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Should You Buy a Game on PC or Switch?

Brittany is a Nintendo Swtich addict! Her favourite genres are RPG, simulation, city-builders, puzzles, and more!

Trying to decide if a game is better to buy on PC or Nintendo Switch?  Here are some things to consider!

Trying to decide if a game is better to buy on PC or Nintendo Switch? Here are some things to consider!

For those of us lucky enough to own multiple gaming devices, we're often stuck with the tough decision of which platform to buy a new game on. Would this game play better on Nintendo Switch? Is it better to buy through Steam and play on PC?

These questions get asked a lot by potential buyers in gaming forums and on Reddit (you'll see "Is this game good on Switch?" or "Should I buy this game on Switch?" topics repeatedly in any game subreddit). As someone who personally buys games on PC, Switch, PS4/PS5, and Android, I've put a lot of thought into the pros and cons of buying games on different platforms, especially when it comes to my most-used devices: The Nintendo Switch and my gaming laptop.

Here are some things to consider before you choose to buy a game on PC or on Nintendo Switch.

Portability

Gaming on the go is definitely easiest with the Nintendo Switch. Whether you own the classic Switch or the Nintendo Switch Lite, you can take your games with you on the handheld device.

Conversely, if you're playing games on PC, unless you have a laptop, you're rooted to one place. Even a laptop—especially a proper gaming one—is heavier and bulkier than a Switch, and while technically "portable," it's not something you can simply stow away in a purse or backpack.

Verdict: If gaming on the go is important to you, the Switch wins. Portability is one of the biggest selling points of the console.

Price

The Nintendo Store is notorious for selling games at a higher price. Let's look at Terraria, for example. You can buy Terraria on the Steam store for $9.99 USD. If you buy Terraria on the Nintendo Switch, it costs $29.99.

Some games are consistently priced across both platforms (for example, Stardew Valley is $14.99 on both Switch and Steam), but it's not uncommon to find games priced higher on Switch vs. Steam (another example: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim costs $39.99 USD on Steam, it's $59.99 USD on Switch).

Both The Nintendo Store and Steam run sales frequently, but one thing in favour of Steam's sales is that games tend to go on sale more often, and at more discounted prices. Going back to Terraria, the lowest sale price on Switch was $14.99 USD. Its lowest sale price on Steam was $2.11 USD.

Finding out about sales is also a lot easier on Steam- add a game to your wishlist and receive an email notification when a game is on sale. The Nintendo Store has a wishlist function, but doesn't send you any sale notifications, so you have to be on top of checking the store to find out when sales are on.

One thing the Nintendo Store does have going for it in term of pricing is their My Nintendo Gold Points. Every time you purchase a digital game on the Nintendo Store, you receive gold points (5% of the purchase cost), which you can use for a discount to buy another game. So if you purchase a game on Switch that costs $29.99, you'll receive 150 gold points, which converts to $1.50 off on your next game. Gold points add up quickly if you buy games on the Nintendo Store frequently, and I redeem them often to get a discount on my games.

Verdict: Steam/PC gaming wins out here. Even without sales, many games are priced cheaper on Steam than on the Nintendo Store, and when you factor in sales and the ease of finding out about them, Steam has a leg up. Switch games are priced higher, and though they also have sales and Gold Points, you'll likely find the same game at a MUCH cheaper price on Steam than you would on Switch.

Updates and DLC

If you're looking to buy a game that is still being developed or receiving live updates, definitely make sure the Switch version is up-to-date with the PC version before buying it on Switch.

Unfortunately, with a lot of games, the console updates come later than the PC updates. Terraria's Journey's End DLC was released on Steam in May 2020; it wasn't released on Switch in January 2022! My Time at Portia received it's 3.0 content update on Steam in March 2021. The same update didn't roll out to Switch until September 2021.

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Games like Graveyard Keeper and House Flipper have an abundance of DLC available for them on Steam.

Graveyard Keeper's DLC has been ported to Switch (however, at the time of writing this, the newest DLC, "Better Save Soul" still hasn't been released on Switch), but the DLC is released on Switch far after its first introduced on Steam. The "Game of Crone" DLC launched in October 2020 on Steam, and didn't see release on Nintendo Switch until June 2021.

House Flipper has 3 paid DLC (including Garden and Luxury) with 2 more in the works (Pets and Farm) on Steam- NONE of these are available on Switch, and there's no official word if they ever will be.

