Now that the latest Pokémon games are out in the wild, fans everywhere are deciding between Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble. But, a segment of the fandom is also currently scared, thanks to social media posts that claim Pokémon Sword and Shield are deleting all of their Switch save files.
The issue is framed differently depending on where you look. One viral Twitter post, for example, initially states that the autosave function somehow managed to not only corrupt a Pokémon game and its save files, the crash also managed to bork save files for other games on the Switch. (The thread author later corrects themselves to name the actual issue, which we’ll get to in a moment.) On places like Reddit, players are encouraging each other to turn off autosave. At least one player on my timeline had the issue seemingly affect other games on their console:
Game crashed on an attempted autosave (or at least I assume so), I then the game crashed on boot to I put in my smash cart to test, smash crashed on boot too, so I rebooted my Switch.— DeathChaos (@DeathChaos25) November 15, 2019
Now everything on my Switch looks like this, even the cart games are asking for a redownload... pic.twitter.com/OEFHZErLCx
Polygon reached out to Nintendo for comment, but the company did not respond in time for press. However, based on the expertise of Pokémon hackers like @SciresM, it seems that the panic has gotten some details about the issue wrong, at least initially.
The first thing you should know is that the glitch isn’t widespread, so the chances of you encountering this bug are somewhat slim. (If you’re hearing about it everywhere, it’s probably because it sounds terrifying, so people want to warn each other.) But, if you do come across the bug, what is actually happening?
“Basically, the operating system tries to retrieve data from disk, and that fails,” SciresM told Polygon. We don’t yet know what is causing the failure, only that, once it happens, Sword and Shield crash. What we do know is that how your SD card is formatted can affect what happens next.
“There’s this crash,” SciresM continued. “When it happens, IF you use exFAT you get corrupted.”
In layman’s terms, SD cards need to be structured before they can hold data. Formatting builds that structure, and there are a few ways to format cards. Those using the exFAT format are, in general, prone to sometimes having data corruption issues on the Nintendo Switch, which is why people often tell each other to format their cards as FAT32. So, if you encounter the problem and happen to be using FAT32 or the Switch’s internal memory, all you have to do is restart the game.
“It’s more of an operating system failure than a game failure,” SciresM said.
This may seem like splitting hairs if your data gets corrupted, but the good news is that all is not lost — literally. Given that save file data is stored on the system and not SD cards, at worst, you may just need to redownload some content. If you’re particularly worried about the possibility, it may be worth backing up your screenshots and videos stored on your exFAT SD card. But the safest thing would be to not use the format at all, if you can.
Also, to be explicit: save data is not at risk at all. Saves are stored on the internal NAND, which uses FAT32/doesn't corrupt.— Michael (@SciresM) November 15, 2019
The only data at risk are downloaded games/other SD card files, and those can be redownloaded.
The absolute worst case is you lose some screenshots.
Of course, it’s still annoying to have to do anything at all to get your data back, but it’s much less severe than some folks are suggesting.
So, should you turn autosave off, then? You can if you want to, though there’s no guarantee this will actually preserve your content — right now it’s unclear if normal saves can also trigger the issue.
“Frankly I’d leave autosave on,” SciresM says. “So that if [the corruption] does happen, you don’t lose much.”
Update: Added clarification regarding how affected users identified the problem as the day progressed.