Xbox’s Best Holiday Sales Result Pushes Microsoft’s Annual Gaming Revenue to Record $16 Billion

As I reported back in October, Microsoft’s Gaming division at the time saw its healthiest first fiscal quarter ever.

Now, it’s going one step further. On the strength of its first party lineup and growing subscription base, Xbox has just achieved its best holiday on record and blasted past a new milestone for annual sales, establishing a record 12-month figure.

Mere days after announcing the biggest acquisition in industry history in its purchase of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft is showing off why it’s pumping dollars so much into the space. Because it’s seeing great returns. During its 2nd quarter of 2022 financial report, Microsoft said Gaming revenue reached $5.44 billion during the holiday quarter.

That’s the single best October to December ever reported, 8% higher than last year which was the previous record holder of $5 billion. The main contributor to this record output was Xbox Content & Services, especially strong during the holiday season bolstered by flagship titles in the Halo and Forza series.

This performance also means annual Xbox sales for the Washington-based tech giant pushed passed the $16 billion milestone for the first time.

Combining the last four quarters of sales for Xbox reaches upwards of $16.28 billion. That’s 18% higher than December 2020 and 3% more than even last quarter, both of which included the launch of Xbox Series X|S. The fact that the rolling annual figure was this high shows payoffs in first party game development and key investments in partnerships for Xbox Game Pass’s extensive library.

According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella on the company’s conference call, the Xbox division saw both record engagement and revenue during the quarter. While he didn’t share specifics on the actual level of engagement or revenue, he did cite certain juicy tidbits I’ll dig into later.

Unfortunately, there was no appearance from newly-minted CEO of Microsoft Gaming Phil Spencer on the call or questions from analysts on anything related to the acquisition of Activision Blizzard. In fact, the only mention of the deal was reiterating what we already knew about its cost and closing during the fiscal year ending June 2023.

No worries. It’s time to move into the underlying numbers and corresponding reaction!

The above slides provided by Microsoft give a rundown of growth rates for Gaming and its sub-segments of Xbox Content and Services plus Xbox Hardware during the quarter ending December 2021. Namely, that 8% growth for Gaming leading to $5.44 billion in quarterly revenue which was in-line with the company’s expectations of high single digits.

Underlying this all-time number was double-digit growth in Xbox Content & Services, the sub-segment that includes software and subscription sales, which rose 10% in the quarter to around $3.86 billion or 71% of the total. Yet another record! Boosted by first-party launches like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 plus Xbox Game Pass expansion, this figure was especially impressive given its consistency around this time in late 2020.

On the conference call, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Amy Hood mentioned there was “significant” growth for Xbox Game Pass subscriptions and first party software sales in the holiday quarter.

Why? According to Nadella, Halo Infinite has now attracted 20 million players since its staggered launch beginning back in November. It’s the largest start ever in the series that dates back to the original Xbox. Another thing that, hm, drove sales is how Forza Horizon 5 is now up to 18 million players after hitting the 10 million threshold within a week of launch in early November. These games also attracted subscription growth, the other key revenue contributor, as Xbox Game Pass now has 25 million members up from the last official figure of 18 million (with the latest rumor being around 22 million).

To me, this dispels a false notion that Xbox Game Pass isn’t properly monetizing its user base. Even those buyers that get in at a discount are sticking around, which generates ongoing revenue once the rate resets. The numbers back this up. I’d love to know more on the profit side, of course, but I work with what’s available.

Intriguingly, the 10% Content & Services growth was technically below Microsoft’s guidance of “mid-teens.” That’s because of weakness on the third party side. This signals under-performance of AAA multi-platform releases like Call of Duty: Vanguard and Battlefield 2042. Perhaps even Madden NFL 22 and other annualized sports titles. So while Call of Duty and Battlefield both were among the best-selling premium titles in the U.S. during 2021 as I wrote about here, this missed estimate implies a lower contribution to the bottom line of platform holders.

Taking a look at the above chart I’ve compiled, this is 12-month revenue going back over time for the gaming business. It helps to provide context in a couple of areas, and smooths out short-term fluctuations. The main thing it shows is the overall level of Xbox revenue over time. That’s the record $16.28 billion as of this latest period, compared to $15.86 billion last quarter then going back from there. Clearly the trend-line is on that upward trajectory since bottoming out in Q3 of FY 2020.

There’s also the split between Xbox Content and Services and Xbox Hardware categories. The green portion is for Xbox Content and Services, which most recently contributed $12.58 billion to the annual amount. The red portion is Xbox Hardware which is all physical gaming consoles under the brand. $3.7 billion this time. Both of those are also all-time highs.

Next up is Xbox Hardware. This sub-segment contributed the remaining portion of the record holiday quarter, growing 4% to almost $1.59 billion in revenue on the back of steady demand. It’s actually one of the few things in this report that wasn’t a record. That happened back in fiscal 2018’s second quarter, when hardware accounted for $1.78 billion. This year’s was still second best, so I’d say it’s doing alright.

To put it another way, the second holiday quarter for Xbox Series X|S generated almost $70 million more in dollar sales than its launch quarter did.

On the call, Hood shared how Microsoft is seeing continued buyer interest for both console models. Additionally she saw “better than expected” supply, which is a good sign considering the doom and gloom of the modern semiconductor situation.

