A few months ago, my Nintendo Switch broke. In spite of the assurances of some very well-meaning customer service representatives, I assumed, as I wrote in that earlier piece, that the company would "wipe my console, send me back a refurbished unit and call it a day."
In this instance, I take no solace from being right.
I'm not going to rehash the original piece here, but suffice to say that paying $120 to repair a console that shouldn't have broken, while losing all of my save files, did not make me very happy.
I can't get my save files, my original Switch, or my time or money back. But hopefully, I can prevent some other unlucky souls from blundering into the same mistakes that I did. If your Nintendo Switch has broken — or better yet, if it hasn't, and you want to take prophylactic measures — learn how you can protect your Nintendo Switch save data. It's not guaranteed to work, but it'll at least give you a fighting chance.
How to back up Nintendo Switch save data
To cut right to the chase, there is only one foolproof way to back up your Switch save data, and it's not even technically 100% foolproof. First, you'll have to buy a subscription to the Nintendo Switch Online service. At $20 per year, it's not nearly as expensive as comparable services from Microsoft or Sony — but those companies also let you back up your save files without paying an extra fee, so we'll call it a wash.
Once you've ponied up the dough, your Switch will automatically back up your save data to Nintendo's cloud servers. This way, if your Switch meets an untimely demise, like mine did, you won't lose anything except $100-ish and a few weeks of time with your console. You can't tweak auto-backup options in an individual game's software menu, but just signing up for the service and leaving your Switch online for an hour or two should be sufficient.
Even if you have no interest in this service, you may want to sign up for a free seven-day trial, if only to back up your save data once. It's an awful lot better than losing absolutely everything, particularly if you've already finished a number of Switch titles and want to archive your save data.
I would like to reiterate that this is the only way to back up your Switch save data. Unlike with the PS4, you cannot put your data on a thumb drive. Unlike with the Xbox One, your data will not sync with the cloud automatically. And even though the Switch has a microSD card port, you can't transfer any save data to it. To my knowledge, Nintendo has no plans to implement new save-backup features anytime soon. To further complicate matters, not every Switch game offers this functionality, meaning you can't back up those saves by any means.
I emailed Nintendo for more information on this story. However, the company replied that it is currently gearing up for E3 and thus unable to provide any commentary.
How to save your data if your Switch is broken
Unfortunately, if you've tracked down this page, it's highly likely that your Switch is already on the fritz and you're freaking out about how to preserve your save data. First off, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are right to freak out. The odds of getting your system back with its save data intact are not very good, and the sooner you make peace with that, the less devastated you'll be when it happens.
However, that doesn't mean your case is absolutely hopeless. Remember: If you can get your Switch to turn on at all, you can simply sign up for a Switch Online free trial and back up your data. This won't take long, so maximize whatever battery life you have left, if charging is an issue. In fact, Nintendo may even be willing to give you a little complimentary Switch Online time to facilitate the process; the first rep to whom I spoke offered this to me.
If your Switch won't turn on and won't charge, then your situation is much tougher, as mine was. I attempted to swap out my battery with another, fully charged Switch battery, which would have bought me enough time to back up my save files online. If you have a little mechanical know-how and a good friend with a Switch that they're willing to let you disassemble, you may want to give a battery swap a shot. Furthermore, while Nintendo's official repair service won't do this for you (as I learned the hard way), a local game-repair shop might. It may be worth calling around and asking.
Remember: Once you send the Switch off to Nintendo, you have absolutely no control over how the company handles the repair. So it behooves you to try every other alternative before you commit your hardware to the Big N. If they get their hands on it, your save data is probably not coming back.
Nintendo may not help you
First things first: If you request a repair through Nintendo, the company will probably not fix your gadget. Instead, Nintendo will outsource the job to a more local repair operation. In my case, my Switch went to United Radio Inc. in Syracuse, New York. This, by itself, is not so unusual. After all, Nintendo has a lot of gear to repair, and it's simply more efficient to contract local companies to do the legwork.
What I didn't appreciate, though, was that United Radio blithely ignored all of my instructions. When I spoke with a Nintendo rep prior to sending my system in, she told me to write United Radio a letter with clear, detailed instructions about my issue and how I wanted the company to proceed with repairs. As such, I wrote out three very clear requests:
- Please replace the battery prior to repairing the charging port.
- Please call me, and I will walk you through backing up the save files.
- Please provide a new screen protector if you replace my Switch with a refurbished unit.
About a week later, I got an email that United Radio had received my system and wiped my save files, and would be sending me a refurbished unit. No one ever called me; as far as I can tell, no one even read my letter. I would not be surprised if United Radio received my Switch, tossed it in a "spare parts" pile somewhere and shipped me back a refurbished unit right away rather than attempt repairs.
Needless to say, when I received the Switch in the mail, my screen protector was long gone and there was no replacement. (However, I did get a repair slip that contradicted the email and claimed that all of my save files were intact. They were not, twisting the knife just a little deeper.)
I called Nintendo as soon as I received the package and asked an employee why this had happened. He said he didn't know but that he would bump me up to a manager. He also said that while the manager wouldn't be able to restore my save files, he was sure the manager would offer me some kind of compensation in order to make things right.
When I spoke with the manager, she confirmed my suspicion: The repair crew generally does not read any letters addressed to them, beyond confirming that the serial numbers match. Had I explicitly stated to not wipe my save data under any circumstances, it's possible that United Radio would have sent back my unrepaired Switch; otherwise, the volume of repairs is simply too high to accommodate individual requests. However, the manager did say that she would send me a follow-up email so that I could explain my complaint in greater detail.
The email never arrived, I wasn't offered any form of compensation, and I haven't heard from Nintendo since.
Play it safe
To be clear, my experience isn't an indictment of Nintendo as a game developer or as a company. This article is not meant to suggest that other game manufacturers handle repairs better. It's just to point out that if your system breaks, it's already too late to protect your save data. You have very little control over the repair process, which is doubly frustrating, because you have very little control over whether your Switch will malfunction, regardless of how well you care for it.
If you can't bear to lose your hard-earned progress, you should periodically back it up with the Switch Online service. It'll cost you, but it is your only choice to ensure you keep your saves.
Credit: Tom's Guide
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.