2021 Year-in-Review: Biggest Trends in Gaming, Tech & Media

2021 was defined by a handful of major trends in gaming, technology and media, many of them centered around workplaces, culture and emerging technologies that even those involved might not fully understand.

It was another year of buzzwords within tech, as often happens. Cryptocurrency. Blockchain. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Meme Stocks. Metaverse. Within gaming, people spoke out against corporate toxicity and harassment. Mobile’s growth trajectory withstood as other areas cooled from the peaks of quarantine times, especially amidst supply concerns for hardware. For social media, the infamous Facebook Files, TikTok’s dominance and Twitter’s CEO departure hit the headlines.

Time to dig into six of the most significant trends of 2021. Fair warning, it’s not all good!

Workplace Culture & Whistleblowing

This story is a holdover from my 2020 list, and it’s only gained in relevancy this past year. More people were louder than ever on toxic cultures in the workplace or poor actions by executives, especially at big gaming publishers and social media giants. Over the summer, both Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard faced lawsuits related to discrimination and institutional harassment. Employees banded together to fight back against executives, to varying degrees of success.

Then there’s Facebook, now Meta, which saw a September leak reveal its self-realization of the harm it can cause younger users and its contributions to extremist activities worldwide. Not to mention the potential for fake research and incorrect information across its platforms. This is all thanks to whistleblower Frances Haugen and media investigations.

2021 did see some bright spots in these areas. Vodeo Games was the first gaming company in North America to formally unionize in December. Just recently, an IGN article detailed slightly improving conditions at Bungie while the Washington Post reported Riot Games must pay $100 million to settle a 2018 discrimination lawsuit. Toxicity at work and a “boys club” mentality is still prevalent in many industries. The hope is the more people talk about it, the more bad actors depart and these companies clean up their acts.

GameStop & Popularity of Meme Stocks

In a perfect swirl of internet camaraderie, corporate resistance and capitalist tendencies, 2021 became the year of the “meme stock” highlighted by names like GameStop and AMC Entertainment. At one point in January, GameStop closed at almost $350 per share. It opened the year under 20 bucks.

The frenzied swings of stocks like these are mainly due to online communities, especially Reddit’s WallStreetBets, forming narratives and collectively pushing them to historic highs. They tend to target securities with major short interest, which means a lot of other people were betting their prices would decline, to cause a massive upsurge in buying which skyrockets a stock’s intermittent value.

It’s the type of trend amplified these days when everyone is online, with entire sub-sections of the Web dedicated to chest-puffing against retail investors and major investment firms. A super curious phenomenon, especially when the underlying companies aren’t changing in value. It’s all about the market’s short-term perception. We couldn’t go a few days at times in 2021 without hearing about meme stocks, even from people who aren’t usually interested in social media or digital communities.

The Unavoidable Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, NFTs & Play-to-Earn

Apologies. I had to bring it up. It’s everywhere nowadays in tech, impossible to avoid plus impregnable for even those well-versed in the sector.

And that’s the undying realm that is blockchain, crypto and NFTs. Terms that you’ve probably heard numerous times now, whether via online posts or bros at a dinner table, and still find them wholly impenetrable. That’s because they are, plus it’s only getting worse.

These topics aren’t necessarily new at all. And I won’t dig into the specifics, that information is out there. Technologies surrounding digital ownership of goods, alternative forms of currency and decentralized systems have existed for years. It’s just the loudest right now. That’s primarily because of the astronomic popularity of NFTs, which are mainly used to make (or even launder) money under the guise of owning rights to a digital image.

Environmental impact, regulatory ramifications and opportunities for theft take a backseat to profitability in these realms, especially as company management teams start thinking of ways to capitalize and integrate into their products. Within gaming, that’s where areas like “Play-to-Earn” pop up in a ploy to entice people to play for the sake of generating money as opposed to leisure. Ubisoft introduced Quartz within its floundering Ghost Recon Breakpoint while developer GSC Game World tried, and failed, to incorporate NFTs in the forthcoming STALKER 2. This trend isn’t going anywhere, so I wager it could be a part of my 2022 predictions thread soon.

The Buzzword That Is The Metaverse

Every now and again, those at the top run a term into the ground to where it feels old before it’s even realized. That’s how “Metaverse” felt in 2021, a somewhat nebulous term combining aspects of augmented spaces, virtual reality, video connectedness and low quality online avatars to create a digital world where people can exist alongside one another. Lately it’s used by various companies claiming each wants to build the singular place where people can get together virtually.

Shoot. Facebook even changed its name to Meta in an attempt to monopolize the term.

This metaverse is another concept that’s not necessarily brand new. Just that lately, corporations see a clear opportunity to monetize a fancy buzzword and layer it on top of their existing brand identity. The aforementioned Meta, Microsoft, Apple, Alibaba, Epic Games, Roblox, Niantic and plenty more are using this phrase to describe its virtual offerings.

