Nintendo Reduces Annual Switch Target in Mixed Yet Still Impressive Financial Report

As the latest console manufacturer and software maker to feel the impact of component supply shortages in consumer technology, Nintendo shared a mixed earnings report for the six months between April and September.

The good news is that, in the context of the last decade including five years of Switch sales, this second fiscal period was still a historically good quarter considering the environment. Plus the Japanese gaming company actually signaled optimism in certain areas by raising guidance for profit and software performance.

Lifetime Nintendo Switch hardware sales reached 92.87 million to date after moving 3.83 million more units in the three months ending September. It’s the seventh gaming console or device of all time to pass the 90 million threshold.

That brings the most recent six month total to 8.28 million Switch shipments, down 34% compared to the highs of last year.

Originally Nintendo was targeting 25.5 million for the full year. That’s been revised to 24 million, consistent with a recent report out of Nikkei claiming production would be exactly this amount for the fiscal year ending March. Which means the company has to ship 15.72 million in the back half. Unfortunately, this figure could even be higher if the part shortages and supply chain circumstances were better.

“We can’t produce enough to meet the demand we are expecting during the upcoming holiday season,” President Shuntaro Furukawa commented during a briefing after the release. “Currently there is no sign of improvement and the situation continues to be severe, so I can’t say how long it will continue.”

As I wrote a few months back, the lifetime figure for Switch hardware sell-thru to consumers was 85 million back in June. Now it’s upwards of 90 million which implies an even higher percentage of shipments hitting households. A clear indicator of end-user demand as Switch continues to sell at retail.

While Nintendo’s slate of new exclusive software releases has been quiet the last few months, it provided updates on them and evergreen titles. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD has shipped 3.6 million units since launch in July. Going back historically, it’s selling at a faster rate than the original Wii version which sold-in 3.52 million between November 2011 and March 2012.

In its second quarter on sale, Mario Golf: Super Rush sold 600K units to reach 1.94 million. Signs point to it now being the best-selling game in the series, above the 1.47 million of Mario Golf on Nintendo 64. And the most curious result to me was New Pokémon Snap, which hit 2.19 million lifetime after.. 2.07 million in the quarter ending June? Granted these are only for outside of Japan since The Pokémon Company publishes it locally. Without knowing the full picture, it’s hard to compare it to the top-selling original at 3.63 million lifetime. All we know is that it lacks any sort of momentum outside of its home market.

On the financial side, Nintendo’s first half revenue reached $5.69 billion or a reduction of 19%. This implies July to September quarter revenue of $2.75 billion, representing a decline of 27%.

On the profit side, operating income dipped 25% to just over $2 billion during the six months ending September. The second quarter alone saw this metric reach $913 million, when it was $1.34 billion in the prior period.

Again when calculating the latest annual period, operating profit reached $5.18 billion. That’s actually above the $5.01 billion aggregated last year.

All of these results reveal a similar trend for Nintendo’s forecast going forward. The company reiterated its annual revenue guidance of $14.58 billion, which would be a decline from the record $16 billion or so. It then upped operating income target by 4% to $4.74 billion. While that’s still down from the all-time high of $5.8 billion in 2021, the upward move combined with an increased dividend payout as well shows more confidence in its expected profitability.

Time to recap the full report and make some predictions of my own.

Boiling this gallery down into a quick summary, Nintendo’s business is reverting towards the mean after historic highs due to supply constraints, a more sparse lineup plus a comparison to the commercial phenomenon that was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s still doing very well.

Now I’ll move into the fun part.

Quick reminder that revenue during Q2 hit $2.75 billion. As displayed on the quarterly graph above, this is the second highest result for a second quarter since 2009 behind only the record-breaking sales around this time in fiscal 2021. For context, I’ve included an annualized chart as well. Expanding this sales metric to a trailing 12-month figure shows $14.7 billion in total. Compare that to $14.89 billion a year back and the trend is clearly normalizing. It’s still among the best in a decade, notably when looking at pre-pandemic times.

Accounting for expenses, operating profit hit that $913 million figure down from $1.34 billion in 2021 Q2. Similar to revenue, it’s the runner-up result when looking back more than a decade. Annualized operating income right now is $5.18 billion, even better than last year which shows strength in margins and a shift towards evergreen titles retaining players that want to continue spending.

Both of these are still highly positive, especially in comparison to the difficult years surrounding Wii U’s flop after its launch in 2012. Last year was more of an outlier, an extraordinary time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons release right before most of us began staying home.

Regional split exhibits a similar movement as last quarter, with The Americas making up 44% now versus 41% last year. Europe is up next at 24%, up from 25%. Japan was at 23% last year, it’s now slightly below at 22%. This means 78% of Nintendo’s sales right now are outside of its home market.

Digging into product categories is a bit more interesting. 43% of Nintendo’s business is from Switch hardware which is down from almost half at 49%. Retail software is 30%, compared to 25% previously. Digital software is actually down to 11% from 14%, while subscriptions and add-ons hit 12% this quarter while generating 8% in 2021 Q2. The small remainder is from mobile and IP licensing business. This reflects lower production of Switch and improved split for retail intriguingly enough. Existing owners are buying games, and non-owners are waiting on inventory.

Now that Nintendo and its peers Microsoft and Sony have all reported their respective quarters ending in September, we can look at how they stack up against one another. Because it’s always a competition, right? No, because all of them are doing very well overall and selling as many pieces of hardware their suppliers can muster. It’s still fun to run the numbers, at least for me.

Remember that Nintendo generated $2.75 billion. From my articles on Microsoft and Sony, quarterly revenue from gaming was $3.6 billion and $5.86 billion respectively. These were both all-time highs for that particular quarter, while Nintendo was in the business of breaking top-line records around a year ago. Microsoft doesn’t report operating profit unfortunately, so all we have to compare is Nintendo’s $913 million to Sony’s $750 million.

This tells the story of companies at different stages in their console life cycle, naturally. Nintendo’s hardware margins are better right now because Switch is five years old, while Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 launched in November 2020. These higher priced boxes are generating substantial revenue though also cost more to manufacture. There’s also the subscription impact for Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus, whereas Nintendo’s online is lower cost. (Well, before the recent Expansion Pass.)

Moving back to Nintendo itself, out of the 8.28 million Switch units shipped in the six months ending September, 6.45 million were Standard edition while 1.82 million were Switch Lite. Basically last year the standard model alone, shipping 8.36 million, outsold the combined total in Nintendo’s latest half year report. Switch Lite has taken the biggest hit lately, off 56%. I’ll note the Switch OLED launched right after this fiscal period, so it will be curious to see how Nintendo displays splits next quarter. The assumption is OLED will slowly replace the Standard option.

I’ll reiterate what we all are witnessing, these hardware trends show slowing momentum amidst part supply challenges and an abnormally high comparable last year. Even a decline of 34% for hardware units overall in the first half was still well above fiscal 2020 two years back when it was 6.93 million.

Software is faring better on a comparative basis, declining only 6% during the six months ending September to 93.89 million units. It was slightly above 100 million before. This brings Switch lifetime software to 681 million, up from 632.4 million a quarter ago. I don’t have much analysis on that other than to say that’s a lotta games!

Over this same time frame, Nintendo shared how there are 18 titles, 14 self-published then four by 3rd parties, that amassed at least a million copies sold in this time alone. This is down slightly from the 20 million-sellers last year, reflecting a bit lighter lineup this time around.

I mentioned sales for newer releases like The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword HD and others earlier. Nintendo also provided updates on its more evergreen titles from past periods, so I’ll share the current list of top-sellers on Switch as of September. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe reached 38.74 million to become the biggest commercial success in the franchise passing Mario Kart Wii at 37.38 million. It jumped another 1.66 million somehow in the quarter and continued to show why sadly there won’t be another Mario Kart until next generation. Next up is Animal Crossing: New Horizons rising almost a million units to 34.85 million. Third is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate crossing the 25 million mark, landing at 25.71 million to be exact.

Elsewhere, stand-outs lower down the software list include Super Mario Party up 760K to almost 16.5 million, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe shipping 1.04 million to lifetime 11.48 million then Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury from earlier this year gaining 770K in the last three months to its 7.45 million total. Momentum here is one of the reasons why its software split is widening, in addition to hardware constraints of course. I expect the upcoming holiday season to be similar.

I’ll note Nintendo didn’t share news on WarioWare: Get it Together!, which debuted in September. Which points to a sub 1 million seller. Then Metroid Dread launched in early October, so we’ll hear about that next time around. I’m anticipating a major success within the mainline Metroid franchise.

On a related topic, digital sales for Nintendo declined 16% in the last 6-months to $1.3 billion. So it made up around 23% of its overall revenue. From a software standpoint, digital units made up 45% of total dedicated platform game sales during this time frame. That’s down slightly from 47%. This trend parallels the decline in overall software sales, though looks to be more pronounced as brick-and-mortar makes a return.

Alongside these earnings results Nintendo provided a more broad corporate briefing update which covered a range of topics. I’ll focus on the more tangible numbers and comments from executives on Switch’s life cycle since 2017 and potential future of its various businesses.

Nintendo actually posted certain engagement statistics, the first called “annual playing users” which represents someone playing a Switch at least once in the past year. That’s at 79 million currently, down from 87 million which was of course the highest it’s been since launch, driven by the enormous growth last year. Nintendo Switch Online however is growing, with 32 million subscribers compared to the 26 million in September 2020.

Going forward, management is seeking another year of growth for Switch with its recent start of OLED model production. It hopes this will maintain engagement and contribute to ongoing software success.

“Nintendo Switch is shifting to a new stage where the foundation of software business growth is being strengthened in addition to the further expansion of the hardware business,” Furukawa said. “With the Nintendo Switch lineup and its new addition, Nintendo Switch OLED Model, we will aim for a sixth year of growth, something never before experienced with our dedicated video game platform business.”

This sentiment is reflected in its financial forecast and software guidance, even if hardware is expected to soften.

Nintendo opted to reiterate its dollar sales target for the full year ending in March, which it thinks will be roughly $14.58 billion. Other than last year, that would be the highest in a decade. Executives revised operating income forecast upwards 4% to $4.74 billion. While down from the record-breaking $5.84 billion of fiscal 2021, it’s still above every year than 2010. Not too shabby when putting it in context over time.

