every platform in existence.

Just behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch top seller list, Animal Crossing: New Horizons shipped a cold 20.85 million in the fiscal year despite a dearth of seasonal updates lately. Even when some people are unhappy with it, plenty of others are still purchasing it. This brings its lifetime total to 32.63 million.

Rounding out the Top 3 Switch platform sellers from Nintendo is fighting game (yes, it’s true) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, moving exactly 5 million units across the last 12 months. A bit more pedestrian in its growth at 27% for the title that hit market in late 2018. 23.84 million is its count to date.

In other updates, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Ring Fit Adventure both crossed the 10 million copies milestone in March. That second one is really incredible, considering it’s a dedicated fitness game at a higher price tag because of its included accessory. Even a title like Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics is selling, hitting 3.14 million this past quarter.

Honestly, I could list even more and they would mostly show the same trend. Sometimes even I have to stop and take stock of these figures. Rattling them off is like binge-watching classic shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or trying to speed-run an Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto in a single sitting. It’s impossible to appreciate the bigger picture without taking a breather and really thinking about how many copies these games are selling right now on the platform, not to mention the impact it has on the popularity of those published by third parties.

Out of the 36 million-sellers this year alone, 22 were published by Nintendo. The remaining 14 were third parties and “grew steadily.” This includes Monster Hunter Rise, a major growth driver towards Nintendo’s record results. Capcom’s brand new Switch exclusive in the long-standing franchise reached 4 million copies shipped within *three days* of its March 26 release. It moved a million more by early April, making it already the 3rd best-selling Monster Hunter title of all time. Notable here is the companies collaborated on a special edition Switch model, no doubt a factor during this time right before the fiscal year finished up.

While it’s not as prominent a segment as other companies in the industry, Nintendo experienced a marked rise in digital sales recently. In terms of revenue, digital generated $3.1 billion or around 20% of the overall business. That’s up from under $1.9 billion. Note this measure is a combination of full game downloads, online services and add-on content. Within dedicated video game platform sales by dollar amount, 43% is digital which is up from 34% previously. When talking unit sales, digital is now 47% compared to 41% and 42% for the two years prior, respectively. When charting quarterly trends, it’s clearly pushed up by ample demand last summer during the height of quarantine times.

Whew! Got all that?

The hybrid console’s success and its corresponding software sales, especially for those that the Japanese gaming giant has published, have lifted it to the best revenue in over a decade plus record profits during its fiscal year ending March 2021.

Certain smaller items that didn’t take up much in the fiscal report were its online service, mobile, IP licensing and playing cards businesses.

The company didn’t share an updated figure on Nintendo Switch Online paid subscribers. The last we heard was 26 million during its Corporate Management Briefing over six months ago in September 2020. All executives said this time was that “in addition to the growth in sales of indie titles and other download-only software without corresponding physical versions, Nintendo Switch Online sales were also steady” and that the team was investing in this part of the business, though didn’t specify exactly how much or to what extent.

Mobile and IP related sales grew 11% year-on-year, though still represent a small portion of the total business. $519 million to be clear. Within this, sales from smart devices were constant so it was actually bolstered by royalty income gains. This is not an encouraging sign when it comes to mobile expansion. Still, Nintendo said the Pikmin mobile collaboration with Niantic, the same team behind Pokémon Go, is scheduled for a global launch in back half of 2021. So I expect smart phone contribution will raise at least slightly in the near future.

On its conference call in Japan, executives expanded on various areas within the financial report. Based on notes from those listening, the most curious comment to me is how the company saw record research and development spending recently. For the year, this reached roughly $850 million and it will increase a bit into next year. The reason is partly because of investment in the successor to Switch. To my knowledge, this is the first mention of such a follow-up platform.

Intriguing..

Anyways, looking ahead, Nintendo also provided initial estimates for various parts for fiscal year ending March 2022.

In terms of overall revenue, it expects a decline of 9% to around $14.6 billion. Operating profit target is 22% lower, starting at $4.55 billion. When it comes to Switch, Nintendo estimates shipping 25.5 million consoles and 190 million software units in the upcoming 12 month span. Both of these would be declines as well.

So, why the pessimism?

“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,” executives said. “But this could be impacted by obstacles to the procurement of parts, including the increase in global demand for semiconductor components. There also remains the risk associated with COVID-19, which is difficult to predict.”

To me, this is prudent given the circumstances. Uncertainty around component availability and the dubious nature of selling products in a pandemic once they are manufactured. However, I think it’s too conservative and will be raised at least once. Probably during the mid-way point of the year. Especially given the rumor as recently as last week from Nikkei that annual Switch production could be upwards of 30 million based on sources from part suppliers.

My estimate for Switch hardware is much closer to that figure than Nintendo’s. I’m assuming right now 28 to 29 million plus well over 210 million software copies. I think there’s a good chance it could be the best year to date for the hybrid console, even five years later.

I was way upbeat at the start of the generation. Though not as much to predict this sort of trajectory. And we still don’t know if the rumors around a New Nintendo Super Switch Pro XL model in the near future are true! Either way, Switch will certainly pass Wii lifetime sales sometime in the next 12 months in what will be a momentous occasion.

Nintendo’s software pipeline definitely looks lighter right now. But isn’t that always the case? It’s probably because the biggest releases either aren’t dated yet or haven’t even been revealed. New Pokémon Snap came out in late April. Miitopia, Game Builder Garage and Mario Golf Super Rush are slated for the early summer months. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is July, then there’s the trifecta of Pokémon games between “late 2021” and “early 2022” listed in its report.

There’s also Splatoon 3 and Square Enix’s Project Triangle Strategy (Temporary Title) currently slated for a broad date of 2022. The heavier hitters that could push sales above that guidance are Bayonetta 3, Metroid Prime 4 and of course the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even if the last one is the only one of the three out this fiscal year, which I believe it will be, it’s going to be a special one for the company, its shareholders and audience alike.

Indie support will naturally continue, with Switch being a most appealing platform due to its flexibility and on-the-go use case. Nintendo has shown more of a willingness for partnerships as well even with its most coveted brands, so could this be the year where we hear another collaboration with say Ubisoft? The most significant partnership would be anything with Microsoft when it comes to Xbox Game Pass or a Cloud offering. Talk about an industry-shaking event.

Overall, I can’t say much more about its financial year than I already have. It was record-breaking and wholly impressive 12 months, especially how hardware is penetrating to the point where 1 in 5 households currently buying a Switch already have one. Profit is off the charts, top-line revenue is the best in years, Switch hardware is selling at a rate that not even the most optimistic predicted and Nintendo’s software figures are keeping pace in the current unpredictable environment. Nintendo remains a company true to itself in quality, output and setting trends rather than chasing them. It’s the type of strategy that continues to, quite literally, pay off.

Thanks for reading!

Note: Exchange rate used for Japanese Yen to U.S. Dollar is as of today. 0.0091 JPY to 1 USD.

Sources: Capcom, Cláudio Luiz Castro (Photo Credit), Daniel Ahmad (Niko Partners), Guinness World Records, Manny Moreno (Photo Credit), Nikkei, Nintendo Investor Relations, NPD Group.

-Dom

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