New year, same old calendar. It’s the first earnings season of 2023!
Long-time fans of the site know this is the place for the most comprehensive calendar of earnings dates covering companies across gaming, media and technology. The perfect post for any bookmarks bar.
My calendar’s grown over the years, now boasting over a hundred companies including content publishers, consumer electronic manufactures, software developers, cloud giants, media providers, independent game makers and internet conglomerates. I guarantee there’s something here for everyone.
The latest quarter of results will include sales from the highly-coveted holiday season for those involved in pushing products or attracting eyeballs. In general, it was a challenging quarter across these industries coming off highs of 2021, including a number of record-setting reports. Cost inflation, geopolitical issues and supply disruptions are all still present in the market, among other macroeconomic pressures. This year is off to a tough start for many folks in the tech industry in particular, as layoffs at major firms like Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon impact talented people whom I hope land on their feet.
In order to track everything, I’ve organized the above image and the below Google Sheets document for easy usage. I’ve also listed out three key companies to watch in the coming weeks within these industries. Thanks for visiting!
When Activision Blizzard reports its fiscal fourth quarter report in February, the big story remains the pending acquisition by Microsoft which has potentially hit snags in key regulatory markets. There’s also the tenuous relationship between management and workers during ongoing unionization efforts, plus workplace condition improvements that executives claim are happening. I don’t expect much in this department, though it would be ideal to hear more about how executives plan to make it a better place to work.
In terms of results, all signs point to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 having a massive holiday, so I expect Activision’s contribution to be sizeable which will boost the overall company on a growth trajectory. On the other hand, I’m bearish on Overwatch 2 and Blizzard’s recent output. Looking ahead, forecasts should be strong as Diablo IV launches in June and there’s still the mysterious language around this year’s “premium” Call of Duty release. Could this be an opportunity to say if it’s a new annualized title or an expansion for the latest game? While I’d welcome it, color me a skeptic.
Embracer Group (EMBRAC B): Thursday, February 16th
During mid-February, when Embracer Group reports its third fiscal financials of 2022, the big question will loom: Are there any companies soon to be embraced by its acquisition touch? All has been quiet lately on the purchasing front for Embracer since snatching up Square Enix assets last year, curious for a company known to gobble up studios big and small to expand its robust portfolio and add to the “quantity over quality” strategy. As of its recent Q2 update, the broader group has 12 operating groups, almost 16 thousand employees, 132 internal studios and a whopping 234 projects in the pipeline. Twenty five of which are supposedly AAA level launches due by March 2026.
Still, partially on lackluster reception of key titles like Saints Row and the recent delay of Dead Island 2 yet again, the company reduced its full-year forecast. Combine that with a major structural change in Volition, the team behind Saints Row, becoming a part of Gearbox Publishing, and I’m curious about the viability of big budget releases for Embracer as opposed to targeting that mid-cost tier like SpongeBob SquarePants and Goat Simulator alongside select re-releases of legacy game properties. Its business is now diversified enough to weather storms, yet I’m still waiting for the sort of organic growth that comes from buying companies over a number of years.
Ubisoft (UBI): Thursday, February 16th
Out of all the big third-party gaming publishers, Ubisoft had a tough go in 2022. Even before its upcoming third quarter earnings announcement, it preemptively shared a gloomy financial update and outlook change just a couple weeks back. In addition to blaming macroeconomic conditions, the same ones its peers are operating under, management pointed to costs associated with cancelling three more unannounced projects on top of four it already killed back in July. Part of the rough patch is under-performance from Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and Just Dance 2023, the former being the most baffling considering how well Nintendo Switch titles tend to sell.
In what’s turned into a meme, Ubisoft also yet again delayed pirate game Skull & Bones to an undetermined time in “early fiscal 2023 – 2024.” Reports recently point to the company experimented with upwards of a dozen battle royale projects, following its theme of chasing trends instead of setting them. CEO Yves Guillemot and team claim that upcoming releases like Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will bolster the business and help its return to growth, yet I’m skeptical this can actually be a bounce-back year for Ubisoft. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been quietly shopping itself around to potential buyers, perhaps garnering interest from Tencent or Amazon, because its model hasn’t been working lately. 2023 is as important a year as ever in the company’s history, and its future as a going concern.
In the first article of my year-end series, I’ll run through the biggest trends impacting gaming, media and technology during 2022.
It was a curious time of both disruption and normalization. For the former, there was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Countries grappled with lingering effects of coronavirus. Inflationary pressure combined with economic slowdowns across various regions. Billionaires and executives alike threw around money to scoop up companies. Gaming publishers delayed titles and shifted their release calendars.
As for the latter, companies everywhere settled into a “new normal” of hybrid working. Inflation started to cool in recent months. Consumer electronic manufacturers shored up supply chains, and began producing more inventories. Notably within gaming hardware. Consumers shifted back towards forms of entertainment outside their homes.
Way back in January, I predicted some of these would happen. Though certainly not all of them! That said, now that we’ve experienced it, here’s a list of major stories that fundamentally changed these sectors during 2022. Here’s hoping this article trends towards keeping your interest!
Games Industry WorkersIncreased Unionization Efforts
This is one of my predictions that I’m happy came true. Employees fighting for their rights, notably those that work in gaming, ramped up substantially in the last 12 months. In January, Quality Assurance (QA) workers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software started up the Game Workers Alliance (GWA). Then in May, that team became the first union ever to form at a gaming publisher in the United States. Later, Vodeo Games was the first entire gaming studio in North America to unionize when it voted in September.
More recently, earlier this month Microsoft executives said they would recognize a union being formed by roughly 300 employees of ZeniMax Studios. This in particular is a significant move towards worker rights, as the Communication Workers of America (CWA) celebrated Microsoft’s willingness to recognize and not force a protracted legal battle. Seeing a company as massive and influential as Microsoft to make this decision showed how 2022 was a significant year for unions and workers’ rights in the games industry, and I fully expect this trend to accelerate into 2023.
