Evercore ISI analyst Kirk Materne was arguably overselling it when he suggested stepping into a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) position because of its opportunity to grow within the video gaming industry. There are plenty of other better reasons to own MSFT stock. Indeed, video games remain a relatively small part of the software giant’s total business
Nevertheless, his point is well taken. For all that Microsoft has already done to carve out its piece of the video game market, what’s coming in 2020 could actually be game-changing.
Rival Sony (NYSE:SNE) has also already hinted at its planned next entry in the race, with its next-generation PlayStation console sporting some impressive specs. Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is entering the fray too, skipping the development of a console altogether and remotely handling all the heavy-duty game processing from the cloud. Next year may well be the year, however, one company puts its finger directly on the pulse of what the video-gaming market wants.
In terms the average teenage gamer would understand, the next generation of Microsoft’s Xbox series looks like it’s going to be a “beast.” Powered by Zen 2 and Radeon-based graphics hardware from Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD), the console coming out late next year will offer 8K graphics and frame rates up to 120 per second. It’s a level of visual detail that borders on perfection. The still-unnamed console, simply called Project Scarlett for now, will also utilize solid state drives.
All told, Microsoft described the in-development console as being four times as powerful as the Xbox One X, which is the latest commercially available choice in its franchise.
The specs largely mirror those Sony touted for its next-gen PlayStation, which should become available late next year as well. Microsoft is arguably doing more to bring more gamers into its ecosystem though. Namely, the company is beefing up its game-streaming offering.
Although subject to a name change, what’s being called xCloud for the time being will allow players to stream games from their consoles to other devices including phones and tablets.
At the same time, Microsoft as adding another tier to its existing Game Pass service. Called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which is primarily a combination of Xbox Live Gold and the familiar Game pass. The new product works for PC as well as console games.
And yet, as forward-thinking as Microsoft’s gaming endeavors may be, the company is also backwards-minded … as in compatibility.
Although it didn’t clarify exactly what constitutes a “generation,” the company’s presentation at this year’s E3 event said “Thousands of games across four console generations will look and play best on Project Scarlett.” In other words, older game discs that wouldn’t normally be playable on new hardware will now be playable on new consoles, relieving gamers who don’t wish to rebuild an entirely new gaming library.
Effect on MSFT Stock
Even if Project Scarlett is a smash hit, it’s not likely to decidedly buoy the value of MSFT stock. It’s certainly not going to hurt though.
In its infancy, Microsoft’s Xbox was seen as more of an experiment than a profit center. Built to utilize its DirectX coding that couldn’t be fully realized with personal computers, it’s unlikely that when the first Xbox was sold in 2001, the organization ever thought it would become the success it’s become.
But, gaming is still only a small part of Microsoft’s total business.
While it’s difficult to ferret out details, last fiscal year (ending in June), the company’s “More Personal Computing” division generated $42.7 billion, or 38% of its top line of $110.4 billion. That division, however, also includes sales of its Windows operating system, Windows commercial and cloud product, search engine revenue, and revenue from sales of its Surface line of tablets. That’s a lot of different business lines making up a relatively modest piece of the revenue pie.
To its credit, the More Personal Computing division’s sales improved 8% last year, and last quarter’s gaming revenue grew 7%. Xbox software and service revenue was up 15% on a constant currency basis, more or less lining up with the 9% improvement in sales for the entire division. But, gaming just doesn’t offer enough firepower on its own to meaningfully move the dial for the company.
The nickels and dimes still add up.
Bottom Line for MSFT Stock
While not solid enough reason to step into a stake, the fact that video gaming isn’t a game-changer for Microsoft doesn’t mean MSFT stock isn’t worth owning. It is. The company is absolutely crushing it with its cloud business, and Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives recently touted the idea that it was closing the gap on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) by virtue of winning “larger and more strategic” enterprise-level cloud business. Its business productivity and networking platforms are on a roll as well.
But gaming? For better or worse, video games are a low-impact business for the software icon and Microsoft stock investors.