What a quarter for PlayStation. Talk about bucking the trend!
I’ve been writing recently how this past holiday will be a mixed bag for many consumer technology firms, including gaming hardware manufacturers and software publishers. Sony is both of these things, and management is masterfully navigating the murky waters of our economic environment.
This fact is clearly illustrated when it reported third quarter fiscal 2022 results earlier today in Japan, in which the overall business grew double-digits and the PlayStation business unit achieved record Q3 sales and operating profit. The prior record-holder was this same quarter last year.
Within the report, it showcased growth across all PlayStation product categories. Hardware output more than doubled since last year, as did retail software, and digital content rose substantially. As I’ll show in a later chart.
PlayStation 5 (PS5) hardware had its best quarter to date measured by shipments, by a wide margin. Sony shipped 7.1 million PS5 units between October and December, up a whopping 82% compared to last holiday’s 3.9 million. That brings lifetime PS5 unit sales to 32.1 million. It’s now outsold the Sega Genesis, which peaked at 30.75 million overall.
Not only that, Sony actually increased its annual hardware guidance! While PS5’s better availability is impressive given higher input costs and supply chain disruptions of calendar 2022, it’s worth noting the console is still tracking below PlayStation 4 (PS4) at this same point in the early life cycle.
Partially driving demand for the new console was a suite of AAA games around this time. Third-party hits Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and annualized sports games plus a system-seller like God of War Ragnarök alongside a supplementary title like Gran Turismo 7 significantly bolstered software, as both physical units and digital downloads soared.
“We are seeing steady results from the various measures we have taken in terms of both hardware and software,” management said in prepared remarks. “And we believe that we have created positive momentum to re-accelerate the growth of the game business centered on the expansion of the penetration of PlayStation 5.”
Here’s a deeper dive into the numbers behind this all-time holiday season, then a look at the company’s guidance and my predictions. Including a new chart format for the category mix!
Across the broader corporation, as shown in the above slides, Sony generated 13% more revenue this quarter up to $24 billion. Operating profit however declined 8%, to $3 billion. That second figure was the second best result in company history in local currency, behind only Q3 last year.
Shifting focus to the PlayStation segment alone, which is called Game & Network Services (G&NS) in Sony’s reporting. Sales increased a staggering 53% to $8.8 billion. Operating profit rose a more modest, yet still impressive, 25% to $820 million.
PlayStation exhibited exceptional top-line and profit growth that led to both of these figures being all-time records. Now it’s partially due to foreign exchange movement in a volatile rate environment, yet it’s mainly due to improving underlying fundamentals in its gaming business. Better hardware sales due to supply being there and demand staying strong, plus a big boost from first-party software. Even rising costs related to network business and acquisitions couldn’t hold profit back.
This was an astounding quarter. Looking at product category sales, nearly all of them moved up double-digits in Q3. Quite literally off the chart, as shown in the last one in the above gallery. Hardware was the biggest contributor at 35% of the total, since it more than doubled since last holiday. Add-On Content was the next biggest segment at 21%, even if it “only” increased 5%. Digital software comprised 20% of the PlayStation business, improving its sales 35% year-on-year. Physical Software proved to be the biggest mover from a growth standpoint, more than tripling.
Factoring in this latest record quarter, annualized revenue for G&NS is upwards of $22.84 billion right now. That’s the highest in history, tracking towards a best-ever year of sales. In fact, it’s $3 billion more than it’s ever been. I can’t overplay how well gaming is doing from a revenue standpoint, approaching a ridiculous $23 billion.
Profitability over the last 12-month period is a bit more tempered, as annual operating income totals $2.11 billion at present. It’s certainly recovering from where it was last quarter, trending towards pandemic highs.
Running down a quick comparison to industry peers, Sony is still in second place from a revenue standpoint. Tencent reports in March; for now, its annual sales are around $25.8 billion. PlayStation slots in here at the $22.84 billion. In Microsoft’s report last week, which I covered here, revenue over the last 12 months equaled $15.56 billion. Lastly, Nintendo is at $13 billion, though it has also yet to report and will do so next week. Keep in mind that a combined Microsoft and Activision Blizzard entity could eventually compete with Sony for second place, though I’d estimate it’s not above $20 billion to $21 billion just yet.
Now I’ll dig more into additional info from Sony on unit sales, network results and engagement stats for its gaming vertical.
Full game software sales declined in Q3, from 92.7 million to 86.5 million. That accounts for both internal teams and external publishers, including bellwethers like Call of Duty, Madden NFL and FIFA.
