Sony’s financial reports are a tale of highs and lows.
Yesterday, Sony released its earnings report for the 2011 fiscal year. Among the slides, numbers and endless walls of text Sony unleashed on the world can be found a hodgepodge of good and bad news for the electronics giant, including plenty of new details surrounding its coveted PlayStation brand.
THE BAD NEWS
Sony rightly points to the Great East Japan Earthquake and its aftereffects, disastrous US tax loopholes and other intangibles as contributors to its massive $6.4 billion dollar loss. But obviously, problems are far direr for Sony than that. As such, the company wants to refocus on some of the things it does extraordinarily well. One of those things, of course, is the creation of gaming hardware and software.
The Consumer Products and Services (CPS) sector that houses the PlayStation brand took the biggest hit during Sony’s 2011 fiscal year (which stretched from April of 2011 through March of 2012). Sales are down 18.5 percent year over year, though the PlayStation brand certainly had little to do with the loss. In fact, Sony itself reports that LCD television sales are lower, something that was “expected from focusing not on pursuing unit sales but on improving profitability,” and that “CPS segment sales are expected to increase significantly year-on-year,” including in the realm of cameras and VAIO computers. The PlayStation brand is never mentioned.
Where Sony does begin to mention the PlayStation brand is in terms of units sold in both hardware and software. PlayStation 3 sold 13.9 million units during the 2011 fiscal year, down 400,000 units from the year before. PlayStation Portable is also down year over year, from 8 million units sold down to 6.8 million units sold, though this is certainly to be expected. And PlayStation 2 is still trucking along as well, selling 4.1 million units, down from 6.4 million units from the year before.
This brings lifetime sales of the PlayStation 3 to 63.9 million (analyze the full numbers here). Meanwhile, lifetime sales data from September of 2011 has PSP at 71.4 million units sold (per Eurogamer). PlayStation 2, last reported in total over a year ago, was sitting at 153.19 million units sold (per Sony).
(An analysis of available data at Sony’s corporate site shows that, since stats started being kept there during the 2006 fiscal year, 54.2 PlayStation 2 consoles have been sold, with 62.2 million PSPs having been sold in the same time period.)
THE GOOD NEWS
It’s within these sales numbers that some good news can be found for Sony, especially in terms of the PlayStation 3. Obviously, PS2s being sold some 12 years after it came out is nothing but a net gain for Sony, but now, the PS3 is a mere 3.3 million units away from the Xbox 360 in worldwide sales with a year’s less time on the market. According to Eurogamer, 67.2 million Xbox 360 consoles are in the wild as of less than a month ago. Whether you average out units sold-per-months on the market or opt to remove a year’s sales from the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 is in a surprisingly strong place right now. If the consoles spent the same amount of time on the market, these numbers suggest PS3 would actually be winning that race.
Software sales are also very positive for Sony. 156.6 million games were sold on PlayStation 3 during the 2011 fiscal year, up 8.7 million games sold from the year before. Even with a slight dip in PS3 sales, games are still selling very strongly. However, PSP and PS2 game sales are currently tanking. 32.2 million PSP games were sold in the 2011 fiscal year, down from 46.6 million games sold the year before. PS2 games sales have also cratered, pushing only 7.9 million games, down from 16.4 million the year before.
WAIT, WHERE'S VITA?
You may have noticed the conspicuous absence of the PlayStation Vita so far in Sony’s reports. Having only come out in the tail end of the fiscal year, its absence actually makes sense. But Vita’s sales-to-date are very much public, even if not in Sony’s official financials. During an earnings call reported by Gamasutra, Sony’s CEO and President Kaz Hirai noted that only 1.8 million PlayStation Vita units have been sold through March of 2012. “As a starting phase, I think it was a good start,” he said.
“For a game platform, like Vita, the software is the key to success – how good the software is, that is the key to business success. We have to reinforce the software area in order to improve the business; that is the basic line. Vis-à-vis Vita, at this moment, there is no decline or lack of motivation as a portable platform. This is a very important product indeed for us, and therefore we still have a very high motivation to develop this further. There is no change.”
Hirai therefore concluded that “software and services must be strengthened. In other words, the collaborative approach is very important, so is third-party. And from first-party studios, the titles will be presented one after the other, so please look at them and give your evaluation based on them.” This could very well be a nod to E3, occurring in June, in which Sony has teased that it may have over 20 new games to reveal.
For comparison’s sake, it’s worth noting that for the 1.8 million PlayStation Vitas sold, Nintendo has sold 17.13 million 3DS handhelds, per Nintendo’s own data. Nintendo 3DS also suffered from sluggish sales early on, as is well-known, but not nearly as bad as Vita’s stumbling sales. All of this adds up to one thing: you can count on PlayStation Vita getting a price cut at E3.
WHEN IT'S ALL SAID AND DONE
Now that Sony’s numbers are all on the table, eyes are firmly planted on the future. PlayStation 3 still has an incredibly strong lineup of upcoming games, both in first-party exclusives and third-party games it shares with its competition. And while the PlayStation 4 certainly exists somewhere in the bowels of Sony’s many corporate offices, we haven’t heard anything about it, and almost certainly won’t in 2012.
The biggest question mark continues to be PlayStation Vita. As Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami so aptly put it, “there aren’t enough good games for it yet… Once there are more great games it should do well.”
We couldn’t agree more.