But what the heck is a metaverse and which will be the “one” that works a la the OASIS from Ready Player One? Well, many experts (and writers like yours truly) don’t think it’s possible. The space is too fragmented, companies are inherently driven to differentiate services rather than collaborate and getting all users to agree on a single platform is impractical. If 2021 is any indication, there will be much smaller, less defined metaverses competing for our virtual selves.

Hardware Shortages, Supply Chain & Product Delays

The global semiconductor shortage that heightened in 2020 partly because of coronavirus shutdowns had the carry-on effect of slowing all sorts of consumer industries including consumer technology, video game hardware, mobile phones and automobiles. Anything that used a chipset was more expensive to build and took longer to distribute in 2021, leading to supply shortages everywhere.

A major result is this combination of low availability and launch delays. Using the example of gaming consoles, the latest generation of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S were notoriously difficult to purchase this past year. When retailers did have inventory, it was short-lived and prone to scalping. Then there’s the console delays, including Valve’s Steam Deck and Panic’s Playdate handheld among others were pushed into next year.

Even so, there’s data showing resilience propped up by demand. Sony said PlayStation 5 shipments reached upwards of 13.3 million as of the quarter ending September. Sell-thru to consumers is higher than PlayStation 4. Nintendo Switch reached nearly 93 million sold lifetime, even as the company reduced its annual target for this fiscal year. Microsoft doesn’t share public figures, though anecdotally and from U.S. data, the Xbox Series S is more prevalent likely due to lower input costs. The NPD Group shows hardware sales up 20% in the U.S. through November 2021, even if compared to late console generation cycle the prior year. Unfortunately, many covering the chip industry think the supply chain issues will continue through 2022 and even beyond.

Mobile Driving Increased Global Games Industry Spending

Revenue numbers are in for the global games space, where overall value was up slightly in 2021 on a year-over-year basis. That’s attributable to gains in mobile and digital spending, while areas like console and personal computer (PC) dipped overall. Digital skew leads the charge as downloadable games plus additional content increased in traction and revenue generated.

According to Newzoo, worldwide video games industry value surpassed $180 billion in 2021. That’s up 1.4% since 2020, a durable figure that illustrates consistent spending on mobile experiences. Mobile as a category contributed $93 billion, showcasing 7% growth. Console was the next highest grouping, declining 7% to $50 billion. PC gaming reached $37 billion, down around 1% since 2020.

Overall, digital sources contributed 93% compared to 91% during 2020. Within console gaming, 77% was digital which is up from 72% prior year. Within mobile, Garena Free Fire led downloads with nearly 230 million. Subway Surfers and PUBG Mobile rounded out the Top 3, with 181 million and 172 million respectively. From a revenue standpoint, Honor of Kings, PUBG Mobile and Genshin Impact drove mobile sales.

On Twitter, Genshin Impact was the most-discussed title around the world followed by Final Fantasy XIV and Apex Legends. Looking at Google’s analytics, PopCat, FIFA 22 and Battlefield 2042 were the most searched. The top-selling games in 2021 for the U.S. as of November were topped by the two most recent Call of Duty titles, Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard in that order, followed by Madden NFL 22.

This recap of an eventful, and sometimes disheartening, year marks the first Year-in-Review post for 2021. Pop over to the megapost for more categories!

Sources: Christian Wiediger (Photo Credit), GamesIndustry.Biz, IGN, Marvin Meyer (Photo Credit), Meta Inc, Newzoo, Wall Street Journal (Photo Credit), Washington Post, Ubisoft.

-Dom

2021 Year-in-Review Megapost Is Now Live

The end is only beginning!

2021 is coming to a close. The past 12 months fit with the recent trend of years being difficult, trying and, very occasionally, magnificently rewarding. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which feels like it both started yesterday and has always been a part of our collective lives, continues as the biggest headline, impacting both our physical well-being and mental health. I like to believe humanity is strong enough to push through it, even if 2021 rebutted this theory at every turn.

Major news stories included insurgents at the U.S. Capitol, President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Ever Given disrupting global commerce by getting itself stuck in the Suez, COVID booster availability amidst the widespread omicron variant, an Olympics like none other, plus some rich people throwing money around so they could go to space.

Closer to home within gaming, technology and media, this Year of the Game Delay brought about some of the best content and worst trends ever. The Facebook Files and social media whistleblowers. GameStop as the premier meme stock with the rise of Reddit traders. Executives repeating the word “metaverse” as many times as they possibly can while pretending it’s a new topic. The inscrutable nuisance that is the non-fungible token (NFT) alongside the burgeoning, disheartening “play-to-earn” gaming trend.