Social Media, Elon Musk’s Twitter & TikTok’s Expansion
I’m lumping in a couple topics here that dominated the social media landscape this past year. It’s hard to avoid hearing from billionaire weirdo and apartheid apologist Elon Musk, especially when he single-handedly upended the space with his October purchase of Twitter for $44 billion. What followed in the coming weeks was a simultaneous mass exodus from the firm and Musk touting how the platform saw record engagement. Thankfully he claims he’ll be stepping down as Chief Executive Officer soon, because a poll of Twitter uses told him to do so, though the damage has been done for many that moved towards the likes of alternatives in Hive Social or Mastodon.
Elsewhere, in the video streaming world, TikTok’s popularity skyrocketed in 2022 after gaining traction during quarantine times. It began the year with over 1 billion monthly active users (MAUs). Statista estimates it will end the year at upwards of 1.7 billion MAUs, and will likely pass 2 billion in 2023. It’s been downloaded over 3.5 billion times, only the 5th platform ever to accomplish this figure and the first on that list to not be owned by Facebook parent Meta Platforms. The short-form video content platformer has become a premier destination, both for creators and fans, and often dictates trends or news stories especially among its younger users.
Evolution of Working: Remote, Hybrid & Four-Day Work Weeks
Even if certain leaders (see the aforementioned Musk) insist on forcing people back into the office, plenty of big companies settled into a hybrid working compromise in 2022. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Meta have all embraced some form of a hybrid working model. Almost 90% of European companies surveyed by Owl Labs planned to offer hybrid solutions post-pandemic. On the upside, it’s a much more flexible environment for workers and often acts as a welcoming culture for talent. Downside is there are still disruptions in workflow and tech availability, which can push software or products back. As exhibited by how many big title delays happened in the games industry especially.
Additionally, various gaming companies experimented with instituting four-day work weeks, meant to alleviate crunch and provide a more balanced work-life dynamic. Eidos Montreal, Eidos Sherbrooke, Kitfox Games, Armor Games, ManaVoid Entertainment, Young Horses Games and Crows Crows Crows are examples of studios that have shifted towards this type of schedule while maintaining pay levels for their employees. Not only is it promoting work-life harmony, it’s an excellent bargaining chip for companies when attracting talent.
Microsoft & Activision Blizzard Facing Regulatory Scrutiny & Sony’s Ire
It’s hard to believe that Microsoft announced its $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard this past January. It feels like the biggest story in gaming, perhaps ever, and the resulting talk about further consolidation in the games industry has been in the news cycle for an eternity. The company’s representations argue that it will actually increase competition and aid development resources because of access to Xbox Game Pass and more direct financial support, and has offered good faith deals to Sony, Nintendo and Valve to have Activision’s bellwether franchise Call of Duty remain on other platforms for at lease a decade. So far, only Nintendo and Valve have accepted.
While certain jurisdictions like Brazil and Saudi Arabia have already approved the deal, other regions and countries are scrutinizing it closely. Namely the United Kingdom’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) and now Lina Khan’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) here in the United States, the latter of which is seeking to potentially block the purchase by pushing the Seattle-based tech giant towards a major legal battle. Then of course there’s Sony, Microsoft’s main competitor in the premium console space, that’s naturally opposed to it. Personally I still think the acquisition will happen, perhaps with some conditions, just not before Microsoft’s target of June 2023.
Supply Chain & New Gaming Hardware Inventory Rebound
Can you believe it’s been two years since the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S family? And almost a year since Valve’s Steam Deck handheld (a device from that I think has revolutionized PC and portable gaming)? To say it’s been a tumultuous beginning to the new console cycle is an understatement, as supply disruptions plus chip shortages have made it difficult for consumers to find these boxes at retail. Though after a rough stretch in the front half of the year, indicators are finally signaling better availability.
Supply chains are improving, part prices are topping out and suppliers are pushing more inventory to market. This is illustrated by better hardware results lately for key markets like the United States, where both new families have been growing, sometimes in the double-digits. Data from a Top 5 global games market in the United Kingdom show that November was the biggest month of 2022 for console sales. Valve’s Steam Deck shipments have risen drastically since the February launch, when the company was dealing with slowdowns amidst long waiting lists. There’s also Sony’s upbeat target for hardware shipments during its current fiscal year. It’s safe to say these stats are pointing to a positive trend, and certainly bodes well for the new year, during which I expect upward growth for all three devices.
Weakness in Mobile Drives Lower Spending on Games Industry
Admittedly this is a miss for me when it comes to my prediction, as I expected global games industry value to be flat or up slightly in 2022. The reason? Mainly because I was more optimistic than I should have been on mobile. Even with the late year output push by hardware manufacturers, spending across games is trending downward for this past year. Both globally and within the United States, as Newzoo expects the former to decline 4% to $184 billion and The NPD Group currently shows domestic spending down 6% to $48.97 billion through November.
At a global scale, mobile’s value is trending 6% lower to $92 billion. Within the United States, this sub-category is likely to show between a 1% to 2% dip. To illustrate how significant this is, that would be the first time in Sensor Tower’s tracked history in which mobile experiences an annual decline. And it usually makes up half or more of the Video Game Content category, which is the largest contributor to U.S. spending. Combine mobile weakness with the impact of a sparser release calendar for premium games and global hardware sales looking to move down 4% to $52 billion, and 2022 is trending closer and closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Continued Expansion of Subscriptions, Streaming & Cloud Services
As expected by nearly every talking head that covers consumer sectors and technology, including yours truly, 2022 showed further movement towards subscriptions, streaming and cloud across various media types. These sorts of ongoing digital content distribution strategies are all the rage at companies, from Walt Disney Co’s Disney Plus and Warner Bros’ HBO Max to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass alongside Sony’s PlayStation Plus. This past year featured many avenues to watch television shows, check out new films and enjoy game libraries, whether locally or on streaming devices. Disney Plus recently passed 164 million subscribers, up 12 million year-on-year. The combined audience of Walt Disney’s streaming platforms rose almost 4 million in the quarter ending September. While Netflix’s user base initially declined in the early parts of its latest fiscal year, it’s since rebounded to 223 million after adding 2.4 million in the latest quarter, above estimates.
In gaming, Sony rebranded its PlayStation Plus service back in June to offer certain new titles as part of the Premium tier. Microsoft said Xbox Game Pass is showing growth on console and PC, though the former is slowing as the market saturates, and shared that 20 million people have used its cloud streaming tech which is twice as many as in 2021. Finally, Microsoft signed a deal to offer Xbox Game Pass on new Samsung televisions, a move that further exhibits how distribution will be in the future without even a need for gaming hardware. Digital is now dominant in these sectors with its allure of ongoing revenue and audience retention, and I expect even more segmentation across 2023 and beyond.