Alongside the reduction in annual hardware unit sales forecast from 25.5 million to 24 million, Nintendo actually raised its software unit guidance to 200 million. That’s 5% higher than it was before.

“Our [Switch] shipment forecast for the second half was reduced because of the change in our production plan due to the effects of the global semiconductor shortage,” said the team. “On the other hand, we revised the Nintendo Switch software forecast up by 10 million units to 200 million units based on the sales performance of the first half.”

My estimate for Switch hardware in the year ending March 2022 is now revised to 25 million from an upbeat 28 million. Supply conditions are not improving. There’s too much uncertainty. Upside for Nintendo is the OLED version comes in at a higher price, generating more revenue per unit sold. The company claimed this model is just as profitable as others, meaning the net result is bottom line growth potential.

And I can see the rationale for Nintendo bumping up its software target. I think Metroid Dread is going to be an overwhelming success. The type of break-out that Animal Crossing had last year, even if not nearly as much unit upside. There’s also two Pokémon launches in the next three months with Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl in a couple weeks plus Pokémon Legends: Arceus scheduled for January. Pokémon is one of the most dependable brands in all of gaming. Lastly, this optimism could signal a potential January to March release that isn’t on the calendar just yet so I’d watch out for that. (I don’t know anything. Just reading into the numbers is all.)

The last tidbit of information came from a question and answer discussion after its briefing and is referenced in the above slide. Nintendo’s next gaming system is planned for this decade, of course. Furukawa indicated that internal research and technology building is ongoing for this next console. Or an “experience” as he describes it.

So, not even Nintendo itself knows what the successor to Switch will be or when it’s targeted to begin production. I’d bet it’s not too far off from the winning formula of the current hybrid device.

That wraps up the numbers and analysis for Nintendo’s second fiscal quarter report, an impressive one in context even if it can’t reach the high bar set 12 months ago. Switch boosting past 100 million unit sales is a foregone conclusion at this point, even as the company provides mixed forecasts for the year ending in March. Like all consumer technology manufacturers at this stage, it’s at the mercy of part availability and supply logistics which are challenging during a world that’s still undergoing a deadly pandemic. Luckily its software prowess and quality lineup are offsetting hardware limitations, as Nintendo is best-in-class at making compelling games.

For those interested, there’s a lot more from its corporate briefing including IP decisions, expansion into other media like movies, theme park strategy and other initiatives. I didn’t have the space to cover here because I focused on the financial results, and these are more nebulous topics. Certainly still worth a look!

Hope everyone is safe this busy earnings season. Check back later for more commentary and thanks for reading!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 109.78.

Sources: Getty (Photo Credit), Nikkei, Nintendo, Video Games Chronicle.

-Dom

PlayStation Records Best 2nd Quarter Sales Ever While Profit Falls Over 20 Percent

Now up this quarter for console manufacturers and game development is Sony, owner of PlayStation and responsible for many commercial hardware successes plus some of the most memorable, big budget titles of all time.

Speaking of all time, Sony established yet another massive record when it reported fiscal 2021 second quarter results ending September. Its Game & Network Services (G&NS) segment, which houses the PlayStation brand, just achieved its best ever revenue during a second quarter: $5.86 billion. The prior record holder was three years ago in 2018 at roughly $5 billion, when PlayStation 4 was well into its lifecycle.

The Japanese consumer tech giant attributed this top-line success to an increase in hardware sales, a better 3rd party software effect plus exchange rate impact despite a dip in first-party game sales mainly on a more sparse lineup. This means PlayStation 5 is showing solid momentum at this stage, bolstered by buyers spending on multi-platform software, services and add-on content.

On the downside, operating profit for the PlayStation unit dipped more than 20% in the second fiscal quarter ending September to just over $750 million. Partially because of a tough comparable to a powerful number last year during maximum quarantine restrictions globally. Sony is of course selling less PlayStation 4 consoles and related accessories lately. Not to mention the average cost of making a PlayStation 5 during the quarter exceeded its price point, and first-party software is currently lagging.

When focusing on hardware shipments, PlayStation 5 has already reached its fourth quarter on the market. Time flies. Sony said it produced 3.3 million PlayStation 5 consoles during July to September, bringing its lifetime total to 13.4 million. Both of these figures are ever so slightly below the PlayStation 4 during the same relative time frame, which moved 3.4 million during the same fiscal quarter and reached 13.8 million at this point in its life span.

No doubt Sony is feeling the impact of global component and chip shortages, though the good news is the latest hardware is mostly selling out when available. Technically we haven’t heard a formal update on PlayStation 5 hardware unit sell-thru since the 10 million milestone back in July, when the company announced it as the fastest-selling console it’s ever made. I’m confident it’s at least 13 million right now, implying parity with its predecessor. Or even better.

During the firm’s conference call, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki acknowledged the production difficulties yet reiterated both its hardware shipment goal of 14.8 million PlayStation 5’s and current financial targets for Sony’s gaming business this fiscal year ending in March.

“We have not changed this target,” said Totoki, referencing the aforementioned 14.8 million guidance. “Worldwide there is a disruption in logistics and mainly semiconductors device supply are being constrained. This is having a larger impact. And as you know, the hardware sales in the first quarter were less unit-wise, and so this is having an impact on us likewise with the second quarter. I think with effort and putting in place different measures, the PlayStation platform momentum can be maintained.”

In order to reach this number Sony needs to ship an additional 9.2 million PlayStation 5’s in the next six months, a bulk of which will happen during the holiday season. Personally, I’m leaning towards betting this will be achieved. Even if I’m not as sure as I once was. More on that later.

For now, the fun starts. I’ll dig into some quick analysis of underlying numbers within this latest report and then it’s forecasting time!

On the whole, Sony generated roughly $21.5 billion in sales during the quarter which was a 13% increase. This was attributed to major boosts in G&NS, Pictures, Music plus its Electronics Products & Solutions (EP&S).

From a profitability standpoint accounting for expenses, the firm’s output was effectively flat. Operating income during Q2 moved up 1% to $2.87 billion. EP&S provided a substantial boon here, while the aforementioned decline in gaming profit led on the downside.

PlayStation was still the company’s main contributor from both a sales and profit standpoint. That record Q2 revenue of $5.86 billion was up 27% and represents right around 27% of Sony’s total top-line. While the $751 million in operating profit from this business marked a decline of 22%, it still comprises 26% of total profit.

Where does this fall in the context of results lately? Taking a look at trailing annual figures helps add to that perspective, which is displayed in the first two charts I’ve compiled. Over the last four quarters, the PlayStation brand is responsible for $25.47 billion in sales. This is its best ever aggregate result, a billion U.S. dollars more than any rolling period in recent memory.

Operating profit tells a different story of course since earlier days of the pandemic, as expenses rise plus first party software output slides. Adding up the past year, G&NS segment income was $2.54 billion. This is the lowest since fourth quarter fiscal 2019.

The last chart in the gallery above displays quarterly contributions from each product category within PlayStation’s portfolio. Add-On Content is the primary factor at $1.71 billion, nearly 30% of gaming revenue and 10% higher than Q2 in 2020. Hardware is the clear growth story, nearly tripling since the final hurrah of last generation. PlayStation consoles contributed a quarter of gaming sales for Sony, reaching $1.46 billion. On the software side, Physical dipped 17% while Digital edged up slightly.

These dynamics reveal a couple intriguing trends. Even if there are less people playing than last year, they are still purchasing additional items and downloadable content for the games they own. It’s representative of a modern industry where games have longer tails and stay supported well after release. Digital is proving resilient, while retail is inconsistent. Oh, and PlayStation 5 is popular. That’s an easy one.

It’s only natural at this stage to run a quick comparison against two of Sony’s main global competitors in Microsoft and Nintendo. As I wrote earlier this week, Microsoft’s corresponding quarter was also a record-breaker internally on the revenue side and it’s reached $15.86 billion over the last year. Nintendo reports next week, its latest trailing 12-month sales around $15.56 billion. I expect that to increase accounting for its latest quarter so it’s not apples-to-apples just yet. Either way, PlayStation is clearly exhibiting its sales prowess. With my usual caveat that top-line doesn’t tell the whole story.

Financials and hardware sales weren’t the only juicy parts of Sony’s latest report. There’s also updates on PlayStation Plus, user engagement, software then its corresponding digital split. Note I included a full excerpt in the earlier gallery containing this supplemental data.

PlayStation Plus subscribers reached 47.2 million as of September month-end, which is up compared to 45.9 million 12 months back. A mere fraction off the quarterly high of 47.4 million subs back in March.

Monthly Active Users (MAUs), or the estimated total unique accounts that used PlayStation Network or played software in the ecosystem, shrank from 108 million last year to 104 million now. It’s the lowest in at least the latest six quarters, a statistic which was reflected by executive comments.

On the conference call we learned gameplay of PlayStation users was down 17% in Q2. Still with PlayStation Plus momentum, additional content spend and digital sales consistency based on category metrics, management called it an improving “quality” of engagement. Basically while player count is an important barometer, it’s more about how much people are spending. If the former is down while the latter is up, it’s really a win.

Full game software unit sales across PlayStation platforms, a figure which includes bundles, totaled 76.4 million, roughly 10% of which were first-party titles. Compare that to 81.8 million and 16% first-party from July to September 2020. Digital download ratio is now at 62%, up a bit from 59%. Sony doesn’t report exact physical versus digital units. Based on that earlier physical software revenue decline, the implication is retail softness is behind the change.

These indicators reflect a handful of things to me: Lower exclusive output, better spend on evergreen experiences plus a general impact of game delays. The period between July and September was light for PlayStation exclusives. Deathloop and Kena: Bridge of Spirits led the charge really, alongside “director’s cuts” for Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding. The first is actually published by Xbox Game Studios and while the second recouped its development costs and did well on platform ranks, it’s still an indie project. Multi-platform launches like FIFA 22 and Madden NFL 22 weren’t enough to beat out a strong prior comparable.

