Why doesn’t every game support cloud saves?

We ask developers how Steam's cloud save system works, and find out why Arma 3 doesn't use it.

A lot of data can be lost in a dead-computer situation, and our game saves might not always be a top priority for our regular file backups. But even though they're not be as valuable as, say, baby pictures, having to start over after 150 hours of Witching would really suck Necrophage butt. 

To save us from ourselves, Steam and Origin and the like automatically backup save game and configuration information. On Steam, cloud saving is a standard part of any game's integration. “There are a couple ways to do it,” says Marc Flury, programmer and designer for Thumper. “Steam provides one lightweight option where developers just specify which data files get stored in the cloud. It takes a little thought and planning, but it's great for simple cases.” 

“The Long Dark lends itself to long-term play sessions, and Steam Cloud allows players to continue games between multiple systems,” says Raphael van Lierop, the creative director behind The Long Dark. Being able to pick up the same save file on different computers running different operating systems is useful when you’re trying to reach day 200 without getting eaten by wolves. “[It] provides a nice comfort to the player.”

Since it’s easy, almost every big game on Steam supports cloud saving, but there are a few high-profile games that don’t, like Kerbal Space Program and Arma 3. Which brings us to our question: Hey, Arma 3 Project Lead Petr Kolář, what gives?

Arma 3's save system is deeply rooted in the game code, and making changes now this long after the initial game release might result in backwards compatibility problems.

“The main issue we found during our investigations has to do with the proper timing of saving and loading, while also maintaining the possibility for players to play the game offline,” Kolář says. Arma 3 has separate saves for missions, mods, profiles, scenarios, the map editor, and the campaign itself, and Steam Cloud just didn’t fit into Arma 3’s structure. For big, online-focused games with lots of mods and an active community adding endless permutations, Steam Cloud doesn’t work as smoothly and is not simple to implement. “Arma 3's save system is deeply rooted in the game code, and making changes now this long after the initial game release might result in backwards compatibility problems,” Kolář says. “In that sense, our preference and priority will always be to first ensure a stable platform.”

The answer is fairly simple, then: the more complex and customizable the game, the thornier cloud saving becomes. It’s likely that nearly every game will eventually sync data automatically, dialing home to one server or another, but until then we have to take care of the outliers ourselves.

The best solution is easy and free, a combo two-pack: Use GameSave Manager to rescue save information from My Documents and My Games and profile.apps.roaming or wherever else they end up. Then add your GameSave Manager folder to the other files you regularly backup—because you definitely already have a backup scheme in place, right?

(If for some reason you don’t have a backup scheme in place, here’s an article on the best backup software. We highly recommend setting one up!)

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