No rest for the writer!
Today continues an especially busy stretch of this latest earnings season, as Sony Corp just reported its fiscal 2023 second quarter results today out of Japan.
During this three months ending September, both the firm overall and the PlayStation division experienced revenue growth. And while profitability declined at the company level, the amount earned by Sony’s gaming business moved up double digits.
In fact, PlayStation just generated its best ever Q2 revenue in history.
That marks multiple record-breaking quarters in a row for Sony’s Game & Network Services (G&NS) segment, since Q1 hit its own all-time high as I covered a few months back. This past second quarter saw sales zip past $6 billion for the first time, jumping up more than 30% since last year.
Plus, unlike back in June, PlayStation has bounced back to profit growth this time. I’d argue this is even more substantial than record revenue because it accounts for expenses and really gets to the core of its ongoing health amidst a most turbulent of industries.
Underlying momentum was a higher PlayStation 5 contribution alongside better third party and add-on content performance. On the profit side, signs point to the Bungie acquisition costs being fully recognized, since there’s no longer a mention of the deal. Caveat being, similar to Nintendo, we can’t forget about the yen’s weakness on results for these kinds of Japanese companies that have a ton of overseas sales.
One major component is how PlayStation 5 shipped 4.9 million units between July and September, notably more than this time last year and the corresponding quarter for PlayStation 4. This figure was within management’s forecast, pushing lifetime PlayStation 5 sales to 46.6 million and closing the gap with its predecessor when launch-aligned, as I’ll dig into later.
As for the group’s forecast, executives increased guidance for annual gaming revenue across fiscal 2023 while maintaining guidance for operating income and PlayStation 5 hardware shipments at 25 million, which would be the single best year ever for the brand’s console output.
“We recognize selling more than 25 million PlayStation 5 units this fiscal year remains a challenging goal,” said Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki when talking to the media. “It will depend on how sales do in the year-end holiday season. We won’t pursue expanding the PlayStation 5 installment base alone, but will keep profitability in mind.”
Scroll down for a swing through the numbers then a set of my own predictions alongside Sony’s future forecasts.
Total revenue for Sony as a whole rose 3% to $19.6 billion, with the biggest growth contribution from G&NS, Sony Pictures and Music, offset by declines in other areas. However, operating profit at the group level declined 24% to $1.82 billion. This was led by quarterly declines for Financial Services, Imaging & Sensing Solutions and Entertainment, Technology & Services segments.
Focusing strictly on PlayStation during the three months ending September, revenue jumped up 32% to $6.6 billion. That’s an entire third of Sony’s overall business. It’s what I call a massive all-time number, considering last year’s $5 billion or so was also a Q2 record at the time.
A crucial note both in the broader context and at the PlayStation level is the specific impact of currency movement. Out of the $1.6 billion growth, upwards of $410 million is strictly because of foreign exchange rate changes. This helps understand how much of the trajectory is organic, compared to an economic market force like yen weakness.
Reversing its fortune compared to a decline in Q1, operating profit for G&NS moved up an impressive 16% to $340 million. That’s 19% of Sony’s group total. Affecting the plus side were both third party content sales and currency movement, plus there’s no longer any mention of certain acquisition costs that were dragging down profitability. I believe the $3.6 billion purchase of Bungie has been fully recognized now and will no longer affect the bottom line. On the downside, management cited how hardware has produced increased losses, I’d imagine due to higher manufacturing costs.
Checking out product category splits, which are shown in the last graph above, Hardware sales grew a whopping 60% since last year and contributed 30% of PlayStation’s total. The next largest segment at 23% of the pie was Add-On Content, moving up 18% in dollar value. Digital Software produced 39% growth, settling at 21% of the total. In fact, the only product type to decline was Physical Software, down a modest 4%.
Annual PlayStation revenue is tracking towards $28 billion. As you can see in the gallery above, on the revenue graph, this is well above the highest it’s ever been, over a billion more than last quarter. Essentially, if this keeps up, Sony’s gaming unit will have its best year of sales ever. On the other hand, annualized operating profit is at $1.75 billion, which compares more to the late days of the PlayStation 4 life cycle. Still great in a historical context, just not as strong as the past three years or so.
As of this week, the “big three” console manufactures have all reported their latest results. The sole remaining biggest player is Tencent, which will be later this month. Right now for comparison purposes, Sony’s $28 billion is tops for the industry. Even if backing out currency impact, it’s well in the lead. Tencent generated $25 billion as of last quarter, and Microsoft’s Xbox segment saw almost $16 billion (though that’s before accounting for anything from Activision Blizzard). Nintendo’s at $13 billion, albeit with more than twice as much annualized operating profit than PlayStation: $4.2 billion compared to $1.75 billion, respectively.
Heads up: enhanced launch-aligned PlayStation console sales chart is live!
This fancy visual aid gives more context to PlayStation 5’s improving shipment numbers. The console’s 4.9 million units sold-in last quarter is an increase of 48% compared to the 3.3 million in Q2 last year. Plus, it’s 26% higher than the PlayStation 4’s 3.9 million in the corresponding second quarter of fiscal 2016.
