Using One Nintendo Account On 2 Switches Is Tricky, So Here’s The Best Way To Do It

Using One Nintendo Account On 2 Switches Is Tricky, So Here’s The Best Way To Do It

Since last week’s release of the portable-only Switch Lite, I’ve been trying to set up my account on both the Lite and my original Switch so my wife and kids can play games like Super Mario Odyssey and Yoshi’s Crafted World on one without erasing my save data or interrupting my playing Puzzle Quest on the other. Nintendo hasn’t made this easy. Here’s how we’ve made it work.

In theory, it should just work without any fancy workarounds. I have two Switches, the new Lite and an original Switch that I purchased in March of 2017. I also own a vast library of games, mostly digitally. I want to be able to share these games across these systems. I also want to be able to stop playing on one console, transfer save data over, and pick up where I left off on the other.

The obstacle is that Nintendo won’t just let you do this. They require that Switch owners have a Nintendo Account, used to digitally purchase games. A Nintendo account can be added to multiple Switch consoles, but only one console at a time can be designated the “primary” console. That’s where the issues lie.

The Problem With Setting Up Two Switches On One Account

First off, in order to play a game on a non-primary system, that system has to connect to the internet to ensure the user owns and can access the content. While a non-primary Switch can still download digital games or content owned by a Nintendo account, there are limitations on when and how those games can be played. If a non-primary Switch cannot connect to the internet, it will not play games.

Secondly, a non-primary Switch cannot launch a game if the primary Switch is already playing a downloaded game from the same user account. For example, if I am playing Puzzle Quest on my primary Switch and my wife attempts to play any game on my Switch Lite using my account, she will get a message indicating the game is suspended because the account is being used on another system. If my wife is actively playing on the secondary and I start any digital game on my primary Switch, her game will pause and she’ll get the same suspend message.

Also note that a non-primary Switch cannot share games between different users. While any user can play my purchased games on my primary Switch, to play my games on the non-primary Switch Lite, my wife has to be logged in under my Nintendo account.

My solution has involved setting up my Nintendo account on the Switch Lite. This has given anyone playing the Lite the ability to download and play any games on my Nintendo account. This works fine as long as my Switch Lite is the only Switch of mine that is being used, but I’ve run into problems, because I’d established my original Switch as my Primary Switch. Turns out that wasn’t the best solution.

Changing The Primary Switch 

The first Nintendo Switch to connect to the eShop for a specific user is designated their primary console. The primary console for any Nintendo account is able to download and play any game purchased under that account without limitations. No internet check is required to ensure a primary console’s software is playable.

Only one console can be a primary console for a Nintendo account at a time, though multiple accounts can claim the same Switch as their primary. I have three Nintendo accounts: my main account and two to access the European and Japanese eShops. All three accounts have my original Switch set as primary. Any additional users added to a Switch console can also freely play any content downloaded by that Switch’s primary users.

A Nintendo account holder can change which Switch console is their primary at any time. This is done by logging into the eShop on the primary console, going to account settings, and choosing the deactivate console option. After that, the next Switch that logs into the eShop will automatically become primary.


The Best Configuration For Two Switches

If you’re going to run two Switches sharing a single Nintendo account, whichever system is more likely to wind up somewhere without convenient access to the internet should be the primary console. This is because a non-primary Switch needs to connect to the internet to verify ownership of downloadable content, while a primary console does not.

That’s why I’ve decided to make my original Switch my non-primary one. My plan is to keep my original Switch at home for docked play. Since it will never be far from my wireless router, I can afford to always have the online check before I play a game. The Switch Lite, which I imagine I’ll be taking everywhere I go, will be the new primary, so I can play games that don’t require an internet connection wherever I want.

Since the Switch Lite is primary, and any account can play a game purchased by the main account on a primary system, my wife can create her own user name on the Switch Lite and play any of the games I’ve amassed without worry. Even better, if she is playing on her account on the Switch Lite, when my normal Switch does the pre-launch check to see if my account is playing any games on the primary console, it won’t detect anything. I can play my games, she can play hers, and I won’t get yelled at for interrupting her bathroom Puzzle Quest sessions anymore.

