Nintendo recently revealed new details about the upcoming subscription-based Switch Online service which is set to launch this September. One of the new features is the ability for users to finally upload their save data to the cloud. The thing is, this feature will be locked behind a subscription, leaving non-paying users out in the cold.
Before I throw some criticism at Nintendo over this, I will acknowledge that it isn’t the only company doing this. Sony is also guilty of the same practice, making PS4 users have to pay for a PlayStation Plus subscription in order to gain access to cloud saves. Seeing that PS Plus is more expensive than Switch Online, Sony is technically the bigger offender in this instance. But in either case, it’s a little difficult to justify this practice since cloud storage services have become so widespread in the world of modern technology.
Millions of people make use of cloud services quite often, sometimes without even fully realizing it. For instance, if you use services like Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive or Dropbox, then you’re using a cloud storage service. All of these clouds come from different companies, but they all offer very similar functionality, which also includes the fact that they’re all available to use for free. True, the free functionality is limited to a pretty small amount of storage space, but the point is that you don’t have to pay into any of these services unless you want/really need to. And remember, these clouds are even more complex and larger than that of Nintendo’s or Sony’s. These clouds handle all kinds of files: music, movies, photos, documents—you name it. Save data is important, but it’s the only type of file that can be uploaded to either Nintendo or Sony’s clouds. Looking at it that way, having to pay for access to simple cloud saves is a little unfair by comparison.
It can be argued that network servers are expensive, and the other aforementioned cloud services all come from massive multi-billion dollar companies, so they can afford to give away some of the functionality for free. That’s a good point, but Nintendo and Sony also happen to be massive multi-billion dollar companies—Sony especially. But really, that’s the problem here. Because these two are such profitable companies, they’re naturally looking for ways to maximize their profits, hence the reason why their network subscriptions are even a thing. Due to the convenience and reliability of cloud storage, both companies are using it as ‘bait’ to draw people into buying subscriptions.
Sony also charges for access to cloud saves. Both companies are using the feature as ‘bait’ to attract consumers.
Now, I’ve really made it seem like Nintendo and Sony are a little wicked in this instance. I also said that Sony is technically the bigger bad guy here, but there is a point to make note of. While cloud saves on PS4 are only available for PS Plus subscribers, non-members do have another option: physical backups. All one has to do is throw a flash drive or external hard drive into their PS4, and they can backup their data. Physical back-ups are less desirable than cloud-based ones due to the possibility of data being lost or damaged if something happens to the storage device that’s housing the data. I experienced this first-hand a few years ago when my younger brother accidentally knocked over an external hard drive that was attached to my Wii U. Nearly all of the data from the system was on it, which was subsequently all lost. Despite issues like this, it’s still better to have it as an option rather than no option at all.
The main reason why so many Switch users (myself included) have badgered Nintendo to add the ability to backup save data to the cloud is due to the fact there currently is no other way to backup any data from the Switch. Except for screenshots and video captures, that is. When you remove a microSD card from the system and load it up on a computer, the only truly readable files are photos and videos. The thing is, physical backups have been a feature of Nintendo systems before (as I just stated with the Wii U). Even the original Wii, as simple as its OS was, allowed users to backup their save data (and WiiWare/VC titles) to an SD card. With this being the case, many Switch users have been understandably perplexed by the fact that this functionality isn’t available on the Switch. Although the company has never really commented on the matter, one widely accepted theory is that physical backups are unavailable in order to protect the Switch from being exploited, as has happened with past Nintendo systems. The thing is, hackers have still made considerable progress with cracking open the Switch. Rather ironically, they’ve already found a way to backup save data from the system anyway. So, legitimate users are currently on the losing side in this instance.
Despite having said all this, I do happen to share the same sentiments as many others who have reacted to this news of cloud saves finally coming to the system: it’s good to just have them at all. Still, I do believe this feature should be available to all Switch users (like how it is for Xbox One owners), if not at least the option to create a physical backup. With the Switch being a hybrid console, it’s pretty much even more necessary to have backups since there’s a higher chance of something go wrong with the system (at least for those who do take it outside the house). In fact, one of our staff members recently had a problem with their Switch and sent it in to be replaced. He got a new unit back, but his save data was irrecoverable. Although some folks think of it as fun to replay games all over again, many others (myself included) find it annoying, especially in cases where several hours have been poured into a game. The enjoyment you get from experiencing and beating a game the first time is definitely not the same feeling as having to do it all over again because your original save data was lost. It’s more work than it is fun, which is why having backups is important. So, Nintendo, good on you for finally giving us cloud saves. But, you could do better and you know it.