Not to be forgotten just yet, PlayStation 4 is still active on the software side even if much less so on hardware shipments which were 200K. That brings lifetime to 116.7 million. Any hopes of the second best-selling home console of all time moving past PlayStation 2’s 155 million is out the window by now. The upside is the latest generational transition is the most opportunistic for consumers, as PlayStation 5 does have backwards compatibility.

That’s enough looking back. Instead, what’s next for Sony?

Well management is certainly optimistic on future prospects, raising fiscal year ending March guidance for both sales by 2% and operating income by 6%. It now anticipates almost $90 billion in revenue, then $9.45 billion in profit.

At the same time, it reiterated internal forecasts for the PlayStation business even in the face of weakening operating profit. Target is $26.34 billion in sales for the year, with almost $3 billion in operating profit expected. Both of these would be substantial, establishing new financial year records.

This historic performance would require a strong showing from PlayStation 5 hardware shipments naturally, hitting that 14.8 million figure targeted for the full year ending March 2022.

Responding to an analyst question, Managing Director of Investor Relations Sadahiko Hayakawa echoed confidence in the platform. “I think that with effort and putting in place different measures, the PlayStation platform momentum can be maintained. And especially to the users waiting for their PlayStation 5, said Hayakawa. “We want to be able to supply as many PlayStation 5’s as possible to our customers who are waiting. That is our thinking.”

Right now I tend to agree with the top-line target for G&NS, taking into account another holiday for PlayStation 5 and related software. A steady hardware prediction is trickier, given so many uncertainties and how a lot of it is out of Sony’s control, no matter what executives claim. I’ve moved toward being less confident in my 15 million annual shipment estimate, though I will keep it temporarily. Perhaps out of stubbornness.

And I’m nowhere near bullish on the profit target. Especially with rising component prices, lower chip availability, player figures wavering and inching up digital sales. Will additional content spending and hardware growth be enough to offset expenses? I’m going to say it misses slightly, with the room for review once seeing where the holiday quarter lands.

Before wrapping, I want to mention further comments from Sony’s leaders on investment and focusing efforts. After purchasing Bluepoint Games, Fabrik Games and Firesprite all during the past quarter, the team plans to maintain “aggressive” investment in its development capabilities. This implies expansion beyond its current studio suite, so I’m curious where the next move will be.

CFO Totoki also said Sony wants to enhance and increase PlayStation Studios to invest more on development of games for PC and mobile, pushing beyond its traditional console market share. The announcement of God of War (2018) planning a PC release in January 2022 echoes this statement.

PlayStation is clearly the most important part of Sony’s overall business, hitting records and doing its best to keep up with hardware demand. The cost of investment and input prices to make PlayStation 5 has had an effect on its bottom line lately, though maintaining its annual targets shows a positivity that I don’t fully share across the board until gleaning more from the global chip situation and holiday performance.

Did anything stand out to you while checking out my article or Sony’s announcement? Do you think it will meet its targets and boast record PlayStation performance? Give a shout here or on social media. Be safe and thanks for reading!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on the reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 110.1.

Sources: Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony.

-Dom

Microsoft’s Xbox Division Records Best First Quarter Sales Ever

Back in July, I wrote about how Microsoft’s Xbox division set both a new annual and fourth quarter sales record. Well folks, it’s back at it like a bad habit, this time recording its best ever first quarter revenue performance among other highs.

As the Xbox Series X|S generation approaches its first year anniversary (geez already) and Xbox Game Pass attracts players ahead of major title launches like Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite, Microsoft’s gaming top-line is as strong as its ever been.

The Washington-based consumer tech conglomerate recently announced earnings results for its first fiscal quarter of the 2022 financial year, which runs from July to September. Within, the company shared how gaming revenue grew 16% since this time last year. That equates to nearly $3.6 billion in sales, a record Q1 high.

With this latest trajectory, Xbox as a whole has now achieved double-digit sales growth in each of the past six quarters.

While executives shared little to no specifics on Xbox Game Pass subscriptions or hardware units for consoles, they did provide certain color around gaming in this quarter on a conference call with analysts.

According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Amy Hood, the company is continuing to attract new gamers and retain those it established during the pandemic. This was a “record first quarter for monetization and engagement” per Nadella, while Hood said the firm “shipped more Xbox Series X|S consoles than expected, even as demand exceeds supply.”

One thing that management didn’t specify is Xbox Series X|S comparison to prior generations, which it did last quarter when they announced it was the fastest-selling in history. Does that mean it’s no longer the case, or did they just not specify it? Hardware sales for Xbox rose 166% since this time last year, implying its best first quarter by revenue based on estimates backing into it historically. We don’t actually know other than how well it’s translating to dollar sales.

Let’s look further at what numbers the company did report, namely how they translate to certain trends.

Taking a look at the earnings slides provided by Microsoft, gaming revenue grew that 16% compared to last year’s first quarter. Or $3.593 billion in dollar sales, to be exact. Compare that to the prior record holder: last year’s $3.1 billion in Q1. This was of course before the Xbox Series X|S launch in November 2020 and the ZeniMax deal closure in March 2021, so growth is certainly anticipated. Microsoft guided a “low double digit” increase, thus the result came in above forecast.

In terms of categories within gaming, Xbox Content & Services i.e. software and subscription rose slightly at 2%. A modest gain. Based on friend of the site’s Welfare’s historical math at the Install Base forum corroborated by yours truly, that translates to $2.88 billion. A low yet steady growth rate here makes sense and was in-line with Microsoft’s forecast. Last year was a few months into stay-at-home restrictions. This time, declines in third-party weren’t enough to offset increases in Xbox Game Pass subs plus first-party software.

Xbox Hardware continues to be a substantial growth driver naturally, rising 166% on high demand for the supply-constrained Xbox Series X|S family of devices and a low comparison last year. Backing into dollar sales, it’s roughly $710 million which is the best Q1 for console revenue since 2016.

What I like to do after learning quarterly figures is expand to annual, it helps identify more macro trends. That’s where my chart comes into play, mapping out total revenue and showing splits between the two sub-segments. Microsoft’s gaming revenue over the last 12 months is approaching $16 billion for the first time in history. The latest result is $15.86 billion, 77% via Xbox Content & Services. This is happening due to the combination of studio investment, rising first party game output plus the ecosystem play of subscriptions and cloud offerings.

Unfortunately as I’ve mentioned in the past, Microsoft doesn’t drill down into exact profit metrics within gaming. That doesn’t mean I can’t infer, of course!

The More Personal Computing overview slide describes operating income growth of 7% for this category that contains the Xbox business, which is lagging the 12% revenue growth. That’s driven by a shift towards gaming, notably notoriously lower margin consoles. Expenses rose 15%. This mix shift and margin decline signifies costs associated with financing the gaming business, a research and development focus plus marketing of products like new Xboxes, Game Pass and software in the back half of this year.

At this juncture, I’m disappointed in Microsoft’s decision to hold back any sort of details on its flagship exclusive. Which isn’t a single game. It’s Xbox Game Pass.

There was speculation recently after Take-Two Interactive boss Strauss Zelnick threw out a figure of 30 million subscriptions during a panel with Xbox lead Phil Spencer, who reiterated 18 million as the latest figure. Which everyone knows is outdated from way back at the beginning of this calendar year. There were rumblings it hit 22 million a few months back, albeit unconfirmed.

A potential reason for Xbox playing coy is a recent finding by Axios showing that for the year ending June 30th, Xbox Game Pass subscriptions rose 37%. Below the company’s internal estimate of 48%. While it makes sense this is less than the 86% for the year ending mid-2020, I’m curious if Microsoft is hesitant because of these speculative figures. Nearly 40% growth is actually a really impressive figure. Combine that with Nadella’s comments about best ever engagement, why not give an update? It’s just unclear where it stands now on number of subscriptions. Or really any other specific engagement indicators other than Nadella’s vague comments.

Flipping over to hardware, the big question remains: How many units of Xbox Series X|S consoles are in the market right now?

Last quarter, I shared how a reliable industry estimate for Xbox Series X|S was roughly 6.5 million units. Given the notable hardware growth alongside supply considerations, does that mean it’s now more than 8 million? I believe so, though really wish Microsoft was as transparent as its peers in this department. Good news is companies are selling-thru to customers (or scalpers, I know) whatever they can produce, which is the important barometer.

Speaking of competitors, it’s a bit tricky to run comparisons until both Sony and Nintendo report their September-ending quarters scheduled for tomorrow, October 28th then November 4th respectively. (You should know that from my latest earnings calendar!) Using June figures, Nintendo’s trailing annual gaming sales totaled $15.56 billion while Sony’s reached $24.35 billion. Microsoft and Nintendo are virtually neck-and-neck, though it’s not a perfect comparison until next week. While this provides perspective, the real trend is how records are being met or set constantly in this environment. It’s indicative of player retention and ongoing supply for manufacturing components.

One additional tidbit as part of Microsoft’s 10Q regulatory filing is a further breakdown of the ZeniMax/Bethesda acquisition. The total cost ended up being $8.1 billion for the deal that closed back in March, above the previous estimate of $7.5 billion. I’m not sure if the company has shared this before, it’s the first time I caught the exact figure. Earnings from ZeniMax have been included in More Personal Computing since closing. Xbox is investing in development of key future Bethesda titles like Starfield, Indiana Jones and even The Elder Scrolls VI, so I expect increased expense trends to continue.

Before wrapping up, I wanted to quickly review Microsoft’s overall company results.

It generated a whopping $45.3 billion in revenue during Q1, implying growth of 22%. $13.3 billion of this from More Personal Computing. Trickling down to gaming, this means the Xbox division contributed around 8% of total company sales.

On the profit side, Microsoft saw $20.2 billion in operating income. That’s 27% higher than this time last year, and the first time it’s surpassed $20 billion during any quarter. These are record times, driven by its cloud business and enterprise offerings. It’s also the reason why the firm can invest in certain areas, including Xbox.

The upcoming quarter will be an eventful one for Microsoft and its gaming business alongside the industry as a whole. It’s the coveted holiday quarter in various parts of the globe, which is an intense time for releases and hardware promotions. The company expects Xbox to have yet another record-setting performance.

“In gaming, on a high prior year comparable that included the launch of our new consoles and strength across Xbox content and services, we expect revenue growth in the high single-digits,” said CFO Hood during the forecast portion of the conference call.

