Jacob Sonenshine Business Insider
Wall Street is throwing around guesstimates of when Microsoft will become a $1 trillion company, but there’s one catalyst many aren’t considering that could help catapult the tech behemoth to that level: Microsoft’s promising gaming business.
“We see Microsoft building out the ‘Netflix of Gaming,'” Morgan Stanley analyst Keith Weiss wrote in a note out to clients. “We think that gaming has historically been largely ignored, misunderstood, and undervalued by analysts and investors.”
Jefferies analyst Timothy O’Shea also recognizes that Microsoft is on the verge of developing a new and explosive gaming businesses.
“Google, Amazon and Microsoft are all working on cloud-based, streaming video game platforms designed to compete with PlayStation and Xbox, and these could launch before the end of the decade,” he wrote. “These services would expand the addressable market by at least 4x and would be available on all screens including TVs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.”
And Weiss agrees with how Microsoft is set to capitalize on the shift in the industry.
“With the gaming ecosystem expanding from the console to the PC and Mobile device, a shift from hardware and one-time video game sales to subscription services, and a future which includes streaming, broadcasting, and mixed-reality, we see Microsoft well positioned for the future of Gaming,” he wrote.
Newzoo market-intelligence data shows that mobile gaming leads the entire gaming market. Mobile saw a 19.3% year-over-year first-quarter revenue increase in 2017, with consoles growing at a comparably weak 3.6%.
Microsoft has already been selling those software-based gaming services, and its Xbox Live subscription service has seen its monthly active users almost double over the past four years, Weiss said.
But here’s the rub: Microsoft has a unique advantage in gaming streaming, with Microsoft Azure. “Azure is a key differentiator for Microsoft in the technology required to achieve streaming,” Weiss said, adding that it “allows for developers to scale and customize gaming infrastructure on a reliable cloud.”
Not only can Azure boost gaming revenues, but there’s yet another layer of upside for Microsoft. Xbox GamePass, a service users download onto a computer and play using a console, could go completely digital soon.
“Over the next 3-5 years we expect Microsoft to extend the reach of Game Pass from the console and PCs, to eventually cover mobile devices – greatly expanding the potential base for monetization,” he said.
Moving Xbox GamePass completely to digital could greatly expanding the entire gaming market. The move “would enlarge the gaming market as users would not be required to purchase a ~$400 console as a base requirement for gaming,” Weiss wrote.
Gaming could be what gets Microsoft over the finish line in its quest to becoming a $1 trillion company. Weiss said his margin estimates look “increasingly conservative given our stance that the mix of Software and Services Gaming revenue should increase to >80% in the outer years of our forecast period.”
His projection of a 45% gross margin on the gaming unit by 2021 is a key piece to “support a path to $50 billion in earnings-before-interest-and-tax and a $1 trillion market cap for Microsoft.”