There you have my coverage of the biggest trends of 2022. Thanks for reading this far! Head back to the 2022 Year-in-Review Megapost for all year-end content here at Working Casual, and be well everyone.
Sources: Chris Chang (Image Credit), Company Investor Websites, GamesIndustry.Biz, Getty Images, Newzoo, The NPD Group, Owl Labs, PlayStation Blog, Sensor Tower, Social Shephard, Statista, ThisisEngineering (Image Credit).
It’s the last week of 2022. Which means one thing, of course.
We’ll see the ball drop soon on the new year? Well, maybe. But actually: It’s time for Working Casual’s annual Year-in-Review series!
This will be the sixth installment of the perennial article set celebrating gaming, media, technology and the trends, companies and smaller teams making big impacts across these sectors.
In a broad sense, major stories within these included the evolution of hybrid working, supply chain and logistics recoveries, better widespread unionization efforts, subscription services rebranding towards growth, cloud gaming expansion, major delays for AAA titles, general consumer spending declines, ongoing games tapping the Metaverse, the volatility of cryptocurrency, and, a personal favorite, the innovation of Valve’s Steam Deck on the gaming hardware front.
Throughout the next week, I’ll have multiple articles covering everything that was the past year. Trends, companies, indie studios and my favorite games will engulf the site like fireworks in the night sky. See below for the article titles. I recommend bookmarking and checking back often as I post them leading up to New Year’s Day.
The fourth quarter is here, which means it’s time for the final earnings season of 2022!
And with that, I’m here to host yet another earnings calendar extravaganza here at the site. I like to think of this as the premier calendar on the entire internet covering gaming, technology and media sectors! Probably, at least..
(Mainly because no one else is a big enough nerd to compile it.)
Every quarter here, I gather up a list of dates for companies presenting their latest financial reports and sharing how their business is faring with analysts and investors alike. This time around, it’s for the quarter or other time frame ending in September. It now features over 100 companies!
The next few weeks are going to be busy and intriguing, based on a variety of macroeconomic and industry-specific pressures hitting companies. Certain economies are experiencing contractions in output and labor markets yet higher prices across the board, leading to potential recessions or stagflation scenarios. There’s also the year-on-year comparisons to highs of pandemic spending, in particular for gaming and mobile. People may not have as much discretionary income as recent years, leading to more calculating buying habits outside of the essentials.
Even so, I expect many results will be slightly more upbeat than last quarter. Especially when it comes to consumer electronics companies and device manufactures, since there’s certain indicators that supply is improving and part costs might be hitting a plateau.
What’s the best way to prepare to follow all the goings on this season? Well, saving the above image and visiting our handy Google Sheets link below. Please shoot a message via email or social media with any issues.
That said, read below the proverbial fold to see three companies I’ll be watching closely. Thanks for hanging out! Be safe, everyone.
I’m quite optimistic as major third party developer and publisher Electronic Arts reports its second quarter of fiscal year 2023 as the calendar turns to November. It was one of the few gaming companies to generate growth last quarter, mainly due to its business mix skewing towards live services and ongoing franchises. Its flagship Madden NFL 23 launched in August, thus will contribute greatly to the latest quarter. The company has notably invested in both racing games and mobile in recent years, with F1 22 zooming to a good start back in July. Then there’s the ever-present Apex Legends which has stepped into the role of being EA’s main shooter series as Battlefield regroups. Executives will also provide updates on its upcoming product pipeline with titles like Dead Space remake, PGA Tour 2023, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Need for Speed Unbound.
Sony Corp (SNE): Tuesday, November 1st
After a somewhat soft start to its 2022 fiscal year last quarter, Sony is also set to release its second quarter results in early November. While the Japanese consumer tech conglomerate raised its overall revenue forecast for the full year, it reduced guidance for the PlayStation division. Especially for profitability. Intriguingly, it reiterated the original 18 million unit sales target for PlayStation 5 hardware, implying a level of bullishness for the console business during the coming holiday season and beyond. There have been signs of improved inventories and supply chain easing, with PlayStation console sales increasing lately in major markets. Sony will also benefit from new third party releases like the aforementioned Madden NFL 23, among others, plus The Last of Us Part 1 and PC ports of select franchises. I’m also curious about the impact on its services output now that its rebranded PlayStation Plus has been on market for a quarter. Overall, I’m expecting a slight contraction in quarterly performance for its gaming segment yet hardware will likely stay on target.
CD Projekt SA (CDR): Monday, November 28th
It’s been an eventful year for CD Projekt, which reports fiscal 2022 third quarter results late in November. As part of its broader approach, the Polish developer and publisher has moved to a multi-project pipeline with a good portion of its resources focused recently on fixing Cyberpunk 2077 plus pumping out its new generation update while others are working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s own update, still allegedly scheduled for 2022. Because of improvements and its Edgerunners anime show, Cyberpunk 2077 has experienced a resurgence lately that will certainly benefit this upcoming report. Then, earlier this month, CD Projekt shared a blowout strategy update that includes a bevy of new projects: an expansion and sequel to Cyberpunk 2077, at least three new Witcher universe titles and a brand new IP under the code name Project Hadar. I’ve been vocally skeptical of management since it rushed out Cyberpunk 2077 almost two years ago. This sort of transparency and realignment is reassuring, though only if the company can deliver on its myriad of promises. Which is quite the big “if” in my opinion.
Sources: Cash Macanaya (Image Credit), Company Investor Relations Websites.
Mixed as they were. Overall sales and profit grew for Sony overall, in part due to a weaker yen and boosts from the likes of Pictures and Music. However, sales within its PlayStation business declined amidst a variety of factors. This was mostly expected based on a high comparable last year, a limited suite of first-party exclusive games plus signs of a broader slowdown in discretionary spending.
Sony’s Game & Network Services (G&NS) segment sales declined in the low single digits over the last 3-month period, marking the lowest Q1 output since fiscal year 2019. Profitability took an even bigger hit, moving down almost 40%, due to general weakness in software plus increased spending on its pending projects.
