The Nintendo Switch has been receiving praise, for the most part, recently for its sleek execution of console gaming on the go. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s console also comes with imperfections. One noteworthy discussion centres around the way Nintendo has priced Switch games, and how those prices are notably higher than on other consoles. Is this right, and what are the long term implications of this price disparity with other consoles?
I enjoyed playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on my Switch. The experience was downright magical. I beat BotW last week and have had next to no reason to touch my Switch since. Meanwhile, it’s hard to ignore to some of the obvious downsides that accompany Nintendo’s newest console. I can stomach going without a Pro controller because it’s downright too expensive and the regret of purchasing 1-2-Switch for $50 when it quite clearly should have been a pack-in will pass. Where I draw the line is when third-party games start costing noticeably more on Switch than other consoles nobody can provide a concrete explanation.
A little over a week ago, Rime developer Tequila Works lifted the veil on release and pricing information. Rime will release on May 26 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One at $30 and will come to Switch at a later date with a pricetag of $40. A representative from publisher Grey Box stated that prices are set “based on the costs of development and publishing for each specific platform,” and later added that “cost of manufacturing is also a factor.” It doesn’t take a sleuth to determine that the producing a physical product for the Switch just costs more than it’s competitors. A digital product could theoretically match the price of other systems, but that would give retailers the short end of the stick, something most publishers just aren’t ready to do yet. Puyo Puyo Tetris also has a $10 price hike for Switch over the PS4 version on Amazon, but there has been significantly less commotion regarding that differential.
And what does Nintendo have to say about all of this? Well, not much. “We don’t make that pricing decision,” Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime responded to a fan during a Facebook stream. “When you see those differences in prices, call up that third-party publisher and ask them.” Two games doesn’t make a pattern, but they do serve as warning signs, warning signs Nintendo appears to be ignoring.
The response is vague at best, but is indicative of a greater concern with how the House of Mario is tackling third parties. Currently, Nintendo hasn’t owned up to the fact that physical development costs more for the Switch. We only have this information thanks to some investigative journalism on Eurogamer’s part. The unclear messaging is disingenuous to both consumers and publishers alike. Not explaining to consumers that portability is a premium product from the outset is shady in of itself, but the fact that the concept hasn’t been discussed openly after the console launched will not be engendering any good will towards Nintendo in the future. At least Sony told the public about the proprietary memory cards before the Vita launched. Sure, that was a terrible decision in general, but imagine the outrage if Sony hadn’t said anything until after more than a million people bought a Vita.
The greater implication of the current situation though, is how Nintendo is presenting their attitude towards third parties. Perhaps Nintendo doesn’t care about the difference in price and assumes that gamers will pay extra for the luxury of portability, but that’s a dangerous assumption, considering the Switch’s vastly inferior online, social approach to community gaming and the lack of a trophy/achievement system. Console gaming-on-the-go is incredibly sleek and novel, but it is also a watered down version because of the ecosystem. In my mind, portability might make a game on the Switch equal in value to a PS4/Xbox One counterpart, but by no means more valuable.
Another possible situation is that Nintendo is simply unaware of the importance of this issue. Of course they understand the cost of manufacturing a game for their own console, but a classic Nintendo move would be to simply ignore that increased cost for third parties wishing to publish titles on Switch, which speaks to a certain level of daftness Nintendo has while they march to the beat of their own drum. Either way, if Nintendo doesn’t attempt to combat their higher manufacturing costs, third parties will jump ship to more cheaply produce games on platforms with exponentially larger install bases. If third parties bail, then Nintendo will be left to support the Switch with first party offerings and subsidise indies, which is a concept that eerily resembles the Wii U, most likely with equally poor results.
Rime will be the canary in the coal mine. My prediction is that it will bomb on Switch, especially compared to the other consoles. I hope I’m wrong because I’d love for every game to succeed, if it deserves to, but I also hope that I’m right if it means Nintendo wakes up and acts before it’s too late. But what do you think? Is Switch’s games being more expensive as big a deal as I’ve made it out to be or is that just the price we have to pay for portability? If you plan on getting Rime, which platform will you get it on? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @Paradise_Mayor.