Updated July 2021: Updated to take into account the Nintendo Switch OLED console which has 64GB of internal memory.
Having to worry about the size of game installs has become an extra barrier to gaming. Long gone are the days of plug and play.
Since the reliance on disk-based media with slow read speeds. This is where the Nintendo Switch has a huge advantage, by using their proprietary game cards.
Games can be read by the Switch at much quicker speeds. Meaning that they can be played straight from the game card.
So in theory, storage shouldn’t be much of an issue. But some games require you to download and install game data.
Nintendo Switch is not like an iPhone where you can choose the right amount of onboard storage for you!
It comes in one flavor: 32 GB. Though the newly announced Nintendo Switch OLED edition doubles that amount to 64 GBs
But what even more annoying is that you don’t even get to use all that space for gaming!
The operating system uses 4 GBs and there is 2.1 GBs of room set aside for screenshots and background features.
This only leaves you with 25.9 GBs for games in the normal Switch and 54.9 GBs in the Switch OLED!
So when you need to install games it’s going to eat into that premium retail space. Affecting how many games you can have ready to play at any given time.
Which begs the question.
How big are Nintendo Switch games? Third-Party games are often the biggest in terms of how much room they take up. NBA 2K21 weighing in at 40.9 GB. It is so big that you are required to have a MicroSD card for extra storage to even play the game. Nintendo games are often under 8GB, with the notable exception being Zelda at 14.4 GB.
Read on to find out how you can tell the size of games before you buy them. All so when you buy a game in a store, how do you know if you need a MicroSD card to play the game?
What are the biggest games at the moment?
Biggest storge hogs
- NBA 2K21 – 40.9 GB
- NBA 2K20 – 32.9GB
- NBA 2K19 – 31.5 GB
- L.A. Noire – 27.4 GB
- DC Universe Online – 24.1 GB
- Resident Evil: Revelations 2 – 23.6 GB
- NBA 2K18 – 23.5 GB
- Mortal Kombat 11 – 22.5 GB
- Doom (2016) – 22.0 GB
- WWE 2K18 – 21.1 GB list
The list offers a fascinating insight into some of the largest games in terms of size. For example, if you are a fan of the NBA Series, you are going to have to invest in a MicroSD card just to play the game.
You can see a pattern that the biggest install sizes are not games made by Nintendo but by third-party publishers.
Nintendo-made games (first-party) are much more reasonable in size. With most coming in at around the 8 GB mark.
Let’s look at some of Nintendo file sizes
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – 14.4 GB
- Luigi’s Mansion 3 – 7.4 GB
- Splatoon 2 – 6.1 GB
- Super Mario Odyssey – 5.6 GB
- Super Mario 3D All-Stars 4.9 GB
- Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – 3.0GB
Where to find the game install size?
If you are buying games digitally then you can scroll down on the game page to find out more details. In the information selection, you will be shown the size of the install on the games page in the eStore. Which can be accessed on the Nintendo switch or on any computer and even your phone.
If you are buying the physical game some data still needs to be install. But there is nowhere to find out how much room will be taken up. It is not printed on the back of the box.
For example, Zelda: breath of the wild takes up 14.4 GB if you buy the digital version. The physical version takes up 2.2 GB. Bearing in mind that the game’s data is on the game card.
There is no way to find out how much room a physical game will take up. Don’t get me wrong 2.2 GB is better than 14.4 GB.
So why are switch games the size they are? And why does a physical game need to take up room if the game is on the card?
Why are games so big?
Games are complex machines with lots of parts that make up the whole.
There are some parts of games that require more data than others. Animation and sounds including vocals are a big culprit.
Back in the day, we as gamers were happy with simple animations. Now we expect full-face animation with lip-syncing across multiple languages.
Not to mention complex open-worlds with day and night cycles.
This makes games balloon in size.
Third-party developers such as EA, id software, 2K, NetherRealm Studios, and many more are used to have more space to deliver their games.
Playstation and Xbox both use Blu Ray disks that can hold up to 50 GB!
Because of this reliance on discs. Game companies have developed their technology around games being installed on the hardware. Because disks have a weak point.
They are slow to get the data off the disk.
We have all heard a console become as loud as a jet: that’s the fan ramping up to try and cool the processor due to the workload.
So games are bigger than they use to be! But why does a physical version of a game need to use up space on my switch?
So what needs to be installed even if you have a physical version of a game?
The Nintendo game cards are not like USB sticks! They can only send data one way. Which is to be read by the switch.
So if you want the ability to save games then they have to be saved on the Switch itself.
4 main types of data need to be saved to the switch.
- Game data – This only needs to be on the switch if you have a digital version of the game, if not the game data is on the game card. This could even be whole parts of the game that need to be downloaded. For example, Dooms online multiplay is not included on the game card it needs to be downloaded separately.
- Saves – Unlike the Gameboy cartridges which had a battery built-in that would power the saves. The Switch doesn’t do this, so game saves are stored on your Switch. Some games can even be backed up to the cloud if you are a Nintendo Online Subscriber.
