The Switch Tax: how much more are you paying for digital games?

features 2018-08-22T19:54:57 By Tim Hanlon

You’ve no doubt heard the term Switch tax by now, referring to the apparently widespread practice of publishers charging significantly more for games on the Switch than they do on other platforms. As we built out our database of Switch games, we decided to take a look at whether the Switch tax was a real phenomenon or a popular myth.

Before we get stuck in, there’s a couple of important things to note. This is US-centric data, and we’re not looking at pricing on other consoles, just the PC. Nor are we looking at sale prices.

Of the 1,042 Switch games which are currently in our database, we found 471 which are also available on Valve’s Steam platform.

If you were to buy all of them on the eShop, it would cost you $7,293.18.

If you were to buy all of them on Steam, it would cost you $6,550.03.

So, on average, the Switch tax is just over 10% if you’re buying digitally…but averages suck, so let’s dig in.

Updated: our original analysis failed to exclude games that hadn’t been released on the eShop yet. Addressing this changed the total price difference quoted here from just under 8% to just over 10%. We also didn’t properly account for the impact that physical copies can have on eShop pricing, due to both cartridge manufacturing costs and the need for publishers to keep the retailers happy. There’s a Eurogamer piece from March last year which explains this in detail. We regret the error.

Excluding games with physical copies available drops the average Switch tax to 7.2%.

Excluding digital-only games increases the average Switch tax to 17.8%.

55.8% (263) of these games are the same price on both the eShop and Steam, and surprisingly, 8.9% (42) of them are cheaper on the eShop than Steam.

10.8% (51) of these games were released on the eShop and Steam on the same day. Just one of these games was more expensive on the eShop.

We found plenty of publishers with pricing parity on all games available on both platforms, so those of you who are staunchly against the idea of paying more for a Switch version should take note of these publishers:

  • 10tons
  • Adult Swim Games
  • BlitWorks
  • Curve Digital
  • Devolver Digital
  • Eclipse Games
  • Gambitious
  • MixedBag
  • Playdead
  • Raw Fury
  • Rising Star Games
  • Square Enix
  • Tomorrow Corporation
  • Tribute Games
  • Versus Evil

We found titles which are significantly cheaper on either service. The two most extreme cases either way were Payday 2, which is $49.99 on the eShop vs $9.99 on Steam, and Mecho Tales, which is $0.99 on the eShop vs $19.99 on Steam.

We asked Starbreeze for a comment. Maeva Sponbergs, EVP Communication said:

The simple explanation is that there’s a drastic difference of included content in the different offerings. The original base game of PAYDAY 2 (which is now priced on steam at 9.90) was released in 2013 and has since had hundreds of updates (free and paid) made to the game throughout the years. The closer comparison would be PAYDAY 2 Ultimate Edition on Steam. Most of those updates are packaged into the Switch Edition.

It’s also worth noting that due to the amount of content and especially related to the Switch, the file size of the game is not insignificant.

We also contacted Mecho Tales publisher Arcade Distillery, but had not heard back at the time of publishing.

Publisher Plug In Digital was an interesting case – of 15 titles published in the eShop also available on Steam, nine were the same price – but one was half price and another was double. We asked Plug In Digital for a comment, and CEO Francis Ingrand said:

Pricing depends on many criteria. The time between the PC and Nintendo release. Game options and functionality…sometimes we integrate DLC in Nintendo builds, or have extra hardcore levels in Steam builds. Porting costs or extra development needed, especially for online multiplayer games.

What about the publishers who tend to charge more on the eShop?

We found 11 titles published by Digerati which were also available on Steam. While Paranautical Activity is 20% cheaper on the eShop, and Hacky Zack is at parity, other titles had a premium of between 33% and 140%.

Nicalis is another. We found five titles on both platforms, four with a premium of 50% or more – apart from Edmund McMillen’s The End Is Nigh which is available at parity.

Other examples are Microïds charging at least double for its titles on the eShop, and THQ Nordic charging a $10 premium on all its Switch titles.

We contacted Digerati, Nicalis, Microïds and THQ Nordic for comment, but had not heard back at the time of publishing.

In dollar terms, the publisher with the biggest contribution to the overall Switch tax is Bethesda, with Doom and Skyrim contributing a combined $60. This should be taken in context – that the developers at Panic Button were able to get Doom running and performing well on the Switch is incredible. Bethesda has since released Wolfenstein II and recently announced that Doom Eternal will be the first AAA title to get a simultaneous Switch release. In our books, that’s money well spent.

We appreciate that some of you are more price sensitive than others, so we’ve added a new feature to our games database – if a game is available for cheaper on Steam, we’ll show you. Here’s an example from Doom:


About the Author

Tim Hanlon is the founder of Switcher. He has been playing Nintendo for 30 years, and involved in online publishing for 15 years.

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