Hardware proved to be the main bright spot, experiencing a double-digit revenue rise as PlayStation 5 reached 21.7 million in lifetime units shipped. That’s after selling-in 2.4 million boxes in the April to June period, up ever so slightly from last year’s 2.3 million.
Sony also reduced its financial forecast for the PlayStation business, revising downward both revenue and profit metrics while highlighting it expects a bigger decline in 3rd-party software sales. Profit will also be impacted by closing the purchase of Bungie, which went effective a couple weeks back.
Somewhat surprisingly, management reiterated its PlayStation 5 hardware shipment target at 18 million consoles for full year. I tend to disagree, personally. I believe Sony’s management is exceptionally bullish in the face of continued pressure from multiple angles, including supply chain and broader price pressure. I expect reduced guidance within the next two quarters unless input costs drastically improve.
“At this point in time, we have made no change to our 18 million unit sales forecast for PlayStation hardware in FY22,” said executives in the company’s prepared remarks. “But since we are seeing a recovery from the impact of the lockdown in Shanghai and a significant improvement in the supply of components, we are working to bring-forward more supply into the year-end holiday selling season.”
Time to move forward into recapping the underlying financials and make some fun predictions of my own!
First referencing the slides from Sony in the above gallery, these display how it generated $17.86 billion in revenue during the quarter which is up 2%. Operating profit rose 3% to $2.37 billion.
Both these set all-time highs for a first quarter, when measured in local currency. I’m using an average exchange rate to convert into dollars.
Given the environment these are very good, even if slight, gains. Granted, it’s worth reiterating how a weak yen will help top-line growth for global consumer companies like Sony.
That currency impact is on display within the PlayStation business, where its top-line would have been even worse if the exchange rate impact wasn’t as robust. Sony’s gaming division saw revenue dip 2% to $4.67 billion. With higher costs recently, operating profit declined a precipitous 37% to $408 million.
As the G&NS segment slide shows, the top-line revenue includes a substantial foreign exchange rate impact. It also accounts for a decline in both 1st and 3rd party software, a trend consistent with Xbox’s quarter as well. Compared to this time in 2021, people simply aren’t spending as much time or money on software and related content, even if they still have demand for hardware.
This exact dynamic is reflected in the product category slide from its supplemental information and the colorful chart I’ve compiled. Sales from Physical Software, Digital Software and Add-On Content all fell double-digits in the quarter. Hardware and Others, which includes peripherals and first-party game sales not on PlayStation platforms, boosted 12% and 28% respectively. Network Services is also proving to be resilient right now, moving up a modest 4%.
The two additional charts provided expand Sony’s reporting over the latest 12-month period, a method I use to smooth out results and provide better perspective on how companies are performing. It smooths seasonality and considers the last four quarters in aggregate. On the revenue side, PlayStation revenue topped $21 billion. Which is up compared to this time last year when it was $20.6 billion. Operating profit is also up year-on-year, from $2.33 billion in the 12 months ending June 2021 to $2.44 billion now.
What does that mean? Well, in the scope of recent years, these quarterly drops aren’t as damaging as they seem because the last few quarters have been abnormally high for the games industry. It’s that normalization I’ve written about before, as things like global inflation and folks seeking other forms of entertainment enter the picture.
In comparison to industry peers like Tencent, Microsoft and Nintendo, Sony’s current gaming output is near the top. Tencent’s recent annual figure is roughly $33 billion, continuing its reign as the biggest gaming company in the world by sales. Then Sony slots in next at $21 billion, which is lighter lately because it’s converted from a currency in free fall. Microsoft recently reported $16.22 billion, while Nintendo’s latest from last quarter is around $15 billion. The last two years have been a healthy time for the biggest publishers, manufacturers and developers, given all that’s happened, so some headwinds now are natural.
In addition to the financial metrics I love to highlight, Sony shared a variety of additional figures on software sales, digital contribution, services and engagement factors. All very important in gauging the well-being of PlayStation as a business.
First, I’ll talk software sales, the bread and butter of any gaming ecosystem. We already know that revenue from these sources declined in the double-digits, which is reflected in unit sales as well. Full game software on PlayStation platforms dipped 26% to 47.1 million units. Within that, first party titles (those published by PlayStation) lowered even further, down 39% to 6.4 million.
This period includes the second quarter for titles like Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7 and MLB The Show 22. It could mean sales a few weeks out from launch are lower because people are playing less, which they are, or potential buyers are waiting until discounts because many new generation titles now start at a higher price point. Which extends the length of a title’s sales trajectory, though earns Sony less per unit sold over time.
Those gamers that are buying software for PlayStation platforms are doing so via its digital storefront more than ever. The number of digital game units sold compared to the total reached 79%, which ties an all-time high set back during the quarter between January and March 2020. To say it another way, fiscal Q1 had the same digital proportion as around the beginning of major quarantines during the early parts of the pandemic.
With respect to player count and engagement, it’s another mixed bag. PlayStation Plus memberships rose 1 million compared to last year’s number, currently reaching 47.3 million subscribers. It’s almost the same number as last quarter, down only around 100K. On the other hand, the key metric of Monthly Active Users (MAUs) showed weakness, going down from 105 million last year to 102 million now.
Sony’s explanation is that hours spent on the platform came in below estimates. Which fits with my expectation, given the release slate and other entertainment options.
“Total gameplay time for PlayStation users declined 15% year-on-year in Q1,” management said in its remarks. “Gameplay time in the month of June improved 3% compared with May and was down only 10% versus June 2021, but this is a much lower level of engagement than we anticipated in our previous forecast.”
This report also marks a bittersweet milestone, as Sony no longer reports hardware sales for the PlayStation 4. The 2013 console ends its historic run around 117 million units sold globally. That’s enough to be the second best-selling home console of all time behind only the PlayStation 2. Where does PlayStation 5 stack up against its predecessor right now? Well, PlayStation 4 had shipped 25.4 million by its seventh quarter on market, meaning PlayStation 5 is lagging by almost 4 million units. Congrats to everyone behind the PlayStation 4, one of the highest-selling devices across the history of gaming.
Stepping back to take it all in, Sony’s fiscal first quarter results were mildly impressive overall while expected temporary weakness hit the PlayStation segment. Three months ago, I wrote about being more cautious than Sony’s management on its gaming prospects for the coming fiscal year. So, this sort of decline fits with that hypothesis, which I’m continuing here.