Of course, there’s the omnipresent semiconductor shortages and supply chain issues making it near impossible to find a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Unless perhaos you happen to be a bot or scalper? Nintendo Switch’s new OLED model launched in the fourth quarter, cementing the hybrid handheld’s momentum on the charts. And, most importantly, the loud, ongoing relevance of challenging toxic workplace culture and harassment practices at companies including Ubisoft, Bungie and Activision Blizzard. (It’s a shame Bobby Kotick still has his job as I write this.)

Over the next few days, I’ll be recapping the year that was 2021. Once I wrap up writing about the biggest trends, it’s time to showcase what I thought was a consistent year in media and gaming especially, with a variety of high quality AAA titles and indie projects. First I’ll talk about larger publishers, then the more tight-knit indie scene before the grand finale: The ten best games I played all year.

This post acts as the central point for all things Year-in-Review here at Working Casual. Our categories are:

Biggest Trends in Gaming, Tech & Media

Five Most Impressive Gaming Companies

Independent Studios of the Year

Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year

Set the bookmark and check back often! Happy Holidays and a safe, healthy New Year to all!

-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

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

Earnings Calendar Apr & May 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

We’re a month into the second calendar quarter of the year, which means another earnings season has started!

In my largest list yet, above is the current schedule for a variety of public companies across gaming, media and technology spaces reporting fiscal results this month and next. It’s a handy way to keep track of the season, which I’ll update periodically based on new announcements.

There’s also the link below, which goes to a Google Doc displaying the same list for easy access to investor relations websites. I recommend bookmarking one of these, perhaps even both, though I admit I’m a bit biased! It’s the way I keep tracking of everything, so I love sharing it with everyone each few months.

Lastly, I briefly list out three stocks to monitor closely this quarter with some details on their situations. Whether established companies or new listings, Working Casual can cover them all. Which ones made the highlights? Check below the fold to find out.

I hope you and your families are well and on the road to vaccination, if not already there. Be safe!

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Apr & May 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Nintendo Co., Ltd: Thursday, May 6th

Early in May, Nintendo reports its latest annual results where we’ll hear about hardware, software and mobile results for the full year through the end of March. Last quarter, the Japanese gaming giant raised targets for sales and profit guidance along with Switch hardware units for the year to 26.5 million from 24 million. CEO Shuntaro Furukawa and the executive team are known lately for erring towards conservative guidance, so I expect a beat on all fronts. As it usually does, Nintendo will also share updated lifetime hardware sales for Switch, which will blow past 80 million and should eclipse both PlayStation Portable plus Game Boy Advance lifetime figures, in addition to a variety of major software title updates. In a move much decried by fans, its Mario 35th Anniversary celebration ended abruptly in March with a handful of titles going off market, a timing that’s curiously the same as its fiscal year end date. Combining that boost with steady hardware momentum and software output, it should be the best year for Nintendo in at least a decade.

Capcom Co. Ltd: Monday, May 10th

Yet another Japanese publisher that’s been very active the past 12 months is Capcom, one of the most consistent in the industry in terms of pace and quality of releases. It will also share annual results this quarter in mid-May. The company’s flagship this year so far is Monster Hunter Rise, which launched late in March on Nintendo Switch and surpassed 5 million units shipped in just over a week. Back catalog sales for Resident Evil franchise in anticipation of Resident Evil Village next month plus legacy Monster Hunter World titles along with supplementary launches sprinkled throughout 2020 will drive results to what I expect to be solid growth. Speaking of Resident Evil Village, I’ll keep a close eye on guidance for next year since the first mainline game in the series since 2017 releases during its fiscal first quarter, just before another Switch exclusive in Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. I’m still maintaining my prediction for a return to the fighting game genre from Capcom as well, so will this be the year?

Roblox Corporation: Monday, May 10th

In one of the most sought-after gaming and tech IPOs this year, Roblox soared well above its listing price during its trading debut in March. The unique gaming platform targeted at a family audience is now trading at a market valuation of over $41 billion ahead of its first public earnings report for Q1, a capitalization comparable to an established industry peer like Electronic Arts (EA). Roblox is a distinct company in the sector, hosting more of a diverse avenue for content creators and game makers than an individual publishing or software development, and it’s available on nearly every mobile or PC device plus Xbox consoles. What it comes down to ultimately is its underlying financials and the ability to support this lofty valuation. In its March prospectus filing, the firm said daily active users rose 85% to 32.6 million and revenue reached just under $1 billion, an increase of 82% in 2020. Downside is costs outstripped sales, which means it’s currently recording a more significant loss than prior years. I’m skeptical of this current market cap given this situation, though I do see future growth potential if it’s able to monetize that growing user base.