Assuming the mid-range of that estimate, around 7% to 8%, that’s upwards of $5.4 billion during the holiday quarter. That would comfortably achieve a record second fiscal quarter, beating out last year’s $5.02 billion.

So, can Xbox top that? Yes. It will. Personally, I’m forecasting 10% or even higher for the broader gaming sub-category.

Within, Microsoft said Xbox Content & Services should grow in the “mid teens.” If we put that at exactly 15%, it’s $4 billion. That would be over $500 million more than last year’s total, and yet another historical high for a Q4. I can certainly see that happening, with software and services driven by key title launches like the aforementioned first-party releases then multi-platform favorites like sports titles, Call of Duty: Vanguard and Battlefield 2042.

Xbox Hardware will be the more intriguing result to me as it’s a full year into the new generational cycle. Microsoft doesn’t issue formal estimates for hardware, though it’s easy enough to back into it making these prior assumptions. Based on its other guidance, hardware sales could reach $1.3 billion. That would be slightly down since the launch quarter of Xbox Series X|S, when it was over $1.5 billion. This is totally dictated by supply since major discounting won’t happen yet. Which is why the effort towards Xbox Game Pass and cloud are so integral to the firm’s broader strategy.

Well, that’s a pretty big quarter for Microsoft overall and within Xbox. Record results, generic comments and plenty of forecasts to chew on for the future. What did you think? Are you also disappointed by a lack of transparency? Do you predict it will hit upcoming targets?

Check back soon for other write-ups and I look forward to chatting on social media soon. Thanks for reading!

Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Axios, Welfare via Install Base Forum, Microsoft, Xbox Twitter (Image Credit), Yahoo Finance.

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

It’s that season.

No, not just for pumpkin spiced lattes. (Though I don’t know about you, I wouldn’t turn one down.) It’s that time again for earnings!

The financial festivities for gaming, media and technology companies began recently and continue through the next few weeks as they report the latest business updates and field questions from analysts. It’s the third quarter for many, as you’ll see clearly on the enhanced version of my calendar that began including fiscal period last time around.

Notice the list is sorted by Earnings Date then alphabetical order. While I do my best to collect calendar information, there’s a certain number of companies without dates. Here many are reporting around mid-November based on historical trends. I may update the calendar throughout the quarter, depending on time constraints.

In addition to sharing this trusty calendar, I plan to write articles about select major companies like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. So stay tuned for further updates once the reports start rolling in soon.

One thing to note: The dates are presented in local time zones, as that’s what companies will have at their websites.

Check above for the big ol’ image and below for a Google Doc with easy access to investor sites directly. I know the imagine in particular is a large one, mainly because coverage is approaching a hundred companies now. Best way is to save it and magnify that text!

After the link, check out quick descriptions of three stocks on my radar for October through November. Be safe out there, all!

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Netflix, Inc: FY 2021 Q3, Tuesday, October 19th.

The first here actually already reported last week, and that’s Netflix. Partly because the platform is slowly moving into gaming though mainly because I just had to know the impact of South Korean sensation show Squid Game on its bottom line. (I haven’t actually seen it yet, no spoilers!) Executives said a staggering 142 million member households watched the title during its first four weeks on the streaming service. Legitimately the most popular show Netflix has ever produced. It was #1 ranked in 94 countries and has spawned infinite memes, comedy skits and Halloween costumes. Driven by this unprecedented performance, the company recorded revenue growth of 16% to $7.5 billion and an operating profit increase of 33% to $1.8 billion during Q3, gaining 4.4 million net paid memberships to now total 214 million accounts. The team also made intriguing comments on its earnings call around an expansion into gaming, where it criticized advertisements and in-app monetization models saying it plans to give a “much easier, direct enjoyment experience with games.”

Sony Corp: FY 2021 Q2, Thursday, October 28th.

Sure, maybe this is a bit of a cop out. I’ve naturally covered Sony here and on social media a bunch, and I’m honestly always looking forward to its reports. Yet this is a most notable second fiscal quarter for the Japanese consumer tech giant. It marks the third full quarter of sales for PlayStation 5’s first year on market. (ALREADY?!) It also follows a record-breaking first fiscal quarter ending in June for its gaming division revenue. Sony announced in July that it reached a milestone for PlayStation 5 hardware figures, moving past 10 million units to consumers which makes it the fastest-selling console in its company history. During its prior earnings call, executives claimed it’s secured enough chips to reach its target of at least 12 million more before March 2022. While the holiday quarter is certainly most important in driving towards this target, the three months ending September will give an indication if that momentum is true. Especially given that it seems like the hardware isn’t readily available at retail. Not only that, we’ll hear updates on PlayStation Plus memberships, software copies and the key digital ratio of game sales, plus revenue and profit metrics of course. I’m anticipating a blockbuster quarter on the financial side.

NetEase Inc: FY 2021 Q3, Mid-November.

Second to only Tencent in China’s massive gaming market, NetEase isn’t as common a name in the industry despite its size, tech conglomerate status and diverse lineup especially on the mobile side. In recent years, the Hangzhou-based company has been making similar moves as its main competitor to expand into more markets with personnel hiring and key investments in Destiny creators Bungie, French studio Quantic Dream and renewing a partnership with Blizzard. Its latest outright acquisition is Grasshopper Manufacture announced just last week. Led by Goichi “Suda51” Suda, the Japanese team previously owned by GungHo is responsible for titles like No More Heroes, killer7 and Let It Die. There’s also reports that, Toshihiro Nagoshi, formerly of Sega and the creator of Yakuza, is finalizing a deal with NetEase. The company has experienced double-digit sales growth for each of the first two quarters of this fiscal year, so we’ll hear its latest update in a few weeks and thoughts from executives on its broader expansion strategy.

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, Den of Geek (Image Credit).

-Dom

Nintendo Reports Second Best First Quarter Results Since 2009

The last of the three major gaming console manufacturers to report this season is Nintendo, as it enters a new fiscal year starting this April to June.

And it was a very good one, as has been the trend for the company lately in this latest generation. Even if not quite as good as its ridiculously impressive highs during last year’s corresponding period.

The Japanese hardware designer and software developer reported first quarter net sales around $2.91 billion, 10% lower than last year’s Q1. Operating profit reached $1.08 billion, a decline of around 17% leading to a lower margin as well.

Sure, both of these are technically down. Expanding to a historical context shows it’s actually exceptional performance in the scheme of things. Other than the unprecedented time last year, it’s Nintendo’s best first financial quarter in just over a decade. Operating income in particular effectively matches the level of fiscal 2009 Q1. Nintendo is proving resilient, especially on the hardware side, as Switch sales are translating to software performance for both new and catalog titles.

When it comes to Switch hardware it remains, quite simply, on fire. The console sold-in 4.45 million Switch units in Q1, a dip of roughly 22% year-on-year though twice as much as the same period in fiscal 2020. Lifetime shipments of the hybrid console now total 89.04 million. This means it’s past yet another milestone in the industry, moving past the 87.4 million at last count for Sony’s PlayStation 3 since its launch back in 2006.

Lately Nintendo has also reported sell-through to consumers, which represents actual ownership in households. As of June, Switch family sell-thru hit 85 million consoles. This is up from 81 million in the quarter ending March 2021. That means upwards of 96% of all shipments have been purchased at retail to date.

The most attractive part of owning Nintendo’s hardware is, of course, to play games that aren’t available anywhere else. Nintendo reported both overall sales movement plus shipments for three main first party releases during the quarter. New Pokémon Snap, a spin-off in the series that’s all about photographing the famed pocket monsters, reached 2.07 million after launching in late April. (Note: This does not include sales from Japan, where it’s published by The Pokémon Company.) In comparison, its 1999 predecessor Pokémon Snap hit 1.5 million units by the end of its first year on sale and is estimated at 3.63 million lifetime.

Separately, the latest sports entry Mario Golf: Super Rush released on June 25th so it had less than a week on market by the end of this reporting period. Shipments over that time hit 1.34 million copies. Going way back, the original Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 is estimated at 1.47 million during its entire product life. Basically, Mario Golf: Super Rush is estimated to already be the second-best seller in franchise history. It’s a lower result for a mainline Mario game, though notably great within this particular spin-off series. That’s the power of the Switch right now, with the caveat that it’s difficult to track exact sales for older titles.

The last new launch of the first quarter was the role-playing game Miitopia on May 21st. The remastered version of the 2017 3DS game of the same name barely crossed the million mark, reaching 1.04 million. This is almost as much as the original scored during its first three years at 1.18 million, another rough estimate of course.

I’ll note that there was no word on June’s Game Builder Garage game creation software. Since it didn’t make the million seller list, have to assume it’s currently below that milestone.

Now, read on below for much more analysis behind the numbers plus forecasts going forward. It’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t lie to you. Plus, who doesn’t love charts!

Whew. I know it’s a lot of data. Let’s break it down.

First, broadening the time frame helps put the aforementioned $2.91 billion in net sales and $1.08 billion profit from operations during Q1 into perspective. Taking a peek at the quarterly revenue chart, this illustrates how it’s the second best 1st quarter since the $3.82 billion generated in April to June in 2008. Around the height of the Nintendo Wii’s popularity, a common trend we’ve seen before the darker days of the Wii U era starting in 2012.

Expanding the revenue chart using trailing 12-months smooths out performance and exhibits a familiar sort of trajectory. That’s $15.56 billion in aggregate sales during the last four quarters. This particular figure hasn’t been above $15 billion during a first quarter for Nintendo since fiscal 2010.

Flipping to profitability, it’s even more impressive how Nintendo is managing costs lately. Quarterly operating profit is nearly the best it’s been in a decade. Other than last year’s peak during the pandemic, the last time operating income reached $1 billion in a Q1 period was that Wii era of fiscal 2009. Trailing 12-month profit hit $5.56 billion or so during June, and this time that’s the best first quarter since the same time during 2009.

On regional splits, the Americas hit nearly 44% of overall dollars sales for Nintendo. Europe up next at 24%, then Japan around 22%. Which means the proportion of sales outside of Japan is upwards of 78%. This is a notable shift towards the Americas, which itself made up 38% last year.

