After a stellar few years, the video game industry looks set for a slowdown. But which gaming stocks might outperform the sector? Find out here.
- Video game industry update
- What moves video game stocks?
- Video game stock list
- Developers and publishers
Video game industry update
Like many sectors, video game stocks saw a sharp decline at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as market panic triggered a global sell-off. However, after the initial fallout investors realised that the gaming industry could seriously benefit from a populace that’s stuck at home – as they did, sending share prices rallying.
People in most areas are no longer under lockdown, though, and with the economic picture looking poor video games may be seen as an unnecessary luxury. This has led to fears of an impending industry sell off, which were only fuelled further by a poor Q1 2023 earnings season. Market data firm Ampere Analysis has announced that it expects sales to drop this year for the first time since 2015.
Several gaming companies are facing issues on several fronts, with an ongoing chip shortage causing bottlenecks in console production and release schedules still plagued by Covid delays. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also saw many leading players pull out of the country, cutting off a key market.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Gaming grew over 25% from 2019-2021, and is only expected to drop 1.2% this year. And the market is predicted to return to growth soon – with some analysts even stating the sector could be recession proof.
Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition
2022 saw the biggest ever attempted acquisition in the video game industry. In January, Microsoft announced that it was planning on purchasing Activision Blizzard – a publishing giant that has been rocked by scandals in recent years – for $68.7 billion. This was on top of several other purchases by the tech giant in recent years, including Zenimax Media (Bethesda), Obsidian Entertainment and Double Fine.
However, concerns about Microsoft restricting access to key titles (including Call of Duty and World of Warcraft) saw the US regulator vote to block the deal in December 2022. With the company planning on leveraging Activision Blizzard’s key IP to boost subscriptions to its Xbox Game Pass service – and console sales – the decision is a major blow to Microsoft’s plans.
Microsoft has said it intends to pursue the acquisition anyway, so the story is far from over. But if regulators do start taking a closer look at M&A activity within video games, it could have significant fallout for the future of the sector.
What moves video game stocks?
1. Acquisition activity
Even if Microsoft’s purchase of Activision falls through, 2022 saw a lot of acquisition activity. Sony bought Bungie, Embracer Group bought Square Enix’s western studios, Take-Two bought Zynga and more. These purchases can often lead to stock market volatility.
Will 2023 and beyond see yet more consolidation among video game companies, or will increased regulatory oversight put the major stocks off? For now, it remains to be seen.
Any stock is primarily driven by profit, and video games are no different. Investors want to see the bottom line go up, whether that means more games and consoles ‘booked in‘ with retailers, or retailers selling direct to consumers.
Before you buy any gaming stock, it’s worth diving into its earnings reports to see how sales are performing.
3. Upcoming releases
The markets are usually forward-facing, so looking purely at past performance when assessing where a video game stock might head next won’t always be enough.
Often, investors are pouring over upcoming release schedules to decide where sales might come in. Video games are generally announced years ahead of their release, but delays and cancellations are common.
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Video game stocks list
The video game industry is vast – with expected revenues of $200 billion in 2022 – and features a wide range of companies both big and small. Here are 10 stocks to watch in the sector, split across hardware manufacturers, developers and retailers.
1. Sony (SONY)
Sony is the maker of the PlayStation, which is now in its fifth iteration. Like its rival Microsoft, Sony is much bigger than its gaming division, with operations in film, consumer electronics, music and more. However, Sony’s video game output is massive, making it the world’s biggest console manufacturer and game publisher by revenue.
The PlayStation 4 was a major success for the business, selling over 100 million units as the second best-selling home console of all time, behind the PlayStation 2. Sales for the PS5 have been hampered by the global chip shortage.
In its July earnings call, Sony revealed that its gaming operation had shrunk slightly year-on-year – although it was still the company’s biggest division.
2. Microsoft (MSFT)
Unlike Sony, Microsoft’s gaming output isn’t its main revenue driver. The tech giant – with a market cap in excess of $2 trillion – is much more reliant on Office, Azure and Windows to generate profit.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t take gaming seriously, though. Recent years have seen a flurry of acquisitions from Microsoft as it tries to catch up with Sony, including major publishers Bethesda and Activision Blizzard.
The company’s gaming strategy has shifted in recent years, away from a total focus on console sales and towards its Xbox Game Pass subscription model. Gaming revenue was down 7% in its last earnings.
