The Animal Crossing phenomenon: More than just good timing
If, like me, you’re a 20-to-30-something with too much spare time on your hands, the chances are you may have been playing a lot of Animal Crossing over the last three months.
In April, I wrote about how the global gaming industry was being affected by the coronavirus outbreak, touching briefly on the extraordinary popularity of the latest title in the Animal Crossing series: New Horizons.
Announced in June 2019, it was initially intended for release in late 2019, but the launch was delayed until March 2020, a move which Nintendo bosses claimed was to “ensure the game was the best it could be”. Little did Nintendo know that this delay would coincide its release with the coronavirus outbreak, rocketing the much-anticipated New Horizons from modest success to outright superstardom.
1.8 million copies were sold in Japan within the first three days of its release and it secured its place as the third-biggest Nintendo launch in the US, beating other popular titles like Mario, Zelda and Pokémon. As of mid-May, 13.4 million copies had been sold worldwide, half of which were acquired via digital download, outselling all of its prequels combined in some markets.
However, the 2020 Animal Crossing phenomenon wasn’t purely brought about by coincidence – after all, the franchise is almost twenty years in the making. Here’s my take on how a mixture of branding, marketing and game design has helped to make this game such a hit, all the while being given a big boost by these unprecedented circumstances.
Its brand positioning ensured it was poised for success in lockdown
Animal Crossing has a brand positioning that resonates particularly well when placed in the context of a worldwide pandemic. First and foremost, like most Nintendo games, it has a universal appeal that traverses the common barriers of age, language and prior gaming experience that are typically present in more conventional games like first person shooters.
Animal Crossing is also completely family friendly (its PEGI rating is 3+), making it an ideal way to pass the time when forcefully stuck at home with your relatives for months on end. Its colourful design, simple syntax and easy controls ensure that casual gamers, or even those entirely new to the hobby (as many have been since the outbreak) have the most frictionless experience possible when picking up the game for the first time. Furthermore, the multiplayer functionality of Animal Crossing is another USP for families, something that has become surprisingly rare amongst other consoles, but a forté of Nintendo’s since the launch of both the DS and Wii.
The social simulation game is also approachable in its wider gameplay. The majority of video games are competitive, often encouraging players to vie for a place on a leaderboard or defeat each other in battle. Animal Crossing games instead focus on co-operation – its mechanics allow for easy trading and sharing of items, locally or over the internet, so that growing a collection relies on the assistance of others in the community.
Consequently, this makes the overall experience of the game very relaxing, as players can play at their own pace without having to worry about leveling up or completing a storyline before their peers do. It also goes without saying that the premise of the game is equally calming – building up and decorating a once deserted island from scratch and inviting anthropomorphic animals to live as your fellow neighbours, with a pleasant jazzy soundtrack that changes to reflect the time of day.
Combine all three aspects of its core branding I just covered – accessibility, community and relaxation – and you’ve met the needs of a population that, more than ever, craves easy but engaging ways to spend free time at home, social connection and escapism from an anxiety-inducing reality.
Built for longevity
It’s also hard to deny that the game has been designed thoughtfully, expanding and improving on past versions to produce visually stunning and engaging gameplay.
One of Animal Crossing’s biggest selling points is that it’s built for longevity. Unlike a typical video game with 50 hours of content, a dedicated storyline and a levelling system, this one is not designed to be beaten. It runs in real-time, with tasks like growing trees or collecting materials requiring patience and sometimes multiple days to complete. Meanwhile, seasonal updates introduce additional creatures and items to collect and players can endlessly customise their islands as new tools become available to them.
As a result, the gameplay encourages the majority of players to check back into the game on an almost daily basis – something that, with all the extra free time available under lockdown, quickly forms a habit. These habits will do Nintendo even more favours in the long-run as the pandemic eases and players continue to incorporate Animal Crossing into their daily routines (although likely in smaller doses), opening up further opportunities for gameplay or content updates, extended marketing campaigns and brand collaborations later down the line.
The fact that Switch owners are still playing Animal Crossing as avidly as ever, more than three months after its release, while partly down to lengthy coronavirus restrictions, is testament to its place as a long-term form of entertainment rather than a short-term solution to pass the time. While the current surge in gaming activity will reduce as life returns to normal, many will now consider the game as a go-to method of relaxation after a day at work or school.
With the launch of every new console and game, Nintendo also brings a dose of nostalgia that appeals to an audience that grew up surrounded by its earlier hit products like the N64, NES, GameBoy and DS. That is not to say the company has not since captured the imaginations of following generations – quite the opposite, in fact – as I mentioned earlier, that is one of the key features of Nintendo’s marketing strategy. Its multi-generational appeal is what makes its branding so universally admired and has gamers coming back for more, whether that’s returning to Mario, Zelda or Animal Crossing titles.
