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Disgruntled Dad: Tired of Nintendo’s Approach to Game Data

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By Matt - 06/07/20 at 08:35 PM CT

The family Nintendo Switch is dead. It no longer will charge. The pins in the USB-C are bent, and the console is lifeless. The culprit, who caused this predicament, is most likely my four-year-old, or his older brother. The boys have taken to playing Pokémon and Animal Crossing, and they probably broke it putting the Switch back into its cradle. I know, I shouldn’t let such young kids charge the thing, but the system was bought for the family, and since we have more time on our hands, I relaxed and let the little boys charge it instead of their older sister. The incapacitated Switch has made me one disgruntled dad, frustrated by Nintendo’s somewhat-Luddite approach to modern online technologies and their draconian attempt to curtail modding and piracy.

Overall, since 2018, I had been pleased with the Switch. It was the evolution of my all-in-one-game-console dream, a system for entertainment while traveling — we do a fair bit of it — and a system for a TV. Although I haven’t spent that much time playing games on it (Steam has become my distribution source of choice), it has been great for the kids. The first party content is imaginative and whimsical. So why the gripe now? With a dead console, I have come face-to-face with one glaring problem at the core of Nintendo’s system. There is no way for me to access my children’s game saves. The failure of Nintendo to give consumers who paid for the system access to such important data is frustrating, to put it mildly. And this annoyance is connected to two wider problems: Nintendo’s Online Services and Nintendo’s attempt to curb hackers.

Nintendo requires Switch owners to subscribe to their Online Services in order to backup or transfer any data. The family’s broken Switch is out of luck. I didn’t subscribe, which is $3.99 a month, so there is no way for me to access the data. Yes, I can find some repair shop to fix the USB-C port, and I am planning on it. Yet in the age of ubiquitous internet and cheap removable media, I am stuck. Paying for another subscription is not an option, either. I have felt the subscription fatigue that many have written about, dolling out monthly monies for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, etc. Another $4 for only one component (Cloud Backup) valuable to me, seems outrageous, especially considering what is technically possible and what the competition does. It’s like buying an entire season of your favorite TV show on Blu-ray, and watching it on a player that makes you always watch the show from episode 1, not allowing you to skip episodes unless you first subscribe to some arcane software feature.

One could argue that the appeal of game consoles is that you own the physical media. I understand, and that is why I have purchased all our games as cartridges instead of eShop titles. But, since the only way to access save data is through a subscription, it makes the ownership argument moot. There is no point in owning a game cartridge, and dare I say a Switch, if I must pay monthly to backup or transfer the progress data. Actually, do I even own the game if I have to rent server space to access these saves on another system if mine breaks? This is ridiculous. There are no technical barriers preventing a consumer friendly solution. The Switch has an SD card slot. Game saves could easily live there. Waiting for transfer to a new console. Instead, the consumer-hostile Nintendo has made their system worse because of their obsession with hackers and modders.

Nintendo’s fight with pirates hurts average people, people who spend money on their games and consoles. Surely one of the reasons that Nintendo has made these decisions is that a system designed to load data from an external source is vulnerable. I bet it is. However, is it a wise business strategy to chase after the infinitely small percentage of home-brewers instead of building a system that is better for consumers? Instead Nintendo has shut down as many back-doors as they could, resulting in a worse system for the average dad whose kids broke their Switch. This tightening of the system is a type of DRM. Nintendo wants to manage their IP, which I get. However, DRM only hurts honest people. DRM never hurts the hackers. They just find other ways to circumvent the system.

So what should Nintendo do? Be more like Valve. Steam doesn’t require a subscription to access its services. I don’t need to pay for Steam’s cloud-sync technology. They make money from selling games. Nintendo makes money from selling hardware and games. They don’t need to be draconian. Moreover, I can access my games AND saves on any PC with Steam. It’s seamless. No subscription required. I can even find the save file on the PC’s hard drive, and transfer it anywhere I want. I own the file. Nintendo could go a long way by making Cloud Backup free, and by saving game data on a SD card. However, my only option is to find that repair shop. Let me know if you’ve heard of any good ones. It’s a shame there weren’t any easier options for me to take.

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View Matt's Profile


Wrote on07/20/20 at 10:15 AM CT

UPDATE #2: The Switch was returned by Nintendo. All save data was lost. They shipped me back a refurbished unit. Setting things up yesterday, I begrudgingly paid Nintendo $20 for online services.

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View Matt's Profile


Wrote on06/13/20 at 05:18 PM CT

UPDATE: I talked with a pleasant customer service rep for Nintendo and scheduled a repair. It could be a while before Nintendo fixes it, given the COVID circumstances. The service rep also brought to my attention that you can transfer a profile and its save data (animal crossing doesn't yet work, however) wirelessly to a different console. I should have made mention of this in my initial article. The only problem is that, in my situation, it doesn't help.

@dbarry_22: You are correct that I should have mentioned the $20 fee for an entire year. Honestly, I overlooked it, so my apologies. It was poor research. I fixed my attention solely on the $4, surprised by the cost of it all, when I only wanted a way to easily access the game saves. Even spending $20 a month for the cloud backups or the ability to transfer save data if your Switch dies does not sit well. Like you mention, Sony allows for backups of save data to a flash drive, Nintendo could easily do likewise.

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Wrote on06/09/20 at 07:16 PM CT

Needless to say backing up save data o the Nintendo Switch is its worst failing so far (except maybe JoyCon drift). It should be a simple fix but it's not I guess. Heck, you can put your save data on a microSD card but if you put it in another Switch it won't work. It actually was the same way with the WiiU. This has been going on a while.

The idea of paying for cloud storage isn't new, it's universal on consoles now. But, I can backup my PS4 save data on a flash drive if I so choose. From what I've read they didn't put write access to Switch cartridges to save money, heck even 3DS game saves are on the cartridge.

It's all fine and good until your Switch breaks. I've always been a proponent of letting consumers backup their data without the internet and without paying but it looks like that won't happen.

Nintendo might be really strict with their intellectual property and it makes sense that they do. It does restrict normal and honest payers of their property but I've known way too many people who steal games to play on older Nintendo devices and they haven't been able to do it on the Switch yet (and it's been out a long time). So, you can't argue with their results, it appears they are succeeding in their goal.

I am still holding out hope I'll be able to save my data to another SD card or something without paying for the cloud but at this point I don't know why.

PS - You can get a year of Nintendo online for $20 which is a LOT cheaper than the $3.99 a month you calim (a savings of over 50%). I think it seems obvious you picked the most expensive option to help drive home your point which was unnecessary. Come on man.

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on06/07/20 at 11:54 PM CT

A beautiful list of valid points.

I'll just add that physical media might still be worth a damn if games were saved to the cartridges like they were in the NES and SNES eras... but they aren't!

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