Backup! (or, Recover Lost iPod Games, iTunes Downloads)

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At some point in the last year—after Apple upped the iTunes Store’s default video resolution to 640×480—my iTunes library no longer fit comfortably on my laptop’s hard drive. By “comfortably,” I mean that I could continue to store the library there, but my computer would become useless for anything but playing back music and movies. So I made a tough call: my library was going to move to a second hard drive, a G-Tech G-DriveBackup! (or, Recover Lost iPod Games, iTunes Downloads) 2 I’d heavily researched and bought just for that purpose (and backups).

While I was on my honeymoon, my MacBook Pro’s hard drive failed in spectacular fashion, losing days-old pre-wedding and honeymoon photos, all my e-mail, and huge bunches of other stuff. I tried all the standard applications—DiskWarrior, TechTool, and Disk Utility among them—and none could repair the drive. DiskWarrior kernel panicked when it tried. I was an unhappy camper, and after trying the free recovery tools I could find, I reluctantly bought a couple of utilities when I returned home.

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There was some good news. My iTunes library was almost entirely intact on my G-Drive, except for two things: my most recent media additions, and iPod Games. As it turns out, iTunes doesn’t move iPod Games into the music folder it stores on my second hard drive—even though the music folder now actually contains movies and TV shows, too. Instead, it keeps them separate on the main hard drive in the iTunes > iPod Games folder, with an iTunes Database file called iPod Games Library, that’s also separate from the iTunes Library. Files are saved in “.ipg” format, which some people have discovered is just a zip file with another name. With every current iPod Game (and all of Kaplan’s SAT Prep titles) inside, the folder requires under 600 Megabytes—the size of a single blank CD-ROM.


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Note to readers: I’m going to say a word right now that no one likes to hear, even me. “Backup.” You have no idea what sort of agony you might go through as a result of not backing up, and though we published a nice guide to manually backing up your whole library a couple of years ago, iTunes 7 now has a backup feature built in. Use it. I could go into the additional reasons, such as losses of your iTunes database and album art, but I won’t.


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But let’s say you haven’t backed up. Or you’re on a trip far away from your backup gear, like I was, and you can’t. There’s another solution.

In an ideal world, Apple would let you re-download lost iTunes Store content all the time: if you purchased it, iTunes would have an online safe you could access from anywhere. This is not the case. Apple’s servers aren’t set up to handle the bandwidth demands of millions of customers constantly re-downloading old content. So the rule is, “download it once, and back it up on your own. Lose it, and you’re in trouble. Sorta.”


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The “Sorta” comes in when you find this page on Apple’s web site, with the helpful heading, “My purchases downloaded correctly, but they’re gone now.” There’s a little form on the page that lets you ask Apple for help if, say, your hard drive gets wiped out.

I sent a request using the form at around noon. Apple promised a response within 24 hours. Less than four hours later, at 3:47PM, a response arrived:

“I understand after your computer crashed, you have lost all of your iTunes games from your account.  I realize this may be disappointing and will be happy to assist you. […] The iTunes Store wants to give you the opportunity to re—download (at no charge) all the titles you purchased on this account that are still available. Please note that you may download your purchases only once, so this is an exception.”


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Awesome. I went into iTunes and discovered that my collection—games and more—was ready to re-download. A handful or two of non-game items that I had purchased or downloaded were no longer available, but that wasn’t a problem, because they were sitting on my G-Drive, backed up. All the games were ready to send.


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Now they’re back, and I’m happy; finally, after a month, I’m ready to fully rebuild the iTunes library that fell apart. The awful process of scouring my hard drive for files is finished, and Apple made the recovery of my iPod Games much easier (and faster) than I would have guessed. Score one for iTunes customer service, but remember—as the representative mentioned later in her e-mail—back your library up. Re-downloading was a courtesy, and one Apple will hopefully make even less necessary by shifting the iPod Games library into the main music folder in the future.


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(One other note for the masochists out there: though post-failure disk recovery programs such as SubRosaSoft’s FileSalvage have pretty impressive scouring tools to help locate missing iTunes files such as MP3s and videos in the event that you can’t just re-download them, they’re not so hot at finding iPod Games. Somewhat usefully, the brand new version of FileSalvage (6.0) has a tool that can “learn” how to search for unknown file types, like IPG files, if you provide it with 10 example files to learn from. While this mightn’t be useful if you’ve downloaded and lost the entirety of the current 17-title collection of iPod games, if you’ve backed up your first 10, the latest FileSalvage gives you a fighting chance at recovering your most recent purchases.)