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, The Sun UK News Company (Image Credit).

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Jan & Feb 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

The first big season of 2021 is now underway.

No, not Winter. (Or Summer, depending on when you are in the world.) Not the NFL playoffs. Not even WandaVision. It’s earnings season!

That fun quarterly time when we get to talk more about companies and their underlying businesses, how their performance rolls up to industries at large. With a focus here on various gaming, tech and media stocks, naturally.

First is the calendar image, as you’ll see above. Coverage is approaching 80 companies in total. Easy for pulling up as a quick reference on the schedule. I keep it open all season. I’ll also update it periodically, since some companies haven’t announced yet.

Then there’s the link below, a Google Doc with this same information and easily accessible links to each website. Very handy.

It’s a busy one, so let’s get right to it. Bookmark that calendar, check the doc and then read about a few companies on my radar in the upcoming weeks. Thanks for reading!

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Jan & Feb 2021: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Sony Corp (SNE): Wed, February 3rd

When Sony shares its fiscal third quarter numbers next week for the period ending December, it will be the first that includes revenue from sales of the PlayStation 5 after its November launch. The Japanese consumer tech leader already said its next generation console had the biggest global commercial start of any PlayStation box in its history, a sentiment echoed by December’s U.S. monthly report from NPD Group which I wrote about previously. Despite tight supply and limited inventories, I expect a strong showing in shipments that translate to yet another stellar quarter for its gaming division. Upwards of 4.5 to 5 million, slightly above the 4.5 million of PlayStation 4. The PS5 will also benefit from software copies sold, with the stronger launch lineup compared with its main competitor in Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S. Hardware and game sales will be impressive, as will its digital ratio which I expect to be around 50%.

Huya Inc (HUYA) & DouYu International Holdings (DYOU): Mid Feb & March, Respectively.

Back in October, these two Chinese powerhouses in game streaming and esports announced the intention to merge effective sometime in 2021. A deal worth an impressive $6 billion, with Tencent of course steering the merger resulting in a healthy share of the new entity. Lately, local officials are taking a closer look at the potential for creating a monopoly in the space, perhaps delaying its completion or even disintegrating the partnership entirely. Neither company has announced a date for their respective financial report plus the latest we heard was that the deal is in its regulatory phase. I anticipate a firm update in the next couple weeks, and I’m betting that China’s government ends up deeming it fine to proceed.

GameStop (GME): March.

The biggest gaming retailer in the U.S. has been in the news a lot, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this month, it announced a shake-up in its Board of Directors, resulting from a major investment from Chewy.com founder Ryan Cohen later last year. And as recently as last week, its shares began surging due to a wild scenario of a Reddit forum full of traders fighting short-sellers (investors bet on a stock’s price going down) in one of the most bizarre stories you’ll read about Wall Street all year. Thing is, its underlying fundamentals haven’t changed. Partly due to the pandemic and mostly because of mismanagement, it’s closing a thousand stores in the first quarter of 2021 alone. Holiday sales were mixed, even with the new generation of consoles. It will stay in business in the short term, perhaps with a better direction with the new look of its Board. But there’s a limited upside to brick-and-mortar retailers that aren’t able to adapt in the digital age.

Sources: CNBC, Company Investor Relations Websites, NPD Group, Pan Daily (Image Credit).

-Dom

2020 Year-in-Review: Biggest Trends in Gaming, Tech & Media

Year-in-Review is here!

Across gaming, technology and media, 2020 both continued major trends from last year and introduced select new ones, most notably around how people consume entertainment and work together during a global pandemic.

Some are common across all, such as digital distribution, streaming platforms and direct-to-home content delivery systems gaining steam this year. Consolidation continued with mergers and acquisitions both big and small, changing the way these industries look. Mobile gaming reached new records, plus targeted a more core audience via traditional genres and gameplay systems.

Then there’s the new or unique, in a year during which two major video game console manufacturers somehow launched new products. Game developers worked in even more difficult circumstances to finish projects in time for ship date. Similarly, 2020 brought ongoing reports of difficult workplace conditions, whether due to sexual harassment or “crunch” culture.

On the media side, topics of political policy, privacy matters and general regulation for social media platforms. Within technology, remote work and virtual collaboration redefined how people work, likely forever.

Let’s now dig into the biggest trends of 2020!

Digital, On-Demand, Streaming & Cloud Everywhere

The transition to digital as the primary distribution platform, whether in gaming or otherwise, is essentially complete with the surge of online storefronts and streaming services that deliver entertainment direct to folks in their homes or wherever on their devices. This was inevitable in my opinion, comparable to the music industry, though perhaps accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic quarantining millions upon millions of (often bored) people.