One of the oldest gaming stocks, Nintendo remains a giant in the video game sector, moving away from a direct rivalry between Sony and Microsoft and carving out its own niche in the family-friendly handheld sphere.
In further contrast to Sony or MSFT, Nintendo is a video game company through and through. Its current console, the Switch, has been a huge success – driven partly by massive stay-at-home demand during global lockdowns.
When it comes to recent earnings, however, Nintendo tells a familiar story. Manufacturing bottlenecks have seen Switch sales slump, and with no tentpole releases to prop things up, Nintendo has seen revenue and income fall.
4. Corsair (CRSR)
Gaming hardware stocks don’t end with the ‘big three’, and there are lots of other options you can investigate. One is Corsair Gaming, a computer hardware and peripherals company that sells high-end hardware to the PC gaming market.
Corsair joined the NASDAQ in 2021 via an IPO. The company had seen a significant recent uplift in revenues thanks to COVID-19, which had driven demand for its products. But its share price has struggled since the listing, halving from $34 down to below $17.
Publishers and developers
5. Electronic Arts (EA)
Electronic Arts is a video game developer based in Redwood, California. It manages some of the biggest franchises on the planet, including FIFA, The Sims, Madden and Star Wars.
Founded all the way back in 1982, EA was an early pioneer in the home computer games market. If the upcoming acquisition of Activision Blizzard goes through it will be left as one of the biggest pure-play video game developers by market cap.
In contrast to many of its rivals listed here, EA delivered solid earnings in Q1 2023, with revenue and EPS both coming in well ahead of expectations.
6. Ubisoft Entertainment (UBI)
Ubisoft is a major video game publisher and developer, known worldwide for its Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs games. It has development studios around the globe, but is headquartered in France.
Like many gaming firms, Ubisoft stock had a solid year in 2020 but has struggled since. Away from its flagship Assassin’s Creed franchise sales have slowed and the company announced the cancellation of four games in its last earnings call.
Investors will hope that the upcoming Mario + Rabbids sequel and Skull and Bones – a title with a long, troubled development – can revive the company’s fortunes.
One of the largest development and publishing firms in Japan, Capcom is behind some of the world’s best-known titles: including Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Mega Man and Monster Hunter.
Capcom has long been a major player in the video games industry and remains so today. It is currently trading close to its record high, set in early 2021 after a bumper 2020. This, despite a poor earnings call in June 2022 that saw revenue and income tumble YoY.
However, beating the previous year’s performance would have been almost impossible as the successful launches of Resident Evil: Village and Monster Hunter Rise fuelled huge growth. The company remains bullish on its outlook for the rest of the year.
Tencent is a Chinese conglomerate and the most valuable company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. While it also has huge operations outside of the gaming sphere, its investments in video games led to it topping the chart of companies in the sector by revenue in 2019.
The company has stakes in several notable developers, including:
- 100% of Riot Games (League of Legends)
- 100% of Sumo Digital (Sackboy: A Big Adventure, Crackdown 3)
- 100% of Turtle Rock (Back 4 Blood)
- 40% of Epic Games (Fortnite)
It also publishes directly under its Tencent Games subdivision.
Tencent stock has struggled since peaking at the outset of 2021, with its ADR falling from $90 down below $40 by August 2022. However, its market cap remains in excess of $350 million.
9. GameStop (GME)
GameStop is the largest video game retailer in the world, with 1,000s of stores across North America, Europe and Australia.
GME remains one of the most talked about gaming stocks on the markets thanks to its remarkable Reddit-led rally at the outset of 2021, which saw its share price skyrocket in a ‘short squeeze’.
That high price led GameStop’s board to pursue a 4-1 stock split in August 2022, which cut its share price down by a quarter. Today it trades at around $40, down from its initial peak but still well above the 2020 lows.
10. Games Workshop (GAW)
British game manufacturer and retailer Games Workshop doesn’t fit strictly into the video games sector – most of its revenue comes from selling miniature figures for its Warhammer series of tabletop games. However, it has seen considerable success in recent years from licensing video games from third-party developers based on Warhammer.
Games Workshop stock tells a similar story to other gaming shares in recent years, seeing impressive pandemic-fuelled growth in 2020 which has receded somewhat since. Its latest earnings, though, were largely impressive: with YoY growth in revenue, income and EPS.