Late last week, the final details about upcoming indie adventure game Rime were revealed. The Tequila Works’ title has soldiered through a troubled development cycle that saw it dropped as a PS4 exclusive to release on PC/PS4/Xbox One on May 26 and on Nintendo Switch at a later date. This is great news for those who have been intrigued by the game since its gorgeous reveal trailer at PlayStation’s Gamescom press conference in 2013. The game was revealed to cost $30 on all platforms, with one exception. While we don’t know when Rime will see its Switch release, we do know that it will cost $40. For those who struggle with math, that is $10 more expensive than the game’s incarnations on other platforms.
What the f*** is that about?
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier asked the same question. The answer that he got was equal parts vague and incriminating. “‘We set prices for our products based on the costs of development and publishing for each specific platform,’ said a representative for Grey Box, the publisher of Rime, when I asked what the deal was.” Jason dug a little deeper into what exactly this meant, asking whether manufacturing was a contributing factor, Grey Box responded saying, “I can confirm cost of manufacturing is also a factor, in addition to the statement [above] about development and publishing costs.”
During a Facebook stream also cited by Schreier, Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime stated “We don’t make that pricing decision…When you see those differences in prices, call up that third-party publisher and ask them.” What we are left with is Nintendo blaming Grey Box, and Grey Box citing vague Switch quirks. But if we look at history, I think it is fairly obvious where the blame truly falls.
Third party games are almost always the same price across the board. While store-specific discounts like Amazon Prime and Best Buy Gamers Club will cut prices for physical releases, the base pricing of games is universal, regardless of platform. This has been true since gaming libraries became largely uniform in the Xbox/PS2/Gamecube era, where games cost $50 or were discounted to $20 through Player’s Choice or Greatest Hits distinctions (again, also universal). This has continued ever since, with the exception of the Wii, which continued to sell games at $50 despite an industry price uptick (though that system had a mostly original library). As digital markets have expanded, the universality of base pricing has continued, and manufacturing prices have been cut out entirely for all but the most successful digital games. Rime on the Switch bucks this trend, and it reeks of publisher greed.
Rime’s Switch price is nothing more than a giant middle finger to the Switch early adopter. Rime is a game that seems right at home on a Nintendo platform. It has a whimsical gameplay loop that is matched by Wind Waker inspired graphics. Many, including myself, held the Switch as our platform of choice for the game, similar to how many will play Team 17’s Yooka-Laylee on the platform. Those looking for a charming indie game to enjoy on their new hardware had a match made in heaven with Rime. But now we find out that we are expected to pay more for the same experience, when I’m sure most that are interested in the game already own one of the other, cheaper platforms? Hell no.
There is a 0% chance in my mind that this is Nintendo’s fault. The company that has positioned itself as a friendly home to independent developers and created a marketing masterpiece with the Switch campaign in no way would facilitate a higher price point on their newborn system. It is terrible optics. Why would anyone buy the game on Switch when it is cheaper elsewhere? This is exactly what Nintendo wants players to do; to buy games such as indies on their platform instead of their competition’s because of the system’s unique functionality.
That leaves us with Grey Box.
The excuses that Grey Box has given as to why the Switch version is more expensive are complete bullshit. While, yes, Blu-rays are cheaper than cartridges, they most definitely do not cost $10 more per unit. We aren’t talking about the difference between an N64 cart and a PS1 CD. If cartridges were so expensive, we would have paid more than $30-$40 for a 3DS game. We didn’t, and other Switch games available physically are normally priced. There is no way that Nintendo would hamstring its own machine by forcing developers to put games onto something astronomically expensive. Eurogamer recently reported on this gap in production cost, but raise similar questions about the dubious nature of it all.
As for development costs, Grey Box’s claim that pricing is determined based on the costs of developing and publishing on the platform are equal parts bologna. Analysts have said that the Switch is actually the easiest of the “Big Three” to develop for, a far cry from the Wii U era. In addition, Sumo Digital, the developers of Snake Pass, said in a Twitch stream that the game only took a week to port to the Switch. It certainly doesn’t seem like development would be difficult for the machine based on indie feedback, and if the PS3 and its confounding Cell Processor can have games released at the same price as the Xbox 360, then so should the Switch. As for publishing, again, it is laughable that Nintendo would make it so much more difficult to bring the game to Switch as to up the price by $10, as they would be galvanizing its own marketplace.
So what does that leave us with? The pedantic reasons for the price have been collapsed with general reasoning and available developer feedback, so why the increase in price? It seems to me that Grey Box is greedily treating the Switch like two machines, portable and home console, and making users pay more for that specific functionality. What else could it be, besides trying to take advantage of a fledgling user base and small amounts of content? Grey Box thinks it can extort money from Switch users because of the console’s unique functionality and overall “newness”. And, again, I call bullshit. We have never had to pay for cross buy on PS4/Vita or Xbox One/PC, which involves having two machines, so why should we have to pay extra because the Switch has functionality the others don’t? It isn’t like the game is much different one way or the other; if The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be the same game in both modes, so can Rime.
Grey Box is testing the waters. It is seeing if it can get away with charging more for the premium functionality that comes baked into my new Nintendo gadget. It is a giant middle finger to the Switch users, essentially telling us that if we want to play it anywhere, we have to pay more. If you are a Switch owner, you cannot allow this to happen. We cannot play in an ecosystem where this is okay. For all that is good in the world, do not buy Rime on your Switch. Do not let a publisher’s greed punish you for wanting to enjoy an experience on your new console. Nintendo gave us a machine with a fantastic concept with unbelievable potential, and practices like what Grey Box is attempting are insulting to this promise. So what do we do when someone gives us the finger?
We give it right back.
Brett Williams is an Associate Writer for MONG who will be enjoying a game other than Rime on his new Nintendo Switch this summer. If you are interested in his nonexistent rants and ramblings, follow him on twitter.