The ongoing Activision Blizzard deal isn’t the only thing making major headlines for Xbox lately.
Microsoft was the first of the “big three” console makers to report this earnings season, which I outline in my latest calendar post, this time sharing its fiscal year 2022 third quarter results covering the period between January and March.
During this time, gaming achieved its best non-holiday sales total ever. While certain parts of the industry cool off, Xbox is at least keeping the fire alive.
Driven by new generation hardware gaining market share plus growth in Xbox content and services, Microsoft generated $3.74 billion in quarterly revenue from gaming, up 6% since last year. That means Microsoft’s Xbox division secured its best revenue ever for a quarter that wasn’t October to December. The prior non-holiday record holder was $3.71 billion back in April to June 2021, a few months after the November 2020 launch of Xbox Series X|S.
This strength bolstered trailing annual sales to reach $16.5 billion for the first time since reporting began. That’s after a record holiday pushed it past $16 billion just last quarter as I wrote about then.
It’s even more impressive considering last year’s stricter pandemic restrictions leading to a strong comparable. According to its report, Xbox Content & Services moved up 4% while Xbox Hardware boosted 14%. Gaming as a whole rose due to growth in Xbox Game Pass subscriptions, first party software (like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5) and Xbox console hardware revenue growth. Third party content was really the sole area of weakness, exhibiting declines year-on-year. What this says is the ongoing Xbox ecosystem play is paying off, supplemented by better inventories at retail.
CEO Satya Nadella even provided a more macro view for hardware right now. “With our Xbox Series S and X consoles, we have taken share globally for two quarters in a row,” Nadella said on the company’s conference call. “We are the market leader this quarter among next gen consoles in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Western Europe.”
Based on supply driving the cycle due to a global semiconductor shortage, this sort of strength in hardware and market share implies Microsoft was able to secure more components than Sony producing its PlayStation 5. Note that Nintendo Switch was not a part of this statistic, since Nadella’s comments specifically cite the newest console generation.
While the numbers point mostly positive, I have to bring up the usual caveat that Microsoft unfortunately doesn’t share individual profit metrics for its Xbox division. That means purchasing those inputs to produce more retail units could very well have undercut profitability due to higher margins. I’ll shed more light on profit dynamics below the fold.
It’s now time to chart a course towards a more detailed analysis.
As the slides show, Microsoft’s gaming revenue increased 6% to that $3.74 billion during the quarter which was in-line with the company’s forecast. This quarterly result implies nearly $16.5 billion in trailing annual sales, an all-time high, shown via my chart in the above gallery. If combined with Activision Blizzard’s $8.3 billion annual sales and reduced by say $1 billion in double-counting and synergies, it would be between $23 billion to $24 billion.
To provide context, how does this latest top-line result compare to peers? I usually cite Tencent, Sony and Nintendo for these sections, all of which are reporting later in May so I’ll use the latest annualized figures for now. Tencent’s 2021 revenue exceeded $27 billion, maintaining its spot as largest gaming company in the world. Sony’s at $24 billion, suggesting its standing is probably just above Microsoft plus Activision Blizzard’s operations. Finally, Nintendo generated $15 billion.
The largest sub-segment for Microsoft’s gaming business was Xbox Content & Services, which improved a modest 4% to $3 billion in fiscal Q3. That means sales from Xbox Game Pass, software, cloud and any sort of add-on content via its digital storefront account for over 80% of quarterly gaming sales. This was just the second time ever it’s crossed the $3 billion threshold.
While Xbox Content & Services slightly missed the internal growth estimate of “mid to high single digits,” it’s still a success to grow versus a great result last year. I see it as a sign the Xbox brand strategy is stimulating a paying audience.
Disappointingly, Microsoft didn’t share an update on the exact number of Xbox Game Pass subscribers. The latest figure is 25 million from back in January. I’d imagine this was due to seasonality, where it picked up after the holiday and has grown only incrementally since then. Especially given a lack of major exclusives or even third party partnerships launching into the service other than Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Extraction.
Instead, Microsoft highlighted new information specifically on cloud gaming usage. Nadella said 10 million people have streamed games remotely since the feature kicked off in beta during November 2019 then was formally introduced to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subs in September 2020. While cloud is still niche in the scheme of things, hitting this sort of milestone shows there’s at least some level of growing interest.
“Our Game Pass library now includes hundreds of titles across PC and console, including more games from third party publishers than ever before.” Nadella noted. “Billions of hours have been played by subscribers over the past 12 months, up 45 percent.”
Lastly, he said Azure gaming revenue increased 66% during the current fiscal year to date. These sorts of statistics on service, cloud, streaming and the like fit with the company’s gaming mantra of allowing people to play on various devices. It eases the burden on hardware shipments, which I’ll cover next.
The second sub-segment within gaming is Xbox Hardware, which exhibited the better growth during January to March. Sales here moved up 14% to $728 million. That’s the second best non-holiday result since the company began reporting splits. Microsoft didn’t previously share internal guidance for hardware, yet CFO Amy Hood said on the call that it exceeded expectations.
