Nintendo Switch OLED’s backwards data transfer system made me lose hundreds of hours in Animal Crossing

Nintendo Switch propped up on desk with Animal Crossing New Horizons image on screen.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

All of this could have been avoided if I had received a simple warning during my Nintendo Switch OLED data transfer.

Myself, as well as thousands of gamers who were able to pre-order a Nintendo Switch OLED, have been transferring data from their original systems. To Nintendo's credit, the process of transferring save data is easy and straightforward. All users have to do is turn on both systems and initiate a system transfer in the settings. It was so easy that I thought that was the end of it. Turns out, I was very wrong. 

Upon doing the data transfer and trading in my original Switch to GameStop for a generous $260 in store credit, all data was deleted and the system was rolled back to factory default. 

I also had paid for Nintendo Online in the past, which allowed users to cloud backup their save data. And I remember also backing up my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island online as well at some point. Surely, I had taken the necessary precautions to ensure that my hundreds of hours in Animal Crossing, which I had been playing since March of 2020, was safe. 

Upon loading Animal Crossing on my Switch OLED, something was amiss. It didn't load into the game's title screen and instead was starting the game as if it were a brand new file. A feeling of dread loomed and I could feel my body sink. 

After some Googling, I came to learn that regardless of system-to-system data transfer, Nintendo had a separate data transfer tool for Animal Crossing. It's this tool that allowed users to transfer their islands completely. 

None of this made sense. Why didn't this data transfer during the initial system-to-system transfer? Considering that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold 31 million units to date, why didn't Nintendo add a little notification telling users that a separate program was necessary for Animal Crossing? Or did Nintendo actually give me this warning and I totally overlooked it? I read the instructions carefully and could not see a separate note for Animal Crossing transfers. 

I eventually called Nintendo customer support to see if anything could be done. The representative, who was very professional and kind, looked at my online data and could not see any cloud backup or island backup. This didn't make sense either. I know for a fact that I had backed up my island at some point. It was months ago, but I remembered doing as such. Does Nintendo delete island backups if your Nintendo Online subscription lapses? Mine did lapse for a while, but I re-upped it upon buying the Switch OLED. 

According to Nintendo's support website, the company will keep data for 180 days before deleting it. I had stopped playing my Switch online for a while as I began focusing more on PS5 and Xbox Series X coverage. So, it seems that I had unsubscribed from Nintendo Online for more than the allotted time. 

Regardless, the entire situation has been both confusing and discouraging. The lack of up-front transparency during the initial data transfer has led to hundreds of hours of data lost. And for that, I feel ripped off. I tend to blame myself for these types of mishaps, but I think some of this also falls on Nintendo, which should do more to ensure the time of its customers is respected. 

Heed this article as half complaint and half warning. Firstly, to Nintendo, as a tech journalist that covers this space, for me to have overlooked or to not have known of this obscure procedure means that I'm not the only one. There needs to be increased transparency during the system transfer process that can ensure Animal Crossing save data carries over. Honestly, from a consumer perspective, there's no reason for a separate app needing to be downloaded for one specific game to transfer. It should be baked into the transfer system itself. Even if it might be difficult to implement, humans have accomplished far more on less. Nintendo engineers, get on it. 

Second, to those that have purchased a Switch OLED, learn from my mistake. Always assume that Nintendo's system software will never be on par with the likes of Sony and Microsoft. Assume that its online systems will never be as robust or consumer-friendly as its competitors. Take the time to double check to make sure everything transferred correctly to your Switch OLED. Because if not, you'll be left with hundreds of hours in Animal Crossing data lost and a feeling that you've wasted your precious, limited time on this Earth. 

Imad Khan

Imad is currently Senior Google and Internet Culture reporter for CNET, but until recently was News Editor at Tom's Guide. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, Wired and Men's Health Magazine, among others. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.

  • LordFarquaad
    Imagine being in your 30s and spending hundreds of hours playing Animal Crossing.. Oh well.
  • TheIckyStickie
    How are you allowed to write articles for a living? There's a Save Data Transfer tool in the eShop called the Island Transfer Tool that allows you to import your island from Switch to Switch. Even if you didn't know that, calling Nintendo Support would have informed you the same thing. I'm glad you have to restart due to your lack of negligence lmao.
  • Sphinx of Black Quartz
    Oof. That must be terribly disheartening and frustrating; you have my sympathies.

    I have no idea why the Switch's data transfer is so limited. One would think Nintendo could simply implement some kind of all-in-one function to transfer all game, user, and save data to a new console.