Why Does Nintendo Make Saving Game Data So Hard?

Can we talk about save data for a moment?

The big issue riling up the game universe right now is Nintendo’s seemingly-draconian policy to limit players to a single island that is locked to a particular console. There hasn’t been a specific reason given for this, but when discussing why cloud saves would also not be a thing for AC: NH, the rationale seemed to be to keep the player from messing with time:

“In an interview last year, producer Higashi Nogami confirmed that New Horizons wouldn’t make use of the [cloud save] feature, since doing so would potentially open the door to players manipulating the game’s internal calendar.” Kotaku

Time-traveling has been a “feature” in Animal Crossing for a while now, as players warp forwards or backwards to finish projects, reap rewards, and undo moments of bad fortune (“why did [insert name of favorite animal here] move away? Whyyyyyyy?!“). You could argue that it’s a violation of the spirit of the game, but in truth, it’s been a mostly harmless way for players to optimize their enjoyment of the game.

Now, Nintendo might have totally legitimate reasons for wanting to nip this sort of behavior in the bud (for example, maybe they will be synchronizing special events globally and require a consistent calendar to do it). Still, locking down game data this hard seems a bit over-the-top to me, and it’s not the only game I have an issue with on this issue.

  • Splatoon 2 doesn’t support cloud saves because Nintendo is worried about ‘save scumming‘, where players could reload old data after losing a rank and thus be at a rank undeservedly (“I lost my X rank? Not anymore!”)
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield doesn’t support cloud saving either, as players could simply revert to their backup after a trade to duplicate a Pokémon or item.

Nintendo’s concern over these possibilities is understandable, but personally I don’t think it outweighs the potential for losing all of your hard-earned save data in the event that your Switch breaks. People can get pretty attached to their multiplayer rank, Pokémon, and Animal Crossing villagers, and to lose all of this to a hardware failure would be pretty painful, especially when we have the technology to avoid this already at our disposal.

If someone cheeses an X rank out of Splatoon 2 and winds up on my team…I’m honestly okay with that. (As much as I complain about my teammates in ranked solo queue, I’d probably never notice the difference.) Similarly, if someone created an army of super-clones in Pokémon and cleaned my clock in an online battle…so what? People in the truly competitive scenes might have a different opinion, but such outcomes wouldn’t bother me. What would bother me, however, would be seeing my 1,500+ hours of Splatoon and painstakingly-crafted A-line in Pokémon Sword go up in smoke if my Switch crashed down onto a hardwood floor.

When it comes to Animal Crossing, I tend to get attached to the first group of characters I get, and never never never want them to go away. (Fun fact: The reason I haven’t picked up New Leaf in so long is because I lost a beloved villager before I could convince them to stay, and it annoyed me so much that I walked away from my mayoral post forever.) If I lost an entire island in an instant, one that I’d spent days/weeks/months organizing to my exact specifications…well, let’s just say my language would be reduced to only four-letter words for a while.

So no, I don’t agree with Nintendo’s position on cloud saving for Animal Crossing and a bunch of my other favorite Switch games. Letting players protect their investment of time and sweat in case of an emergency seems far more important than locking down folks from abusing the system. (Come to think of it, I have the same opinion about government social programs: I’m not as concerned about fraud as I am about someone getting denied help when they truly deserve it.) Nintendo is making save data management harder than it needs to be, and while I don’t hold out a ton of hope than they will change their ways, I’m going to keep complaining about this problem (and investing in bulletproof carrying cases for my Switch) until they do.