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How can we solve Nintendo Switch's cartridge cost quandary?

Developers are being unintentionally pushed towards digital

This article was first printed in the GamesIndustry.biz UK Retail and Publishing Briefing. To receive these special emails, sign up here.

Nintendo Switch games cost more than PS4 and Xbox One titles.

Those that remember the N64 and PSOne era will know why. Switch uses a proprietary cartridge-based media that costs more to manufacture and distribute than discs. The price varies depending on whether you need a 1GB card or a 32GB one (Nintendo is not stipulating a minimum RRP).

Now in the top-end AAA area, this isn't a massive problem. AAA titles on PS4 and Xbox One have been gradually increasing in cost anyway - driven by rising budgets - and just a quick search around and you'll see that Zelda: Breath of the Wild's retail price is pretty much in-line with Horizon: Zero Dawn on PS4.

The problem lies amongst those mid-tier games (B-games, remakes, indie-A titles etc) and it's an issue recently highlighted by Tequila Works and its adventure game Rime.

Rime on Switch is going to cost 10 more than its PS4 and Xbox One counterpart (39.99 vs 29.99) - something recently explored and observed by our friends over at Eurogamer.

That price tag is for both the physical and digital version of the game. Nintendo, similar to Xbox and PlayStation, have a policy where some form of parity must be kept between digital and physical releases (retailers remain important to platform holders for many reasons, not least because they need them to sell low-margin hardware). This creates a situation where digital games on Switch can end up costing significantly more than they do on other consoles, and with no obvious reason to the consumer.

Now, that places developers and publishers in a bit of tricky situation. If they want a physical component - and therefore reach the widest possible audience of Switch players - then they need to stick a higher price tag on it. Not only would that disappoint fans, but it ultimately limits the title's potential.

Developers must choose between charging more for the game and limiting its potential, or avoiding boxed retail... and limiting its potential

Developers must choose between charging more for the game and limiting its potential, or avoiding boxed retail... and limiting its potential

A solution is to add extra content into the Switch version - something that at least two developers I've spoken to are considering - but that also risks upsetting fans of the Xbox One/PS4 version(s).

Alternatively, developers/publishers can simply make the game digital-only, which brings down the price but leaves that still-lucrative boxed market untapped.

It's a classic rock/hard place situation.

Nintendo is a company not known for negotiating; anyone that has dealt with it in the retail world will be familiar with that ('This is the price. Take it or leave it.'). Nintendo is also of the view that Switch games are worth the extra money because, unlike with Xbox One and PS4, these games can be taken on-the-go, too. There's certainly an argument to be made there, but I'm not convinced consumers - and therefore publishers and developers - see it in the same way.

Nintendo doesn't like to subsidise its products to keep the costs low for consumers (that's why Switch is being sold at a profit, in contrast to how its competitors do business). There's nothing wrong with that. Yet a problem arises if this attitude forces developers and publishers to forgo the physical route and head down the digital-only path because the cost-of-goods are too prohibitive. Nintendo platforms are already renowned for not being especially friendly for third-parties and this will only add to those pre-existing issues. It will also make things harder with retailers, who will find themselves with fewer games to stock and therefore limiting the shelf space available for Switch going forwards.

This is a lose-lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

As manufacturing increases for Switch games (as it hopefully will), the prices should fall. So perhaps Nintendo ought to take the longer view and find a way (even if it means cutting that margin) to encourage more Switch games onto shelves, and not fewer.

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Latest comments (17)

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
They're not that proprietary. The question everyone need to be asking is "why is everything to do with Switch grossly overpriced?"

The $40 charging grip, the $30 dock replacement, the $70 controllers, everything is well above what the competition is charging.

I don't think it's just Nintendo playing their usual games or trying to play Apple. Still investigating my hypothesis though.
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, LudiaA year ago
I got confused by this:

"As manufacturing costs increase for Switch games (as it hopefully will), the prices should fall."

How will prices fall if manufacturing costs increase?
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@Daniel Trezub: Typical QA, spotting the bugs.
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Show all comments (17)
Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona UniversityA year ago
@Jeff Kleist:

Switch controller has 40 hr battery life and includes the USB-C charging cable. X1 controller has no batteries included. DS4 has closer to 6 hr battery life and doesn't include a charging cable.

Dock is a USB-C to HDMI/Power/USB adapter underneath and those are not cheap to begin with. Probably will come down in price as USB-C becomes more ubiquitous.

Grip has large battery and USB-C charging cable.

The last 2 the competition doesn't even have so not sure how they are well above what the competition is charging. :) I doubt they are going to be high volume accessories either.
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Jordan Lund Columnist A year ago
@Jeff They have a lot of ground to make up after the Wii U fiasco.

The UK pricing is consistent in the US as well, at least for RIME:

http://www.gamestop.com/browse?nav=16k-3-Rime,28zu0

$30 for PS4/Xbox One - $40 for Switch.