It’s the fourth quarter since PlayStation 5’s release in November 2020 that it moved more than 4 million units in a quarter, and one of those was that launch period.
Which means that PlayStation 5, at 46.6 million lifetime, has reversed course and narrowed the gap against its predecessor this quarter. It’s presently only a million units away from reaching PlayStation 4, boosting its trajectory since the supply challenges of yesteryear.
This latest lifetime figure means it’s also passed another gaming device on the all-time best-sellers list. That would be Nintendo’s 1980 handheld the Game & Watch, of course, which ended its tenure at 43.4 million. Next up will be Nintendo’s classic Super NES, which sold 49.1 million globally.
One statistic that Sony didn’t update was console sell-thru to consumers. Probably because it usually waits until a big milestone in order to do so. Earlier this year, the PlayStation 5 reached 40 million sold-thru as of July 16th. I’d bet it’s a bit higher now, maybe in the 45 million range, especially ahead of a system-seller like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. I don’t see a reason demand would have fallen off.
Digging more into the supplemental stats present in PlayStation’s presentation, full game software unit sales stood at 67.6 million in Q2, up from 62.5 million last year. However, due to a lighter calendar, the proportion of first-party published games was lower, making up 7% of that total as opposed to 11% a year back.
Digital versions accounted for 67% of PlayStation game sales, up from 63% in September 2022. This means that 2 out of every 3 premium games purchased for Sony’s platforms were downloadable.
As for player engagement, Monthly Active Users (MAUs) across all of PlayStation Network totaled 107 million as of September month-end. While this is down a million from the June quarter, it’s up 5 million since last year’s Q2. Management also said that total hours played moved up 4% in the latest three months.
Here is where I’ll continue to lament the loss of PlayStation Plus membership numbers, which Sony stopped reporting earlier this year. It will forever, at least for the foreseeable future, remain cemented at 47.4 million as of March 2023.
It’s been a historic run lately for Sony’s top-line gaming numbers, pumping out multiple quarter’s worth of record revenue and generating more than $6 billion in second quarter sales for the first time. PlayStation is the premier industry player by revenue right now, even if backing out the impact from the yen’s depreciation.
Profitability has certainly been more questionable, partially because of temporary factors like studio investments, acquisition expenses and hardware manufacturing costs. Still, it achieved a double-digit income boost in Q2 on hardware units ramp up and software support from external partners like Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive with their respective sports titles, plus something like Diablo IV from Blizzard Entertainment and the Warner Brothers Mortal Kombat 1.
Which is why it’s even more painful to hear about layoffs at various PlayStation studios, including Media Molecule, Visual Arts and Bungie. There continues to be a disconnect between executives and everyone else. It’s not just at Sony, this is just one of the more glaring examples especially as its profitability gets back on track.
Impossible as it is to follow that up, I’ll take a look now at the company’s forecast and make some quick predictions.
The firm revised its fiscal year 2024 PlayStation revenue upwards by 5%. Management now thinks gaming sales will surpass $30 billion when the 12 months end in March 2024, in what would be an astonishing finish and record-breaking result. It then reiterated operating profit guidance of $1.87 billion.
In order to hit the 25 million PlayStation 5 hardware unit target, it still needs to ship almost 17 million units across the next two quarters. 16.8 million to be exact. Even with new PlayStation 5 slim models and the PlayStation Portal, this remains a staggering target that will require an absurd holiday number then a miraculous January to March. For context, the largest holiday season ever for PlayStation 4 was 9.7 million in fiscal 2016, and its largest March quarter was 3.1 million right after launch.
Yea, I’m still not a believer. In that overly ambitious forecast or the over-priced peripheral that is the PlayStation Portal. I’ll keep my same prediction as back in August: 24 million to 24.5 million, leaning more towards the lower end.
With respect to software, note that Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 launched after the three months covered here. Still, Sony shared a sales update for Insomniac Games’ latest open world adventure, selling-thru 5 million copies to consumers after 11 days. It had previously started with the best first 24 hours in PlayStation history, at 2.5 million copies. It’s since fallen behind God of War: Ragnarök at 5.1 million in 3 days, nearly a year ago to the day. The Last of Us: Part 2 moved 4 million copies during its opening 3 days back in June 2020.
All in all, it’s a fantastic launch for Peter Parker and Miles Morales considering the size of the PlayStation 5 install base, clearly bolstering the company’s expectations for the back half of this year.
The final bit of relevant news from Sony’s earnings was a comment around its live service strategy, moving into next fiscal year and beyond. As reported by Video Games Chronicle, CFO Hiroki Totoki mentioned that out of its previously-planned 12 live service titles originally scheduled for launch by end of Fiscal 2025, only half of them are on target. Considering how much time and money Sony is putting into this effort, moving them out is a big deal for its financial future and resource allocation. Personally, I remain skeptical that all of them well actually hit market at any point.
Whew. Well, that’s a wild week of coverage coming to a close. I hope you enjoyed this latest recap. Thanks much for hanging around during this season. I’ll have more coverage here and on social media as another eventful year approaches its inevitable end. Take care!
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥144.4.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, Yahoo Finance, Video Games Chronicle.