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29 May 2015

Thinking Strategically About Your Indie Game’s Save Functionality

Have you ever stopped to think about the overall functionality of your indie game’s save feature? It’s something not a lot of indie developers think about, but if your indie game needs a save feature, it is crucial that the feature is appropriate for your type of game. Below, we’re going to take a look at a few scenarios in which different types of save functionality would be optimal. Use the proper save style when appropriate, and it will raise the quality of your game as a whole.

When manually saving makes sense

There’s something to be said about the convenience of saving manually. We’ve all been there as players: you want to save your game at the perfect spot right before you battle the next boss. It gives players the flexibility of strategically picking their save points.

Yet, a lot of indie developers dislike this method. Called ‘save scumming,’ it’s seen as a method that’s used to unfairly get ahead in the game. While I disagree, it could create a balancing issue that would allow players to save often and make the game easier. To this end, it’s up to indie developers to ensure that the balancing is perfect in order for this type of save functionality to work.

One method that works is to limit the amount of saves a player can make. I remember the original Max Payne had an option that did this very well if you played on a certain difficulty. Each chapter forced you to be strategic in the amount of saves you could make, and made you strategically think about the ideal spots to save your game in order to progress with the most ammo and painkillers possible. If you want to give your players the freedom to save on their own but you want to avoid ‘save scumming,’ this method is the best of both worlds.


Another proper save feature is to simply use checkpoints. If you’ve played almost any JRPG of the last 25-years, you know what I’m talking about. Strategically place checkpoints within areas of your game where players will have to stop and save their progress.

But what if you have to set checkpoints far apart and the player continuously dies? Won’t they become frustrated and want to quit the game? Again, that’s a balancing issue. If you must stretch out checkpoints and want to still give players the ability to save their progress between long stretches of gameplay, consider placing ‘soft checkpoints’ between each checkpoint. In other words, if a player saves at a ‘soft checkpoint’ during a session, they will automatically start back at that location; if they end the session, they will start back at the regular checkpoint. It’s the same logic behind ‘hard saves’ and ‘quick saves’ in some games that use the manual save option.

Auto saving

The feature most indie developers opt for, auto-saving ensures that players are accountable for every action they perform. Perfect for rogue-like games (in fact, it’s mandatory for games that fall into the genre), it avoids save scumming completely and forces players to play strategically. Yet, if a game emphasizes exploration and players are afraid of making a wrong move, this could kill the flow of the game.

Auto saving is usually ideal for most games – endless runners, platformers, etc. But you need to think about if it could have a negative impact on your players. If it does, opt for any/a combination of the strategies mentioned above.

Do you have any questions or comments about your indie game’s save functionality? Let us know in the comments below – and happy Friday!

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