Your save data is not safe on the Nintendo Switch

Over at GamesRadar, Anthony John Agnello recounts his experience with Nintendo support after his Switch turned into a useless brick for no discernible reason last week (full disclosure: I know Agnello personally and have served with him on some convention panels). After sending his (under warranty) system to Nintendo for repair, Agnello received a fixed system and the following distressing message from the company two days later:

“We have inspected the Nintendo Switch system that was sent to us for repair and found that the issue has made some of the information on this system unreadable. As a result, the save data, settings, and links with any Nintendo Accounts on your system were unable to be preserved.”

Agnello says he lost 55 hours of progress on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as more progress on a few other downloadable games. While he was able to redownload the games that were deleted, he’d have to start from scratch on each one (if only all that progress was easily, instantly unlockable in some way…)

The Switch stands alone

Early disc-based systems from the original PlayStation to the Xbox 360 used proprietary external memory cards to store save data, and these solutions allowed that data to be easily copied or moved from system to system for backup purposes. More recently, systems like the Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, and Xbox One have allowed players to back up save data either on external hard drives/SD cards or through a cloud-based online system.

Given all that, it’s a little baffling that Switch save data is trapped on the console it’s created on, just waiting for an eventual hardware failure (or loss, theft, damage, etc.) that will lose it all. It’s even more baffling considering that Nintendo does allow Switch users to copy captured screenshots through a built-in microSD card slot for external backup and distribution.

Longtime Nintendo hack-watchers may recall that first the Wii and then the 3DS were hacked to run unsigned code thanks, in part, to modified save game data loaded through an SD card. If users can’t even load external save data onto the Switch, the hackers’ job will be that much more difficult with Nintendo’s latest hardware. Players that just want to back up their legitimate save data would just be collateral damage here.

The vast majority of Switch owners will hopefully never have a problem with their hardware and never be inconvenienced by the lack of save backup options on the Switch. For anyone who does want protection against the small chance of hardware failure, though, playing on the Switch currently carries some level of risk.