Here’s why Skyrim is so expensive on Switch

Is it really reasonable to ask Switch owners to pay $60+ for a game that’s already over a decade old?

Why is Skyrim so expensive on Switch?

One reason Skyrim is expensive on the Switch is simply that Bethesda and Microsoft know it will sell well at this price point – it’s essentially a new release for Switch owners who haven’t had a chance to play Skyrim yet. 

Porting games – especially open-world games like Skyrim – is an expensive business, and Nintendo’s desire to maintain parity between eShop and in-store prices also means no discounts for digital.

It’s one thing paying big bucks for Switch exclusives that win or are nominated for Game of the Year awards – but is it really worth it for rehashes of old third-party games? Read on below where I dive a little deeper into the above (and more). 

People will buy it

Skyrim is expensive on Switch because people will buy it. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Seriously, though. The price is set at an optimal point based on sales forecasts: Microsoft, Bethesda, and Nintendo want to make megabucks but they also don’t want to piss off potential customers if they can avoid it. 

Screenshot of Skyrim Anniversary Edition game page on the Nintendo eShop showing prices for different versions

$60 for a game that was released in 2011 (or $70 for the Anniversary Edition) is outrageous. However, that’s comparing apples to oranges in a way because, for Switch players, the Skyrim ports are ‘new’:

There are a great many fantastic exclusives on the Switch, but living exclusively in a cozy little Nintendo bubble also means missing out on a lot.

Never before have you been able to utilize the Joy-Con’s motion control capabilities to swing swords, shoot bows, cast magic, or pick locks in Tamriel. Never before has every last bit of Skyrim content been available for us to play while sitting on the John or during the four-hour car journey to grandma’s house

(Yes, I know the Anniversary Edition is available – and cheaper – on Steam but, to be fair, it’s not Steam Deck-verified).

Bethesda, Nintendo, and co. also know from experience that their premium pricing strategy works perfectly well on Switch: The 2017 version of Skyrim on Switch (still priced at $60 on the eShop) has sold well over 1 million copies

You can go fishing

Abe Simpson sat on a tree stump telling a story to bart, millhouse and others while wearing a dragon born skyrim helmet and holding a fishing rod
It’s far from my best work.

It’s the breakthrough that all Switch owners have been waiting for. Decades from now, you’ll remember where you were when you heard that fishing was coming to Skyrim.

Players who pick up the Anniversary Edition (or those who already own the Special Edition and nab the free upgrade) can now pick up fishing supplies at set locations and prospect for fish, rare loot, or… old buckets.

Don’t blame me if you completely lose track of time by the water’s edge. You can continue playing your Switch while charging it in handheld mode so not even a dead battery will stop you.

Other stuff like the character customization options are unchanged, but there’s plenty more packed into the Anniversary Edition, which is (for now, at least), the complete Skyrim experience on Switch. 

It includes the core game, the three official DLCs/add-ons, plus a fair chunk of new content via the Creation Club. There’s an entirely new survival mode, too, in which hunger, disease, and all sorts of other stressful things require your attention, 

In this sense, if you were a Nintendo or Bethesda sales rep, you might be so brazen as to argue that the $70 price point is more comparable to bundle pricing than to standalone game pricing.

To summarise, the key differences between the Skyrim Special Edition version on Switch and the new Anniversary Edition are:

  • 74 items of Creation Club content (Bethesda-approved mod content) 
  • Several new quest lines
  • Brand-new areas and dungeons
  • Survival mode

Elder Scrolls VI is a long way away

Another reason that the Skyrim Switch ports are so expensive is that a new installment to The Elder Scrolls franchise is a long, long way off

Not only can we not yet see Elder Scrolls VI on the horizon, but it’s also already been confirmed as an XBOX and PC exclusive

Timeline of Mainline Releases in The Elder Scrolls series with image of tumbleweed in the large space between the Skyrim release in 2011 and today

We’re 11 years past Skyrim’s initial release, which is already two times as long as the gap between Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Skyrim and almost three times the wait between Morrowind and Oblivion

At this point, the Switch is at least halfway through its generation life cycle and it is already starting to show its age on some of the more intensive new releases. 

With this in mind, I would say that the likelihood of Elder Scrolls VI ever being released on the Nintendo Switch is fairly low. That means the current Skyrim ports are likely your only way to play Elder Scrolls on Switch so there’s little incentive for the corporate suits to discount anything. 

Porting costs money

This isn’t exclusive to Nintendo or Bethesda, or anyone else, but porting games from one platform to another is a labor-intensive (read: expensive) process

This post by Dmytro Kovtun, CEO of Ukrainian studio Pingle, gives an extensive overview of the factors to consider when thinking about how much it costs to port a video game. 

Pingle has worked on plenty of game ports in recent years, including an Android version of the critically acclaimed indie game Donut County plus bringing updates to My Time at Portia players across PlayStation, XBOX, and Switch. 

It’s a fairly lengthy post but, fortunately for you, I can summarize some of the key reasons that game ports rack up big bills

  • Console architectures can differ significantly (meaning even porting small-size Switch games can be tricky)
  • Proprietary game engines might require a full rewrite
  • Open-world games (like Skyrim) are incredibly complex & hard to port
  • It’s more expensive if the decision to port is made after the original development process is complete
  • Optimizing source art, controls and gameplay can add further complexity
  • Licensing can be expensive

Looking at the critic and user reviews, it’s fair to say that Iron Galaxy, the studio that worked on the original Skyrim Switch port did a darn good job, particularly given the significant hardware limitations of the Switch console.

Other production costs

Aside from the costs associated with porting to Switch, it’s regularly pointed out during discussions on how expensive Switch games are that the Switch game cartridges cost more to produce than optical discs.

Ah-ha! But that doesn’t explain why the digital download versions of these games also command a premium price, does it? 

Actually, it does, because Nintendo insists on digital Switch games costing the same as the physical RRP where possible. Nintendo has also, since time immemorial, maintained a stubborn stance on discounting and selling hardware and software at loss-leading prices. 

Product pricing theory

Extending on the above, Nintendo’s entire sales philosophy centers on charging premium prices for premium products. This is just as true for third-party products and ports as it is for Nintendo’s own creations.

Adaptation of Philip Kotler's Price-Quality model with Nintendo Switch logo placed in the premium strategy high price high product quality cell

The term that smart economics people might use to describe Nintendo’s pricing strategy is ‘Maximum Price Skimming’. According to Philip Kotler, who coined it, maximum price skimming works when:

  1. A sufficient number of buyers have high demand
  2. The unit costs of producing at lower volumes do not cancel out the advantage of higher prices
  3. The high initial price does not attract more competitors to the market
  4. The high price communicates the image of a superior product. 

I’d argue that so long as requirement number one (demand) is met, then points two, three, and four all apply to the Skyrim ports on Switch.

The ‘Switch Tax’

Cleverer people than I have summarized all of the above as parts of the ‘Switch Tax’, which affects AAAs like Skyrim as well as the best indie games on Switch.

Switcher’s 2018 analysis of the ‘Switch Tax’ actually found Bethesda to be the worst offender when it came to bumping up prices of its Switch releases compared to the same releases available on Steam for PC players.

Summary – Why is Skyrim so expensive on Switch?

Skyrim is expensive on Switch because people happily will buy a complete and portable version of one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. 

You’ve also got to take into account the costs associated with porting a game the size of Skyrim, as well as the premium that comes with anything Nintendo can stick their brand on.

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