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Nintendo Has a Cloud Problem

Illustration for article titled Nintendo Has a Cloud Problem
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

Nintendo showed off its latest first-party title, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, this morning, and the reception was mostly good. However, gameindustry.biz noted that there’s at least one big problem with the yet-to-be-released game: You’re pretty screwed if you lose your save.

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The problem is the limitation Nintendo is putting on saves. The FAQ at the end of the New Horizons video notes that cloud saves will not immediately be available. Instead, they’re coming later, and only to Nintendo Switch Online subscribers. That’s an obnoxious caveat given Sony, Microsoft, Google, and even PC stores like Steam support cloud saves for free.

Worse is that according to the fine print, those saves aren’t freely accessible to the Nintendo Switch Online holders—rather the cloud save is only intended to be used in the case of a lost or damaged system and can only be used once.

That’s a helluva bit of fine print!

It’s also just another example of Nintendo’s serious cloud issues. Last year the Nintendo Switch Lite launched, and we all loved it, but it struggled to differentiate itself from the original Switch. A big part of that is because of the cloud problem. The Lite is a far superior mobile device to the Switch, but has no options for playing on the TV. That suggests that the Lite is an excellent choice for people on a budget, or people looking for a secondary travel Switch.

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Unfortunately, cross saves from Switch to Switch are so terrifically annoying to do that they’re practically impossible. You really can’t play a game on one Switch, get home, and then cross to the other and pick up where you left off. Instead, you have to pick one device (I went with the Lite) and make it your primary. On the secondary Switch, you have to try to avoid playing games that are super dependent on saved progress.

This is a move counter to every other company in the industry. Ostensibly Nintendo avoids cloud saves to mitigate piracy, to encourage people to own their own devices instead of sharing, and to avoid cheating. In practice, it’s just incredibly obnoxious and sets Nintendo apart from other game companies in a really unpleasant way.

A few weeks ago, Phil Spencer, head of all things Xbox at Microsoft, noted that he didn’t really consider Nintendo a competitor in the future of gaming. He was talking about the distant, distant future, but was also pointing to Nintendo’s complete lack of cloud infrastructure as a major weakness. It’s easy to scoff at his suggestions (I sure did), but for most of the gaming world, cloud saves have been ubiquitous for the better part of the decade.

Nintendo’s draconian save rules and reluctance to support cloud saves is starting to make it feel less like a company making purposeful choices to prevent piracy and cheating, and more a company stuck in an outmoded way of doing things.

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Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

davidcryix
davidcryix

Devil’s advocate: who cares?

No one here is technically wrong about any of this but like... Does it matter? What do cloud saves have to do with how excellent breath of the wild is, or Mario odyssey, or luigis mansion or links awakening or any other Nintendo game on the switch? It’s irrelevant to the kinds of games they make (more or less) and the big cross platform online games have their own servers anyway.

I was annoyed at first by the lack of finesse in migrating from my launch switch to my new lite but after a week it didn’t matter. I’m not hopping between two systems and two tvs to play. I play on my lite and it’s fine. It really is.

I recognize that every gamer is different but I honestly ask you all: if you could magically transform Nintendo online into xbl how would that change the taste of mustard?