One of the most touted features of Nintendo’s paid online service is the introduction of cloud saves. Switch owners will finally be able to back up save data from their consoles and store it on Nintendo’s servers. This feature will be included along with online multiplayer and a library of NES games for $20 USD per year or a little more if you prefer to pay quarterly or monthly.
There is a catch, however. If you should ever let your Nintendo Switch Online subscription lapse you risk losing all of your back-up save files. Nintendo’s support website makes it very clear that your save data may be deleted from the cloud:
“We are unable to guarantee that cloud save data will be retained after an extended period of time from when your membership is ended. However, you can continue to use the save data that is saved to your system memory.”
While you will still have access to your games saved on your console, there is currently no other way to make back-ups to your memory card or an external hard drive. This means if something happens to your console or if you send it in to Nintendo for repair you may well find hundreds of hours of your game progress wiped out with no way to recover them.
At first glance it seems simple enough. You have to pay Nintendo for cloud saves and if you do not keep your subscription active they are not obligated to hold on to them for you. However, cloud saves on Xbox One are completely free. Steam and GOG also provide free cloud saves. Sony is the only other gaming company (to my knowledge) that charges for cloud saves but even they will retain them for six months after you cancel your PlayStation Plus subscription. Sony will also allow you to back up your game saves to an external drive.
Interestingly enough, save data for the NES games you play through your Nintendo Online account are not backed up in the cloud. Those save files will be stored on your Switch console and can only be accessed if your subscription is active.