Here we dough!
Turns out, the Switch is still paying off during its twilight years. Quite literally, for Nintendo.
It sure doesn’t hurt to have a film based on one of the world’s most recognizable mascots either.
Yesterday in Japan, Nintendo reported fiscal year 2024 first quarter financial results. It proved to be a massive three months for the gaming giant, achieving all-time Q1 highs for both revenue and operating profit.
Underlying this record quarter was a historic start for The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and the blockbuster hit that is The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Nintendo shows, yet again, its brands are powerful and management knows how to deploy them, producing some of the highest quality content in games and beyond.
This combination led to Switch hardware output growing since last June. In impressive fashion, the system is steadily approaching 130 million units globally as its its seventh birthday approaches. After moving 3.91 million Switch in Q1, up 14%, lifetime shipments are now 129.53 million.
“In addition to the increase year-on-year in unit sales of both Nintendo Switch hardware and software, another main factor in this growth in net sales was the larger percentage of hardware sales accounted for by Nintendo Switch OLED Model, which has a higher unit price,” management wrote in the slide deck. “The depreciation of the yen also had an effect.”
Nintendo couldn’t have secured a best-ever Q1 without, of course, Tears of the Kingdom. It’s the premier open world adventure of 2023, an easy Game of the Year contender. Plus, unit sales are ascending faster than Link himself. After shipping 10 million copies during its first three days, a Nintendo platform record mind you, it finished the quarter with a staggering 18.51 million.
That’s easily the best launch quarter ever for a Zelda game, and second fastest-selling opening for a Switch title. In fact, the fastest is really two titles: Pokémon Scarlet & Pokémon Violet at a combined 20.61 million.
The real added boost mode, and a genius move by management, was The Super Mario Bros. Movie hitting at the ideal time as theatergoers are back in their groove and it targets such a wide audience. It’s already the second highest-grossing animated film of all time. It launched in April! As a result, Nintendo’s Intellectual Property (IP)-related income segment tripled in sales. Talk about a perfect supplement late in the cycle of Nintendo’s top-selling home console of all time.
Before dipping into the numbers, a quick caveat on the mentioned yen exchange rate: It’s still historically weak. This has an outsized impact on conversions for Japanese companies. Now, let’s see what’s behind Nintendo’s record performance.
I’ve displayed the most important slides from Nintendo’s latest report above.
Overall company net sales jumped 50% in the quarter, to $3.36 billion. Operating income skyrocketed 82% to upwards of $1.35 billion. The strength of Zelda and Mario were in full force.
For perspective, as you’ll see in the chart gallery below, the last time Nintendo’s revenue was anywhere near this high was back in the Wii days. The last time it generated close to this much profit was Fiscal 2021 due to the craze around Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
One notable mention on the profit side was the higher cost of OLED model limits margins, as did a higher portion of retail sales as opposed to downloads, since Tears of the Kingdom is a popular buy in physical form.
“Although the proportion of hardware sales declined and the proportion of first-party software sales increased, our gross profit margin remained at the same level year-on-year,” management wrote. “This was due in part to the lower proportion of digital sales and Nintendo Switch ‒ OLED Model, which has a lower profit margin than the other models in the Nintendo Switch family of systems, accounting for a greater percentage of hardware sales.”
In terms of product types, the company said 41% of sales were from hardware. Compare that to 44% in the same quarter last year, and 46% for last fiscal. This tells me that, while Tears of the Kingdom did push some new systems, most buyers already owned one or more Switches. Digital sales were less than half of Nintendo’s total revenue, at 47%, versus last Q1 at 53%. Digital split was much closer to the full FY 2023 number of 48%.
There’s an intriguing dynamic happening for regional slices. From an overall standpoint, Americas was nearly the same at 44% vs last year’s 45%. The main difference was a lower portion from Europe, which was down to 23% from 26%. The Rest of World segment accounts for the change, moving from 10% to 13%. Then when looking at strictly hardware unit shipments, it’s growth in Japan leading the charge. Unit sales in the Americas and Europe declined 7% and 15% respectively, while Japan rose a whopping 67%.
Even so, Nintendo did point out that console sell-thru was up in all its regions, even if shipments weren’t. Most importantly, total revenue from all sources did in fact move up across all locales. The Americas saw 40% growth, Europe increased 32% while Japan increased 49%.
Another growth vector, albeit to less an extent because it’s still a small portion of business, was the firm’s category of mobile and IP related income on the strength of its animated film division royalties. Dollar sales jumped 190% here, to $232 million. That’s 7% of quarterly net sales, compared to 4% a year back.