Company slides highlight continued demand for Xbox Series X|S underlying this change, however clearly it’s capped by supply conditions. Based on evidence from both regional tracking firms and retail channel checks, Xbox Series S in particular is showing better availability at least.
Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is: how many units of Xbox Series X|S has Microsoft shipped now during its fifth full quarter on market? Last quarter, I mentioned the estimate from Daniel Ahmad, Senior Analyst at Niko Partners, being above 12 million. While revenue growth doesn’t directly translate to unit sales trajectory, I’d guesstimate the family at upwards of 14 to 14.5 million globally. As a reference, last count for Sony’s PlayStation 5 was 17.3 million.
We’d know for sure if Microsoft was more transparent. (Wishful thinking!)
Fitting with the theme of market share gains and increased inventories was The NPD Group’s recent monthly report on U.S. games industry spending. As I covered in my article, Xbox Series X|S was the leading console for both March and the first quarter domestically by dollar sales. It’s certainly attracting buyers, when there’s stock on hand.
“Coming to the end of a good week,” wrote CEO of Gaming Phil Spencer on Twitter. “Microsoft earnings were a nice moment for Xbox, it’s always great to hear Amy [Hood] and Satya talk about the progress.”
Now, here’s yet another important caveat related to profitability. We don’t know if Microsoft is making a profit on either model right now. In fact, last year during the Epic v. Apple trial, Head of Xbox Development Lori Wright specifically said the firm sells hardware at a loss. Which is consistent with historical data and anecdotes across the industry, as consoles are known as a loss leader and a means to have people spend on software, and now subscriptions or other content.
Comparatively, Sony said it’s now turning a profit on each PlayStation 5 standard edition it ships. Without a better indication of cost impact, it’s difficult to make a direct comparison.
Stepping back to briefly touch on Microsoft’s general results, the company generated over $49 billion in quarterly sales which is 18% higher than last year. Operating income exceeded $20 billion, up 19%. Both top-line and earnings-per-share came in above analyst estimates.
Intelligent Cloud as a segment showed the most growth, jumping 24% in Q3. Microsoft Cloud revenue improved 32% to over $23 billion. Office Commercial products and cloud moved up 12%, while LinkedIn sales rose 34%.
Gaming is part of the More Personal Computing business for Microsoft, which rose 11% to $14.5 billion. This means Xbox comprised 26% of quarterly segment sales, down from 31% during the holiday quarter between October and December 2021.
In terms of a glimpse into profitability for this segment, gross margin percentage declined “slightly” last period. That’s because of a 17% increase in operating expenses, attributed to gaming, search, news advertising and Windows marketing costs.
Essentially, gaming is less profitable than other areas when investing heavily in console manufacturing and external deals. This also reflects the broader trend of inflation, impacting input pricing. The more it takes to make a product, the lower its margins. Right now, the implication is there’s higher cost in both producing consoles and making the types of deals required for Xbox Game Pass. Without exact data on how much profit is made per retail unit sold or for gaming as a whole, I have to make these kinds of inferences.
Considering gaming sales rose 50% this time last year, beating total growth estimates in the latest quarter was a great showing on the revenue side. That $3 billion figure for Xbox Content & Services in particular supports the brand’s reinvigorated move towards keeping players in a more accessible ecosystem as opposed to a singular piece of hardware. There are still indications that profitability is being hit by input availability and cost, so that’s worth keeping in mind especially moving into the second full calendar year of Xbox Series X|S.
Looking ahead, next time Microsoft will report fourth quarter and annual results for fiscal 2022.
When it comes to gaming, CFO Amy Hood laid out somewhat bearish internal guidance for April to June as the company anticipates lower sales, echoing a trend seen industry wide as a reversion towards more normalized spending habits.
“We expect revenue to decline in the mid-to-high single digits driven by lower engagement hours year-over-year as well as constrained console supply,” Hood said. “We expect Xbox Content & Services revenue to decline mid-single digits though engagement hours are expected to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.”
Note: She didn’t provide formal guidance on hardware results.
Digging into that first estimate, let’s assume an 8% decline. This would lead to fourth quarter gaming revenue of $3.4 billion versus the prior amount of $3.7 billion. When aggregating for the full year, it would still be an increase from $15.4 billion to $16.2 billion. That implies we’ll see a fiscal year sales record for Xbox despite anticipated weakness in the final quarter.
Then, if Xbox Content & Services dips say 5%, it would generated $2.8 billion in the fourth quarter which would be the lowest result since the pandemic began.
We’ll have to see how it plays out for Xbox over a three month span where it’s going to reveal a lot more about future titles than actually launch many on the first party side. On June 12th, Xbox & Bethesda will host its annual summer showcase where I expect to see more about Starfield, Redfall, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Avowed and hopefully the Indiana Jones project.
Thanks everyone for stopping by and making it this far. Be safe and well!
Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.
Sources: Company Investor Relations Sites, The NPD Group, Xbox Wire, Yahoo Canada (Image Credit).