Consumer Confidence Will Hurt Future Sales and Projections:
The beginning of a new videogame console hardware cycle impacts Gamestop not just in the sale of new hardware (where Gamestop’s gross profit margin is 7.6%), but starting another generation of game software that will fulfill future demand. The last console cycle started in 2005 with the Xbox 360 launch and in 2006 with the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 launches.
The “next generation” of videogame consoles began November 18, 2012 with the Nintendo Wii U and will continue in Fall 2013 with the releases of the Xbox One and Sony Playstation 4.
I argue that much of the financial success of the previous videogame consoles and Gamestop can be attributed to a broader economic conditions from 2005-2008.
Using the Consumer Confidence Index, the last console cycle which launched in 2005-2006 began near the height of consumer confidence and spending in recent history. It’s very possible that the new Playstation 4 and Xbox One will not sell as well as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 due to the change in economic climate. The poor performance of the new Wii U discussed later supports this theory.
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®
Is it possible that consumer confidence will either increase in the future in the middle of the console cycle or that spending on games won’t be correlated to consumer confidence? It is possible, but I suspect unlikely. Academic research has found a moderate connection between the consumer confidence numbers and consumer spending in the following quarter. [Ludvigson, Sydney, 2004, Journal of Economic Perspectives].
Gamestop’s same store sales the past five years are in line with a decrease in consumer spending. From page 29 of the 10K, same store sales growth has been:
A historical look at the Nintendo Wii’s sales through 2008 would show huge sales growth despite the broader economic conditions, but Wii sales began to slide in 2009 and continued until the present day. All three systems saw sales rise during the typical cyclical holiday seasons in 2007 and 2008, but the systems with the largest sales increases were the cheapest, with the PS3 lagging due to its higher price at the time. These were systems which had already been on the market for two to three years with a library of games for sale.
Poor Wii U Sales:
The Wii U has been a disappointment since it launched on November 18, 2012. As of March 31, 2013, only 3.45 million units had been sold, well short of its originally estimated 5.5 million. At the E3 industry conference last week, only three new Wii U exclusive titles were announced.
A comparison between the second months of the Wii and Wii U shows the stark contrast in the current and likely future performance of the Wii U. In January 2007, the Wii’s second month, the Wii sold 425,000 units. In January 2013, the Wii U’s second month, the system sold 57,000 units, 13% of the number of Wii units sold at the same early point in the system’s launch near the end of a holiday season.
Fewer consoles sold likely means less software sold. Less new software sold means fewer used games down the line. Nintendo announced in May 2013 that it had missed its profit goals by nearly 50%.
Whether the lackluster Wii U sales are due to lower consumer spending in general or mismanagement by Nintendo, lower hardware sales will translate into lower software sales for Gamestop. This should give pause to investors expecting that the other console launches later this year will be guaranteed successes.
Game Streaming Plans In Motion:
Sony and Microsoft have both made investments into technology for streaming games over the internet. Once game streaming becomes mainstream and gamers can access games over the internet on demand, this will have a negative impact on disc-based game sales.
At the E3 convention, Sony confirmed that it will launch a game streaming service in 2014, starting with older games that are commonly sold as used games at Gamestop stores. This technology comes from its acquisition of Gaikai earlier this year.
Microsoft and Sony are both moving toward implementing these game streaming technologies in some capacity, cutting out retailer middlemen between them and game consumers. This allows potentially lower prices for gamers and a bigger cut of the sales for the console manufacturers and game publishers/developers. For these reasons, the streaming alternatives will be compelling for all parties and only detrimental to the retailers such as Gamestop.
Gamestop acquired Spawn Labs in early 2011 to develop its own game streaming offering. Since the acquisition two years ago, the only news to come from it appeared in the Fiscal 2012 10K: “Spawn Labs is developing a streaming service which the Company may deploy in fiscal 2013 depending on consumer demand and other factors.” It claimed a year ago that it would have a beta test of its system in homes across the country. The latest 10K in May had no updates on this.
With Sony and Microsoft having a direct connection to living rooms with its hardware and technology further along than Gamestop’s, it is hard to see where Gamestop’s Spawn Labs product can get a foothold in the game streaming marketplace.
Gamestop is a Late, Minor Player in Digital Downloading:
The leader in digital game downloads is Valve’s Steam store, which in 2010 had an estimated almost $1 billion in revenue and $300$400 million in profit for Valve. Steam holds approximately 70% of the digital download market, compared to Gamestop’s Impulse service’s 10%.
In its filings, Gamestop claims $630 million of “digital receipts” in fiscal 2012. This number is deceptive because it includes the in-store sales of “DLC” cards, which are “downloadable content” points for Microsoft and Sony network stores. While this business has 38% gross profit margins, these points can be bought in numerous places and directly from Microsoft and Sony. By grouping the Impulse store sales with these DLC cards into an “Other” and “Digital Receipts” category, Gamestop is able to gloss over the underperformance of Impulse. The fiscal 2012 10K states the above $630 million in “digital receipts” but $593.4 million in “Other” in-store sales, a category including the brick-and-mortar digital content sales. The $36.6 million gap is possibly attributable to Impulse sales (this is not made clear in the 10K). Assuming Gamestop’s cut of the store revenue is similar to Steam, then Gamestop’s gross profit from Impulse is approximately $10 million to $15 million, an almost insignificant amount compared to its $2.651 billion in annual gross profit.
Competition from big box and online retailers:
This argument is straightforward: Gamestop does not offer much that other retail stores do not. Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter has stated that, based on the previous hardware cycles, “It appears that once hardware supply was sufficient to satisfy demand, gift givers tended to purchase hardware when it was convenient, causing a market share shift from destination specialty retailers in favor of more frequently visited mass merchants,” said Pachter. In other words, Gamestop will play a significant role this Fall in selling new console hardware, but over the hardware lifecycle, WalMart and Target reach more consumers.
Amazon has already sold-out its allotment of pre-orders for the Xbox One and Playstation 4. The advantages of Amazon as a retailer for most physical goods, including videogames, is well-known, especially around ordering and shipping convenience and product availability.
Over-reliance on Pre-Owned Software:
A lot has been written on how Gamestop’s business is driven by used game sales. In the latest 10K for Fiscal 2012, Gamestop showed that 44% of its Gross Profit comes from pre-owned game and hardware sales, which have 48% margins. All of the previously listed threats to its business would ultimately hurt the availability of used games.
A great breakdown of the problems Gamestop will face if its pre-owned business suffers was done by Gamasutra writer Matt Matthews:
“In terms of New Software, as GameStop has repeatedly noted, customers put $7 out of every $10 in trade value back into new game purchases. If the margin on pre-owned software is reduced, then GameStop could respond by offering less trade value to consumers and that would reduce the available trade credit to go toward new games. Therefore when consumers are trading less in at GameStop, publishers can expect to see retail sales of their new games go down as well.
Alternatively, if GameStop continues to offer aggressive trade-in values, it can still retain some of its pre-owned product margins by raising the price it charges the consumers who then buy those pre-owned games. However, raising its selling prices would make GameStop’s pre-owned products less attractive to consumers, and decreasing the net sales in its Pre-owned Product segment.
Even GameStop’s Other segment, where it puts its digital revenue, could be harmed by a change in its pre-owned business. GameStop has been at the front line of attaching DLC purchases to games sales, both new and used. If either new or used software sales decline at retail, it is quite likely that retail DLC sales will go down as well. Consequently, harming GameStop’s pre-owned segment also diminishes its digital business.“