The Different Levels of “Switch Tax”

Lots of games cost more on Nintendo’s handheld

I love my Nintendo Switch, and my recently-purchased Nintendo Switch Lite. They’re great, modern mobile consoles. A perfect blend of power and portability, with a vast library of quality games to play, both big-budget and indie.

But that cool portability came at a hefty storage cost. In an era where home consoles are about to finally embrace SSD’s…the Switch also uses solid state storage of a slower and smaller variety.

A whole massive 32 gigabytes of it. That’s perfect in a world where many games greatly exceed 20 gigabytes, right?


On the plus side, Nintendo allows you to expand that storage with any Micro SD card, and you can also buy games on bespoke cartridges…which Nintendo calls Game Cards(TM).

Those physical games sometimes cost more than their digital counterparts due to the production costs of the cartridges themselves being passed on to consumers.

The most recent glaring example of this is Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

The game is $29.99 on all digital platforms, and the physical disc versions on Xbox and PS4 are also $29.99.

But the Switch Game Card is $39.99.

Of the various types of Switch Tax, this one sort of makes sense.

It’s never great to pay more for a game in one particular storage format. But at least Yooka-Laylee has the entire game on the cartridge you’re buying.

Many games have skirted the Switch’s cartridge production cost by using a memory size that’s smaller than the actual game files require, thus forcing users to download the rest of the game. So you don’t pay more for the game in a physical format…but you don’t actually get the whole game.

That’s ridiculous.

The number of games that have done this is too large to count efficiently here, but includes high profile titles like The Spyro Collection, Doom, Assassin’s Creed III Remastered, LA Noire, and many others.

The final type of Switch Tax is the “Just Because” price hike.

I get that it costs money to convert games to a new platform. But it’s weird when a game that’s been discounted to ~$20 for years on other machines comes out at full price on the Switch with hardly any apparent changes or additions.

This doesn’t only happen on Nintendo’s portable (see the recent $50 collection of Baldur’s Gate I and II that hit everything for a perfect example), but it’s more common on the Switch.

If you want that old game you loved in a shiny portable format, be prepared to pay a full $60.

Do you want to play Skyrim on the go? That’ll be $60. And no, Bethesda doesn’t care that the other versions regularly cost one-third of that. They’re not lowering the price no matter how much anyone asks.

The only recent Switch game that I’ll give a pass for any of this pricing tomfoolery is The Witcher III.

Yes, it’s priced at a full $60. But the physical version is the first Switch game to ship on a 32 gigabyte Game Card.

Thanks to a development effort that saw the re-tooling of every asset in the game, the cartridge contains the entire game and all of the released DLC without any extra downloads outside the small day-one patch.

You can also play the game decently well without the patch installed. I know because I tried it.

Furthermore, CD Projekt included extra goodies with the physical version. You get a packet inside the box with a thank you note, stickers, a fold-out map, and a book to catch you up on the world of the game.

Also, The Witcher III is an exceptional conversion, and had a proper full production budget and a year in development.

In an ideal world, every premium-priced old game on the Switch would feature the level of care put into The Witcher III. But it’s one of the only exceptions to the common rule of “charge more for reasons.”

I can’t deny the extreme draw of playing through some of my favorites on the go. I’ve been guilty of paying the Switch tax numerous times over the last two years even though I know that I shouldn’t.

I bought the Baldur’s Gate Collection against all underlying logic just because it’s a classic, so I’ve fallen into the trap myself, and I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks.

I understand that it costs new development money to bring old games to new platforms, and that developers and publishers should be able to recoup those costs.

But there’s no good excuse for not including a full build of a game on a physical cartridge, or for charging a premium for Switch games solely because they’re now on the Switch.

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