- Updates – Because sometimes games need to be fixed after the game card has been printed. This could be anything from bug fixes to adding extra content.
- Downloadable content (DLC) – This is separate from updates because this is often something that has to be purchased separately. Like new levels or modes and even costumes. Again there is nowhere else to store the data than on the Switch itself.
Why are Switch games so expensive?
Yes, games are expensive!
But why are Switch games often more expensive than their counterparts on other consoles?
The main reason is the Nintendo Switch game card.
This isn’t a standard card that you can buy off the shelf! Publishers have to buy them directly from Nintendo and there are not cheap.
Game cards work like USB memory sticks, except the switch can only read the card not write to it.
The upside is that it is fast. So fast that game doesn’t need to be installed like on PlayStation or Xbox so you can play straight away.
The downside is that the game cards are far more expensive than disks.
To complicate matters more Nintendo only sells set sizes of cards to publishers. The bigger the storage the more they cost.
Nintendo only makes three sizes of cards.
8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB! With a planed 64 GB version to be made available soon.
I can’t find any information on the exact cost of each card.
The higher price on the Switch is often jokingly called the ‘Switch Tax’ by fans.
The same game might be $10 higher on the switch compared with the Xbox or PlayStation. This is all down to the price of the game cards.
For example, Doom (2016) is shipped on a 16GB game card. The game takes up 13.2 GB of the card. But if you want to play the multiplayer you have to download 9 GB separately.
Those of you who are following along with the maths,
13.2 + 9 = 22.2 GB.
That wouldn’t fit on the 16 GB game card.
id software would have had to shell out for the 32GB game card if they wanted all the data on the card. That would have put the price up even higher unless they took the hit themselves.
Digital games do have some cost.
Why are digital games so expensive?
They don’t have the cost of the game card and the box.
Digital games are the same price to keep the value of the physical games high. The main reason for this is so the digital versions of games don’t undercut physical retailers such as GameStop.
But digital games are cheaper, but they are some hidden costs that most people don’t think about.
They have to be hosted and the network infrastructure needs to be there, the servers have to maintain and working at all times.
SD card to Expand your capacity
The Nintendo Switch leaves you with 25.9 GB for games.
If you want to play NBA 2K21 on the switch you would have to buy a MicroSD card to expand your storage even if you buy the physical version.
There is an all too small message on the box!
That says ‘Download & MicroSD card required.
It is far too understated if you ask me. Even if you know what you are looking for.
Have a look, what do you think?
What type of SD card do you need?
The Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Lite only supports MicroSD cards.
These cards add a lot of bang for their buck. You can use anyone you want, not just the official Nintendo-produced ones. Nintendo partnered with SanDisk to produced the official MicroSD cards.
They come in a few different sizes.
The size you need would all depend on your usage. Ask yourself do you buy your games digitally or physically. If it’s digital then a large card would allow you to not have to keep redownload games.
If you mainly play physical games and maybe download the odd one, you might not even need to buy a MicroSD card at all.
But you don’t have to stick with these options. If you have a camera that uses one you could just as well use that, the only downside is that it needs to be empty first.
Some games for the Nintendo Switch you can only get digitally.
This includes a fantastic lineup of indie games from ‘Into the Breach’ to ‘Slay the Spire’. For some small indie publishers, it’s not worth a physical release so they rely solely upon the digital revenue stream.
If you buying a lot of games, the size of their installs becomes very important.
Unless you want to constantly keep archiving and redownloading your games.
Whether buying digital or physical both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Advantages and disadvantages of physical boxed games:
- Uses less storage on your Nintendo Switch.
- You can trade your game in, so it still has value.
- You can buy games on the second-hand market.
- You can lend games to friends.
- You have to carry your game around with you.
- Games are easy to lose.
Advantages and disadvantages of buying digital-only games:
- You always have your game collection with you.
- Don’t need to carry around the games.
- You don’t need to swap the game.
- Uses more space.
- Games are still priced high.
- You have to wait for an official sale on the eShop if you want a discount.
- No Refunds.
- No resell value.
Nintendo Switch games can come in a varying range of sizes. From small indie games to AAA games like NBA 2K21.
Nintendos own games like Mario tend to be smaller than most big third-party developers. The average Nintendo game comes in at around 8 GB.
Some games will even require you to buy a MicroSD card. Just look out for the text on the game box or on the eShop.
If you need to expand your storage then any MicroSD card will do. You don’t have to use the official Nintendo ones.
What can I do if I am running out of room on the Nintendo Switch? You can remove games from your switch by deleting them (remove all data, even saves) or you can ‘Archive’ them (removes the game data but not the game save and game icon.).
Can I use multiple MicroSD cards on the Nintendo switch? Yes, but you can only use one at a time because there is only one slot. Just be careful to store them safely.
Will Nintendo release a Switch with more than 32 GB? The Newly announced Switch OLED edition comes with 64GBs of internal storage.