“The results forecast we announced in May incorporated an outlook for the growth of the global economy developed in January as well as major risks contemplated at the time of the forecast such as the direct impact of the situation in Ukraine and the impact of COVID-19 in China,” executives noted in the company’s prepared remarks.
The highest profile aspect of guidance is PlayStation 5 hardware, where Sony stubbornly kept the 18 million unit sales target for the year ending March 2023. While the next couple quarters will feature software titles that can be system-sellers, my problem is how chip prices could rise in the double-digits over the remainder of this year, and shutdowns or lockdowns will continue to impact part suppliers in the pipeline. My current target is between 15 to 16 million sold this fiscal year for PlayStation 5, implying it still has upwards of 13 to 13.5 million to go.
I also want to address a question that arose during today’s earnings call. Per a transcription from Video Games Chronicle, executives were asked about the potential for a price increase for PlayStation 5. That’s right, an increase! In fairness, Sony has recently bumped up prices for certain items in its local Japanese market plus Meta increased the cost of its Quest 2 virtual reality headset by US$ 100.
Even given the challenges faced by electronic manufacturers right now, I think it’s potential product suicide to drastically raise prices on consumers that are already cash-strained. Especially when it comes to the PlayStation 5, which already sees inflated secondhand prices amidst rampant scalping and limited inventories. Thankfully, Sony Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki agrees, for now, and dismissed the question.
On the financial forecast side for the remainder of this fiscal year, Sony raised its sales estimate by 1% while simultaneously reducing its operating income projection by 4%. For PlayStation alone, it revised revenue and profit downward by 1% and 16% respectively. That PlayStation profit reduction stands out the most, factoring increased costs associated with closing Bungie and Haven Studios acquisitions.
I’d say I’m cautiously bullish on this update. Even with big blockbusters like Madden 2023, FIFA 2023 and the highly-anticipated God of War Ragnarök on the horizon in the coming months, I’m worried about those diminishing engagement hours, lower spend on ongoing content and, of course, stagnating hardware production. Uncertainty is the enemy of those who make predictions, so I’ll keep my tentative outlook and say I think we might see lower results.
One wildcard in this scenario is PlayStation VR2, which has a launch roadmap that’s apparently in full swing according to PlayStation Blog. I continue to be shocked by how soon Sony is showing the device, which I didn’t expect for at least another year or more. It seems like it’s been in development for a long while, though release has been pushed back given the difficulties of supplying PlayStation 5, which is necessary to run the headset.
I don’t know if it’s a wise decision to spend on making and marketing both PlayStation 5 and PlayStation VR2 during a holiday season where costs are moving up across the board, and consumers can barely find the console at retail. Does Sony intend to launch the peripheral before March 2023 to meet that fiscal year deadline? Can it match the US$ 400 price tag I think it needs to be attractive? Based on where it’s at in development, I can see it. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the move.
Thus concludes another recap session during this busy earnings season. Hop over to my full calendar for more on when other companies are reporting in the coming weeks, and thanks for taking the time to visit the site! Be safe, friends.
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥129.4.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites, Getty Images (Photo Credit), Meta, PlayStation Blog, Video Games Chronicle.
What’s the best way to cool off when global warming has you melting?
Well, it’s probably being in the shade, staying hydrated, sitting in front of a fan or pumping up that air conditioner.
Personally, I’d add checking out the latest calendar here because the latest earnings season is underway!
As long-time fans of the site know, every quarter companies gear up to report their latest results and host conference calls with analysts. It’s going to be an eventful one for gaming, media and technology as consumer spending habits are shifting lately in light of rampant inflation and higher interest rates.
I expect to see mixed results and significant headwinds, especially among those companies with focused revenue streams. The past couple years brought substantial growth in these spaces and it’s time for mean reversion to take over. Though a general movement towards subscriptions and ongoing content will soften the blow of weaker product sales and supply constraints.
Going forward, I’ll have some articles up the next couple weeks summarizing results for select companies in these sectors. For now, see the above image or the Google Sheets link below for a rundown of earnings dates for 100 companies. I’ve also quickly highlighted three companies to watch in this current environment.
Note that for international firms, days are displayed in local time zones based on investor relations announcements. Stay cool and be safe everyone!
The world’s largest consumer electronics company is always a barometer for spending habits, and it reports third quarter fiscal 2022 results this week. This is a major moment to see how much inflation has affected buying and upgrading of Apple products, namely its flagship iPhone line. Analysts expect upwards of $82 billion in quarterly revenue, an increase from $81.4 billion, however earnings-per-share could decline from $1.30 to $1.16. Executives told the market last quarter to expect anywhere between a $4 billion to $8 billion hit on revenue due to supply challenges and China lock-downs. It still sounds like demand for its main products are keeping up, plus other areas like services will boost contributions. I’m usually upbeat that Apple will report better-than-expected profitability, and that’s no different this time around. Which would signal some resilience in consumer buying in what might already be a recession for certain economics, including the United States.
Unity Software Inc (U): Tuesday, August 9th
Gaming engine maker Unity reports fiscal 2022 second quarter results in early August, and has been in the news a lot lately. Not for the best reasons, I might add. It’s been very active in the merger and acquisition department for a while now. Last year alone, it purchased Parsec and Weta Digital. This year, Ziva Dynamics. Then its biggest deal is a controversial one in that it’s merging with digital app monetization company ironSource as announced two weeks back. This deal values ironSource, which has an infamous reputation for software with a history of being flagged as malware, at $4.4 billion. As part of the interview circuit alongside this deal announcement, CEO John Riccitiello had some choice words for developers making games without also considering how to monetize, calling them “f***ing idiots.” He has since apologized, of course, but the original sentiment expressed by the person who runs this company is likely to cause hesitation among those creators using Unity as a platform after the merger occurs. Not to mention, the company isn’t profitable right now so this is an important time from a financial standpoint as well.