In particular, 2020 will be remembered as the time where film distributors embraced the direct-to-home model, with major releases such as Universal Pictures’ Trolls World Tour, Disney’s Mulan and WB’s Wonder Woman 1984 all hitting on-demand services simultaneously as their theatrical debuts. This is a tectonic shift within an industry historically reluctant to move away from its traditions.

Comparatively, this model is now solidified within gaming. Xbox Game Pass is the best value around, now with beta access to its Cloud Streaming in select areas. Sony supplemented its PlayStation Plus and PS Now offering with a PlayStation 5 PlayStation Plus Collection catalog. Google Stadia, while not the most popular, is still active and attempting to attract an audience. Amazon introduced Luna, an intriguing new cloud player that will support “gaming channels” with Ubisoft already on board. NVIDIA’s GeForce Now is a go-to cloud technology for PC gamers. Steam and GOG, to name a few, are well-established online storefronts.

The games industry generated at least $175 billion in sales during 2020 according to Newzoo, an increase of 20% year-on-year. A staggering 91% of this is digital sources. It’s to the point where every major media or gaming company seemingly has or supports digital platforms, cloud streaming services or a combination of both. Taking advantage of the ability to reach people on whatever device they want to use. Oh, and the ongoing subscription revenue doesn’t hurt either.

The Next Game Console Generation Begins

Even as I write this, more than a month out from release, I’m still shocked that teams at both Microsoft and Sony were able to successfully launch new gaming consoles in the year that was 2020.

But that’s just what they did. And they deserve eternal kudos for it, considering the type of year it was. The Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 debuted during the same week in November, each with its own distinct strategy to entice people to upgrade to the newest generation of gaming hardware.

Microsoft has expanded its Xbox brand to encompass all of its gaming ventures across console, computers and mobile, so it pushed a multi-tiered product launch with Xbox Series X at the upper end then the entry level-priced Xbox Series S to hit both ends of the market. Xbox overall is now about ecosystem, with its push towards a library of games via Xbox Game Pass and backwards compatibility across software and accessories. Even without a major exclusive like the delayed Halo: Infinite, Xbox Series X|S still boasted the most successful commercial launch in brand history.

Sony’s bread and butter is the core audience, thus its more traditional approach with a bevy of new software titles coinciding with the PlayStation 5’s start. Even if one of them was a shorter “expandalone” in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and another was a remake in Demon’s Souls, Sony fans (and scalpers alike, unfortunately) came out in droves to scoop up the new hardware. Sony said demand for PS5 was “unprecedented,” resulting in the fastest-selling global console launch in history. It also set a new record domestically for launch month dollar and unit sales, outpacing its predecessor in both instances.

This is really just the start for both boxes, notably in short supply during this holiday season. While production will ramp up in 2021, software offerings will as well. It’s an exciting time to be a console owner, or someone that covers the industry to see where sales and consensus go in the future.

Toxic Workplace Environments & Crunch Culture

This important and timely topic deserves an article unto itself, and it’s a trend I hope will ease in the future. It’s not exclusive to gaming by any means, though 2020 brought with it several high profile releases from some of the industry’s most notoriously difficult workplaces, which is why it’s currently front-of-mind. (As it really should be always.)

“Crunch” culture is a part of game development, like many other workplaces. Where people labor for long hours, even weekends, leading up to the completion of a project. It’s the type of tricky situation that impacts both physical and mental well-being yet is hard to avoid for many, since it’s so embedded, so the trend of reporting on this from media outlets is welcome. Places like Take-Two’s Rockstar Games, Sony’s Naughty Dog, Ubisoft and CD Projekt Red plastered the headlines as current and former employees spoke about what it’s like to work under these kinds of conditions.

The latest of these is CD Projekt Red and its downright ugly release of Cyberpunk 2077 this month, a game that was clearly rushed to meet financial deadlines as I posited in my recent piece. This was after executives said there wouldn’t be mandatory crunch. Management held an internal Q&A session shortly after launch, proving that it should have opened feedback loops well before then for its employees. (I’ll note that CD Projekt is fairly compensating employees for their hard work. Rightfully so.)

Similarly, Ubisoft was in the spotlight due to accusations of sexual harassment and general misconduct at certain of its global studios. Back during the summer, multiple people at the company raised abuse or harassment allegations towards fellow employees or even management. One of these resulted in the removal of former Chief Creative Office Serge Hascoët, another the firing of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla original director Ashraf Ismail. Since then, CEO Yves Guillemot outlined a plan to address this sort of workplace toxicity. It’s yet to be seen if anything major will come of this, however getting rid of the worst offenders is a good start.

Record-Breaking Mobile Game Revenue

Mobile remained the hottest category in its industry last year, as it accounted for nearly half of the yearly global games market at a staggering $86 billion. An increase of almost 26% since 2019.