For a quick quarterly comparison amongst its peers, Nintendo had the lowest revenue during Q1 under that $3 billion mark yet is more profitable than its Japanese counterpart in Sony. The PlayStation brand achieved $5.62 billion in revenue while Microsoft generated $3.74 billion. Still, Sony’s gaming profit of $760 million is notably lower than Nintendo’s. Which makes sense, since Sony is starting off a new console cycle with the PlayStation 5 while Switch is further along, has lower marketing spend and production costs.

Underlying this latest success is Switch hardware momentum, however what in particular is driving it? It’s actually the base model’s popularity.

Out of the 4.45 million consoles shipped during Q1, a figure down 22% as I noted earlier, 3.31 million were that standard edition. This is notable because it’s actually above the high comparable period last year when this figure was 3.05 million. Worth mentioning this model was more supply-constrained back then, according to comments from executives. Switch Lite is behind the overall decline, dipping to 1.14 million from 2.62 million. That’s a serious 57% drop, no doubt impacted by many portable buyers last year attracted to Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the go.

Even more than four years after its launch, Switch hardware sales are still just as much dictated by supply because audience demand is consistent.

Oh. Here’s a pretty wild stat I thought would be fun. Nintendo is, of course, the top-selling hardware manufacturer ever globally. It passed an absolutely wild margin this past quarter: 800 million console units sold since debuting the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1983. This of course includes handhelds, otherwise Sony’s PlayStation brand would be outpacing when using home consoles only. It’s still a fun big fact after this latest success!

Diving into updated software sales, Nintendo said 45.29 million copies sold on Switch during Q1 as compared to 50.43 million last year. Around a 10% decline, primarily due to the overwhelming success of the new mainline Animal Crossing a year ago.

Nintendo shared that nine games sold a million or more copies on Switch during April to June alone, seven of them first party exclusives. That overall figure is the same number as this time last year.

Apparently everyone can’t stop buying Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as it remains the top-selling Switch game ever, moving up almost 1.7 million to 37.08 million units lifetime. It’s like Nintendo’s Grand Theft Auto, except without the theft part. Animal Crossing: New Horizons retained the second spot, reaching 33.89 million units after selling 1.26 million in the quarter. Rounding out the Top 3 is still Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at 24.77 million to date after moving just under a million in Q1.

One major mover on the legacy side has been Ring Fit Adventure, originally out in October 2019. Last quarter, it joined the 10 million sold club. It has since moved 1.15 million more, pushing up to the 10th spot on Nintendo’s Switch best-sellers list at 11.26 million units. People are certainly exercising their right to spend!

Nintendo doesn’t often share much on the third-party side. Management noted that “sales of titles from other software publishers continued to grow steadily” without much context. Based on anecdotes around the industry, there’s certainly a Switch effect especially for independent publishers.

What about digital contribution, an area where Nintendo has lagged the broader industry? Well, it’s down 25% to $685 million, equating to roughly 24% of total quarterly dollar sales. Nintendo’s proportion of digital sales on the software side was 47% in Q1, meaning just under half of total dedicated platform software units were downloaded. Compare this to 56% last year, a somewhat inflated figure by retail store closures, buy-at-home convenience plus Animal Crossing: New Horizons skewing results.

“Although sales declined for downloadable versions of packaged software on Nintendo Switch, sales remained steady for download-only software, including indie titles,” said the leadership team. “In addition, Nintendo Switch Online sales also increased.” Though the company didn’t share any more specifics on the Nintendo Switch Online service. The last paid subscriber count was 26 million around September 2020.

Taking a look ahead, Nintendo reiterated its forecast for the current year when it comes to financial performance, consoles sold and software units. As often happens during its first quarter, especially as this management team leans towards a conservative nature.

During fiscal 2022, net annual sales are still expected to be $14.4 billion while operating profit will be at $4.5 billion. These would be down 9% and 22% respectively, yet still a major result looking back many years. Switch hardware guidance is flat at 25.5 million for the year, implying that Nintendo needs to ship just over 21 million more during the next three quarters.

So where would that put Switch lifetime compared to other consoles? Well, Nintendo Wii is next up. There’s a notable gap right now, the Switch’s 89 million compared to nearly 102 million for Wii. If Nintendo hits this year’s forecast, it will clear that milestone easily by the holiday quarter. And I fully expect that to happen, boosted by easing supply considerations plus the Nintendo Switch OLED Model iteration. In fact, I believe Nintendo’s hardware guidance is conservative and expect executives to move it up next quarter. I’ll stick to my 28 to 29 million estimate for the year ending March 2022, which I established a few months back.

Nintendo currently expects to ship 190 million software units on Switch this year, down from 231 million in the year ending March 2021. Again, that will be beat. Software slate in the near-term is a bit light, driven by last month’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD then WarioWare: Get it Together! in September. Then fan favorite Metroid Dread and party game compilation Mario Party Superstars are scheduled to kick off the holiday quarter in October plus two Pokémon remakes in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl will bolster the schedule in November.

The company lists Splatoon 3 and the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for calendar 2022, one of which could be January to March. Well, probably not Zelda if I’m being honest.

Regardless, it’s going to be another quite incredible year for the company’s bottom line and console sales in particular, unless some sort of unforeseen disruption hits on the production side. Even without the existence of that “Switch Pro XL” model, a rumor that’s been going on for what feels like years now. Maybe the “insiders” will be right eventually. Me? Catch me here, looking at the numbers.

Thanks as always for reading and be safe everyone!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 110.74.

Sources: Aishah Mulkey (Photo Credit), Celene on ResetERA, Microsoft Corp, Nintendo Co Ltd, Sony Corp.

-Dom

Sony Reports Biggest First Quarter Ever for PlayStation Revenue

The latest gaming manufacturer to report earnings is Sony Corp, this time sharing fiscal 2021 first quarter results. During which the Japanese company revealed its PlayStation division recorded its highest first quarter sales ever even as PlayStation 5 shipments slightly lag its predecessor. Though sell-through to consumers for this latest generation of hardware is still going at a faster pace, driving gaming segment results for the consumer tech conglomerate.

This is the first full quarter that’s compared against highs set during the height of stay-at-home requirements, so the impact of a global pandemic on gaming and consumer spending is coming into focus. A record Q1 for Sony’s gaming department shows that audience demand is resilient, especially on the console side, even if software spend is descending from a very tall peak.

Suffice to say, PlayStation is making history even considering supply challenges facing the industry alongside easing pandemic restrictions.

Sony’s Gaming & Network Services (G&NS) i.e. PlayStation brand revenue rose just under 2% to a Q1 record of $5.62 billion. Higher than even last year’s impressive result of $5.5 billion, this performance was mainly driven by PlayStation 5 demand and exchange rate changes despite lower 3rd party software and add-on content sub-categories.

Essentially for Sony at this stage three quarters into a new generation of gaming consoles, hardware is selling out though its audience spend on games is slowing.

On the profit side, G&NS segment quarterly operating income dropped 33% to roughly $760 million on higher costs associated with making and marketing a new console cycle. More so, that lower third-party software and add-on spending relative to last year. Still when taking a broader perspective, this is actually fantastic output. It’s the third best operating profit performance in a first quarter in the history of breaking out the gaming segment.

Speaking of PlayStation hardware sales, Sony shared updated shipment figures for both of its latest boxes. PlayStation 5 shipped 2.3 million units in the quarter ending June, bringing lifetime to 10.1 million. This is notable for a couple reasons. First, it’s about 500K lower than PlayStation 4 did in the same quarter during April to June 2014. So its pace of shipment is slowing compared to its predecessor, no doubt impacted by a global chip shortage that’s adversely affecting everything from automobile to graphics processor output.

However, shipments can’t tell the whole story when there’s more information available. Sony Interactive Entertainment said recently PlayStation 5 sell-thru to its audience hit the 10 million milestone as of July 18th. That’s 3 weeks faster than PlayStation 4 took to reach that same amount. Which means the number of PlayStation 5 consoles getting to consumers (or perhaps scalpers, I know) at this stage in the cycle is higher than any other in the brand’s history.

There’s also the underlying profitability dynamics for these PlayStation 5’s moving through to households. According to executives on the earnings call, its standard disc edition is actually now profitable per unit after the tradition of being sold at a loss during initial quarters. I’ll note the version without a disc drive is not yet breaking even.

As expected this late in the PlayStation 4 life cycle, quarterly shipments dipped below the million unit mark for the first time since launch back in November 2013. This brings its lifetime mark to roughly 116.5 million. I expect this slowing to continue, and wouldn’t be surprised if Sony’s reporting tops out around the 120 million mark.

Well then. It’s time to get into the nitty gritty for a bit, then end with forecasts and predictions!

The above gallery above shows relevant slides and a handful of charts I compiled to illustrate where the PlayStation division is starting out this new fiscal year. I know it’s a lot of data. But it’s goods stuff, I swear!

Expanding broadly, Sony overall saw sales rise 15% in Q1 to $20.6 billion. Growth in both Electronics Products & Solutions (EP&S) plus its Music category outpaced all other categories, although gaming is still the main contributor from a dollar (or really yen) standpoint.

Quarterly operating profit for the company topped $2.56 billion, up 26%. Driven by that same EP&S category, dragged down by higher expenses within PlayStation.

I mentioned the record quarterly sales and lowering operating profit for G&NS before, so let’s see how these compare when expanding over time to smooth out the results. This helps put quarterly performance into context.

When looking at trailing 12-month gaming revenue accounting for this latest quarter, it’s again at another record high of $24.35 billion. That trend-line is impressive, no doubt bolstered by people trying to get their hands on the coveted new console. Trailing annual operating profit hit $2.75 billion, with the dip in the latest time period. Still, it’s higher than this same time last year. As the company gets more efficient in making PlayStation 5’s plus sees component costs potentially lower, I expect it to bounce back again.

You’ll also see a chart above drilling into category sales results within gaming. Of course, Hardware is the biggest gainer as it’s more than double the amount last year for obvious reasons. Consistent with earlier comments, both Physical and Digital Software decreased in the double-digits as did Add-On Content. Sony attributed that to 3rd party declines. Network Services is proving resilient, moving up compared to last year. The final category Others encompasses peripherals, PlayStation VR and first-party software on non-PlayStation platforms almost doubled, I imagine boosted by DualSense game pad demand.