Zooming out to annualized numbers really drives home how substantial this latest three month period. Nintendo’s current trailing annual sales accounting for this record Q1 are $13.46 billion. As you see in the chart, based on current exchange rates applied historically, that’s the best annual sales for a first quarter in its history. And nearly the highest ever, behind only FY 2009 Q3. On the profit side, it’s almost there as well. The best trailing 12-month revenue for a Q1 since peaking back in FY 2009 Q1.
Essentially, the company is currently on track for the best annual financial results of the Switch era.
It’s also time to update my peer comparison within the industry, which I started annual in my latest Xbox results piece here. Sony’s latest annualized revenue was almost $27 billion, followed by Tencent’s 26 billion. Microsoft reported $15.47 billion from gaming, then there’s Nintendo here at $13.46 billion. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before: Sales aren’t everything. Nintendo’s profitability outpaces Sony’s games division for now, at least as of last reported, mainly due to high costs associated with making the PlayStation 5 and related big budget software exclusives.
Total hardware shipments for Switch started the fiscal year at 3.91 million, up an impressive 14% from the 3.43 million last year.
It’s the third highest Q1 shipment number for the hybrid console, behind fiscal 2021’s 5.67 million and 4.45 million in 2022. Nintendo clearly intended there to be enough stock to satisfy that Tears of the Kingdom demand. Plus, it’s clear the market isn’t fully saturated.
From an individual model standpoint, it’s Switch OLED that’s growing. Sales catapulted 86% to 2.83 million. It made up 72% of the total. The other two, Switch base and Switch Lite, declined 51% and 27% respectively to comprise the remaining allotment. This is why management mentioned margins before, as the OLED is the main seller now as the older models phase out.
It’s an effective final push for Switch, which will be seven years old in March.
Switch’s lifetime of 129.53 million, while certainly near another major milestone, still has a ways to go to reach the highs of best sellers Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2. Thinking back to 2017, when I was upbeat about Switch yet never thought it would reach even Wii numbers, it’s pretty wild the hybrid console is even in the conversation for top hardware ever.
Beyond shipment numbers, the report highlighted some sell-through to consumers information. Just like shipments, Switch sold-thru more units to people than the comparable quarter last year. Unlike shipments, all regions experienced growth in sell-thru. Tears of the Kingdom having an OLED special edition bolstered this growth at the consumer level, leading to quarterly sell-thru that beat last year and rivaled the one prior.
As for software, Nintendo shipped 52.21 million units in the latest three months. Not only is that up 26% compared to last year’s 41.41 million, but it’s also the single largest Q1 in Switch history. Even above 50.4 million in Fiscal 2021 after Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Lifetime game sales for Switch passed a billion back in March, an enormous feat. Now it’s at 1.088 billion.
Since it’s early in the fiscal and late in the console cycle, Nintendo had only two million-selling titles. One of them being Tears of the Kingdom, the other being the never-ending Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Based on the 18.51 million shipped for Tears of the Kingdom, it made up 35% of the overall Switch record-breaking unit shipment figure for period ending June. Think about that. More than 1 in 3 games moved for a console with so many epic sellers and this all-time audience base was the new Zelda!
With this frankly absurd start, it’s already 9th best-selling Switch title ever, knocking Ring Fit Adventure out of the Top 10. With less than a quarter on market. This parallels regional data, where it’s 2023’s 2nd top-selling game to date in the U.S, behind only Hogwarts Legacy, according to Circana’s latest monthly report. Oh, and that doesn’t even include digital.
Zelda will compete for best-selling title with multi-platform titles like the yet unannounced Call of Duty 2023, Hogwarts Legacy and Diablo IV plus PlayStation exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. I believe it could, even on a single platform, be the biggest premium title of 2023 if Nintendo shared its downloaded portion.
Continuing the record Q1 theme, Tears of the Kingdom sold-thru over 15.7 million in its first 8 weeks, immediately making up half of the year’s Nintendo-published software unit sales for 2023. That pushed sell-thru of 1st party Nintendo-published titles to an all-time best since Switch’s start. By a wide above the prior record holder, FY 2021, based on the graph provided.
Separately, one of the rare down notes of this report is the fact that the million sellers list only had two titles. This means the likes of Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp, from April, and June’s Everybody 1-2 Switch both did not achieve a million sold. Not that I was upbeat on either of them, especially the latter which is probably the least I’ve seen the Switch audience excited in all its years.
The company also provided its usual updates to lifetime figures for existing titles. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had yet another quarter over a million, bumped up by all those new Switch owners picking up Zelda, moving 1.67 million. It’s achieved the 55 million mark lifetime, settling at 55.46 million. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild benefited from the knock-on effect of a new series game, passing the 30 million mark to 30.65 million. And, while not part of this report, October 2021’s best-selling Metroid game Metroid Dread hit a new milestone: 3 million according to its developer MercurySteam.
