🎮 Animal Crossing - When Games Go Beyond Gaming

Overlooked #17

Hi, it’s Alexandre from Idinvest. Overlooked is a weekly newsletter about underrated trends in the European tech industry. Today, I’m talking about Animal Crossing - the last game released by Nintendo.

Games are no longer just games. Games are multi-dimensional experiences - especially when games are sandboxes offering almost infinite possibilities for players.

Nintendo released its last Animal Crossing in the middle of a global lockdown. It's a lovely simulation game in which you embody a digital version of you that has to grow its own island. As you may guess, this value proposition is appealing for numerous players stuck in their house and the game has been an outstanding success in terms of sales for the franchise and for Nintendo.

In this post, I'm digging into Animal Crossing to highlight the numerous elements that make this game much more than a game. It's a social experience thanks to its multiplayer dimension. It is unleashing players creativity at an unexpected level for the better… or worse. It has its own stock market and has even been used to support political claims.

Idea #1 - Animal Crossing is already a blockbuster

The game was released on March 20th in the middle of the lockdown for numerous countries.

  • In 10 days, 9m copies were supposedly sold (figures are not official). It’s a record-breaking launch, higher than any other iconic games from Nintendo tier-one franchises like Mario or Zelda on Switch.

  • In the US, it's already the 2nd best selling game of 2020 just behind Call of Duty. In 10 days, the game has generated more sales than the lifetime sales of all the other previous Animal Crossing games.

  • Nintendo shares reached an all-time high on April 16th because of the macro gaming surge during the current crisis but also the success of Animal Crossing which is also driving up the Nintendo Switch sales.

Idea #2 - The release timing could not have been better

Animal Crossing is a game in which you are a customized character building and growing an heavenly island. The design is outstanding like in numerous other recent Switch Nintendo games like the last Pokemon or the last Zelda. The game is relaxing and has social features because you can visit your friends’ island and play with them. You are living in a virtual world that is way more appealing that the physical world we all live in under lockdown.

For instance, Qualiter, my favorite French podcasting house, recorded a podcast live on Twitch building the perfect set up on… Animal Crossing.

Idea #3 - Animal Crossing is a tribute to slowness

It's impossible to speed run Animal Crossing in a few hours. The game's temporality is based on the real world clock. You are forced to wait for things to happen. You have to wait 2-3 days to collect your precious fruits, you have to wait until Sunday to buy turnips that you will be able to trade during the rest of the week, you have to wait for the next morning to discover your new home extension. This feeling is amazing. Your island is growing slowly days after days. Your house is getting furnished depending on the daily-changed items sold in the boutique.

Moreover, if you don't play for two or three days, you are not punished by the game. Your fruits are still here. Your customizations are not going away. You don't have to pay back interests on your loans. You don't have vicious retention loops pushing you against your will to come back everyday on your island.

Idea #4 - User Generative Content is super powerful

By giving gamers and creators the power to build from scratch customized items, you open a completely new dimension in your game. The game developer accepts to loose the total control on its game but at the same time it extends its lifetime almost to the infinite because players will always have something new to create.

Getty has built an Art Generator to replicate within the game of all the greatest masterworks from painters like Cezanne, Monet, Rembrandt or Van Gogh

Zenly's employees have designed a t-shirt with their famous logo that you can replicate within your game thanks to a QR code

Angers' Museum replicated part of its collections into Animal Crossing's museum and is organizing two weekly visits for gamers

Idea #5 - Gamers are finding creative ways to earn money from the game

  • Look at this Chinese player who has set up a store in which he sells customized items and has added a QR code for Alipay and WeChat to let other gamers pay him in real money.

  • Other players in China are offering housekeeping services that you can pay for to have someone cleaning your island (cutting the trees, removing the weeds, planting flowers etc.). This is insane...

Idea #6 - Games should become open platforms

The combination of User Generative Content mechanisms and multi-player is opening numerous opportunities that are under-exploited by Nintendo.

  • Brands could seize the opportunity to promote their articles. Instead of making an AR filter on Snap, you could design your next clothing collection on Animal Crossing to promote it but also to sell digital goods.

  • A marketplace could be built on which creators could spend hours to build amazing objects and clothes to sell them to other players. A Reddit user built a website called Nook's Island to submit and pick custom designs. More than 11k creations were submitted!

Idea #7 - Animal Crossing has numerous game design issues

It's a recurring critic for Nintendo games. Players love them but are shocked by simple game mechanisms that are completely outdated compared to the rest of the industry.

  • Cutscenes are recurring (e.g. when you get out from your house or when you go visiting another island) and most of them take more than 10 seconds! This is absurdly long when you know how people's attention is volatile nowadays.

  • The multiplayer experience is poor both when you have two players on the same console or when you play online. Interactions with the environment are limited.

  • The game is running two monetary systems in parallel that are redundant.

  • The crafting UX is awful - especially compared to Minecraft. For instance, you cannot build several objets at the same time. You don't have visibility on the durability of your tools before they broke etc.

Idea #8 - I love the idea of building a digital version of you

Besides your house and your island, you can also customize your character with clothes and by changing its physical appearance. You have access to a rich wardrobe and a wide set of physical traits but the most interesting part is the ability to customize clothes from scratch. Any player could design the perfect t-shirt or jean depending on his tastes. I would love to use my Animal Crossing’s digital twin around the internet to represent me in my favorite social websites like Twitter, Reddit or Twitch. Snap has this value proposition with Bitmojis that are digital versions of its users that can be used to log-in in SnapKit associated ecosystem (e.g. Yolo).

Idea #9 - When a game goes economical

Every Sunday, you can buy turnips that you can resell during the week at a fluctuating random price. You can make 5-6x on your initial investment or lose everything if you are not able to sell them before the next Sunday. This return on investment is detrimental to pay back more quickly your loan to increase the size of your house or to build a new bridge on your island. This virtual stock market has generated noteworthy behaviors:

  • Prices are different between islands and change twice a day. As a consequence, some players have started to monetize the access to their island when the turnip price is super high by taking a fee on the profit generated by other players wanting to make a profit.

  • A Mexican developer have discovered the mathematical formula behind the turning pricing fluctuation and has built a Turnip calculator to build precise estimates of the pricing evolution on your island. The website is now translated in 14 different languages.

  • Other players have pushed the experience too far and have implemented a complex check-point system. You have to queue to go to the boutique to sell your turnips. A guy with an axe is blocking the entrance and you have to pay him to access the boutique…

Idea #10 - When a game goes political

The game was removed from Chinese online stores because players were using its UGC features to customize their island and their clothes to protest against Chinese authorities and the government in Hong-Kong. It's crazy to see that the offline regular anti-government protests could be replaced by these online gatherings on Animal Crossing during the lockdown period. China will always be uncomfortable will UGC games and social networks because you cannot control what creativity will lead people to do.

Thanks to Julia for the feedback! 🙏

See you next week for another issue! 👋