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

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

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

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

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