Leading the charge was a set of five titles each with more than $1 billion in sales, which is a record number for a single year. Two games published by Chinese tech and social media conglomerate Tencent topped the list, with PUBG Mobile at $2.6 billion then Honor of Kings eclipsing $2.5 billion.

Former cultural phenomenon Pokémon GO is still at it, clearing over $1.2 billion in sales. This makes 2020 its best year ever, bolstered by changes made to accommodate stay-at-home restrictions. Rounding out the billion-makers are Coin Master and Roblox, each with an impressive $1.1 billion.

In addition to these big money-makers, 2020 marked a time where mobile publishers continued to combine the model with more traditional gameplay mechanics. The highest profile of these was Genshin Impact, an open world action RPG from China’s miHoYo that’s generated almost $400 million within only two months of launch. Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad followed in the steps of Call of Duty: Mobile when it launched back in August, offering a first-person shooter experience comparable to console play on the go. There’s big money in mobile, especially if it can appeal to both casual and console/PC type audiences.

Push for Accessibility Features in Games

As someone who plays with inverted camera controls and often leverages subtitles, this trend is an especially important one. I’m thankful that creators are moving in a direction toward accessibility and inclusion, to where the industry and media at large are celebrating it.

This is a multi-step effort, one driven intrinsically by developers making games easier to play for people of all types, especially those that may have disabilities or other challenges. Flexible settings, camera controls, button mapping or even custom controllers, deaf/hard of hearing considerations, choices for those lacking motor skills, blind/low vision/colorblind filters. Basically, the more varied and considerable the options, the better.

Then, the industry overall is finally signal-boosting accessibility more by rewarding projects with the best options. This culminates in efforts like AbleGamers, Can I Play That, Steve Saylor (Blind Gamer) and award ceremonies specifically dedicated to these extremely important, I’d argue essential, features.

AbleGamers hosted its first annual Video Game Accessibility Awards in 2020. Both The Game Awards and entertainment outlets like IGN highlighted games like The Last of Us II, Grounded (boasting a genius filter to combat arachnophobia), Ghost of Tsushima, Fuser, Watch Dogs: Legion and HyperDot, all of which are setting the bar. One that I hope all creators hope to achieve.

Consolidation, Mergers & Acquisitions

It’s an ongoing move within a variety of spaces, though some of the biggest acquisition deals in gaming and technology took place during the last twelve months. And it’s not just the top-end, massive deals. Many smaller teams were picked up by the mid-tier of publishers, in particular the likes of Embracer Group, Zynga and Enad Global 7 (EG7).

Within technology, the big news makers were of course NVIDIA, AMD and Salesforce. NVIDIA’s purchase of Arm hit a whopping $40 billion in deal value, the biggest in the tech industry this year. Just behind that was AMD grabbing fellow semi-conductor manufacturer Xilinx for $35 billion, while Salesforce’s purchase of communication software firm Slack Technologies hit upwards of nearly $28 billion.

Within gaming, the hottest deal was Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda parent company ZeniMax. It’s an industry-shaking event, where future Bethesda output like Starfield and the next Elder Scrolls project could very well end up exclusive to Xbox platforms. Within China’s local streaming scene, Huya and DouYu have a $6 billion merger planned for mid-2021 (where the resulting entity will naturally be majority owned by Tencent). Then there’s Electronic Arts making a $1.2 billion offer for racing developer Codemasters, outbidding fellow American publisher Take-Two Interactive.

Swedish publisher EG7 announced the purchase of a few notable teams including Daybreak, Zynga is taking over smaller mobile developers plus Embracer Group (THQ Nordic) is buying.. well, literally dozens of development studios or smaller independent companies.

After a super active 2020, will the pace slow down next year? Will Sony or Nintendo partake? Let’s just say I don’t see consolidation going anywhere, anytime soon.

Social Media Politics & Government Regulation

It was an election year in the U.S., one of the most significant in recent history I’d say. Which means social media took center stage in terms of discourse and advertising. This led lead players like Facebook and Twitter in attempts to both earn integrity and stop the spread of misinformation by instituting practices such as removing bad accounts, moderating posts and comments plus flagging threads that had questionable claims. Others like YouTube took a less proactive approach, opting to react to political outcomes after the fact.

Then there’s the similar theme around the U.S. government’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Section 230 law, which in the past has allowed social media and modern tech companies to essentially avoid accountability when it comes to the content produced on their platforms. This stemmed from Facebook and Twitter restricting a NY Post story on now President-Elect Joe Biden.

Now the question becomes, where will Section 230 and responsibility of social media companies go under a new administration? It sounds like Biden opposes the law, though it isn’t clear what will happen if it’s adjusted or even repealed. Would self-regulation be better? I don’t know if that’s an effective option, since it wholly depends on media companies acting against their own self-interest of maintaining freedom of speech and keeping active users. Yet there’s also the responsibility to keep platforms clean of lies. There may not be a perfect outcome.

