If you're wondering why physical editions of Nintendo Switch games like Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm and Wolfenstein Youngblood are essentially a download code in a box, it's because Nintendo is prioritising which publishers and developers get access to Nintendo Switch cartridges that are still in notoriously short supply. Several sources familiar with the situation speaking to Gadgets 360 have confirmed that the wait for access to Nintendo Switch cartridges is notoriously long too, making codes in boxes a reality for those game companies not willing to wait.
"Even right now, Nintendo Switch cartridges cost seven times more than a Blu-ray for PS4 or Xbox One," a production manager at a games company said on condition of anonymity. "It's tough to justify supporting the platform from a business side, but due to the demand for Switch games, publishers have no choice but to do something at retail. Hence code in box."
"At the moment, there's been a four to eight week wait for getting your game onto a Switch cart," said a sales executive at a major publisher. "And in a month like this with two Final Fantasy games and Mortal Kombat 11, it's obvious that Nintendo would play favourites, making it harder for smaller studios."
All of this results in a situation that's gone from bad to worse. In 2017 we saw LA Noire and Doom have graced the console but not without a 14GB and 9GB download to experience all they have to offer. This is because neither game in its entirety can fit on a single Switch game cartridge. Others, like WWE 2K18 require a colossal 24GB download even if you own it on cartridge.
"If a publisher wants to put a game on a 32GB cart on Switch it costs 60 percent more for them then it would for a 50GB Blu-Ray on PS4/Xbox One," tweeted games analyst Daniel Ahmad at the time.
“Full Priced Retail Software Publisher Gross Margin 50GB Blu-Ray = 55 percent 32GB Switch cart = 45 percent That is one reason Switch games cost more,” he added.
Now it seems that game developers and publishers have decided to forsake the wait altogether, preferring to sell codes in box instead. And it's not just bigger games from franchises like Naruto and Wolfenstein either. Even smaller titles like Cricket 19 are code in box too.
That said, this doesn't seem to impact boutique Switch retailers like Strictly Limited and Limited Run Games.
“Nintendo's Switch is a great success and Nintendo were completely packed since the beginning. Now that the initial waves have calmed, Big N was able to lower the barriers to entry [for bringing independent games on cartridge for the Nintendo Switch]. I am not sure if there ever will be the same flexibility as with Sony, but we'll see,” said Dennis Mendel of Strictly Limited Games, referring to the minimum order quantity allowed by these companies.
The minimum order quantity or MOQ as its known in distributor parlance is the commercially viable lowest number of a game that is produced for sale.
For its part, Sony allows the PS4 and PS Vita physical game MOQ to be as low as 1,000 units. Previously, Nintendo's MOQs had been 6,000 units for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. It is unclear what the MOQ is for the Nintendo Switch, though sources in the supply chain did confirm that it's much lower than the 75,000 disc minimum the Xbox One has, which is more than the Xbox 360 50,000 unit MOQ.
A year and a half ago, it was suggested that Nintendo has plans for 64GB cartridges, but the roll out has been delayed to 2019.
“Nintendo had planned to make 64GB cards available to partner developers in the second half of 2018, but recently told them that it would push the date back to 2019 owing to technical issues, according to people with direct knowledge of the discussions,” claims a report from The Wall Street Journal. It further states that US-based game publishers were “disappointed” with the news and that they “may wait for the 64GB card to release those kinds of games for the Switch.”
We're almost halfway through 2019 and there seems to be no update in sight on 64GB cards or even a change in supply for existing capacities which are 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB.
What does this mean for consumers? It appears that Nintendo's lack of progress on bringing a larger quantity and capacity of Switch cartridges could deter publishers and developers from exploiting the full potential of what's one of the better consoles in recent memory. And considering the slipshod manner in which Switch releases like Mortal Kombat 11 are handled, with a 15GB download despite being on cartridge, makes the Switch version of most AAA games a distant second choice compared to other platforms.
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