NetEase Inc (NTES): Mid August
Mobile publisher and internet tech giant NetEase hasn’t reported a specific date yet, though it will announce 2nd quarter of fiscal 2022 release around the middle of next month. The massive Chinese is making key moves lately, notably expanding into the West by creating its first U.S. studio in Jackalope Games along with a development team called Jar of Sparks out of Seattle. It’s also partnered with the likes of Warner Bros, Microsoft and Blizzard on experiences targeting audiences around the globe. Battle royale slasher Naraka: Bladepoint launched in late June. And although it’s after the latest quarter’s close, it brought Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal mobile title to China just this week, a game that exceeded 20 million downloads before even entering this massive market. It’s also been operating locally in a more constrained environment for releases, though will benefit from the government’s easing restrictions. As some other companies saw declines, NetEase generated double-digit revenue and profit growth last quarter, driven by online game sales.
It’s April, which means a lot of things. The weather is feeling nicer here in the States, Uncle Sam has looked over our tax bills, many celebrated Easter, plus Ramadan is still underway. Way more important than any of those, naturally, is another earnings season!
As is tradition here, we’ll be celebrating the season with another list of earnings dates across gaming, media and technology sector companies. I like to think it’s the most comprehensive list on the internet covering these sectors, now featuring over 100 public companies.
It’s still best efforts of course, and certain exact dates aren’t known yet. I’ve marked those accordingly with general windows based on historical timing.
April to May is always a busy one because a number of fiscal years end in March, in which case we hear both fourth quarter and full-year results. Either that or it’s the first quarter of a brand new fiscal year, giving an indication of where a company is trending.
Read below the fold for a handy Google Sheets document and three major companies to watch in the next few weeks. I’ll be covering certain results here at the site, and even more on social media.
In a couple weeks, Sony Corp will report its full year 2021 results. On the radar for me is the Japanese tech conglomerate reporting updated PlayStation segment financials, PlayStation 5 hardware shipments, subscription numbers for its services plus engagement statistics. At present, PlayStation 5 global shipments total 17.2 million which is lagging its predecessor at this point in the life cycle. Based on regional data this quarter, I expect hardware shipments for Sony have been impacted most by supply constraints among the “big three” console makers. The big news lately is the rebranding of its PlayStation Plus subscription, which begins in June. I’d like to hear anything from executives on that topic, then a long shot of management mentioning more on their PC strategy for its published software titles.
Ubisoft Entertainment: Wednesday, May 11th
Major third party publisher Ubisoft also posts annual results in mid-May, and it’s an important one. With consolidation in the games industry ramping up, the French company is one many “insiders” claim as an acquisition target, even after fending off Vivendi a couple years back. Now, “deal talks” are constant in business especially for private equity firms. That’s the sole purpose of their existence. So I don’t know if there’s any fire under that smoke, yet anything is possible these days. There’s also the past reports of rampant misconduct and harassment, which has been somewhat overshadowed by Activision Blizzard’s woes and lawsuits. While Ubisoft has moved to fire certain bad actors and improve conditions, Yves Guillemot is still top dog and these things happened under his watch. I want to hear more about steps in making it a better place to work. On the financial side, it should present on Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction (which has been quiet and I wonder if it under-performed), catalog title impact notably Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. Plus, expect the usual update on its pending slate of releases which include Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and, allegedly, Skull & Bones.
NVIDIA Corporation: Wednesday, May 25th
Last on my list here of stocks to watch is NVIDIA, one of the later companies to report during May. This will be its fiscal 2023 first quarter offering. The chip maker and gaming processor provider is often referenced as a bellwether for semiconductor progress and availability across gaming and related industries. Last quarter, it showed massive growth in revenue and profit, the latter nearly doubled year-on-year, and analysts are anticipated over 40% top-line improvement for January to March results. It’s benefiting tremendously from the global semiconductor shortage because it’s scooping up as many as it can, there’s pent up demand for its graphics processing units (GPUs) and enterprise products plus PC buying is still high. It’s almost less about what NVIDIA has done and more where it expects to go with its forecasts. Many experts expect the chip shortage to continue in the foreseeable future through next year! Not to mention this is the first quarterly report since NVIDIA stepped away from its $40 billion bid for Arm Holdings in February due to “regulatory challenges,” which means it’s flushed with capital for investment both organic and external.
In what’s continuing as the busiest year in gaming news ever, Sony is back after announcing its $3.6 billion acquisition of Bungie to this time reporting its fiscal year 2021 Q3 earnings results.
An eventful one, it was.
In addition to providing updated figures on PlayStation hardware, software and engagement, Sony’s results showed that the gaming division recorded its second best quarter ever for top-line sales. Quarterly revenue exceeded $7.15 billion, which is second only to last year’s $7.77 billion.
Even further, operating profit rose 15% to $817 million in PlayStation’s single best operating profit for a third fiscal quarter. This is the coveted holiday period between October and December, which is most significant for consumer tech companies because of peak demand in various parts of the world. This record profit result and strong growth happened against a high comparable last year around the launch of PlayStation 5.
Right now, and in the immediate future, we know it’s availability dictating a lot of where the business is going. So these results are wholly impressive given this environment, which is continuously supply-constrained and facing delays on the software front. Behind the resilience is add-on content, an expansion in PlayStation Plus memberships plus a shift towards digital software.
On the hardware side, lifetime PlayStation 5 console shipments since launch are now 17.3 million after moving 3.9 million in this latest quarter. When compared to PlayStation 4, the brand’s fastest-selling console, that was at 20.2 million by this point. Its second holiday quarter was a strong 6.4 million, which is 2.5 million above PlayStation 5. It’s clear the current generation is starting to lag in a historical sense, facing various outward pressures amidst the semi-conductor crisis.
Oh, I guess this also means PlayStation 5 has officially passed the 13.56 million units that Nintendo’s Wii U reached across its lifetime. Add it to the list.
Because of supply concerns, Sony reduced its full year annual hardware guidance for PlayStation 5 to 11.5 million units. Previously it expected in-line with PlayStation 4 at upwards of 14.8 million. This implies only 2 million more PlayStation 5’s shipped in this quarter ending March 2022, which would also be below PlayStation 4’s 2.3 million in the corresponding period.
“Limitations on the supply of components are expected to continue going forward, but we are continuing to exert every effort to meet the strong demand for PlayStation 5,” said Sony’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hiroki Totoki.
Here’s a full breakdown of the overall results plus PlayStation business segment, then the various supplementary statistics Sony shared. There’s even more color around the Bungie acquisition later in the article. Numbers, charts and more below!
