There’s an interesting discussion circulating the worldwide web at the moment and it all stems from the release of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Nintendo Switch – namely, how much should a port be valued at in today’s gaming landscape. Given that this Nintendo title originally debuted on the Wii U in 2014, how does the company now justify charging full price for gamers to re-experience it on a new console? It’s an interesting question, as Nintendo feels confident that the experience is still worth its $79.96 CAD (via Amazon) price tag despite the fact that a vocal few disagree.
This is a much larger discussion that stretches well beyond Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and the situation is much more different within this context as well. For now, however, let’s focus on the game that kickstarted this op-ed in the first place. Despite releasing to critical praise, Tropical Freeze wasn’t destined to generate a ton of revenue as a result of the limited install base of the platform it debuted on. Still, the game managed to move 1.72 million units worldwide (via VGChartz), which is alright, but still a far cry from what the series has proven capable of in the past.
It’s especially shrug-worthy when stacked up against the franchise’s predecessor, Donkey Kong Country Returns, which sold 6.5 million on the Wii alone (via VGChartz). With so much unrealized potential for the platformer on hardware as popular as the Switch, porting it was a no-brainer. But the house of Mario realized that there needed to be something a little different this time around in order to justify the price tag, so it went the “Deluxe” route and included a new playable character in the form of Funky Kong.
Great. So, does Funky Kong justify the increased cost? Many would likely say no, so then where does this perceived value assigned by Nintendo come from? It’s less than rational for consumers to suggest that the game should retail for exactly what the Wii U version currently does – which is around $20 – especially since there are costs associated with bringing the game to a new platform with a few new bells and whistles. Still, it doesn’t quite add up when comparing it to the work of other publishers and even rival companies.
For example, look at Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which were from-the-ground-up remakes on PS4 that bypassed a simple port entirely in favour of modernizing the controls and graphical capabilities of each game. Activision and Sony, respectively, went on to offer these games at a discount upon their arrival, which in turn garnered solid sales for each game. But even they knew that a remake (which is a lot more intensive than a port) wasn’t worth the cost of a brand new game, and they priced it accordingly.
Looking at a recent string of ports, it’s evident that Tropical Freeze is pricer than the average bear. Jumping over to Microsoft, Rare Replay (which includes 30 Rare-developed titles ranging from Banjo-Kazooie to Conker’s Bad Fur Day) arrived on Xbox One for $29.99 CAD. Meanwhile, Rockstar Games‘ L.A. Noire recently made the transition from PS3/Xbox 360 to PS4/Xbox One and did so at a discounted $49.96 CAD, but here’s where things get interesting: L.A. Noire currently costs $64.99 CAD on Nintendo Switch.
So, is this a Nintendo problem? Sort of, but it goes a little deeper than that.
There’s no question that the Nintendo Switch is a popular platform, so support is quickly becoming a favourable option amongst developers as its install base continues to grow. As of March 31, 2018, Nintendo is reporting that 17.79 Switch consoles have been sold. Impressive, but this still places it behind the current bases of both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 by quite a large margin – with Microsoft having sold 35 million units at last count and Sony moving over 76 million PS4 units, respectively.
Despite the fact that the number of consumers that own a Nintendo Switch continues to increase at an impressive rate, there’s a bigger risk attached to bringing a game to the platform. This means that with fewer units sold, a high cost of entry is necessary in order to ensure that developers match their costs and begin generating a profit on every title brought over. That’s just the math behind game development.
So will this remain the case forever as other Wii U ports potentially follow suit? Ultimately, that’s up to the consumer. If Nintendo feels the price is right and it is seeing strong sales then the firm would be crazy to begin changing its cost per game, regardless of whether or not it is a port. If consumers showcase that they aren’t willing to spend the higher prices for slightly updated content on Switch by, you know, not purchasing games like Tropical Freeze then they’ll have to reassess. This stands for any other company bringing its games to this system or any other.
It’s hard to determine what the price of any video game should be when it’s all said and done, but gamers will ultimately vote with their wallet – just like they always have.
Riley isn’t serious all the time. In fact, he’s very rarely a stick in the mud. Still, you can keep up with his shenanigans on Twitter at @TheRileyLittle.