Switch games at RRP are generally a little less expensive than triple-A PlayStation and Xbox titles, but you’ll be lucky to find a popular Switch game on sale even years after release.
Why are Nintendo Switch games so expensive?
The main reasons Nintendo Switch games are so expensive are sustained high demand, product differentiation (at least for platform exclusives), and the fact that cartridges cost more to make than discs.
Getting stuck into product pricing theory
Philip Kotler (probably the biggest name there is when it comes to marketing theory) outlined a Price – Quality strategy model in his oft-cited book Marketing Management. It goes some way toward explaining the sustained high prices set by Nintendo:
Nintendo’s position according to this model is firmly in the top-left: it charges high prices for high-quality products.
Getting even more stuck in: Maximum price skimming
In Marketing Management, Kotler also describes five different price objectives that a company can pursue through its pricing strategy. Of the five, I think ‘maximum price skimming’ best describes the strategy pursued by Nintendo:
Maximum price skimming, as per Kotler, makes sense if:
- A sufficient number of buyers have high demand
- The unit costs of producing at lower volumes do not cancel out the advantage of higher prices
- The high initial price does not attract more competitors to the market
- The high price communicates the image of a superior product.
There is certainly demand for Nintendo’s products: the Nintendo Switch was best selling video game hardware platform in both units and dollars in the USA in 2021.
Nintendo shifts a ton of software, too. For example, seven different Switch-exclusive games have sold more than 20 million copies.
Also, No fewer than six Switch titles have outsold God of War – the highest-selling PS4 game of all time. This remains true even when you add God of War’s approx. two million PC sales to the total.
I think that means we can put a checkmark next to the first requirement for maximum price skimming outlined above and Nintendo doesn’t really have to worry about point number two.
What about competitors? There is little chance, in my opinion, of a competitor undercutting Nintendo. That’s not because other companies aren’t able to sell games for less but rather that Nintendo has built a wide moat around its market position through:
- The strength of its platform-exclusive franchises (six Switch exclusives have been nominated for Game of the Year)
- The development of innovative hardware (Nintendo can take advantage of captive product pricing)
- Product differentiation (unique appeal vs. Playstation and Xbox)
Nintendo has a long track record of developing and publishing great games and so it should surprise no one that its new releases come with a premium price tag.
As for these games rarely being discounted, well, plenty of people are still buying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at RRP (it’s rarely been on sale).
Would you slash the price of a successful product if people were throwing money at it half a decade later? Didn’t think so.
In any case, the data I collected a while back actually shows that relatively speaking, video games are cheaper now than ever before.
Back to basics: Production costs
Let’s shelve all that big-brain marketing stuff for a second and highlight another simple reason why Nintendo Switch games are so expensive: They cost more to make.
Way back at the Switch’s launch in 2017, it was pointed out by Eurogamer amongst others that the tiny Nintendo Switch game cartridges are more expensive to make than the Blu-ray discs used by PlayStation and Xbox.
Not only that, but the cartridge cost also increases depending on its capacity (Switch game cards come in capacities ranging from 1GB – 32GB).
A casual observer might also note that the comically large Nintendo Switch game cases use an unnecessarily large amount of material to make (but this almost certainly isn’t a reason for the high prices).
An even more casual observer might further note that lots of games are delivered via digital download these days, so why are they still so expensive?! Well, I guess one answer to that is the costly server space Nintendo has to maintain in order to enable software downloads (and redownloads for Switch users who archive or delete their games).
So… Nintendo’s right to keep its prices high?
As per Nintendo’s Annual Report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022:
“…software sales grew 1.8% year-on-year to 235.07 million units, making it the highest annual software sales figure ever posted for a Nintendo platform to date.”
Not sure I need to add anything more to that – clearly the company is doing something right with its pricing strategy.
It shows no sign of changing tack either – the recently released Switch Skyrim: Anniversary Edition will cost you a cool $70.
One inadvertent outcome of Nintendo’s insistence on its high prices is that second-hand and old Switch titles tend to hold their value much better than games on other platforms.
That means it’s not uncommon for players to be able to buy Switch games new, complete them, and sell them for not far off the same price as they initially purchased. That’s a pretty good deal.
The massive downside to the Switch’s premium games holding their value is that scalpers target these products mercilessly (I know the example I’ve linked to is a special edition but the same holds true for other limited-release titles). This objectively sucks.
You also have to pay a ‘Switch tax’ to play some of the best indie games on Switch (i.e., they are often more expensive than on other platforms).
Problems with preservation
Another thought has just occurred to me: Demand for expensive Nintendo games is also potentially sustained by the threat of these games not being available forever.
The closure of the 3DS eShop in March 2023, for example, sure makes me glad that I bought physical copies of all my 3DS games.
You don’t own games that you buy in digital format – rather, you buy a license to be able to play them on your console.
It’s not exactly easy to play 3DS games on Switch or in digital format anywhere else, for that matter.
Is it cheaper to buy digital Nintendo Switch games?
Tatsumi Kimishima (Nintendo President at the time) had this to say when asked about the company’s approach to pricing during a 2018 Q&A:
“Whether in package form or download form, we are providing software that is fun to play, so it is important that the software contain content of value, and that the value of the content not vary even if the way it is provided changes”
(In that same Q&A Nintendo confirms it takes a similar approach to hardware sales – that’s one reason why JoyCons are expensive.)
Another thing to note is that sharing games or lending to others is not possible if you’ve bought the game digitally, and you also aren’t entitled to download digital copies of Switch games you already own physically.
To summarize, no it is not cheaper to buy digital Nintendo Switch games than the physical equivalent – at least not first-party titles.
I have picked up some first-party Switch games at a discount on the online store (Mario Odyssey, for example) but these sales are rare rather than regular.
Not all Switch games are expensive at full price: The Nintendo online store has a fantastic selection of mostly double-A and indie games for Switch that usually have small file sizes and a small price to match.
Why are Nintendo Switch games so expensive? (Conclusion)
Nintendo Switch games are expensive because:
- There is sustained high demand
- The platform has a unique appeal vs. Playstation and Xbox
- They are known to be high quality
- Switch game cards cost more to produce than discs