On the software and engagement side, Sony shared new figures for game sales, PlayStation Plus subscriptions plus Monthly Active Users (MAUs) in its supplementary filing, the last of which is the estimated number of unique accounts that uses PlayStation Network during June 2021.

Full-game software sales totaled 63.6 million across PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 during the quarter, substantially lower than the 91.4 million during Q1 last year. Within this, 10.5 million were first party exclusives, down from 18.7 million.

Thing is, this is more a reversion to the average than a decline. There’s also how last year saw the massive launch of The Last of Us Part II. Executives said every new release during April to June 2021 exceeding internal expectations. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is at 1.1 million units since June 11th. MLB The Show 21 hit market on April 16th and has since sold 2 million units while attracting 4 million players, certainly benefiting from a simultaneous Xbox Game Pass launch. Returnal also released in April, reaching 560K copies in the interim.

There’s also a specific shout out to PC versions of Horizon Zero Dawn and Days Gone as Sony opens up its legacy first-party catalog to a brand new audience.

Paid PlayStation Plus subscriptions reached 46.3 million from an even 45 million last year, while MAUs were down to 104 million from 114 million. This movement shows a bit lower average engagement, though it looks like new console owners are signing up for the PlayStation Plus service that allows online multiplayer and provides access to certain games each month.

The leadership team provided a bit more color on these stats, saying that total gameplay time of PlayStation users declined 32% from the highs of quarantine impact. It’s up 18% compared to the same quarter of 2019 fiscal year, a more normalized period even if well into PlayStation 4’s lifetime.

Now, how does Sony’s $5.62 billion revenue and $760 million operating income quarter compare to recent results from peers in the industry? As I covered in my piece on Microsoft’s latest financial year last week, the Xbox division generated $3.74 billion in sales during the same time frame. And Microsoft unfortunately doesn’t report Xbox’s profit. Hardware was the driver again, though it’s clear that PlayStation is outpacing Xbox in that department early in this generation based on expert unit estimates and these dollar sales.

Separately for the other major Japanese games manufacturer in Nintendo, it reports first quarter results tomorrow. So we’ll have a better picture then. Last year during the height of stay-at-home, Nintendo generated roughly $3.27 billion in sales and $1.3 billion in operating profit, implying a much higher margin with Switch towards the middle of its life span so we’ll see where it lands this year.

Edit on August 5th: Nintendo’s Q1 revenue totaled $2.91 billion while operating income reached nearly $1.1 billion. Consistent with it being the more profitable of the two, at least right now.

Back to Sony and looking ahead, the company provided updated 2021 fiscal year forecasts for its overall and segment operations. Sales guidance remained unchanged for the company overall at $89 billion, though it did boost operating profit by 5% to upwards of $9 billion. Within gaming, it confirmed annual guidance of $26.5 billion in revenue and $3 billion in profit. The former would be a record and the latter I believe the second best in its history, revealing just how bullish the Sony team is on the modern PlayStation brand.

Leadership also reiterated that it still expects to ship 14.8 million PlayStation 5 consoles during the financial year ending March 2022, which would be the same as PlayStation 4. This implies lifetime PlayStation 5 consoles would be 22.6 million after its first six quarters, slightly outpacing the 22.4 million of PlayStation 4.

Broadly speaking on the topic of looking forward, there were slides and additional comments related to general strategy that stood out from management too, consistent with recent trends of company spending and approach.

“PlayStation Studios, which oversees our first-party software production on a global basis, is accelerating investment to strengthen its production capabilities” said the team. They cited the purchase of Housemarque in June then Nixxes in July, two notable acquisitions for the PlayStation portfolio in this quarter alone. This sort of investment activity this year is even more than I anticipated from Sony when I wrote about broader predictions back in January. I expect another announcement in the back half of this fiscal year, this time of Bluepoint Games based in Texas.

Backing this up, executives shared more about future potential. “Going forward, we intend to continue to proactively make strategic investments with the aim of developing new IP, supporting our multi-platform strategy, and strengthening our service offerings including through add-on content.”

What this all means to me is Sony remains supremely confident in the PlayStation business and how the PlayStation 5 will continue as the fastest-selling console in its history. I’m doubling down on my original estimate for this fiscal year of 15 million hardware shipments, which I established in last quarter’s piece.

On the financial side, I believe Sony will match or exceed its guidance. A record year is in sight for gaming revenue. It’s selling as many consoles as its suppliers can make, cost of general marketing will flatten and segments like network services will prop up if software doesn’t keep pace with last year’s explosive growth.

Major questions still swirl around supply of components and the global semiconductor environment, which has limited the number of new consoles these manufacturers can produce. Imagine if that weren’t the case! Record numbers could be even higher. Then, can new hardware sales translate into player engagement remaining near recent highs? There are audience members that either started playing or returned to games sticking around, the pie is growing. It just depends on how much.

If this quarter is any indication, Sony is certainly having its fair share of slices.

Thanks for reading everyone. Check back to my earnings calendar for more dates, and there will be even more coverage here and on social media in the coming days. Be safe!

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on the reported conversion: US $1 to ¥ 109.5.

Sources: Charles Sims (Photo Credit), Insomniac Games (Image Credit), Microsoft Corp, Nintendo Co Ltd, Sony Corp.

-Dom

Microsoft’s Xbox Division Sets New Annual Sales Record in 2021

During Microsoft’s fiscal fourth quarter results presentation yesterday for the period ending June 2021, the massive American technology conglomerate shared how its gaming division is faring amidst the global pandemic and early in this latest console cycle. This presentation revealed how the Xbox team achieved a handful of impressive records.

First, Microsoft’s gaming revenue for the trailing 12-month period back from Q4 is its highest in reported history. The Xbox division generated nearly $15.4 billion in annual sales. That’s 33% higher than the same 12-month period this time last year, when it was almost $11.6 billion.

That makes this the second quarter in a row that annual gaming sales were above the $15 billion threshold for Microsoft, showcasing how both hardware momentum and subscription expansion are boosting results even as third-party software contributions slow from highs in 2020.

In terms of the new generation of Xbox Series X|S platforms that launched late last year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella said on the earnings conference call they are the fastest-selling boxes in the 20-year history of the Xbox brand. These have “more consoles sold life-to-date than any previous generation” according to Nadella. This led to Xbox Hardware growth of 172% during Q4, with the caveat being of course this compares to a low point at the end of a prior generation.

Which is notable especially in terms of the current hardware supply environment for all manufacturers. Xbox is selling every single box its suppliers can make, as consumer interest far exceeds production capabilities right now. I anticipate this will continue for the foreseeable future, at least through the next fiscal year ending in mid-2022.

Parallel to the hardware performance is that of gaming software and related services, represented by the Xbox Content & Services sub-segment. This is the one notable lackluster portion of the report, with a fourth quarter decline of 4%. Increases in Xbox Game Pass and first-party releases couldn’t outpace declines in third-party.

Speaking of the Xbox Game Pass service, unfortunately Microsoft executives didn’t share updated figures for its paid subscriber base. Last count it was officially 18 million as of 2020 year-end, though more recent media reports have estimated the figure at upwards of 23 million as of April. My current estimate is 25 million, though I imagine Microsoft would share that milestone so it might be just below it for now.

Knowing these records and high level performance, I’ll now dig a bit into underlying numbers and executive comments.

If you pop open these gallery images above, you’ll see a.. number of insights.

First, the annual revenue figures for Xbox based on reported growth. Overall, gaming revenue for Microsoft rose 11% in Q4 bolstered by a major contribution from hardware and subscriptions. Based on historical sales figures, this equates to roughly $3.74 billion in quarterly revenue. That’s the highest sales ever for Xbox during a fiscal fourth quarter i.e. April to June.

Aggregating this quarterly figure into annual results and you’ll see the trend line for 12-month revenue is at that record $15.4 billion level. Even if slowing its growth trajectory, there’s no denying Microsoft’s combination of hardware launch and ecosystem play are at least pumping up Xbox’s top-line.

One note. Technically the quarterly result for gaming revenue is currently an estimate based on growth figures reported in Microsoft’s earnings slides. The company hasn’t formally filed its 10K with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) where it reveals exact gaming revenue figures. It should be very close.

(Update: Microsoft posted its annual filing on July 29th. 12-month gaming revenue reached $15.37 billion, essentially spot-on.)

For context here, how does this compare to peers in the industry?

Well, since I know you checked out my July to August 2021 earnings calendar, you’ll see both Sony and Nintendo report their respective first quarter results next week. So using recent annual figures from March 2021, Sony’s Gaming & Network Services segment reached over $24 billion while Nintendo’s overall sales totaled roughly $12 billion at the time. Essentially, Microsoft sits between the two other hardware manufacturers. And all of them are doing very well lately.

Unlike its competitors, Microsoft doesn’t reveal profit metrics for its Xbox segment. That doesn’t mean we can’t infer from what it does share. Might get technical here, bear with me. The broader More Personal Computing business unit, of which Xbox is a part, saw operating income of $4.87 billion in Q4, up from $4.09 billion. However, gross margin percentage declined 1% since last year due to a shift to gaming. Margin as a metric basically accounts for expenses deducted from total sales.

Now there’s a variety of factors impacting profitability within this segment. Suffice to say that a slight dip in margin percentage caused by this shift means gaming was a bit less profitable than others here which are Windows, Devices and Search Advertising. It’s impossible to back into exact numbers, unfortunately.

Xbox is selling every single box its suppliers can make, as consumer interest far exceeds production capabilities right now. I anticipate this will continue for the foreseeable future, at least through the next fiscal year ending in mid-2022.

When it came to growth during Microsoft’s latest Q4, Xbox Series X|S hardware was certainly the star.

The aforementioned 172% growth for Xbox Hardware is the result of simply high demand meeting limited supply. It’s effectively the best it can be right now, as Xbox consoles are consistently selling out.

With Xbox Series X|S being the fastest-selling in the company’s history, how does that translate to unit sales? Well, we don’t exactly know formally because Microsoft stopped sharing these a while back.

