Nintendo is Going Back to Cartridges?!

Everyone still has a bad taste in their mouths about the N64 still being a cartridge-based system while the industry was heading swiftly into optical media. Sure, the carts had faster load times, but the graphics were going to be better on a CD pretty much regardless. Nintendo, Sony and with the PS2/Game Cube generation, Microsoft threw in their hat, bringing another optical system to the arena, and Nintendo followed suit. Next, the PS3/360 era fought massive wars over a new format: Sony’s Blu-Ray vs. the Microsoft-supported HDDVD. The more technically-powerful disc won out, even if the 360 sold more. Finally, we got the “current” gen with the PS4, One, and Wii U.

Nintendo’s been kinda lagging behind in sales for a while now. That’s clear. Wii and Wii U were both solid, if underpowered systems. But they’re doing something different now. Something old. Something… possibly brilliant. Thing is, they’re being called cartridges, but that’s not exactly what they are. They’re basically memory cards, and this is, frankly, brilliant. Why?

What’s the max data you can store on a blu-ray? Technically, you could potentially do 100gb with dual-sided, but more realistically, 50gb is pretty much it. Now, obviously production costs are going to be higher for, say, a 128gb SD-card like cartridge. Try finding one less than $40 on Amazon. They’re there, but most results are in the $45-$65 range. Now, for a loaded game cartridge, this wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary, but this is the blank media with basically zero profit, and really, a net loss. This is if you’re going with a commercially-available SD card.

I’m guessing Nintendo has a really good proprietary card. So far, they’re coming in sizes up to 32GB, which puts it decidedly lower than many current-gen games, but as we all know, flash media sizes keep increasing. A 64GB SD card is pretty common for consumers, and with the manufacturing capabilities of Nintendo, it’s possible they may be able to drive the price of even a 128GB card down to the point where their production costs are negligible compared to a multi-disk setup.

This is something PC gamers actually want to see happen, whether they know it or not. The introduction of low-priced solid-state media for game distribution would be a huge boon to all gamers, but particularly PC gamers who, at the moment, are largely trying to keep up with bloating game sizes on hard drives. Ironically, while SD cards are stagnating somewhat, their close cousins, the thumb drives, are actually increasing in capacity very quickly, to the point that a console or PC could easily just pull off a USB 3.0 drive almost as fast as a high-speed mechanical hard drive, making these “install to disk” games virtually obsolete, while also eliminating the somewhat bulky blu-ray disk library.

I have terrible, restrictive internet, and this is a trend that is likely to expand to the rest of the U.S. soon. Net Neutrality is all but gone, our privacy is gone, and there is nothing stopping ISPs from severely limiting our bandwidth. Sadly, unless things change soon, providers like Steam and Origin are probably on their way out, and quickly. Movies have gone toward 4K, and the next optical media seems to be further out than anyone would like. A thumb drive that costs a fair amount and holds a terabyte can be had easily, though you might have to sacrifice USB 3.0 for the time being. This will change, of course.

I have no idea where the future lies in this, but if Nintendo has found a way to save money while using solid-state media once again, I welcome the change!

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