How To Trade Save Games

You can juggle save files across two Switches, but it requires manual effort. It’s not automated or seamless.

There are two ways to share save games between two Nintendo Switch consoles: cloud saves and local transfers. Cloud saves are the most convenient and hassle-free means of sharing saves between two Switches. Users simply pop into the Switch data management menu and choose the “Save Data Cloud” option to access a list of games with backed up data. Make sure the backup data timestamp matches the stamp of the most local save, download it and play.

Cloud saves are pretty easy to manage, but there are a couple of caveats. A user has to be subscribed to Nintendo’s paid online service to have access to cloud saving. Also, not every game supports cloud saves.

Saves for games that do not support cloud backups must be transferred locally. That can be done over short-range wireless (RIGHT?). The source and destination Switch consoles must be in close proximity for the transfer to be initiated. An important thing to remember is that local save transfers are a one-way process.

The save is moved to its destination and deleted on the source. Not realising that, I transferred a 20-hour Puzzle Quest save to the Switch Lite, after which my wife started a new game, effectively obliterating my save. Plan accordingly.

Or Just Buy Physical Games

The easiest way to share games between Switch consoles is just to buy physical copies of games whenever possible. None of the internet checking or account swapping nonsense applies to a Nintendo Switch game cartridge. Any account can play a physical cartridge at any time. Maybe I’ll hit up my local game store before losing any more Puzzle Quest progress.


  • So what possesses a person to buy a Switch, a device that is both a handheld and console with the ability to easily play on the go then transition to a big screen and vice versa, and then buy a Switch Lite to fulfill half the role the Switch was already doing and make it even more difficult to transition between console and handheld?

    It’s like buying a tablet or smart phone for just the home and a separate one to take with you everywhere else.

  • Essentially it’s like buying a tablet for home and a smartphone for on the go. Or maybe a 17″ desktop replacement gaming laptop for home and a 12″ ultrabook for on the go – with the exception performance is pretty much the same.

    Personally, for me the Switch Lite just fits better as a mobile device than the Switch did – there’s some threshold it crosses that makes it *that* much easier to hold and deal with on public transport, and in jacket pockets etc.

    It’s certainly a luxury to have both, but it is easier to think of the Switch as a platform now rather than a device so having two devices makes more sense in that context. Now to hoping that a dedicated home console version (or at least a power dock version) with a Tegra X2 on 12nm (or 7!) is the next announcement…

    • If they went with a home only version (which would be the only way I’d buy one brand new), they wouldn’t need to be held back by mobile processors anymore.

      • True, the world would be their oyster but it is probably easier technically to just use the X2 – a lot of the Switch’s “miracle” ports are only available because the Graphics API for the Switch is super low-level, which is enabled and supported by NVIDIA directly. It would break a lot of stuff to move to Vulkan/OpenGL/something else. I’d be more keen to see improved, sustained clock speeds with a proper cooling solution…

    • But that’s my point. The whole reason the Switch is the Switch and not just an upgraded 3DS is because it was designed to let you take it on the go and then come home and use it on the big screen in a less mobile fashion. It obviated the need to have two separate devices.

      Even the Vita only got so far as having the PSTV for home use and while it was cheap, it was still a separate device. Then when the Wii U came around, people were disappointed because they wanted to take the tablet controller with them on the go and then come home and stream to the console. So the Switch took the two worlds and combined them in the way that people wanted.

      Except now they don’t want that. They are happy to have two entirely separate devices again even though one device does everything and the only drawback is it’s a little bulkier than some would like.

      • Absolutely – but don’t discount that its cheaper to produce, and cheaper to sell to the people who have so far been buying a 3DS or 2DS. Nintendo are using the Switch’s OS as a platform to provide products across a price range. It’s like why does Apple have both the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro? They hit different price points for different markets.

  • Its setting to be a overly complicated process, for something that could be very simple… Probably keeping my switch and not get a second one.

  • This combined with no docking functionality means I won’t bother with a second Switch in our house. I can’t have one kids switch behaving differently to another’s.

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