Puyo Puyo Tetris launched for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 yesterday, albeit at different MSRPs. For years, video game publishers have, for the most part, kept price parity for titles across all systems they're released for. However, Puyo Puyo Tetris is $10 more on Nintendo Switch than on PlayStation 4. Puyo Puyo Tetris isn't the only game to be affected by this trend. RiME is also slated to be $10 more expensive than on rival consoles when it makes its debut on the Switch.
Nintendo Switch exclusive games suffer from what many gamers are considering as overpricing. Super Bomberman R and 1-2-Switch, both of which would be considered $20 party titles on other consoles, launched on the Switch for $50 — an outrageous price for the content provided by those two games.
Why are games on a technically inferior system so much more expensive than on its rivals? We’ve dug deep to find some facts (and some opinions) on why developers are charging more for their Nintendo Switch releases.
Nintendo’s media options for the Switch
With portability touted as a major feature for the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo only had three options when it came to read-only media.
• Develop a whole new form of optical storage that is shock-resistant (like the UMD).
• Use solid state storage.
• Go digital only.
Why Nintendo didn’t go with optical media for the Switch
Developing a new type of optical storage would have likely been cheaper in the long run, but given the weak sales of the Wii U, Nintendo probably wanted their proprietary media to be a bit less “proprietary” to cut costs in the short-term. Additionally, a smaller optical disk like the UMD could only hold 900 MB single-layer/1.8 GB dual-layer, and it would take entirely new tech to make an optical drive feasible with the Switch.
Why Nintendo chose flash storage for the Switch and why it makes games more expensive
Instead, Nintendo went with the same solution they’ve used on the Nintendo DS and 3DS family: NAND flash memory. Flash memory has the advantage of being shock-proof, water-resistant, and is much sturdier and faster than optical media. However, these benefits come at a price. Based on the price of small batch (750) run of single-layer Blu-rays ($1.65 per disc), we can assume that in batches of hundreds of thousands that Sony and Microsoft are paying somewhere under a dollar per disc. Factor in a case and (sometimes) a manual and you’re probably looking at around $2 in materials per physical copy of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the Nintendo Switch launched in the midst of a global NAND flash shortage, which is primary affecting solid state drive manufacturing, and is also likely affecting the production costs of Nintendo Switch carts. Further complicating matters is that although Nintendo allows developers and publishers to set the prices for their games, Nintendo Switch carts come in 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities. The higher the capacity of the cart, the more each unit costs the developer, and the more they’ll have to charge for their title to make up for the extra cost.
For most games, developers can probably ballpark how much storage their game will need when it’s complete, but having to choose from six different capacities may have developers buying larger carts in bulk to make sure they don’t get stuck with a ton of too small Switch carts.
In comparison, there are only two capacities to pick from on Xbox One or PlayStation 4: single-layer or dual-layer Blu-ray. With a 32 GB NAND module costing around $2.31, developers have to pay more for just an empty cart for the Switch than the entire unit for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The extra cost of NAND Switch cards gets passed to the consumer.
So why don’t Switch developers just go digital?
Since Nintendo lets Switch developers set their game prices, why don’t they just go digital and save us some money? Some studios are choosing to do that. Snake Pass from Sumo Digital launched on the Nintendo Switch as a digital-only title, and the game sold for the same price as on the other platforms for which it was released. However, the primary issue with digital releases on the Switch is in part due to Nintendo policy, and brick and mortar sales.
While a ton of people are transitioning to digital storefronts for their gaming needs, there’s still a ton of games sold in physical form at physical locations. Smaller studios can afford to go digital only since their losses from potential brick and mortar sales are negligible in comparison with the cost of producing physical packaging and cost of shipping. However, larger publishers, who have supply pipelines in place and advertising deals, still rely heavily on physical sales.
The thing with offering both a digital version of a game and a physical version is that you have to have price parity. Nintendo encourages studios to set their prices to be the same for both digital and in-store copies of a game. Brick and mortar stores want this too because if a game is set cheaper online, then no-one is going to want to pay an extra $10 for the same product. Also, publishers have historically made it clear they don’t care if you pay the same money for a digital product and a physical one.
They know you’ll buy it because the Nintendo Switch is new
Another key component to Switch games being priced higher than they are on other consoles is because it's new. There aren't many games for it and publishers are counting on Switch owners buying whatever is available just to have something to play. Nintendo is aiding in this by trickling out indie titles instead of releasing them when they’re submitted and ready to go.
It’s not unusual for Nintendo to take this tact. Artificial scarcity has been their M.O. for the last few years, and it’s worked well for them. Whether or not we’ll see game prices go down as more games become available and NAND prices decline is debatable. There’s a chance studios will just jack up prices on other consoles to match the Switch.
Check out more Nintendo news and coverage
Looking for more Nintendo Switch news? Check out how blind gamers are using the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo's left Joy-Con issue turns out to be a hardware problem — here's how to solve it. Find out how to buy a console amidst the recent restock. Learn why the Switch cartridges taste so bad. Check out our comparison photos sizing up the Switch to the Wii U GamePad (part one and part two), or find out how to make use of ethernet without the dock and the best way to get alerts when new stock arrives.