You’re in the mood to play a game. You try to load up an old favorite, and when you do, you’re hit with an unpleasant message. You don’t have enough storage space to save the game, so you can’t continue playing.
It’s frustrating, but there’s a solution. You need to free up some space. It sounds easy enough, but before you start deleting things off of your console, you are struck with an important thought. Will this erase my progress? If I delete this, can I get it back?
Those are vital questions, and if your console is a Nintendo Switch, then what you really need to think about is game data.
Is Nintendo Switch Game Data Saved on the Cartridge?
This brings us to the central question. You know that your device saves data relative to the games you play. It’s how it remembers your progress, unlocks, and all of the rest, but, depending on where that data is saved, it could be very important for dealing with limited hard drive space.
On the Switch, you can download games and play them, or you can play them off of cartridges (which are microSD cards). If you play the game from the cartridge, does the game data save to that cartridge?
Nintendo Switch game cartridges are locked so that they cannot be overwritten. This protects the game itself, so you won’t accidentally erase a whole game. It also prevents you from storing other information on a card that could probably otherwise hold more data.
Where is Game Data Saved?
So, if the game data isn’t stored on the cartridge, where is it kept? According to Nintendo, the Switch saves game data “in the console’s system memory.” That’s a weird way of saying that all of your game data is saved on the device’s hard drive.
That means that when you’re out of space, you can’t save data for any games. Space management is important with this device.
This also means that it doesn’t matter what source you use for the game. If you had two copies of the same game, you could use either one of them, and your Switch would load the correct game data to mark your progress.
It is worth noting that Nintendo stores game data according to user accounts. If you share your Switch with someone, and you have separate accounts, you can’t share game data across those accounts.
What If I Don’t Have Enough Space?
Getting back to the problem that prompted the original question, what do you do if you’re out of space for saving game states?
You have a few options, but all of them involve removing data that’s currently on the Switch.
For starters, you can archive game software. In other words, Nintendo will make a formal note that you do in fact own the game in question, and then it will promptly delete the whole game from your system. You can redownload the game whenever you want. Archiving is an easy way to free up a lot of space without permanently losing access to a game you own.
You can also delete software without archiving it. If you installed a game but know you’ll never play it again, you don’t have to archive it. You can just delete it.
The other thing you can do is expand the storage. You can get a generic microSD card and put it in the slot. Your Switch can save game software to the SD card, freeing up space on the hard drive. But even when you do this, game data is saved on the hard drive.
The one drawback to using SD expansion is that you can’t have your expansion card and a game cartridge in the Switch at the same time. It only has one slot.
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