What Is Save Scumming?

edited September 2023 in Gaming

Save scumming in video games is a term used to describe the act of saving a game frequently and reloading the most recent save if something in the game has not gone your way. With save scumming, players can quicksave before a critical event, such as a battle or decision, and then reload the save until the desired result is achieved. Although save scumming can be a helpful tool in some situations, it can also take away from the overall gaming experience.

Save scumming is often used to make a game easier by avoiding the consequences of poor decision making or bad luck. It can also help you save time depending on how it is done. The technique is useful and considered acceptable in the following scenarios:

  • In a game like XCOM, a player can save before a battle and reload until all of their characters survive without any injuries. 
  • In a game like Fallout, a player can save before a conversation and reload to try different dialog options until they get the desired outcome. 
  • In games with limited resources, such as survival games like Don’t Starve, save scumming can be used to avoid wasting resources or losing progress due to a mistake. 

The technique is considered borderline cheating in other situations. For example, save scumming to obtain rare items from loot boxes or from boss drops is generally frowned upon.

The positives of save scumming include:

  • Can save time 
  • Makes the game a little less irritating and easy 
  • Gets you all the cool stuff

The negatives are:

  • Can bring out your obsessive, perfectionist side 
  • Makes the game less fun; if your actions have no consequences, they don’t really mean anything 
  • You eliminate the feeling of accomplishment from finishing something difficult

History and origin of save scumming

The concept of save scumming gained prominence once it began to be used commonly in popular roguelike games as a technique for avoiding permadeath. Honorable players in the roguelike community frowned on the practice and thus categorized it as a form of “scummy” behavior.

The term “save scumming” is likely to have originated in association with the SCUMM engine used in old point and click adventure games. The SCUMM engine was created in 1987 by Lucasfilm Games as a cross-platform gaming engine and programming language. In those games, saving often was essential because using the wrong item or simply being in the wrong location at the wrong time could get your character killed for completely illogical reasons. The SCUMM engine let players save almost anywhere, so after making even the smallest amount of progress, a player would save, eventually leading to the practice being called save scumming.

What does RNG mean?

In the real world, you can count on the randomness of life to keep you on your toes and keep your days interesting. In video games, randomness can create an unpredictable and exciting gaming experience. Translating the randomness of the real world into gaming is the job of a random number generator (RNG). An RNG is a software algorithm that randomly generates numbers, which are used to determine game events, like your chance at landing a critical hit or picking up a rare item.

Examples of RNG in modern games

RNGs are a defining factor in many modern games:

  • Item drops: games that require you to collect items from loot boxes or items dropped by enemies or other nonplayable characters use RNGs. If killing the same nonplayable character gave the exact same drop every time, there would be no fun in hunting down rare items.
  • Character attribute generation: most RPGs will start with a randomly trained character with specific abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. The RNG mechanic generates individual traits and characteristics at the start of each playthrough.
  • Random scenario creation: some games use random scenario creation to produce different challenges during each new round of play. If you've ever played a city simulator, then you know it's important to be on the ready for natural disasters. The fun in preparing for these calamities is you never know when they'll happen, which is only possible with RNG mechanics.
  • Chances of effective strikes in turn-based combat: battles in turn-based strategy games would be untenable if the player could accurately predict their opponent’s every move. A simple RNG system can “roll” a number for each of your attacks, which can determine how successful each hit is on your opponent.

How are RNGs related to save scumming?

Save scumming is most commonly used to abuse RNG mechanics or mitigate the negative effects of poorly conceived RNG mechanics. Although save scumming offers players several benefits, it carries the risk of turning a game into a glorified slot machine.

Examples of save scumming 

1) Save Scumming to Get Rare Items

Every game has that one item that has a very rare chance of dropping. For example, ‘Shinies’ in the Pokémon game series are a Pokémon variant that have a different appearance from their normal counterparts and a unique glitter animation that plays whenever they appear. Encountering a shiny is nothing short of a miracle; you have a 1 in 8192 chance of coming across one. Players used to save their game near the tall grass, where you could encounter Pokémon, then wander around in the grass until a Pokémon appeared. If a Shiny didn't appear, players would reload their save, which caused the odds to reset and randomize the Pokémon that would appear next.

2) Save Scumming to Avoid Consequences and Change Outcomes

In RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption 2, you may be faced with decisions that will have important consequences. These decisions are usually influenced by the dialog options the game provides the player. For example, in the “For The Advancement of Learning” quest in The Witcher 3, the protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, has to decide Keira Metz’s fate. The choices are to kill her yourself, let her go to her death, or offer her a way out of her turmoil. Kiera’s life depends on the dialog options you choose. When players found that the dialog they chose led to an undesirable outcome, they save scummed.

In the expansive Baldur's Gate 3 RPG, dialog and battle choices can drastically alter the storyline in unexpected ways that the player might not like. The game's reliance on RNG dice rolls add another layer of unpredictability. Additionally, unlike in tabletop Dungeon & Dragons, Baldur's Gate 3 lacks a dungeon master who can balance out the effects of unlucky streaks or particularly bad dice rolls. To mitigate frustration with the random elements of the game, players often resort to save scumming. They may even save scum just to see what would happen if different choices had been made.

3) Save Scumming to Save Time

Depending on the game, save scumming can save time. This is particularly the case in strategy or turn-based games, where one wrong move can spell disaster. For example, there may be instances where you have to fight a horde of enemies before a boss fight. These enemies may not necessarily be difficult, but are undoubtedly irritating. Therefore, saving after dealing with the horde and heading off to the boss can help save invaluable time if you don’t beat the boss. Save scumming to get rare items from loot boxes can also save time that would otherwise have to be spent searching the world for those rare items. 

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your save scumming, you need to have the best gaming machine. Acer has a wide selection of gaming laptops capable of playing several of the top AAA titles, including Baldur’s Gate 3. You can browse the available machines here. And for players on Xbox, make sure to check out the Xbox Game Pass and see why Acer is an official sponsor.

Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.


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