When we first heard rumors that Nintendo would use tiny cartridges for retail Switch games, rather than optical drives, our own Sam Machkovech boldly predicted that “although ROM production would probably cost more than optical drives, the assumption is that the wholesale cost wouldn’t cost that much more per unit – and certainly not as much as N64 cartridges compared to CD-ROMs in the late ’90s.”
Now that the Switch is on the market, however, that prediction doesn’t seem right. A few upcoming multi-platform games will cost more on Switch than competing consoles, and Nintendo’s decision to go for the cartridge format seems to be the culprit.
The first sign of the trend came last week, when Rhymes publisher Tequila Works announced that the Switch version of the exploration/puzzle game would cost $40, compared to $30 for the PS4 and Xbox One versions. The upcoming North American release of Puyo Puyo Tetris is similarly listed at $40 for the Switch, but only $30 on the PS4 (where it will only be available as a physical release). Binding of Isaac Afterbirth+ costs $40 to pre-order on the Switch, but only $35.97 when purchased as a Steam bundle (that bundle’s components, however, cost $40 when purchased separately).
When asked about this kind of price difference on a Facebook Q&A stream last week, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said “we’re not making that pricing decision” and asked questions of the publishers themselves. “Switch MSRP is based on development and go-to-market costs, which can vary for each platform,” says Tequila Works. said in a tweet about Rhymes‘s Switch prices.
Eurogamer added a bit of context to those vague statements with its own coverage this morning. Citing “some digging” via unnamed sources, the site says it’s “heard…the cost of making a Nintendo Switch game is higher than the cost of making a PS4, PC or Xbox One game, because the cartridges the Switch uses cost more than Blu-ray discs.”
The exact price difference, Eurogamer reports, will depend on the size of the print run ordered for the game. It can also vary based on the size of the cartridge itself, which increases in price for every power of two increments of GB size, up to a maximum of 32 GB. Puyo Puyo Tetris and Binding of Isaac both should fit on cartridges as small as 2 GB, suggesting that even smaller game cards can get a significant price increase over discs (3DS games, by comparison, often clocked under 1 GB).
In addition, Eurogamer reports that Nintendo is forcing eShop versions of retail games to be the same price as their physical counterparts, in order to avoid undermining (and presumably getting angry) retail partners. But, as we’ve seen with the Vita and other consoles, the price difference can start to get weird when retailers start clearing out discs at discounted prices, while downloads remain at their inflated peak (until the occasional big discount sale pops up, that is). Nintendo’s requirement to match the retail price obviously doesn’t apply to games that are offered as download only. That’s probably why a download-only title like Snake Pass will retail for $20 on all platforms, including the Switch. Then another game like Has-Been Heroes will see a physical release on the Switch and also sell for a suggested retail price of $20 on all platforms, including PC, PS4 and Xbox One. This proves that the extra cost of manufacturing Switch cartridges doesn’t to have to pass on to the consumer.
That said, there seems to be a trend for Switch game cartridges to come at a premium price over their disc-based (or download-only) counterparts on other platforms. That might be worth it for the portability (and durability) benefits the Switch cartridge offers, but it’s still worth bearing in mind when considering the console’s pros and cons.