It's really going to hurt purchases from multi-system owners.

OTOH - Has-Been Heroes is $20 across the board, physical, digital, all platforms.

http://www.gamestop.com/browse?nav=16k-3-Has+Been+Heroes,28zu0

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jordan Lund on 27th March 2017 6:56pm

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome EnterprisesA year ago
Why can't Nintendo have some digital only games, that are sold in stores as printed out download codes? That would get the costs way down.

@Daniel Trezub, LOL I noticed that too. I read ""As manufacturing costs increase for Switch games (as it hopefully will)". And I thought CHRISTOPHER DRING OWNS SONY STOCK! :)
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
@Bob Johnson: equivalent on Xbox $20-25. Includes cable, and that has a huge markup attached to it as well. Cost difference in battery included at best a few bucks.

Dock costs about $5 to make, my tech got quotes on the chips inside after a tear down. $19.99 would more than cover it.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A year ago
Eshop cards at every cash register in every major market.
A console you can bring with you that has wireless LAN
Cheap SDs casrds for mass storage.
A company which tried to make the NES disk system work.

Stop wasting money on plastic boxes from China and use the money get some download stations up and running. Hook up a Raspberry to an LTE stick and you are ready to go. Waste some bucks on a USB hard drive to buffer locally. I bet, this will end up being cheaper than this endless flood of plastic boxes. Get those early 80ies cartridges out of my latter 2010s.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Klaus Preisinger on 27th March 2017 8:45pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
@Klaus I know those were in the works for Xbox before the 180. I expect Gamestop would still very much like to get them in.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser A year ago
"A solution is to add extra content into the Switch version - something that at least two developers I've spoken to are considering - but that also risks upsetting fans of the Xbox One/PS4 version(s)."

This seems like a reasonable suggestion. Xbox 360 and PS3 gamer's became quite use to this last gen when getting a later release from a game that appeared on the opposite console first. And I'm sure that Japanese publishers would easily agree to this because the Switch is a native system to them. As for US/UK publishers it would probably be a much tougher sell.

As for upsetting fans on the other systems that didn't get the extra content, I think at least some of them would understand. But the option is always there to release the additional content on those systems too, as either DLC and/or in future retail releases such as a "complete" or "GOTY" editions.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
Allegedly Lego City Undercover uses an 8GB card, then requires another 13 be downloaded from the internet. One has to wonder how much are they marking these cards up, as they're using pretty slow flash media based on tests. That could also go along way to explain the $10 premiums
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA year ago
Nintendo is not going to win on digital sales. Its not their target audience. If you're not retail you're in trouble, indies will hit that wall sooner rather than later. Makes me think of Ocean or Domark days - some bright spark will collate indie games and sell them as one cart ....
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant A year ago
The Switch is another Nintendo Console which is not really Digital friendly, because the amount of storage is way to low in order to store a normal amount of games. Yes they support SD-cards which are reasonably priced - but the reasoning you don't need the extra space because you can run the games if you have them in physical form is so 2000.

This leaves developers and publishers in a hard place - because getting games in retail is way more expensive, both in manufacturing and getting shelf space.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona UniversityA year ago
@Rogier Voet:

It's perfectly digital friendly. Buy an SD card.

But the digital friendly version costs quite a bit more money, They weren't about to make that the base model. Every big mobile device maker charges $200 extra for 256gb of storage.

There is no other portable with as big of games as the Switch. That's one reason they still have carts. Other being their customer base and that most of their sales happen at xmas.
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Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona UniversityA year ago
@Jeff Kleist:

Show me the $20-$25 Xbox One controller on Amazon ($60 is still list price and price you pay if you walk into any retail store,) and show me the $20 USB-C to HDMI, power and USB adapter on Amazon and you win.

If not I win.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
I'm talking the charging grip, which is the equivalent of the Xbox Play N charge The plastic the negligible

I'm talking the actual cost of production in mass quantities, not what people are charging at retail. If Nvidia just charged what it cost to make a GPU, a 1080 would be sub $50. Nintendo is using off the shelf parts

Here's several $15, again at retail usbC to HDMI. Cost of including 20w power would hit your $20 requirement.

https://www.amazon.com/CableCreation-USB-C-Adapter-Macbook-Chromebook/dp/B0126Q2CME/ref=sr_1_2?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1490715964&sr=1-2-spons&keywords=USB+c+to+hdmi&psc=1

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AXH5C16?psc=1
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.A year ago
@Jeff Kleist - Allegedly Lego City Undercover uses an 8GB card, then requires another 13 be downloaded from the internet.

"Players who purchase a physical copy of LEGO City Undercover on Nintendo Switch at retail are getting the complete game, and do not need to download additional content to enjoy the full experience. An internet connection is not required to play the game. "
-Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment

http://www.ign.com/articles/2017/03/28/wb-comments-on-lego-city-undercover-switch-download
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