For the company as a whole, both sales and profit metrics experienced double-digit gains and set new all-time highs for a fiscal third quarter.
Revenue increased 13% to $26.66 billion, while operating profit rose an impressive 32% to nearly $4.1 billion. Major growth in Pictures and Imaging & Sensing Solutions business segments boosted these historic results.
Drilling into Game & Network Services (G&NS), aka the PlayStation business, this is still Sony’s leading category by revenue at nearly twice as much as the next contributor in Financial Services. The PlayStation brand accounts for 27% of Sony’s sales and 20% of aggregate profit.
I’ve already mentioned the $7.15 billion in revenue, down 8% since last year, and $817 million in operating income during third quarter for G&NS. Slides from the company’s presentation cite declines in hardware, peripherals, first and third party software overtaking the impact of exchange rates on the sales side. Alternatively, lower expenses and better margins for PlayStation 5 spurred profit growth.
Those that have read my recap articles know what’s coming. Let’s frame these quarterly figures in context. There’s charts in the above gallery displaying trailing 12-month time frames for each of these.
Over the last four fiscal quarters, which is also calendar year 2021, PlayStation sits at almost exactly $24 billion in revenue. While down from the all-time high of $24.67 billion three months ago, it’s still the second best on record. Not too shabby. For operating profit, the most recent annual number is $2.56 billion and a slight increase over last quarter’s $2.45 billion.
The dip in trailing revenue makes sense, given the slowdown in hardware units and nearly every sub-category within the gaming business. The profitability bounce-back is more noteworthy, in my opinion. It reflects that amidst slowing production of hardware, there’s lower costs bumping up margins giving good impact to PlayStation’s bottom line.
The last of my charts in the gallery shows every product category within the gaming unit and where it’s been in recent quarters. My main observations are it’s the best time for digital software, the second best quarter for add-on content and even hardware, the latter two previously set during holiday 2020. There’s also the slow and steady upward trajectory of Network Services, proving that online play and the related software perks of PlayStation plus are keeping players in the ecosystem. The rumors around a potential combination of services into code-name “PlayStation Spartacus” would bolster this particular slice. I expect this trend-line to continue.
Now that Sony has reported, let’s quickly compare to industry peers. Pulled from my recent article on Microsoft’s results, here’s how it plays out. Sony’s trailing 12-month revenue of $24 billion still comes in below that of Tencent’s gaming businesses, generating $27.3 billion as of September 2021. Microsoft’s record $16.28 billion from annual Xbox sales is up next. If combined with Activision Blizzard, it would be $25.33 billion and actually could exceed Sony’s latest figure. Nintendo reports tomorrow, so I anticipate this figure to rise, however its latest for now is $14.7 billion. Keep in mind there’s impact from exchange rates of course plus Tencent won’t report until next month, though I like to show how each stacks up on a relative basis.
Beyond the fancy financials, Sony provided various updates on players, software and services within its PlayStation ecosystem.
Its online service PlayStation Plus tallied up 48 million subscribers as of December, slightly higher than the 47.4 million at end of 2020. On the flip side, Monthly Active Users (MAUs) across all PlayStation Network declined to 111 million from 114 million last holiday.
This implies that while paid users for PlayStation Plus are consistent, people are spending less time playing. No doubt impacted by last year being the launch of a brand new console, higher availability of vaccines recently plus more open economies. Gaming is still a go-to entertainment, of course. It’s just that folks are spending time on different media.
On the conference call, Totoki echoed this sentiment on engagement. “Total gameplay time of PlayStation users in December 2021 was 20% lower than the same month of the previous year, which was immediately after the release of the PlayStation 5,” he said. “But gameplay time increased approximately 7% from December 2019. For a quarter in which there were only a few major titles released, we think this was solid performance.”
I tend to agree, primarily because Sony is monetizing its base even as they spent less time gaming.
Full-game software sales also showed a downward trend year-on-year, declining to 92.7 million from the recent high of 104.2 million in fiscal 2020 Q3. First party title unit sales were 11.3 million, or 12% of the total, compared to 19 million and 18% of the total prior year. Partially reflective of the limited holiday lineup on the exclusive side, while major seller Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales hit market last year.
Consistent with digital software being its highest ever from a product category revenue standpoint, the split of digital full game sales is increasing. 62% of all software was digital download, compared to 53% last year. All three quarters this fiscal year have been at or above this same 62% figure. Basically, between 6 to 7 out of every 10 software units sold are now downloaded.
Because of known limitations on the PlayStation 5 production side, Sony is still chugging along manufacturing PlayStation 4 consoles. It shipped 200K of its prior generation box during the quarter ending December, resulting in lifetime sales of 116.9 million. At this rate, it might someday pass Game Boy’s 118.69 million. In a few years, hah.
Projecting into the future, it’s a challenging environment for the PlayStation from a hardware perspective though there are plenty of opportunities on the software and services side.
We’ve talked to death about high demand, low supply. My economics professors would be so proud!
Production and inventories aren’t getting better, as clearly displayed by PlayStation 5’s vast under-performance during a holiday quarter when unit sales have historically been much higher. Consistent with Sony’s formal guidance reduction, I’m lowering my estimate for PlayStation 5 shipments in the year ending this March. Last quarter, I was ambitious at 15 million. Even then I said confidence was waning. Now, I’m down to 12 million which would mean January to March has to reach 2.5 million.
Intriguingly, Sony lowered its fiscal year revenue outlook for the G&NS segment to $24 billion from $25.5 billion yet decided to boost its operating profit target from $2.86 billion to over $3 billion. This is a telling turn of events, signaling further cost reductions that will outpace lower dollar sales for PlayStation. Manufacturing less consoles does have the benefit of lower expenses, I suppose!
The last fiscal quarter ending next month will ramp up on the first party software side, as both Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7 are slated to launch. There’s also third party console exclusives like Sifu and now Ghostwire Tokyo, announced today for March 25th. While releases like this won’t drive console sales as much as in the past because of inventories, it will benefit software sales, notably that digital content segment, plus player time investment.
Finally on the topic of acquisitions, Sony’s executives naturally did not comment much when asked about Microsoft’s industry-changing $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard and if they had plans to snatch up any large publishers.
