Rumors, speculation, and an official patent from Nintendo seem to indicate that the NX will potentially use cartridges, or “cards” instead of a variation of the Blu-Ray disc. The latest bit of news was sparked from a Macronix report, a company which produced previous Nintendo cartridges in the past, that shows that they are producing ROM chips for Nintendo. Though it’s worth noting that these ROM chips could just be the NX’s bio chip and this does not guarantee anything.
(UPDATE: more speculation leading to this idea?)
In the past, specifically with the Nintendo 64, Nintendo suffered from sticking to cartridges instead of moving to the superior CD-ROMs costing them a lot of of 3rd party support and console sales due to the high cost of producing the cartridges and the high price per each unit sold. Advancements in the technology would allow Nintendo to return to cartridges and produce physical media whose cost is not considerably higher than its competitors while retaining several advantages.
Benefits of using cartridges:
Believe it or not, there are plenty of pretty major benefits from sticking with cartridges. The most obvious would be that the NX would not need a disc drive. As seen in the picture below, disc drives take up a significant amount of space in a console; they also use a lot of power and create heat. Removing disc drives from future Nintendo hardware would allow Nintendo to create a smaller system that is more energy efficient without sacrificing a lot of potential system power. Having fewer moving parts also reduced the amount of broken systems and lowers costs of potential returns/repairs which. Additionally, disc drives can’t keep up with the required speeds needed to properly stream video game data from the original game file to the hardware so most modern require installs to perform optimally. This takes up a ton of hard drive space, though, so if Nintendo decides to forgo disc based media they can make the most out of their given hard drive space and consumers don’t have to wait around for installs.
Not many negative aspects would exist that couldn’t be counteracted by the benefits provided. Essentially, cartridges no matter what will cost more to produce than disc based media. I’m also not entirely sure about capacity. Should be bigger than Wii U games, but smaller than PS4’s 50GB+.
Another idea that’s been thrown around that’s practically been confirmed by Nintendo several times is the concept of a shared library between the portable and the console. Read more about that here. If the shared library does work out, sharing game media between the two could be highly beneficial for Nintendo as well. Producing only one SKU would increase the demand for that particular game since more people with different systems can buy and play it. This, in turn, can increase the value of Nintendo’s software and improve relations with retailers. Instead of over shipping the console version and under shipping the portable version and vice verse, they can ship a set amount of software.
The cost of cartridge based media lowers depending on various factors. The size of the packaging and the amount of copies one can ship in a crate and the amount produced are two major factors. Cartridges are smaller in size and thus can be shipped in larger quantities per crate, if the size is right they could potentially manage to lower the cost of cartridges down to something similar to disc costs. The difference could be somewhere around $1-2, an amount that could be offset to 3rd parties by lowering royalties. If you’re interested in an in depth post about the logistics at work, check out this post by Terrell.
Cartridges can allow Nintendo to produce a system without a disc drive that’s smaller, requires less energy, and less damage prone. This could allow Nintendo to produce a good system with specs that are up to par while breaking even or profiting off of each unit sold. A shared library would benefit from shared media increasing the value of each SKU produced. Cartridges cost more, but with the right logistics one can lower the costs to something comparable to discs, any minor deviation to 3rd party developers can be offset by lower royalty costs which Nintendo can afford due to more profitable hardware.
While not set in stone, it seems very doable and with a lot of benefits that Nintendo would likely appreciate. They love small systems with low energy consumption, especially for japanese markets and this would allow them to achieve just that without hindering the performance of their hardware.