It's worth noting that a lot of the Steam vs. Switch delays come down to different publishers handling the updates on PC vs. Switch (e.g., one team might handle publishing to PC, another team might do the publishing for Switch/Consoles, and the updates might not be ready at the same time), the certification process on Nintendo takes longer (getting an update approved to go live on Nintendo takes longer than the developer being able to publish it live on Steam), so it's not always the fault of the developer. Sometimes, though, developers will just choose not to update or publish new content on Switch or consoles, leaving those players behind.

Verdict: If having the latest updates and DLC as soon as they are released is important to you, stick with PC gaming/Steam. Switch updates are usually behind the PC version (sometimes just a few days or weeks, but some games have had delays of months and even years!), and there are games which just don't get DLC published to Switch at all.

Screen Size

This may not be relevant to everyone, but one point I greatly consider when buying a game on Steam vs. Switch is how the game will look on a small screen.

In my opinion, there are some games which are just designed to be played on a bigger screen. The idea of playing a game with a large map like Cities: Skylines on Switch's 6.2-inch screen compared to playing it on my 15-inch laptop (or 21-inch external monitor) seems painful to me.

On the flip side, Cities: Skylines would look amazing on my 58" TV, if I played the game docked.

I bought and solely played The Elder Scrolls: V Skyrim on Switch. Though it's a vast and beautiful game and probably looks amazing on PC, it's not too bad on handheld, and of course, looks great on the TV.

I personally play the majority of my games on handheld. So I really consider these questions before buying: will this game look good on a small screen? Will I ever play it docked/on TV? If not, I usually buy it on Steam.

If you own the Nintendo Switch Lite, there's no option to dock to a TV, so you're really stuck with a 5.5-inch screen.

Verdict: This may not be something everyone considers, but it's important to think about how the game will look on a smaller screen if playing mainly handheld (or if you own the Switch Lite). Some games (in my opinion) just don't look good on smaller screen (or you miss out on the scope and experience of them on smaller screen), and unless you play mainly docked, you might opt to buy on PC instead.

Performance

The Switch is nicely optimised for most games, even the more graphic-intense ones. Without getting too tech-heavy in this article, games are optimised for the Switch to play smoothly with minimal FPS drops or lag, but that performance optimisation will mean a sacrifice in graphics compared to the PC version.

When it comes to performance on PC, it really comes down to your computer's specs. If you have a powerful processor, you can smoothly play games without sacrificing graphics like Switch does.

Of course, you can always upgrade your PC with new drivers, chips, processors, etc.- but you're stuck with how the Switch is made under the hood.

Using My Time at Portia, as an example again and my own experience: the game plays fine in terms of FPS and performance on both PC and Switch. However, I have the highest graphic settings on PC, and on Switch, the graphics look a lot less impressive in comparison, due to the Switch's optimisation to make the game run well.

One final thing to consider is bugs on the different platforms. Before buying a game on Switch, definitely check forums (Reddit is great) to see if players are discussing any console/Switch bugs. This ties back into the Updates section of this article; the game may be behind on updates and might have Switch-exclusive bugs that you'll never run into on PC or Steam.

I've played 200+ hours of My Time At Portia on Switch and on Steam. The Steam version has a few bugs, but nothing game breaking. The Switch version has several small graphical bugs I've never seen while playing on Steam, but the most troubling bug is one which causes the game to crash to the main screen (losing all your progress), which I ran into 5 different times on my last playthrough. This bug is not duplicated on PC at all.

Verdict: If you want the highest graphical settings (and your PC can handle it) PC wins here. That's not to say that games on Switch are potato quality, but when you compare the Switch's hardware to that of a gaming PC, there's really no comparison. There also may be game-breaking bugs on Switch that have already been patched out on Steam, or not present at all.

Controls

I generally find that most games have been mapped well in terms of Switch controls vs. the PC version.

That being said, there are some games that just feel SO odd playing on a controller versus using a keyboard and mouse set up.

Cities: Skylines is an example of a game that I feel has better KBM control than handheld. It's a lot easier to use the mouse to click things in the game than it is trying to navigate on the Switch controls. Even Stardew Valley felt finicky to me when I first played it on Switch versus PC (however, Stardew Valley released some updates to help with the Switch controls and accessibility).

Other games I feel are just better playing on a controller than a keyboard. Now that I've played hundreds of hours of Skyrim on Switch, I can't imagine how immersion breaking it'd feel to shoot an arrow using a keyboard on PC; it just feels more natural using the buttons on Switch to do so.

