Price Vs Profit: The Switch’s Storage Situation Is Not That Easy To Fix

The most criticised aspect about the Nintendo Switch is the lack of memory, with some going as far as saying Nintendo is ripping-off customers by forcing them to buy microSD cards for their console.

Memory issues have been a common problem since the last generation, and with the increasing size of games, even 500GB fall short on the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4.

For example, recently I got as a gift a PS4 Slim bundle that came with three games being Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us Remastered, and Ratchet and Clank. In my case, I decided to buy a physical copy of Tales of Zestiria, Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age, and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8. As these are physical copies, my first thought was that the games shouldn’t take a big hit on the 500GB internal memory, but I was wrong. As soon I inserted the discs, the six games took a total of 205GB: half of the drive including the space reserved by the operating system.

I’m not expecting such large sizes with most titles for the Nintendo Switch; so far just a few digital games won’t fit in on the system out of the box like Dragon Quest I-II and Resident Evil Revelations 2‘. There is also the case of NBA 2K 18, and while it was confirmed a memory card will be needed to play, there are no further details about the game. We can expect two outcomes: either the game comes with a downloadable code which means the game is over 25GB, or the developer found it easier to release part of the game physically and the rest as a download instead of further compressing the game.

Developers don’t have to worry about memory for home consoles, but the Switch is still a handheld.

Regardless of how the problem is presented, I will point my finger at Nintendo to blame for not predicting two aspects: home console games are larger than handheld games and expensive cartridges will make developers to find solutions to dodge costs. There is even another aspect to consider here, and it is that the e-MMC memory modules used on the Switch do have a limited size. Toshiba’s website reveals that the highest capacity is 128GB, which would force Nintendo to choose between using more than one memory unit or change the system’s design to support an SSD.

It took me a while to find prices for e-MMC memory modules, and despite that, I can’t be fully accurate because of the limited information available. Even so, we can more or less deduce the price difference between the memory modules:

  • THGBMHG8C2LBAIL: Used by Nintendo, the 32gb model goes up to 15 dollars.
  • THGBMHG9C4LBAIR: This model features a capacity of 64gb, priced up to 30 dollars per unit.
  • THGBMHT0C8LBAIG: Doubling yet again, this 128gb is the maximum capacity available being available up to 70 dollars a piece.

Considering Nintendo wants to sell Switch units for a profit and the price difference of the memory modules, I would say they have two viable options: release a 128gb model for $350, (a price that some consumers would find expensive), or a 64GB model including a Pro Controller for around $400.

If they decided instead to use SSDs,  a higher cost wouldn’t be the only factor but also a system redesign to make it fit. However, there shouldn’t be a big difference if they went with a 1.8″ model (mSATA). Despite there not being a big difference in price between eMMC and SSD for 128gb units, they could benefit with higher sizes.

Keeping the Toshiba as a manufacturer in mind, a 256gb drive is around $100. It doesn’t sound bad to have $399 Switch with 256GB of internal memory, right? Sadly, it does. From a customer perspective, why should I prefer to pay $100 for an additional 96GB when I could just buy a 128GB microSD card for half the price? This does leave Nintendo in a tight situation, as their only solution left is starting to include 64GB eMMC module for a lower profit or even a loss, requiring to remove the cost from somewhere else, like making a cheaper dock for example.

While HDD drives are cheaper, they are not convenient for mobile devices as there are more cons than pros.

Wait wait wait, but Nintendo is doing a Splatoon 2 bundle for the Nintendo Switch. How can you be so sure they can’t afford it?“, you may ask. The thing is, they don’t. The bundle does comes with a case and the game digitally but for $379.99, still, it is what it would cost separately (and even a lower cost for Nintendo as the game is not physical).

The next dilemma is that if Nintendo can’t do anything about it, what solution they can offer to make it easier?

Looking at micro SD models, low storage amounts can be found for cheap. For instance, a 32GB microSD card costs less than $20. However, considering that in some cases you would be limited to just one or two games, the safest option would be a 128GB model that is around $40, which is still reasonable. If you want to go higher, you would need to spend at least $130 for a 256GB card, and a whopping $250 for the recently released 400GB card from Sandisk. That is almost the same price as the Switch!

This is getting more difficult for both sides, huh? If Nintendo goes with a higher internal memory, it will greatly increase the manufacturing price. Going with an SSD gives more space, but is still more expensive than a microSD card and still has a limited size like microSD cards. We also have to consider that this is a “portable home console”, making the use of a hard drive not convenient at all. They can add the feature to support external drives via the dock as an alternative but you wouldn’t be able to take the games with you.

But if we think outside the box, the solution is no longer about including a larger storage size but rather, a way to add it. After all, mobile storage is still limited and bigger sizes are expensive.

Adding two slots would allow to have more space without going crazy on the budget.

In that case, adding another microSD slot would increase the size without going crazy around the price. Here, the user would have the option to use a primary card, used by the system which can’t be swapped, and a secondary card that can be removed and still be used to keep games. To be honest, I find interesting that Nintendo didn’t think of measures around this problem. Maybe they didn’t have time, or maybe they didn’t care at all.

This is just my opinion, but another solution I can think of is to allow partial downloads of a game. Capcom has already confirmed the size for Resident Evil Revelation 1 and 2 for the Switch, being 13gb and 26gb. Both are surprisingly bigger than their PC counterparts with 8gb and 23gb respectively.

Both games feature voice acting in six different languages and considering you won’t use more than two, the rest is just wasted space. With that said, would it have been way more efficient to just download the language you will use?

Knowing exactly the difference of size is not possible, but if we consider a repack – basically a user made installation, often made for piracy – that has only two languages is around 4gb. That is literally half the size you are wasting in unused data.

And if we think about it, the Nvidia Shield – which you can consider it the predecessor of the Nintendo Switch – also faced the same problem. Looking at three ports in the Google Play Store, we find that Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 5 are 5.5gb each. That is more than the device’s 16gb internal memory.

The Nvidia Shield, announced in 2013 as the most powerful mobile gaming device, shared a similar problem.

So yeah, with the current situation Nintendo can’t do anything without sacrificing price or profit. Users are left with a storage limit (even if more than one microSD slot was available) and most developers aren’t interested in keeping the size of their games low. It will be interesting to see how many Switch games will require a microSD card as the console continues to advance.

Eric Weichhart
When it comes to gaming, I don't choose a side nor the budget, but how much fun I will get from playing.