While we see plenty of date on copies sold, there’s limited stats from the firm around player engagement. Its made-up term of Annual Playing Users, or the number of Nintendo Accounts that used the Switch in the last year, jumped up to 116 million from March’s 105 million. There’s no new data on Switch Online memberships, which totaled 36 million in September of last year.
In a new portion of the report, there’s details into the epic box office earnings of The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Since its theatrical debut in April, the film has attracted over 168 million viewers. Current global box office revenue of nearly $1.35 billion makes it the highest-grossing video game movie ever, and second most successful animated flick only to Frozen II’s $1.53 billion since 2019. Executives noted that its popularity was global, plus it drove sales of various Mario titles on Switch alongside the release.
This is something I’ve said a lot during Nintendo’s historic Switch era: how it’s hard to oversell how incredible of a quarter it was, and how deftly management continues to executive on its strategy, notably its focus on quality experiences and leveraging its legendary IP in smart ways. The fact that a movie led to Nintendo’s best Q1 to date, alongside its re-imagined Zelda approach, shows that the company continues to adapt while remaining true to its core identity.
“By expanding Nintendo IP in areas outside the dedicated video game platform we create new opportunities for consumers to encounter Nintendo IP, and this invigorates our overall business,” management wrote. “Based on the various effects that we have confirmed through the release of this movie, we will continue our efforts towards visual content-related initiatives.”
As expected early in the fiscal year, Nintendo maintained its financial and unit sales guidance for the 12 months ending March 2024. Management anticipates 10% lower annual net sales, near $10.56 billion, with operating profit in that same period declining 11% to $3.28 billion. I think there’s the potential for an upward revision soon, and I expect the company to achieve these. At least, right now.
On the hardware front, the team there anticipates shipping 15 million Switch units for the year. After the 3.9 million of Q1, that leaves only 11.1 million for the remaining three quarters. I expect a slight upward revision from the company in Q2 or Q3, to at least 16 or 16.5 million, which is right at my personal estimate of 16.5 million to 17 million.
Beyond that, it’s about time to be looking ahead to what’s next for Nintendo’s hardware business. It’s a major challenge for management, akin to moving past the Wii and we know how well that went with the disastrous Wii U. The company is in uncharted waters after Switch’s meteoric, historic success that rivals only the Nintendo DS in sales.
Just this past week, the rumor mill began swirling in earnest around a Switch successor, which I will continue to call the Super Switch until told otherwise. Video Games Chronicle and Eurogamer both claim they have sources indicating Nintendo’s next device will have a portable mode, a cartridge slot, could have an LCD screen (as opposed to OLED) in consideration of cost. No word on backward compatibility, which is a key feature question for the almost 130 million owners. Most importantly for yours truly, it’s likely targeting a 2nd half of Calendar 2024 launch. Studios making games for the device apparently have development kits as we speak.
When writing and chatting on social media, I’ve had Early 2025 as my estimate, lining up nicely with the anniversary of Switch’s March 2017 start. While I’ll keep that for the time being, it sounds like I might have to adjust that by a quarter, to Late 2024.
If that’s the case, we won’t have to wait long for more information!
As for software in the future, let’s take a glance at Nintendo’s upcoming lineup. Pikmin 4 hit stores in July, to a breakout start in Japan that points to a potential record launch for the franchise. That’s really all for its published exclusives in the quarter ending September.
October is when the product suite really ramps up, starting with Detective Pikachu Returns. Then it’s the standout title of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, scheduled for late October. Throw in WarioWare: Move It!, probably a premium Pokémon as usual, alongside a remake of Super Mario RPG in November, and these will provide ample momentum leading into the holiday months, and the latter parts of its financial year.
Both Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and a new Princess Peach, yet untitled, have 2024 as the release timing in Nintendo’s material. Could they hit before the Super Switch reveal? Might they come out before fiscal year end in March 2024? Maybe. Then there’s the evasive Metroid Prime 4, still listed as TBA without any sort of information. I’m doubling down in saying that Metroid Prime 4 will be a cross gen title, launching on both current and Super Switch, alongside a premier 3D open world Mario title. Like Breath of the Wild hitting both Wii U and Switch, except with less commercial upside.
Well then, in the meantime until these new games release and Nintendo shares what it’s been cooking up for its console biz, check my earnings calendar and other recent articles for more coverage of the industry.
Thanks for reading my latest recap! It was a substantial one. Be safe, everyone.
Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted. Exchange rate is based on reported average conversion: US $1 to ¥137.34
Sources: Box Office Mojo, Company Investor Relations Websites, MercurySteam.