Remote Work & Virtual Collaboration in Technology

In terms of general technology trends this past year, the ramp-ups in remote working, artificial intelligence and the movement towards automation all defined 2020. These are all areas expedited by how companies operate during a global pandemic, which challenged the traditional model of office work and manual processes.

For those companies with the capabilities, remote work increased during the early days of the pandemic in March and April. For those without, they had to put them in place. Quickly. There’s the initial challenge of getting basic tech to workers, maintaining security at home, collaborating virtually and balancing family life outside of the office.

Flexibility in workspace proved to be a key topic across the tech landscape. Back in July, Google made a major decision on virtual working: Employees have the option to work from home until July 2021. During October, Microsoft announced that employees with the option to do so can stay home permanently, as part of its focus on both location and workweek hours.

Among many other things that 2020 changed, where and how people work is one of the most significant. You might even be reading this while working in your home office or bedroom, getting ready for a video call or virtual meeting. It’s my thought that this will become the norm, the pandemic was merely a catalyst.

There we have it: The biggest trends of 2020 completed. Which ones caught your eye? Any others you’d point out? Check back to the megathread for more Year-in-Review content. Thanks for stopping by!

Sources: Andrew Neel (Photo), Bloomberg, GamesIndustry.Biz, Kotaku, Microsoft Blog, Newzoo, NPD Group, Sam Pak (Photo), Sensor Tower, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Ubisoft Entertainment, Xbox Wire.

-Dom

2020 Year-in-Review Megapost Is Finally Here

It’s almost over.

The year unlike any other that was 2020 is, finally, coming to an end. To say it’s been a challenging, newsworthy one is an understatement.

While a tragic global pandemic, the voice of Black Lives Matter supporters and a major presidential election in the United States made headlines broadly, the games industry, modern media and new technology served as a much-needed distraction from the often disaster that was daily life.

And it turned out to be a historic one, especially for the games industry. A brand new console generation, Nintendo’s commercial success, the continued rise of digital distribution, cloud and streaming services, visibility of independent creators, questions around workplace culture and underdeveloped projects plus continued advancement in mobile titles blurring the line between tradition and future defined a tumultuous yet successful year for many.

This mega-thread will serve as the nexus for Working Casual’s year-end coverage across these various industries and topics. Over the course of the next week, I’ll be tackling the biggest 2020 has to offer. Trends, companies, indie teams and, of course, the best video games of 2020.

Here are the categories:

Working Casual 2020 Year-in-Review:

Biggest Trends in Gaming, Tech & Media

Five Most Impressive Gaming Companies

Independent Studios of the Year

Dom’s Top 10 Games of the Year

Check back often to see the links to new posts, and feel free to comment here or on social media once they are up. Wishing a safe and healthy holiday season to all, especially those on the frontline of the pandemic, and an incredibly Happy New Year!

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2020: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

First off, no jokes. I hope everyone is safe right now, especially here in the States. I know the pandemic is impossibly tough and puts a strain on everyone’s physical well-being and mental health. But it’s still bad out there, and it will only get worse if we don’t keep up with the same precautions. Please be patient and wear a mask.

The upside is that right now, we can spend even more time playing and discussing games, media and technology. And it’s as good a time as any, with a new earnings season underway and new tech products right around the corner!

Which brings us to this: The Internet’s single biggest compiled list of of earnings dates for the most important companies in these sectors. Now covering over 75 stocks, including those from numerous markets worldwide plus a handful of newer listings this time around.

Check out the calendar above to save as a handy image or click on the Google Doc below, which has links to company websites with more information. It’s the only resource you’ll ever need to track these dates.

I’ll periodically update as others are firmed up, so set up that bookmark and check back often. Now on to the calendar and highlighting three companies to watch closely this season.

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Oct & Nov 2020: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Activision Blizzard, Inc (ATVI): Thursday, October 29

On one of the busiest days this quarter, domestic gaming juggernaut Activision Blizzard reports its third quarter results. I expect the ongoing momentum of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, mostly attributed to its Warzone battle royale mode and constant stream of seasonal updates, to drive an impressive suite of figures. We’ll also hear about attribution from mid-September’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, a critical darling, plus perhaps an indication of early sales for Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time after its launch in early October. As for forecasting, I expect Activision Blizzard to maintain or even raise guidance with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War debuting in November, which I fully expect to be the best-selling console game of 2020.