They did, of course, talk about their major purchase in Bungie. While I didn’t dedicate an entire piece to it, I did want to mention Sony providing additional flavor around the deal, the resulting relationship and how it fits with the future of PlayStation as a brand.
Bungie, creators of Halo and makers of my beloved Destiny, was one of the largest private independent studios in the industry at over 900 employees. To me the main reason to me why it made a deal with Sony, as opposed to a traditional publisher or a software and cloud company like Microsoft, is the trans-media potential of crossover with film and television plus the opportunity to remain mostly independent.
On Sony’s side of the bargain, the upside is huge. One glaring weakness in PlayStation’s portfolio is a lack of live service and ongoing game expertise, which is crucial in 2022 going forward. Bungie provides that, both from a business model and technology standpoint. Along these lines, execs claims global revenue in the games industry from live services have been growing at an annualized rate of 15% since 2014 or the year Destiny launched.
“We intend to utilize these strengths when developing game IP at the PlayStation studios as we expand into the live game services area,” Totoki pointed out. “Through close collaboration between Bungie and the PlayStation Studios, we aim to launch more than 10 diverse Service Games by the fiscal year ending March 31, 2026.”
Alongside this movement towards games-as-a-service, Totoki also discussed the mid-term plan to grow first party software dollar sales to double its current amount by fiscal 2025. Between this internal acceleration of exclusive IP, pushing more into ongoing games with the help of Bungie’s knowledge plus the potential for a Xbox Game Pass-like service in PlayStation Spartacus, Sony’s gaming approach is looking more balanced than it’s ever been.
It does seem to be a good compromise and united.. destiny for both companies.
That’s a wrap on a mostly successful quarter for Sony, especially as a whole with those record results, even considering the lag in PlayStation 5 shipments and downward revision for certain items in the PlayStation division. Other areas are picking up the slack, proven by the record profitability exhibited within its gaming business. While its forecast is lighter for hardware and gaming sales, that operating income guidance increase is reassuring.
Did anything stand out to you in the report? What was the most surprising part? Do you agree with my forecast for hardware or are you more conservative like Sony’s management team? Feel free to drop a comment here or on social media.
Be safe and well. Thanks for reading!
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise mentioned. Exchange rate is based on the reported conversion: US $1 to ¥113.7.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Websites,LEGDAY on Twitter (Image Credit).
The news cycle is busy and the very first earnings season of 2022 is now underway!
Here at the site, each quarter I organize a full calendar for various gaming, technology and media stocks around the globe to track financial reporting dates. It started as something I did to keep myself organized; it’s now grown into the most popular of all my regular posts. Thanks to everyone who uses it every few months!
For a quick reminder of how it works, the calendar is available in image form above. This time around instead of a Google Doc, I’ve transitioned to a Google Sheets link for easy access. Let me know if you have any trouble accessing it. It’s sorted by date based on the local time zone for each company. Using Nintendo as an example, its timing will be based on when it reports around Japan business hours. Why? Well, mainly because that’s what it shares at its investor site.
You’ll see that some of them aren’t final. In those cases where it’s unclear, I try to give an estimate or point out if it’s a future month. Mainly April or later, as certain companies report off schedule or only semi-annually. In the past I’ve even updated it as the dates near. That tends to be a fair amount of work and constant monitoring. So, now I do the best I can with the information at my disposal around when I post. Lately I’ve included fiscal period as an additional reference item.
I’m biased of course, though I highly recommend bookmarking this page for future use. It’s not a comprehensive list, but at almost 100 entries, it’s the closest thing you’ll find online covering these sectors. Check out below the link for three of the biggest stories this season. Enjoy!
Microsoft & Activision Blizzard: FY 2022 Q2, Tuesday, January 25th & FY 2021 Q4, Thursday, February 3rd
I’d say this one is a no brainer, given how Microsoft recently announced its intention to purchase Activision Blizzard for a staggering $68.7 billion. Each of these companies independently report within the next week or so, and I mostly expect a somewhat boilerplate commentary around the pending acquisition and its suggested closing date during Microsoft’s fiscal year ending June 2023. We already know Xbox Game Pass has 25 million subscribers and that the Xbox Series X|S is the “fastest-selling” in brand history. And how Call of Duty is still generating revenue like hot cakes. I’m mostly intrigued by the potential for analyst questions around the deal, poking and prodding on items like synergies, exclusivity, unionization, intellectual property, redundancies (layoffs?) plus Xbox Game Pass offerings. I’d also love to hear Phil Spencer on today’s Microsoft earnings call, usually reserved for topics like cloud and enterprise.
Meta Platforms Inc: FY 2021 Q4, Wednesday, February 2nd
The Company Formerly Known as Facebook has its first earnings announcement since the general Meta rebranding and restructuring of its financial segments next week. Yes, I expect a lot of buzzword talk around The Metaverse and what the company envisions that to be. I’m primarily curious about two topics: the company splitting out Reality Labs as a separate business unit and Mark Zuckerberg potentially paying anything other than lip service to government questions and traditional media coverage around privacy, safety and how its platforms are used for dangerous activities. An investor announcement yesterday covered what to expect for the first: current and recent historical performance for augmented and virtual reality, a business that includes Quest headsets that have seen consistently increasing demand especially last year. I don’t really expect much on the latter other than general references, unfortunately.
Take-Two Interactive & Zynga: FY 2022 Q3, Mon, February 7th & FY 2021 Q4, Early February
Before the aforementioned marriage between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard one-upped it, Take-Two’s pending purchase of Zynga for $12.7 billion was going to be the largest of all time in the games industry. The market initially reacted quite violently in terms of a decline in Take-Two’s share price, implying that it’s late to the party in its mobile expansion and it vastly overpaid for the Farmville creator. Still, it’s the type of move that Take-Two really had to make to keep pace with rivals snatching up other mobile publishers like Electronic Arts and Glu Mobile’s deal last year. In addition to more color around the acquisition, Take-Two is generous with unit sales and revenue figures for its major franchise. Grand Theft Auto V reached 155 million sold last quarter, I expect that to hit or pass 160 million this time. There should also be other updates on game performance including NBA 2K22, Red Dead Redemption 2 and various titles from Take-Two’s Private Division label.
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 megapostfor 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.