January 22, 2008Glenn Turner

Before heading home for the holidays, I contacted Nintendo about a graphics glitch with my console (the 'Stray Pixel Problem') and they promptly sent me packing stickers which I hastily used to ship the console off to them. I disconnected all the cables, double-checked to make sure there was no game left in the drive, and made sure I hadn't left a memory card in the system.

The Wii was returned to me approximately two weeks later, along with a note that had two repair-related checkboxes: 1) 'Your user information has been loaded into your system,' and 2) 'Due to the malfunction, we were not able to recover any data associated with your system'. Guess which was checked? And guess whose Miis and hard-earned saves were now lost to the ages?

Let me reiterate that I'm completely aware that this was 100% my fault. Hell, I have an SD card – it wouldn't have been any trouble for me to back up my Wii before I shipped it out. The real reason why I didn't back it up? It simply didn't occur to me.

Bear in mind, I make my living working online, and I've been working with PCs since I was in short pants. I have had backup solutions all my life. From watching my dad patiently churn out tape backups during grade school, to yesterday's frustration with Apple's new Time Machine application, data redundancy has always been of paramount importance to me.

So why'd it slip my mind this time?

There are a number of reasons/excuses. Part of it's simply because it's a Nintendo console. Apart from the Gamecube, I've never had to worry about saves being separated from their respective cartridges. I'm also still stuck in the world of memory cards. Now that even my handhelds (at least, non-Nintendo ones) require them to simply play a game (much less save one), I've become accustomed to just assuming that there's a memory card already in the machine, and that the saves are separate from the system. Third, my 360's hard drive detaches and acts, in essence, like a glorified memory card.

It's obvious that we're in a very transitory period with our console gaming hardware and this, along with (and especially with) my lack of common sense, landed me in this predicament. Until the on-board battery came along, most of us had no saves at all. Then, for a few generations, there was the system-specific memory card. But now, we have a plethora of mixed-media save options, each with their positives and negatives, for every single console. It's all seems to be a bit of a mess.

What's next?

My first thought when I lost all my Wii data was simply: "Great, now I have to worry about daily console backups too?" And, while daily backups are probably overkill, it'd be smart to start thinking of a way to ensure that my console data's backed up in a timely manner. That's not an ideal (or, thanks to the 360, cheap) solution, but what is?

I'm hoping for remote online backups. And, frankly, for what paying Xbox Live members shell out, why aren't gold members getting free backups as part of the service? Considering how patching via Xbox Live has become practically standard now, it's hard to argue that only the privileged will be able to backup.

And ideally there would be a way to have a physical copy of your backups, be it a return to a memory card or (better yet), burning a copy of your online backup via a desktop computer. After all, I just spent a glorious hour or two last month beating Sonic Adventure, and I certainly couldn't do that now if I were solely relying on Sega.net for my old Sonic saves. And despite the fact that it's highly unlikely my 360 will do much more than flash me the 'red ring of death' in ten years, at least I'll feel secure in knowing that my saves and custom data are safe.

As we move towards user-generated content on consoles, more and more users will have to start thinking about backups. With any luck, our savvy hardware overlords will realize this will become a real concern and accommodate us sooner rather than later. Otherwise, there may be more folks out there just like me, foolishly forgetting about the fragility of their saves until it's too late. Until then, let my experience be a lesson to you – backup your data before it's too late!

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