Whether you’re switching to a new PC, reinstalling Windows, or just ensuring you don’t lose hours of gameplay if your hard drive dies, you’ll want to make sure your save games are properly backed up.
Quite a few games support save-game syncing via the cloud, but many games — especially older ones — do not. You’ll need to back up and restore their save files on your own.
Check if Cloud Syncing is Available
Cloud syncing is the ideal. If a game syncs its save files with a cloud service, it handles the backup and restore process on its own. Unless something goes wrong, the game will automatically back up your save games to the cloud and restore them to other computers, so you don’t have to worry about it.
First and foremost, you should identify if a game syncs its own saves before bothering to back up its game saves. If you’re using Steam, click the “List View” icon at the top-right corner and look for the cloud icon. Games with the cloud icon next to them use Steam Cloud to sync their saves, while games without the cloud icon do not.
Automatically Back Up Game Saves
GameSave Manager is a free program that contains a database of games and their save game locations. It can scan your computer for installed games and their associated saves, displaying them in a list. With a few clicks, you can select the games you care about and back up their save games to a single file. This file can be restored on another computer with GameSave Manager, putting all the save games back in their correct location.
Without GameSave Manager, this would require locating a game’s save files on your hard drive and backing them up manually, then restoring the individual files to their correct locations. As games scatter their saves all over your hard drive — there’s no one standard location — this can be very inconvenient and tedious.
After installing GameSave Manager, click the Make a backup option. You’ll be able to choose the installed games you want to back up.
You can also create a scheduled task that will automatically back up your game saves on a schedule. GameSave Manager can place these backed up files in a cloud storage folder, so you’ll always have a recent backup in case anything goes wrong.
Link Your Game Saves to the Cloud
Games that don’t perform cloud syncing still put their save games in a specific folder. With symbolic links, it’s possible to place your save game folders in a cloud storage folder — such as on Dropbox, Google Drive, or SkyDrive — and create a symbolic link to that new folder at the original location. This effectively tricks the game into storing its save games in a cloud storage folder, so they’ll be synced along with all your other files.
You could do this yourself by following our guide to creating symbolic links on Windows. However, GameSave Manager also includes a tool that will quickly do this for you. Just click the Sync and Link option and select the game saves you want to store in your cloud storage folder.
Manually Back Up Game Saves
If you’d like to eschew third-party tools entirely, you can back up your save files the old fashioned way. Bear in mind that different games store their save files in different locations. There are no standard locations that are universally respected. Here are some common locations where games may store their save files.
This isn’t a comprehensive list — not by a long shot. Some games’ save data may even be stored in the Windows registry. If you’re looking to back up a specific game, your best bet is to perform a Google search for the game’s name and “save location” to find where its save data is stored. Websites like the Save Game Locations Wiki attempt to bring all this information together in one place, but they’re not very comprehensive.
If you have a game that uses Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live, bear in mind that you’ll also need to copy your GFWL profile folder. If you copy the game’s save files without your GFWL profile, the saves may become unusable. This is just one of the many ways Microsoft’s GFWL inconveniences PC gamers.
Back up the folder from the following location, then restore the folder to the same location on the new system:
We recommend you use GameSave Manager if it supports the games you want to back up — backing up save games manually can be complex and unnecessarily time-consuming.
If you’re using Steam, you can also back up your Steam folder — stored in the Program Files folder by default — and move it to a new computer. All your Steam games will be present, so you won’t have to re-download them.
Image Credit: Flavio Ensiki on Flickr