Of course, this long-term marketing strategy has a much larger impact on the popularity of games like Animal Crossing than it is given credit for. As Daniel Litwin so excellently summarised on his podcast Business Casual:
“[Nintendo] built a community through their marketing; through years of honing their message, their visuals, who they advertise to… the success of the Nintendo Switch and Animal Crossing wouldn’t be as potent if they hadn’t already had that vision for decades.”
Let’s not forget the effect nostalgia can have on the minds of consumers. It is not surprising that, given the current state of affairs, some have returned to a game remembered so fondly from childhood, when life was just that little bit simpler.
Brands woke up to new possibilities in virtual marketing
Marketing departments have essentially been forced to think of new ways to execute their marketing strategies over the past few months. Budgets were tightened and ad spend dwindled. However, it was clear immediately after the game’s release that New Horizons was set to become a global phenomenon, presenting a new opportunity for brands.
Fashion houses like Marc Jacobs and Valentino showcased virtual runway collections on Animal crossing which players’ characters could wear for free. Meanwhile, KFC Philippines partnered with Ogilvy, creating a KFC island which gave a limited number of lucky guests the opportunity to win vouchers for real-life KFC menu items.
Leisure brands were also quick to redefine tourism marketing, an area which has been severely impacted since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. Singapore’s Sentosa Island was one such brand, working with creative agency BBH Singapore to create a virtual replica of the leisure resort in just twelve days. Speaking to The Drum during its Can Do Festival, Sentosa’s director of brand, marketing and communications, Mira Bharin explained:
“Uses of digital, like gamification and online platforms, really build on the strengths of a leisure destination. We were tapping on our iconic island offerings to connect us with our guests digitally.
…It was so powerful for us because it really synergizes what our brand stands for. We are an island, a holiday island. I think that‘s key learning – to not jump on a trend just for the sake of jumping on the trend, but to link it to your brand identity.”
While Sentosa didn’t officially partner with Animal Crossing, this is a fantastic case study in adaptation during a crisis by extending marketing strategies onto new digital platforms, thereby adding to the uniqueness of the game’s overall experience.
User-generated content (word of mouth)
In this age of social media, as with any other trend, there has been an astounding quantity of user-generated content surrounding this game, which acts as a secondary form of marketing, whether or not Nintendo decides to acknowledge it on its official channels.
Video-based social platforms like TikTok and YouTube have become particularly prominent sources of such content. Videos related to Animal Crossing, from tutorials to decorating tips, and glitches to full-blown island tours, more often than not become viral for their humour, helpfulness or sheer creativity. As of the time of writing, TikTok posts tagged with #animalcrossing now have a total of 3.2bn views.
Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Brie Larson, among many others, have also been actively posting about their experience of and progress on Animal Crossing: New Horizons via social media, having found themselves equally trapped in stasis since late March.
Meanwhile, US house representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez carried out virtual ‘house calls’ by visiting islands of other US citizens, interacting with them and signing their in-game bulletin boards with the Switch’s touchscreen functionality.
Animal Crossing’s cult popularity across social media, made up of both regular consumers and celebrities alike, has boosted the game’s visibility, tapping into audiences that would not have necessarily been reached by Nintendo in the first place (despite its marketing prowess). Of course, this has been exacerbated by the fact that social app activity and content consumption has skyrocketed since stay-at-home orders were enforced.
As a result, it has created even more hype and demand for the product than was originally generated at launch. So much so, that Nintendo has had to forcibly crack down on black market operations on eBay and ‘Nookazon’ (an unofficial Amazon-esque selling platform for the game), where enthusiasts often pay extortionate sums of in-game or real-life currency in exchange for their favourite villagers and items, sold by other players.
When all is said and done, would Animal Crossing be quite as popular if a global pandemic hadn’t coincided with its release? Probably not.
More likely, it would have been picked up by a number of people who either already owned a Switch, or were willing to buy one in order to experience the game’s latest manifestation as loyal fans of the series. This would still easily have made it one of the most popular games of the year, but not quite the phenomenon it has become in recent months, and brands would have been much less likely to notice any marketing opportunity that might have presented itself.
Although gaming has seen a surge in uptake across the board since social distancing restrictions were enforced, it’s unlikely that the timely release of any other title in its place would have struck such a chord with consumers as Animal Crossing: New Horizons has. The amalgamation of community-focused gameplay and relaxing mechanics and visuals, as well as Nintendo’s long-term marketing vision, proved to be the ideal combination for gamers looking to escape their new temporary reality.