For first-party titles, this is where the real boost occurred. It nearly doubled from 11.3 million last year to 20.8 million. The bulk was, of course, driven by God of War Ragnarök which started at 5.1 million units during its launch week in November and has since reached the 11 million milestone. It’s the fastest-selling platform exclusive in PlayStation history across both of these time periods, a ridiculous result for the sequel to God of War (2018).
Within software, digital downloads compromised 62% of total game sales on PlayStation. That’s the exact same figure as last year, and only down slightly from 63% last quarter. The aforementioned growth of retail sales certainly affected this split.
Sony’s rebranded PlayStation Plus service now has 46.4 million subscribers, down compared to last year’s 48 million. Still, it’s higher than the 45.4 million last quarter thus showing sequential growth.
The other major user stat of Monthly Active Users (MAUs) edged up a million in Q3 to 112 million. It’s also 10 million higher than Q2, since the holiday season tends to attract new users and returning players alike. Sony also cited the transition to current generation hardware as a reason for user acquisition. The percentage of that 112 million that were solely on PS5 moved up to 30%, or roughly 33.6 million individual accounts.
“Engagement metrics of users who transitioned from PS4 to PS5, such as their PS Plus subscription rate, gameplay time, and average spending amount are significantly higher than those when they played on PS4,” executives said. “So we will continue to focus on accelerating the transition of PS4 users to PS5.”
Sony points out that almost 30% of MAUs on PS5 are users that never had a PS4, thus it’s attracting various new players, and payers, to the ecosystem. An essential part of any console business.
Intriguingly, for PlayStation players, total gameplay time declined 3% versus last Q3. Compared to the quarter ending September, it was up 6%. Focusing strictly on the month of December, hours jumped 14% compared to November.
“We believe that user engagement is on a recovery trend due to the penetration of PS5 and the contribution of hit titles,” management said. Based on the way hardware is trending, how high revenue has grown and its excellent title lineup last year, I certainly see that same trend.
It’s hard to overstate how exceptionally PlayStation performed in the months between October and December 2022.
To secure record revenue and profit during this macro environment, when people are facing inflation and returning to other activities, it’s truly the exception within consumer tech and gaming. Quite literally moving the opposite direction of a major peer like Microsoft. Even Apple is facing revenue challenges as it reports 5% decline in sales just this afternoon. Related publishers around the globe are struggling to outpace last year’s results. I’m supremely impressed with the leadership executing on its strategies, namely how it secured enough consoles to satiate pent-up demand.
Moving into the last quarter of its current fiscal year, management provided updated guidance for a variety of numbers. It slightly reduced total sales guidance down 1%, then bumped up operating income by 2 percentage points. These now imply around $81.2 billion in revenue and $8.33 billion in profit for fiscal 2022.
As for PlayStation, management reiterated its annual sales forecast which would be a record of $25.6 billion. It also raised guidance for gaming operating profit by around 7%, now expecting $1.7 billion for the year mainly because of currency movement. I think the top-line figure is fine for PlayStation as a segment, though firmly believe that operating profit forecast will be easily achieved. It feels too conservative given the latest holiday performance.
On the flip side, management is being even more aggressive on its PS5 unit sales outlook for the year. It’s raising the already high forecast by a million units, up to 19 million. Which would bring lifetime shipments to 38.3 million. All I can say is: Wow. Talk about upbeat! Right now, PS5 sales for fiscal 2022 are at 12.8 million thru 3 quarters. Sony needs to ship a massive 6.2 million in the 3 months ending this March in order to accomplish this target.
Now, I thought they were out of their collective mind last quarter. And I remain my usual skeptical self, considering 6.2 million is more than literally any other quarter in the PS5 life cycle other than this past holiday season. Management’s confidence must be rubbing off on me, as I think Sony will get close: I’m bumping my annual forecast to 17.5 million to 18 million.
What else could drive results into March? Well, PlayStation VR2 launches in a few weeks though I’m tepid on its commercial upside. Virtual reality remains a niche market, and the cost to entry is high for a peripheral that requires a pricey base console. I expect 1 million units to ship in the quarter ending March, yet a marginal impact on the bottom line considering it’s also costly to make headsets.
There’s also Sony’s transmedia push, which is paying dividends for both gaming and its Pictures division. In particular, the collaboration with HBO on The Last of Us is a smash hit and having broader audience appeal beyond any expectation. It’s attracting massive viewership and driving sales of September’s console release of The Last of Us Part 1, which is also launching on PC before fiscal year-end, and June 2020’s The Last of Us Part 2.
Well, talk about a lot to cover! It’s been a busy season already. Thanks for checking out another recap. Head on over to the latest earnings calendar for more dates to come, and I’ll have a full rundown of Nintendo’s results after the company publishes them next week.
Until then, be safe everyone!
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥141.7.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, HBO Max (Image Credit), USA Today (Image Credit).