Still, there are estimates out there. Friend of the site and analyst at Niko Partners Daniel Ahmad attempts to estimate units shipped for Xbox Series X|S at roughly 6.5 million since November 2020. Aligned with Nadella’s comments, this figure would outpace the prior record holder of Xbox 360 at 5.7 million starting in 2005 plus 2013’s Xbox One with roughly 5 million shipments across the same 6-month span.

Which makes sense, especially given recent performance in its largest market of the United States. The Xbox platform had its best June month ever according to The NPD Group, as I wrote about recently. Definitely check out that piece to see more specifics.

The other sub-segment within gaming is Xbox Content & Services, which saw somehwat mixed results during the fourth quarter.

Revenue here was 4% lower than this time last year, mainly because of software published by third parties available on the Microsoft store or retailers. This makes sense because the prior four quarters all experienced growth above 30%. It was bound to revert from those prior peaks.

Amidst this decline, executive comments still indicate expansion in services and player interest in particular. Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Amy Hood noted the team saw “strong engagement across the platform” during Q4.

The management team said Xbox Game Pass is “growing rapidly” while referencing certain statistics, similar to those we’ve heard in the past about how subscribers play and spend more than their non-member counterparts.

There was specific mention of cloud gaming this time, a service that Xbox has embedded within its top-tier Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and expanded to more countries in recent months. While not specific, Microsoft said that “millions” are streaming to their various devices.

What this mix of results and comments around Xbox Content & Services tells me is that last year was really fantastic during the height of pandemic quarantine orders, the audience base is still there yet spending less than that time especially on software. Subscriptions are propping it up, which is exactly what the team wants from pushing ecosystem and its robust Xbox Game Pass library.

Growth could slow a bit near-term for the Xbox division. I do think the baseline has been reset by newer audience members plus lapsed gamers sticking around and spending lately, which will help comparing growth against those high points last year.

Taking a step back to the company overall, Microsoft posts some staggering results in the scheme of things. Over $46 billion in fourth quarter revenue, an increase of 21% and well ahead of analyst estimate of $44.2 billion. Operating profit of $19.1 billion is 42% higher than this time in 2020, leading to an earnings-per-share figure above consensus as well.

Then what’s next after this record year for Xbox? Beyond healthy guidance for the firm overall, gaming is expected to grow into the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

“We expect revenue growth in the low double-digits,” said Hood in reference to gaming. “Console growth will again be constrained by supply. And on a strong prior year comparable, Xbox content and services revenue should grow low single digits.”

I can see that, consistent with its release schedule and hardware inventory limitations. There’s no flagship first party launches until Halo Infinite, and even that has a nebulous holiday release at present. There’s higher profile third party multi-platforms like Madden NFL 2022 from Electronic Arts in August and NBA 2K22 in September, which will contribute on the content side. There’s also a slew of new versions, smaller or indie titles in the coming months. The Ascent. 12 Minutes. Psychonauts 2. Hades and Microsoft Flight Simulator on console.

It might be tricky for Xbox to match the sales highs of the last 12 months, given the previous global stay-at-home situations and leading into a new console generation. Growth could slow a bit near-term for the Xbox division. I do think the baseline has been reset by newer audience members plus lapsed gamers sticking around and spending lately, which will help comparing growth against those high points last year.

Xbox Hardware will be strong, even if supply increases at a slower rate than originally anticipated. I believe subscriptions will keep pace, though am tapering expectations on content and software spend until the quarter ending December.

All in all it’s big results for 2021, like we’re seeing most places in the games industry. The question becomes where will it go from here.

Feel free to reach out here in the comments or on social media with your reactions or questions. Thanks for visiting!

Sources: Microsoft Investor Relations, The NPD Group, Wu Yi (Photo Credit).

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

It’s the first month in the back half of 2021. Which means the days are scorching here in the Northern hemisphere, the Olympics have started up and, naturally the most importantly of all, earnings season is kicking off!

I know it’s been another challenging year for many. Adjusting to a world where certain governments are opening up economies while others are reverting back to lock-downs under threat of new coronavirus variants. It’s still not ideal to travel or see family members. So I hope my coverage of gaming, media and technology companies here and on social media can be a much-needed distraction while also being informative.

And it’s been a busy one in these sectors. Consolidation, regulation, streaming, work-from-home, automation, extremely important discussions on workplace culture and other macro trends are all impacting these businesses this year. Especially in the games industry, which has seen its audience base grow over the past year and continues to grow rather than stagnating.

As usual, my handy calendar will keep everyone organized during a busy season of numbers, graphs and business chatter. It’s slowly approaching a hundred companies, and you’ll notice a brand new feature this time around: a field showing which fiscal quarter is being reported!

I figured that would help, as companies have different financial calendars so it’s easy to lose track of when the year ends. Let me know what you think, and if it was a good idea.

So save down the above image above for safe keeping, use the link below to a Google Doc with all this information for easy access to investors site then check further down for three companies on my radar in July and August. Thanks for hanging out, be safe all!

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Microsoft Corporation: FY 2021 Q4, Tuesday, July 27th.

After a rousing showing during the Electronic Entertainment Experience (E3) and a record-breaking June 2021 in the domestic hardware market, Microsoft and Xbox are back reporting full fiscal year results shortly. Overall Microsoft is a juggernaut in both cloud and enterprise software, so I expect beats all around. When it comes to gaming revenue specifically, it should see double-digit annual growth and eclipse $15 billion in sales. I’m also hoping to hear from CEO Satya Nadella on updated Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. At last count, the company itself said this figure was 18 million way back around December 2020. Although media reports have pegged it upwards of 22 million as recently as April. I think there could be 25 million or more paying subs right now, driving the division’s ecosystem play and steady hardware results for the tech conglomerate.

Activision Blizzard, Inc: FY 2021 Q2, Tuesday, August 3rd.

Honestly, I didn’t want to list Activision Blizzard here. I’m not sure I’ll even cover the company this quarter. Its financials interest me a whole lot less when its executives and leadership team have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately, and it’s quite sickening. The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing the company after a multi-year long investigation into harassment, mistreatment, abuse and even assault of women and minority staff members at the American publisher. Leaked internal emails have shown mixed messages from management, including a tone deaf note from Executive VP of Corporate Affairs Fran Townsend claiming the lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company.” Over 2,000 brave employees have signed a petition against leadership’s responses and many Blizzard folks are staging a walkout this week. Analysts and investors need to press the top brass on what they intend to do to change the company’s “boys club” culture. Perhaps even call for resignations. Sales growth and profit margins don’t mean anything if people aren’t safe and supported in their careers.

CD Projekt SA: FY 2021 Q2, Thursday, August 26th.

Another company that has occupied the wrong type of headlines for a while now is Polish developer and publisher CD Projekt, mainly for its bungled launch of Cyberpunk 2077 to hit financial deadlines and executives making promises that weren’t kept. I’ve been following it from a distance because I wanted to see results instead of listening to how management claimed they would fix the broken game, and after a number of updates, it’s apparently in a good enough state for Sony to allow it back onto its PlayStation store. Kudos to all the hard-working employees that worked on a game that was already released, even if the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are still not up to par. In Witcher news, the company held WitcherCon in early July. As part of this digital fan experience, the company announced a second season of Netflix’s The Witcher series and that The Witcher 3’s next generation update will, allegedly, be out this year. I’m eager to see the impact of Cyberpunk’s relisting on its bottom line, though I don’t expect its financial performance to suffer nearly as much as its reputation.

Sources: Bloomberg, Company Investor Relations Websites, Netflix (Image Credit), The NPD Group.

-Dom

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

Sony & Microsoft Gaming Division Sales Launch To New Record Highs

Two of the biggest gaming console manufacturers and technology companies reported recent financials back-to-back, and both of them set their own impressive new records in the process.

Sony, purveyor of PlayStation among other consumer electronics, reported full annual results earlier today while Microsoft and its Xbox division shared fiscal year 2020 3rd quarter figures yesterday.

(I hope you knew that because you checked out my latest earnings calendar already!)

Each report proves that traditional gaming is as popular as ever, racking up record sales figures and providing other insights into how the biggest players in the industry are reacting to the pandemic in terms of customer demand, part supply for hardware and development activity for software.

For instance, both companies just reported the highest ever revenue from their respective gaming divisions. Sony’s Gaming & Network Services (G&NS) segment, which houses its PlayStation brand, achieved annual sales above $24 billion for the first time ever. Microsoft has a shorter history in games, which means it’s been reporting figures over less time. Even so, it also reached a significant milestone with Xbox gaming revenue for the past 12 months moving past $15 billion for the first time since it began reporting that particular split.

Time to take a look into the reports, highlighting the records and notable figures along with trends that I spotted while reviewing the stats. And get ready for some super fun charts!

Overall for the year ending March 2021, Sony reported nearly 9 trillion yen in consolidated revenue, which equates to roughly $82.8 billion. This is an increase of 9% since 2019, and a beat compared to analyst estimates. Biggest contributors were significant increases in the aforementioned G&NS plus Financial Services unit while Sony Pictures saw declines due to lack of theatrical performance in a tough ongoing environment for films.

Yearly operating income for the firm as a whole rose 15% to 972 billion yen, or just under $9 billion. Driven by performance in PlayStation, Electronics Products & Solutions in addition to Music segments then offset by decline in Imaging & Sensing Solutions. While a double-digit increase, profit actually missed analyst estimates for the year.

(Yup. Sony has a lot of businesses.)

Focusing within G&NS i.e. the PlayStation division, this is the firm’s leading contributor in recent years. Total sales reached 2.66 trillion yen or roughly $24.44 billion, which is up 34% since last year and a record result for this unit during a full year. Operating income jumped 44% to $3.15 billion. This is the first time this particular business moved past $3 billion in annual profit, marking yet another record high.

Of course underlying these results is the PlayStation 5 launch back in November, a console which shipped 3.3 million units during its second fiscal quarter on market. That brings lifetime shipments after two quarters to 7.8 million, Sony’s best console launch ever as it surpasses the 7.6 million of PlayStation 4 back in fiscal 2013. I had estimated between 3.1 and 3.3 million PlayStation 5 shipments for the quarter, so it’s in-line with expectations and honestly an impressive result given the chip shortage and production constraints plaguing console makers right now.