Scorpion attack ruins this Animal Crossing: New Horizons player’s entry into the New Year
An interesting publication related to one of the most prominent Switch titles comes back to us. In this case, we are talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Today it is a message that has recently been gone viral on Reddit with more than 13,000 points when it shows the bad luck that the player who published the post had. In the image, we can see that he suffered a scorpion attack that left him KO right in the game’s New Years’ event. In fact, it seems to have happened right at the beginning of the year.
Without a doubt, it is a curious way to start 2022. Here you have it:
All Animal Crossing: New Horizons changes that the latest updates haven’t told you about
Animal Crossing New Horizons has changed a lot in version 2.0 and surrogates, and many changes to the Switch game had remained hidden … until now.
Version 2.0 of Animal Crossing New Horizons introduced many new features to the most successful Nintendo Switch game, such as the kitchen, the museum cafeteria, the gyroids …
We have covered much of the content of version 2.0 in previous guides, such as the complete list of gyroids, the food objects that changed their nature, the secret rewards of the cafe, or a new way to Get Star Shards.
But it turns out that there have been still more changes in this version. And although we have already broken down all the version 2.0 changes of October 2021, including the most secret ones, there were still more changes, some very small, but that Nintendo never reported.
All Animal Crossing New Horizons changes that the latest updates haven’t told you about
Get two photos of the villagers
The photos of the villagers when they become close friends with you are one of the most coveted objects, but what perhaps some did not know is that you can get several copies of the photo.
Since version 2.0 there is a new condition: speak at least 10 different days with the villager who gave you the photo to be able to get a second one. So even when you’ve got the photo, don’t neglect your relationship with the villagers!
Buh get more generous
The Phantom Buh, who comes out on a few random nights on the island, is now much more generous after the October 2021 update. Putting his five Essence Shards together will give us furniture with a much higher monetary value in Bells.
Specifically, if we ask for ” something that he does not have “, he will give us a piece of furniture that we do not have in the inventory with a maximum value of 15,000 bells, and if we ask for ” something expensive “, he will give us something that is worth between 6,000 and 100,000 bells.
Changes in the island finder in dreams
The mechanic of visiting other players ‘islands in dreams is one of the best ways to get inspired to modify your island, or just have fun watching other players’ creations. Here we leave you many islands that you can visit with codes … but they are no longer necessary in the game.
And it is that the most recent update has added the possibility of visiting islands searching by name. That is, if you have allowed your island to be visited, you only have to provide the name of your island so that others can visit it, which makes it much easier. For example, have you visited that island that recreates the Mario Kart 8 circuit?
New postcard designs
At the airfield, you can buy postcards to send to your online friends or other villagers, and without prior notice, two new letter designs have been added, with fireworks on urban background, and with a mountain reminiscent of Mount Fuji: Dawn Year Postcard New and Postcard Fireworks.
The funny thing is that these designs were already in the game before, but for some reason, perhaps a bug, they could not be purchased until now.
New items until 2032 … that you can get without traveling in time
Update 2.0.5 introduced new objects of the Chinese zodiac, animal figures according to the animals of each year (2022 is the year of the tiger), which you can get for a limited time in the MiniNook catalog.
Of course, you can get all these items earlier by traveling in time (by changing the time on the console), but there is another “legal” way to get the animal figures sooner: through rewards that the fortune teller Katrina gives you every time you It “purifies” you for 10,000 bells if it reads you bad luck.
Furniture name changes
This small change will go unnoticed by the vast majority of players. The Desert Slab Wall and Desert Slab, with color variants such as blue, khaki, or lilac, are renamed Moroccan Slab Wall and Moroccan Slab and are added to the Moroccan collection that was added in Happy Home Paradise, with other furniture such as a table, a sofa or a pouf.
Dialogue suggests again that flick and CJ are more than friends in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Today we bring you a nice story about flick and CJ, two characters from Animal Crossing: New Horizons whose relationship we’ve learned more about with the title’s 2.0 update. Specifically, let’s start with the screenshots below:
As you can see, in addition to knowing that flick and CJ are now living together, it has been discovered that if we build a house for one, the other will automatically move in too.
To this we must now add the advice on love relationships that CJ gives us in some of his dialogues (which makes us assume that he has experience in the subject), as well as what flick’s father, Nat, tells us about his son’s relationship with CJ, stating that he feels happy about the relationship they have.
All this dialogue makes fans think that CJ and flick are more than friends, and some are already celebrating with drawings and other fan material.