One pro for PC/Steam is that many games have the option to remap the game controls, meaning you can select different keys/mouse clicks in the game's settings to be more comfortable for your game style. If you're using Steam, you can also use Big Picture Mode and attach a USB or Bluetooth controller (my PS4 controller is my go-to), and many games have controller support. With Switch, you're obviously stuck with the buttons and settings the game came with for the controller.

My basic rule is that most platformer and adventure games are better with controllers, while games that are menu-heavy are easier to play on PC (usually tycoon-type games).

Verdict: Have a thought about what kind of game you're buying and if it'll be easier to play using a keyboard and mouse, or if it's the kind of game that only has a few controls, and will work well on Switch. If you want the game on PC but want to play with a controller, don't forget you can play lots of games on Steam with a USB/Bluetooth controller.

Modding and User-Created Content

Again, this may not apply to everyone, but I really love playing games and adding in mods or user-created content. Games like Stardew Valley, Terraria, Cities: Skylines, Minecraft, Don't Starve, House Flipper, and so many more, have massive modding communities which can really breathe new life into your gameplay.

If you're playing on Steam, many of the aforementioned games make modding easier than ever with Steam's Workshop- you can download mods and content directly from the Workshop and import them right into your game.

The big downside to Switch for me is that you can't play with mods. Like most consoles, there is no easy way to modify the Switch, and no way to download or add on all the super creative content that you'll see for games online. So I have to forget about a lot of the gameplay mods that I normally can't live without if I decide to buy a game on Switch.

Verdict: This might not be a deal-breaker for everyone, but if you like playing with mods or user-created content, PC gaming wins here hands-down. Modding the Switch isn't really possible; while there are ways to hack your Switch, it's not the same as making it ready to play mods for individual games. Game mods are mainly made by players on PC and for PC versions of games, only.

Why Not Both?

Sometimes you buy a game on Steam, fall in love with it, and then see it's available on Switch, too. And you think to yourself: "I love this game, and would love to play it laying in bed or on my commute to work!" So you end up buying it again on Switch.

Well, that's my experience at least.

I own the following games on both PC and Switch:

  • Stardew Valley
  • Minecraft
  • My Time At Portia
  • Dead in Vinland
  • This War of Mine
  • Graveyard Keeper
  • Don't Starve
  • Project Highrise
  • Winkeltje: The Little Shop

I'm sure I'll add more to that list, eventually; usually I end up buying a game first on PC before it's ported to Switch, and then buying it when it's ported to Switch because I want to play it on handheld.

If you're anything like me, you might end up buying a game on BOTH PC and Switch.

If you're anything like me, you might end up buying a game on BOTH PC and Switch.

Of course, the Steam Deck (a handheld version of your Steam library, which was released as a competitor to the Switch), is out now so that may stop me from buying the same game on PC/Steam in future, but for now, I end up doubling up on games often.

Thankfully I have the spare income to buy games on multiple platforms (I will be honest with you, I actually own Stardew Valley on PC, PS4 and Switch), and if you do, too, it's not a bad idea to buy on both platforms if you really love the game.

One thing to note is that you can't transfer save files from PC to Switch or vice versa, so your saves will be completely independent to each other. But if you love a game enough, starting a fresh save on a new platform isn't an issue.

Final Thoughts

There's a few things to consider before you buy a game on PC or Switch. Hopefully the factors mentioned in this article will help you decide, but don't be afraid to reach out to the community who already owns and plays the game via game forums and Reddit to get their opinions, too. Do your research on pricing, updates, and DLC. You can also check out graphic/performance comparison videos on YouTube.

At the end of the day, many games are great on either platform, but there's nothing wrong with doing some research before you decide whether to buy a game on PC or Switch.

For the aforementioned games I own on both PC and Switch, here are my thoughts on which is platform is better:

  • Stardew Valley- Both are great, but slight points to PC for the mods.
  • Minecraft- PC, for the mods.
  • My Time At Portia- PC, for better optimization/less bugs.
  • Dead in Vinland- Switch, the game plays identical on both platforms, but having it handheld is great!
  • This War of Mine- Switch, same as above; identical on both, but I like to play handheld.
  • Graveyard Keeper- PC, lack of DLC on Switch is a bummer.
  • Don't Starve- PC, due to modding.
  • Project Highrise- PC, controls and screen size feels awkward on the Switch.
  • Winkeltje: The Little Shop- Switch, plays great on both, but handheld wins.

© 2022 Brittany Brown

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