This commentary and performance is mostly consistent with Spencer’s recent comments around Xbox Series X|S being the fastest-selling ever for the brand. Xbox Hardware is performing well during this early part of the generational cycle even in the fact of shortages, with Xbox Series S as the highlight because of higher availability. While we don’t have exact figures from Microsoft on hardware shipments globally, we do have an estimate from my friend Daniel Ahmad, Senior Analyst at Niko Partners, that it’s above the 12 million of Xbox One’s first year.

Here’s a telling experiment: What would Microsoft’s gaming revenue look like if Activision Blizzard earnings were considered? The latter hasn’t reported its last quarter yet, so I’ll use historical figures for a baseline in this thought experiment.

The most recent October to December revenue for Activision Blizzard was $2.41 billion. That means the holiday quarter for the combined entity would have been over $7.58 billion! For the full 12-month period, Activision Blizzard’s latest is $9 billion.

Which means, in aggregate, Xbox and Activision Blizzard annual revenue right now would be $25.33 billion. How does that compare to its major competitors? Well, it’s pretty impressive and much closer to the top-end than ever before, naturally.

I usually pull in figures for Sony and Nintendo as the three main console manufacturers. There’s also Tencent, the largest gaming company in the world, which is an absolute behemoth notably in mobile and the Asia Pacific region. So let’s see them all!

This is using annual and the caveat is Microsoft is the only one that’s reported this season so far. It’s still helpful to illustrate. Tencent’s latest strictly from its games business was $27.3 billion. Sony’s Game & Network Services segment hit $25.5 billion while Nintendo’s total sums to $14.7 billion, both using the exchange rates at their last reports. Which means Microsoft alone sits closer to Nintendo, while combined with Activision Blizzard it nearly surpasses Sony’s total and might even some day approach the untouchable realm of Tencent.

And that’s part of why Microsoft is willing to pay almost $70 billion for it.

As is tradition, I’ll quickly run down Microsoft’s overall results for the three months ending December before closing up.

Total revenue for the company rose 20% to $51.7 billion. It’s the first time quarterly sales topped $50 billion, pushed by an all-time high $18.3 billion revenue from its Intelligent Cloud segment. Operating profit moved up 24% to $22.2 billion.

Its results beat analyst consensus on both top-line revenue and earnings-per-share. Microsoft Cloud product revenue was a major highlight, increasing 32% to over $22 billion for only the second time ever.

We can learn a bit on gaming profitability from the More Personal Computing business unit margin movement and operating dynamics. This experienced 15% revenue growth to $17.5 billion. At $5.44 billion, gaming makes up around 31% of More Personal Computing. Operating income rose 22% to $6.36 billion, while expenses rose at a lower 17% rate partially as a result of gaming. It’s not perfect, but this can indicate sales contribution is outpacing costs.

It’s hard to overstate just how much the record revenue stats keep piling up for the Xbox business, reflective of Microsoft’s general strategy of user engagement and ecosystem establishment. This time it was first party software moving the needle, with major internal studios like 343 Industries and Playground Games leading the charge by pushing quality within key brands. The result is Xbox Game Pass literally paying off, thus generating opportunities for more future investment both organic and external.

Moving into the new calendar year, Xbox’s early 2022 exclusive slate is light during a quiet quarter for first parties. CrossfireX is a third party console exclusive from Smilegate and Remedy Entertainment launching in February, plus there’s indie partnerships hitting the platform throughout the coming months.

It is, however, quite the busy period for third party games with select titles like Rainbow Six Extraction available simultaneously on Xbox Game Pass. Dying Light 2, Elden Ring and Destiny 2’s The Witch Queen expansion all debut in February. There’s always the long tails from late year launches of Call of Duty, Madden, NBA 2K, Battlefield then other major ongoing games with seasonal updates like Fortnite and Apex Legends.

On the hardware side, Xbox Series X|S availability will continue to set the narrative. I don’t expect the higher end Xbox Series X to pick up stock any time soon, though I’m turning optimistic on Xbox Series S inventories based on recent trends and anecdotal evidence. Microsoft executives themselves said that hardware will continue to be impacted by supply limitations and didn’t provide guidance on growth expectations.

For the quarter ending March 2022, Microsoft expects gaming sales growth in “mid single digits” range. Assuming it’s exactly 5%, that’s $3.7 billion. For Xbox Content & Services, strong engagement and continued momentum will lead to increases in the “mid to high single digits.” Putting it around 7% then, this would generate $3.1 billion.

Guess what? Both would be fiscal third quarter records. The latter would even be the first time it’s passed $3 billion in a Q3.

“The other area obviously we’re seeing strength is in gaming,” Nadella highlighted during the analyst question portion of Microsoft’s earnings call. “We see the intensity of usage and the business model diversity around games, that increasingly the economics of gaming franchises is also radically becoming much more software-like.”

That certainly is the case, considering the multi-faceted approach where now, because of ongoing financial support in both areas, main contributors are actual first party software and Xbox Game Pass as a catalog of titles plus cloud experience.

Thus ends this quarter’s deep dive into Microsoft’s financials. I look forward to recapping other companies very soon! Be safe all, and stay healthy.

Note: Comparisons are year-over-year unless otherwise noted.

Sources: Daniel Ahmad, Microsoft, The NPD Group.

-Dom

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