“Supply has not been able to keep up with extremely strong demand for PlayStation 5, although constraints on the supply of components, especially semiconductors, is expected to continue this fiscal year,” said Chief Financial Officer Hiroki Totoki on the Sony conference call.

As presented in the below gallery, the notable part of this particular console transition for PlayStation is how well growth across all sub-categories is contributing to ongoing performance during a time where older hardware isn’t moving as many units and new consoles are constrained on the supply side of the equation despite massive demand. Digital Software and Add-On Content are both up 44% while Hardware jumped 39% in 2020, showing how players are consistently supporting software offerings and additional expansions or downloadable content on both prior and current generation.

Signaling an industry shift that’s been ongoing for a while and accelerating during the pandemic is digital split for PlayStation software, which hit an all-time best 65% compared to 53% in 2019. Implies nearly 2 out of every 3 games purchased for its platforms are now downloads.

Full game software unit sales reached 339 million during fiscal 2020, up from 276 million in 2019. Out of that, first party titles published by Sony contributed 58.4 million compared to 49.2 million last year. Signaling an industry shift that’s been ongoing for a while and accelerating during the pandemic is digital split for PlayStation software, which hit an all-time best 65% compared to 53% in 2019. Implies nearly 2 out of every 3 games purchased for its platforms are now downloads.

Swapping to user engagement, subscribers to Sony’s PlayStation Plus service rose 15% to 47.6 million. Monthly Active Users (MAUs) across all of PlayStation Network dipped a bit, now at 109 million compared to 114 million a year prior. Still, the rise in PlayStation Plus paid memberships is a more significant contributor to the gaming segment, pushing Network Services sales up 14% year-over-year.

Turning back to PlayStation 4 hardware for a moment, Sony shipped 1 million units of this now legacy console in its last fiscal quarter ending March. That brings lifetime sales to just over 116 million, maintaining its second spot on the all-time home console sales list. While this slowing momentum implies that it will never come close to the lofty 155 million lifetime sales of the historic PlayStation 2, it proves that there will be sparse demand for the immediate future and could realistically hit 120 million next fiscal year at this pace.

Looking into the future for Sony overall, the company starts its fiscal year 2021 sales forecast at an 8% increase over 2020 while projecting a 4% decline in annual operating income. The sales increase should be bolstered by a bounce-back for Sony Pictures plus continued performance of PlayStation and electronics categories. Profit will be negatively impacted by higher costs in development of games alongside other divisional declines.

In terms of gaming, Sony guidance shows a similar theme for the PlayStation business in that sales should increase 9% yet profit will show a bit of weakness, dipping 5% year-on-year. Hardware unit sales will naturally increase as supply broadens, as long as the global chip shortage doesn’t get any worse. And manufacturing costs will lighten as the production process is refined. Though consistent with the recent trend of game delays, Sony expects 3rd party games to contribute less in fiscal 2021 and that includes the coveted add-on content revenue stream.

In terms of a hardware unit projection, Sony executives played a bit coy on the conference call. CFO Totoki reiterated the expectation to ship “above 14.8 million” PlayStation 5 units during the fiscal year from April 2021 to March 2022. Which would bring lifetime to 22.6 million, ever so slightly above its predecessor’s 22.4 million during the same time frame. Basically saying to anticipate a slight increase this early in the generation. My first full fiscal year estimate is 15 million, with a tilt towards the downside if supply doesn’t strengthen quickly enough.

On the software front, Sony is intent on investing in its studios plus other partnerships as has been its successful strategy. The way PlayStation creates value and entices people to buy its hardware is by launching high quality games, especially from those talented studios that it owns. Naturally, it’s pumping dollars in order to attract talent.

“In terms of costs, we plan to increase development, personnel and other costs in our in-house studios by approximately 20 billion yen ($184 million) year-on-year as we further strengthen our in-house produced software,” said Totoki. “To enhance our software offering, we intend to continue investing in or partnering with external studios in addition to aggressively investing in our in-house studios.”

And I tend to agree with Sony’s overall and PlayStation guidance, though I remain tentative on the supply side of hardware and on first party launches like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok despite this strong ongoing investment. For example, I don’t project that both of these major titles will be out in the next 12 months. I expect only Horizon to release in fiscal 2021, perhaps even during the January to March time frame as holiday still seems like a tight deadline.

Moving to Sony’s main competitor in the traditional console space at least in Microsoft, it’s obviously a much broader company with enterprise cloud and Azure driving a bulk of its performance. So unfortunately it shares less details on its gaming results. Still, there are significant statistics and executive quote that guide towards where it’s at in its play towards ecosystem and services alongside its Xbox Series X|S console launch.

Note that these are quarterly numbers and compared to a year ago unless otherwise specified, since Microsoft reported its third quarter fiscal year 2021 figures.

In the quarter ending March, the company overall generated nearly $42 billion in revenue which is up 19%. Operating income increased 31% to $17 billion. It beat analyst estimates on both sales and earnings-per-share. Intelligent Cloud revenue reached over $15 billion, as the foundation of Microsoft’s business.

The Xbox division falls under its More Personal Computing (MPC) segment, which itself contributed $13 billion in sales and operating profit hit $4.6 billion. These 9% and 27% increases respectively were bolstered specifically by gaming results.

Drilling down into gaming alone, total revenue was $3.53 billion during January to March. That’s the first time a 3rd fiscal quarter recorded over $3 billion in sales, and a staggering increase of 50%. It accounted for 27% of revenue from MPC segment, a strong moment for a business that’s accelerating especially given the success of Xbox Game Pass and certain first party games like the ever-present Minecraft.

Xbox Content & Services, which basically means software plus subscriptions, alone grew 34% due to strength across the board in third party titles, Xbox Game Pass subscriptions and first party software.

“People are turning to Xbox more than ever to play and chat with friends, and we saw record engagement this quarter, led by strength on and off-console,” Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella noted on its conference call. “With Game Pass, we are redefining how games are distributed, played, and viewed. Just last week, we added cloud gaming via the browser, expanding our reach across PC and mobile.”

What this quote and the results reveal is that Microsoft’s holistic strategy of attracting players to its ecosystem as opposed to a singular device is starting to pay major dividends. The team at Xbox is indifferent as to where someone plays its game or accesses its services. Just as long as they do.

Curiously, Nadella and team didn’t share new figures for Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. Back in January, Microsoft reported that the figure was 18 million. Rumors are that this figure is upwards of 23 million as recently as last week. Which would be consistent with Nadella’s remarks and recent Xbox Content & Services double-digit growth.

On the Hardware side, revenue more than tripled since this time in 2020 due to the start of a new generational cycle. Demand for Xbox Series X|S is vastly outstripped supply, the latter of which seems to be more significantly constrained than even the PlayStation 5.

Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood echoed the sentiment. “In Gaming, we continued to see record engagement and strong monetization across our platform, as well as demand that significantly exceeded supply for our Xbox Series X and S consoles,” she said.

Still, Microsoft isn’t sharing unit sales figures or giving any indication other than growth statistics for its hardware sales. It’s tricky to estimate, though friend of the site and Niko Partners Analyst Daniel Ahmad estimated that the Xbox Series X|S shipment figure was at 3.5 million last quarter. That would be slightly less than its predecessor the Xbox One, which did 3.9 million in its launch quarter.

I won’t put an exact number on it because it would be a complete guess, though wouldn’t be shocked if Microsoft shipped a couple million last quarter given the current inventory environment.

Annual gaming revenue jumped 46% since this time in 2020 plus achieved a record, the first time ever that yearly gaming sales at Microsoft crossed the $15 billion milestone.

Above gallery contains relevant information here, plus a handy chart that I’ll get into now.

Expanding to a longer timeline, gaming sales for Xbox totaled just over $15 billion for the trailing 12 month period ending March 2021. Annual gaming revenue jumped 46% since this time in 2020 plus achieved a record, the first time ever that yearly gaming sales at Microsoft crossed the $15 billion milestone. The recent direction under Head of Xbox Phil Spencer’s leadership of expanding to new audiences and devices isn’t just a concept, it’s proving to be a sound business decision.

One caveat here is that the $7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax happened during the quarter, so its contributions began in early March. Which definitely allowed for its record results. And is exactly why Xbox paid handily for it.

In terms of Xbox software, performance of first-party titles came in above expectations. Minecraft in particular, which recently saw MAUs increase 30% to 140 million. That’s an absolutely ridiculous number of people signing in every month on average for a game that’s over a decade old. Microsoft also shared that Minecraft creators have generated $350 million from over a billion downloads of mods, add-ons and experiences on the platform over the years.

Moving towards the future and guidance, Microsoft provides a specific number for its three broad segments then general comments about individual businesses. MPC revenue next quarter will be upwards of $13.6 billion and $14 billion.

“In Gaming, we expect revenue growth in the mid-to-high single digits. Significant demand for the Xbox Series X and S will continue to be constrained by supply,” said CFO Hood. “And on the strong prior year comparable, we expect Xbox content and services revenue to decline in the mid-to-high single digits.”

This is similar across both Microsoft and Sony, in that consumers will be buying as many pieces of hardware as they can produce. I’m most intrigued by software output for Microsoft, which I think will be quite stagnant until Halo Infinite later this year (which I’m fairly confident won’t be delayed again). So the question comes down to first party output combined with third party partnerships for Xbox Game Pass, the latter of which has been strong lately with games like Outriders and MLB The Show 21.

I anticipate Xbox Game Pass partnerships and console demand to drive results into the last quarter of Microsoft’s fiscal year ending June 2021, as opposed to any significant first party output. Minecraft will always be consistent, at least. Additional titles from its owned studios will come later, especially with Bethesda now incorporated into the mix and Halo Infinite looming as the flagship Xbox console exclusive later in calendar 2021.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and checking out this analysis. Company reports have more details if so inclined, and I’m always active on Twitter for conversations around these results or my predictions. Would be interested to hear your perspective as well. Be safe!

Note: Exchange rate used for Japanese Yen to U.S. Dollar is as of today. 0.0092 JPY to 1 USD.

Sources: Daniel Ahmad (Niko Partners), Jez Corden (Windows Central), Microsoft, Newsweek (Image Credit), Sony.

-Dom