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PS5 save files can effectively only be backed up to PlayStation Plus cloud storage

If you don’t subscribe to PS Plus, you don’t have a great backup option

a wide photo of the PlayStation 5 standing vertically on a round wooden table Photo: Samit Sarkar/Polygon

At the moment, the PlayStation 5 doesn’t support copying save data onto external storage devices. Instead, the console’s only option for moving save files from one PS5 to another, or backing up save data, is to use Sony’s cloud storage — which is available exclusively to PlayStation Plus subscribers.

This is different from how it works on PlayStation 4, which allows users to back up save data to a USB drive as well as cloud storage. Without that option, PS5 owners are at risk of losing their save files if some catastrophe befalls them — like their console getting stolen in a robbery, or destroyed in a flood, or bricked by a firmware update — unless they pay for an active PlayStation Plus subscription.

The PS4/PS5 difference becomes clear in the PS5’s system settings. In the “Saved Data and Game/App Settings” page of the menu, there’s a section labeled “Saved Data (PS4).” There, players can choose to copy PS4 save files to a USB drive or Sony’s cloud storage, or delete those files from the console. The other option is to change the way that the PS5 handles the automatic upload of PS4 save data to cloud storage.

The Saved Data and Game/App Settings page for the PS5 in the PS4 saves menu
Note the “USB Drive” option for PS4 save files.
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

However, the “Saved Data (PS5)” menu lacks the “USB Drive” option. Instead, the only things to do with PS5 save files are to manually copy them from the console’s internal storage to Sony’s cloud storage, or to delete them.

The Saved Data and Game/App Settings page for the PS5 in the PS5 saves menu
Hey, where’d the “USB Drive” option go?
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

If you click “Console Storage” on this page, you’ll get to a screen that offers just two options: “Upload to Cloud Storage” and “Delete.” The former has a PlayStation Plus logo next to it — which means it’s restricted to subscribers.

the “Console Storage” page for PS5 save data in the PlayStation 5 system settings Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

While cloud storage is certainly nice, and likely to be the way that the majority of PS5 users back up their save data, a few things make it inconvenient. Aside from the fact that PS5 save backup is locked behind the PlayStation Plus paywall, cloud saves require network connections to access. That leaves players out of luck if their internet goes down, whereas they’d be able to restore save files from local storage if they could back them up to it. We’ve asked Sony about why this is the case on PS5, and we’ll update this article with any information we receive.

Of course, this is the way Nintendo handles save files on the Nintendo Switch — users can back them up to cloud storage only if they pay for a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. (When the console launched in early 2017, it didn’t even have that feature.) Meanwhile, Microsoft offers free cloud saves on Xbox One (and they’ll soon be free on Xbox 360, too).

It’s worth noting that PS5 save data isn’t the only thing that the PS5 won’t let you transfer to a USB device. The console also blocks players from moving entire PS5 games to external storage. While it’s no surprise that players can’t play those games from external storage, given the speed requirements of the PS5’s internal SSD, it is a little surprising that Sony won’t let players use external USB drives as “cold storage” to free up space on the SSD without having to re-download games.

Now, we should also note that the PS5 does offer system backup/restore functionality, like the PS4 does. But this simply isn’t a viable option for regularly backing up PS5 save data — it’s designed to function like recovery software on a computer, akin to System Restore on Windows or Time Machine on Mac OS.

Accessible from the “System Software” section of the PS5 settings’ System page, the console’s “Back Up and Restore” function says that it allows you to “back up games, apps, and data in console storage to a USB drive.” That’s technically true, but this method doesn’t simply copy save files (or installed PS5 games, or any other data) in their original, usable formats to external storage. What it does is create a compressed archive containing the data in question for export to a USB drive. Only a PS5 can read this backup archive — which gets split into as many 3.99 GB chunks as the size of the backup requires — and the only way to access the data locked within it is to use the console’s “Restore PS5” option.

the warning screen for restoring PS5 data from a backup
Restoring from a PS5 backup means starting from scratch.
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

In case that description of this feature didn’t disabuse you of the notion that you could use it in lieu of Sony’s cloud storage, this probably will.

“When you start restoring, your PS5 will be reset to factory defaults, and all users and all data will be deleted,” Sony warns right before the beginning of the restore process. “After that, your PS5 will be restored using the backup data.”

Restoring your PS5 from backup isn’t a simple act of, say, copying save files from the archive back to the console’s internal SSD. Any time you undertake this process, you’ll be starting from scratch. So yes, having a backup archive from the PS5’s built-in backup tool would be preferable to having no backup at all. But the process is so laborious that it’s not a realistic solution for a problem Sony has created by prohibiting PS5 owners from simply copying PS5 save data to a USB stick.

Update: We’ve added information about the PS5’s built-in backup and recovery tools to this article.

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