Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, Nintendo Life Operations Director Darren Calvert voices his opinion on the state of Switch cloud saves, and why Nintendo needs to solve the problem of cheaters rather than punishing the end user...
The Nintendo Switch Online membership launched yesterday and while many feel for the low asking price it delivers good value for money, there are undoubtedly some key areas in which it falls flat on its face.
One of the main things Switch owners have requested from day one is for the ability for game saves to be backed up to the cloud. This has become standard on PlayStation, Xbox and Steam for some time, and finally, 18 months after launch with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you can now have your game save for Zelda: Breath of the Wild with your 100+ hours of progress backed up on Nintendo's servers, safe and sound. The solution is simple and elegant, and once enabled, your local game saves will back up automatically.
While cloud saves work as you might expect for the vast majority of Switch games once you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership, unfortunately, some key games are not supported - including Dark Souls: Remastered, FIFA 19, NBA 2K19, Pokémon Let's Go and Splatoon 2. There are lots more games which curiously also do not support cloud saves which you can find here - some of these, such as 1-2 Switch, don't make much sense at all. Why aren't simpler games such as this supported?
Nintendo have been remarkably quiet about the subject, and at the time of writing have failed to communicate if core games such as Splatoon 2 will be getting a patch to allow for all-important cloud saves at some point in the future. Even a vague commitment to fix this at some point would be appreciated.
Nintendo provided Game Informer with a statement which explains why cloud saves are not supported in games such as Splatoon 2:
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.
The statement does not really inspire confidence that Nintendo is planning to resolve the problem. To many the solution is clear; games such as Splatoon 2 which could be exploited could be fixed by patching the game so that saves are done on server-side rather than on the console itself. Of course, some form of local game save would still be needed for the single-player elements of the game which are played offline, but the core issue around cheating would be resolved if multiplayer progress was saved on an online server.
Games such as Fortnite and Minecraft are also not compatible with Nintendo Switch Online cloud saves, but these games natively save user progress, items and unlocks to an online server - so for these games at least, it is not an issue (it should also be remembered that Fortnite can be played outside of a Nintendo Switch Online sub, which could be another reason why it doesn't support cloud saves). It points the way forward for games such as Splatoon 2, which is similar in nature. Nintendo would do well to reconsider their approach with key games such as this, so that users have confidence that if their Switch got broken or stolen, their many hours of grinding and progress would not be lost.
Pokémon Let's Go is another curious case; the game isn't even out until November, but it is already known that it will not support Nintendo Switch Online cloud saves. The Pokémon Company will obviously want to avoid the situation where Pokémon are traded away and game saves get reset, which could effectively clone a traded Pokémon. The solution for this appears to be a subscription to the cloud-based Pokémon Bank service, but the details on that are sketchy at present.
Bizarrely, Rocket League is supported by Nintendo Switch Online cloud saves, and this is a game which has lootboxes and microtransactions. Perhaps this is a good example of a hybrid game which stores some data locally and other data to an online server?
It is perhaps inevitable that Nintendo Switch Online's cloud save solution will be compared to that of PlayStation, Xbox and Steam. Taking PS4 cloud saves as an example, every game on the PS4 is supported. So games such as Dark Souls and Dead Cells have no issue with cloud saves on PS4, whereas on Switch - at present - you are plum out of luck.
At present, there appears to have been an egregious oversight in Nintendo's approach to offering cloud saves with Nintendo Switch Online membership. While it is a welcome step forward and surely everyone will be thankful that their progress in Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 can now be backed up to the cloud, this new service still has a long way to go to catch up to the competition and serves as a bit of an embarrassment for Nintendo apologists; sure, we don't like cheaters, but isn't the onus on Nintendo to find a way to combat them that doesn't involve denying cloud save rights to people who are paying for the service?
Nintendo would do well to issue a statement of intent soon which shows what steps they plan to make to improve on this situation. While games like Splatoon 2 may need many under-the-hood changes to bring them in line with the game-saving mechanisms employed elsewhere, we'd argue that the effort would be more than worth it. I'd even go as far as to say that Nintendo should never have launched its online service in this state; cloud saves should be supported by ALL games from day one.
Be sure to let us know your opinion on this cloud save malarky with a comment below.