Nintendo, You’re Doing Cloud Saves Wrong

Ever since the Nintendo Switch came out in March 2017, despite having many modern and lauded features, many have been quick to point out some of its flaws. From launch until today, there has been no cloud save feature for games on the system.

Whereas Xbox and PlayStation have had cloud saves since last generation, 2017’s Nintendo Switch had no such feature. When Nintendo finally announced that the paid Nintendo Switch Online subscription service would offer cloud saves, many gamers rejoiced. No more, many thought, would a gamer who lost his Nintendo Switch have to restart his 300-hour Breath of the Wild game save, from scratch. He would no longer have to grind his way back up to the top in Splatoon 2.

But today’s news that certain games would not support cloud saves came as a surprise. Whereas a rival system like the Xbox One saves every single game to the cloud universally, it appears Nintendo is allowing each developer to “opt-in” to whether they want to use cloud saves or not.

Here is the current list of games that do not support cloud saves:

Splatoon 2

Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee & Pikachu

FIFA 19

NBA 2K19

Dark Souls Remastered

Dead Cells

It’s worth noting that all of the multiplatform games on this list support cloud saves on Xbox and PlayStation. And this list is likely to grow.

Worse yet, Nintendo’s official reasoning behind the change is maddening and confusing, to say the least.

Per Game Informer, here is Nintendo’s response to the issue:

The vast majority of Nintendo Switch games will support Save Data Cloud backup. However, in certain games this feature would make it possible to, for example, regain items that had been traded to other players, or revert to a higher online multiplayer ranking that had been lost. To ensure fair play, Save Data Cloud backup may not be enabled for such games. To ensure that Save Data Cloud backups cannot be used to unfairly affect online multiplayer rankings, the feature will not be enabled in Splatoon 2.

Breaking this down, this response indicates a very important distinction in the way Nintendo is conceptualizing its cloud saving feature. Besides not being available at a system level for each game, Nintendo’s response makes it clear that players’ cloud saves will not be automatically synced to the cloud, like Xbox One’s system enforces. Per Nintendo’s words, this looks more and more like Nintendo will be instead implementing cloud saves with the same thought process as how it implements them on the NES Classic Edition; That is, Nintendo will give gamers different cloud saving “slots,” the same way as it does with offline single player games such as Breath of the Wild. Players can then choose to load up one of, potentially many, “cloud saves” from a cloud save list, the same way players can load up any normal offline save from their offline save list.

There are many reasons having multiple save files are beneficial for offline play in single-player games. Say you got stuck in a tough boss battle with low health and few items, making it near-impossible to get through it. What do you do? Bingo: fire up a previous save and stock up on items before you face that bad boy again. Or say you were near the end of a game and your character suddenly died, the game then forcing you to restart from far back. A save file closer to where you were before is helpful in this situation, as well.

However, there is a good reason online games, such as Splatoon, Halo, and Gran Turismo, don’t give you save slots (at least in the online portions). The reason is because all of the online data is stored in the cloud.

Now, from a certain perspective, Nintendo’s logic in their response is sound. If it is indeed possible to revert saves to alter online play, then it is a good call for Nintendo to not allow cloud saves on Switch.

The issue is that this situation is only possible in the first place, because Nintendo implemented an inferior cloud save model, where it gives players the option to revert players’ local saves to previous cloud saves created at an earlier time. In this case, as unfortunate as it is, Nintendo is making the right decision to thwart cheaters.

But why isn’t this an issue on Xbox One and PlayStation, and how are these platforms able to have cloud saves on each and every game without the same concerns Nintendo has? This is because these systems do not allow for reverting a current offline or online game save to a previous, specifically Online version. The only way Nintendo’s concern makes sense is if it is allowing players to revert their game saves to previous online game saves. So, it’s rather obvious this is the kind of system Nintendo intends to implement here.

This approach to cloud saves makes sense for single-player games such as Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. However, it should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, because games that dare to have online components like Splatoon 2 and FIFA 19 become a victim to that decision, Nintendo putting online gaming fairness en masse over individual save data security.

It is also puzzling to me why, if Nintendo does want to stick with its cloud save data reversion feature, Nintendo can’t achieve the technical issue of allowing single-player save data in a game like Splatoon 2 to be reverted without affecting a player’s online rankings. This suggests that a player’s online data is tied to the offline game save data, when it should have been saved in the cloud all along. Now that we know this is the case, it’s another reason Nintendo has done things wrong here and is having to make this decision.

This situation also makes me wonder why Nintendo can’t just make sure that once a console is connected to the internet, it adopts a system like Xbox One’s, where instead of giving the player the option to revert to a previous online save, the system automatically synchronizes the player’s latest game save, whether offline or online, and overwrites the older one.

Nintendo could simply choose to implement this auto-synchronization function for online games and preserve the cloud save function, and if it wants, it can use revertable cloud saves for games such as Breath of the Wild. There’s no reason why the Switch cannot use two different cloud save systems for two very different kind of games, when that framework can allow the benefit of cloud saves to games such as Splatoon 2. Implementing this approach would work, and gamers would benefit.

Not implementing this approach signals to me that Nintendo’s current game save system is out of date, and thus incompatible with this set-up, or Nintendo wants to keep everything simple for gamers and would rather have the same exact cloud save functions across every game. However, the victims of this decision, then, are online multiplayer games.

Nintendo has dug themselves into a pretty large hole here. But they can solve this.

If they simply adopt a universal auto-synchronization system like Xbox One’s, or even do this for only games with online multiplayer, then precious save data for games like Splatoon 2 would be able to be safely backed up to the cloud, and gamers could finally rejoice at the feeling that their save data will be safe, no matter what happens to their Switch.

As it stands now, though, it looks like cloud saves will be a neat feature to have for offline Nintendo Switch games, but a gamer who happens to lose or damage his Nintendo Switch will still have to start from scratch for a game like Splatoon 2.

Nintendo still has time to fix this. If not when the service launches, then any time after. But as of now, fans of online games on Nintendo’s system will still have to be subject to uncertainty regarding their save data. And in 2018, that is not acceptable.

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