Square Enix (9684): Early November

Square Enix will publish its second quarter report in early November, and it’s the most important in a long while. Mainly because this is the first period after the Japanese publisher’s flagship Marvel’s Avengers released in September, to both mixed reviews and an uncertain market reaction. As I wrote recently, it was the best-selling title in the U.S. during September according to The NPD Group. Industry tracking firm SuperData recently estimated it was the third best-seller of the month globally measured by digital sales on consoles, moving an approximate 2.2 million copies. This would be the company’s second best digital start ever behind April’s Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Square Enix has consistently reiterated very positive guidance leading into this fiscal, yet hasn’t shared global unit sales statistics for its second major title of 2020. Makes it tricky to know which way it will go.

Corsair Gaming Inc (CRSR), Unity Software (U): TBD

The games industry saw some notable initial public offerings during September in Corsair Gaming and Unity Software, the former a headset and accessory designer while the latter is a software provider boasting one of the world’s most popular gaming engines. Corsair shares declined right after listing, though have since rose over 70% to give the company a valuation over $2.2 billion. Unity Software has been hot from the start, its stock gaining 46% since first trading. This makes its market valuation a staggering $26 billion, at or ahead of the most established of publishers and software providers. This will be the first time these companies report publicly outside of their respective prospectuses, so we’ll see how underlying financials align with market sentiment once we know the exact dates.

Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you again soon!

Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, NPD Group, SuperData.

-Dom

Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2020: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

Hope all is well everyone. Given the difficult circumstances, especially here in the States.

(WEAR A MASK!)

There’s still not much else to do these days besides talk about gaming, media and tech amirite? Good news is there’s a bevy of information dropping recently and in the near future from companies about the status of their businesses amid the coronavirus landscape.

Helping navigate is my quarterly earnings calendar covering these major sectors. Above is the image for quick reference and below is the usual Google Doc with everything including investor links.

Working Casual Earnings Calendar Jul & Aug 2020: Gaming, Media & Tech Companies

I recommend keeping a close eye in particular on the three companies below as you hopefully stay safe during this time.

Ubisoft Entertainment SA (UBI): Wednesday, July 22

The maker of games in major franchises like Assassin’s Creed and the Tom Clancy lineage actually reported already last week in what was the most significant communication from a PR standpoint in its recent history. As shared by various outlets including an extensive article from Bloomberg, multiple Ubisoft executives are facing ongoing allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct including the main creative officer of the company Serge Hascoët who recently resigned.

The French publisher’s numerical performance was sound, with increases in sales and engagement for catalog titles especially, yet the real topic was the company’s approach to addressing toxicity in its studios. CEO Yves Guillemot claims to be committed to changing its culture. Which desperately needs to happen on a broad scale. It’s way too early to know if he will, at least the company has a plan in place to move towards a more welcoming environment for everyone. Especially women, people of color and LGBTQ employees.

Sony Corp (SNE): Tuesday, August 4

Sony is a sizeable company with a diverse set of ventures, though its gaming division continues to be the feature especially this summer. We’ll notice the impact even more in its latest quarter due to the flagship release of The Last of Us Part II in June. Like many critics, I showered Naughty Dog’s latest with praise in my recent review. This widespread critical admiration is translating to commercial success as the game was the fastest-selling PlayStation 4 exclusive ever, selling-through 4 million copies in three days and the number one grossing title in the United States during the month of June.

The Japanese tech conglomerate should also benefit from growing PlayStation Plus memberships, which reached 41.5 million last quarter up from 36.4 million the prior year, plus higher demand in its other consumer businesses amidst continuing stay-at-home situations globally. Just as intriguing will be its forecasts for future quarters and the upcoming fiscal year, given the significance of its PlayStation 5 release this holiday.

Walt Disney Co (DIS): Tuesday, August 4

Disney is one of those companies that experiences both sides of virus impact. Coronavirus has naturally caused massive disruption in its park and cruise operations, resulting in significant earnings declines last quarter. Though the media leader benefits financially in subscriptions to its Disney+ streaming service, which totaled 54.5 million users as of its last quarterly report. Compare this to the 33.5 million in March and you can see the potential as the virus looms or even returns in areas.

In arguably its biggest get yet, the movie version of Broadway hit play Hamilton launched on the service in early July, surging downloads by 74% over its debut weekend. There’s also the sports angle, as the National Basketball Association (NBA) is set to restart its season this Thursday, July 30 exclusively at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at its Florida location. While these latest developments won’t impact the latest quarter-ending results, Disney’s forecast for future growth will reveal how much they can offset the lower park and vacation revenue near term.

Thank you again to all those on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus, and to those working through the pandemic wherever you are whether it’s helping to deliver packages or working essential retail.

Hopefully chatting about these industries, companies, products and experiences can help during the downtime. Appreciate the visit!

Sources: Bloomberg, Company Investor Relations Websites, NPD Group, PlayStation Blog.

-Dom