Like many, I have been completely obsessed with the online game Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) for the past few weeks. While ACNH was released exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on March 20 this year, it has sold 13.4 million copies, with 11.77 million of those sales occurring within the first 11 days.
This means that ACNH surpassed Pokemon Sword and Shield to become Nintendo’s fastest-selling game on launch. In terms of overall sales in 2020, ACNH was second only to Call of Duty Modern Warfare in overall sales in 2020. Plus, ACNH set a new record for the most digital copies of a console game sold in a single month: a staggering 5 million copies.
This is fascinating to me not only as an ACNH fan, but also as a marketer and someone who loves culture and psychology. So like any sane person would do, I took some time to reflect on why ACNH sparks so much joy for me and why it appeals to the masses.
What is Animal Crossing: New Horizons?
Before I dive into the universal appeal of ACNH, I thought it would be fair to give you a quick rundown of the game in case you’re unfamiliar with it. The game begins with you moving to a deserted island where you camp in a tent and you’re tasked with developing the island from the ground up.
Essentially, you’ve become a town planner and resident services representative of sorts. On a day-to-day basis, you can decorate your island or home, foster amicable relationships with your villagers, gather resources, visit other islands and more.
You also have to take out and repay various loans from Tom Nook, a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) who heads up Resident Services. Funnily enough, he has appeared on the Washington Post and the front page of The Financial Times.
The end goal? Get K.K. Slider, a famous singing dog, to visit your island. Once your island reaches 3-stars, K.K. Slider will pay your island a visit and you’ve finished the game! Thereafter, it’s up to you to continue playing to get your island to a 5-star rating.
We can’t ignore the timeliness of the ACNH release on March 20. It came at a time when COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and lockdown laws started coming into effect in many countries across the globe. Additionally, with schools shut down and the unemployment rate in the US rising to a bleak 14.7% in April, there were many people who needed a distraction from the chaos of the world and a means to fill their days and connect with others
Speaking from my experience, I wasn’t very interested in ACNH until my husband had decorated his home with adorable ironwood furniture and created an envious island, complete with hiking paths, hangout spots and a zen garden. So I decided to purchase ACNH and one-up him by creating an even better island.
At the time, I didn’t realise that I was effectively preparing myself for a long quarantine by escaping into a calm and peaceful virtual world where I controlled the outcomes.
The psychology of it
The past two months, nay 2020 in its entirety, has been characterised by uncertainty and a lack of structure, which can cause stress and anxiety. Studies have found that embracing routines can positively impact your mental health, which ACNH is all about.
Here’s what a typical week might look like in ACNH:
- Monday: Hit your rocks, talk to your residents, access your Nook Stop Terminal, dig for fossils, find your money tree hole and bury 10k bells, check the recycling box for freebies
- Optional: Gather wood and fruit, try to complete your daily challenges, try to sell the turnips you purchased on Sunday, get fossils assessed, donate to the museum, think about creative ways to beautify your island and maybe implement your plans, craft items, fish and catch bugs to sell, buy clothing from Able Sisters, buy goods at Nook’s Cranny
- Tuesday: Repeat
- Wednesday: Repeat
- Thursday: Repeat
- Friday: Repeat
- Saturday: Repeat but freak out a bit if you still haven’t sold your turnips
- Sunday: Repeat, buy turnips from Daisy Mae, see if anyone on r/acturnips has a high turnip selling prices
The normalcy and routine of ACNH is what people crave during a time where normality isn’t even in the dictionary anymore. In effect, ACNH presents an idealised version of life, where millennials can own property and actualise their Pinterest #interiordesign dreams, and this has provided an oasis for the mental health of ACNH users.
Prior to COVID-19, I climbed a few times a week, met up with friends and explored National Parks on the weekends. However, with stay-at-home orders, I missed the sense of community that I found at the climbing gym and with my friends.
It’s been a huge adjustment to shift all socialising to the virtual realm. I now have video catch ups, virtual games nights and virtual whatever-the-else-there-is nights. While oddly Black Mirror-esque, I’ve become accustomed to it now and it has become the norm (which is kind of unsettling).
However, I miss actually ‘doing things’ with my friends. Luckily, ACNH has partially filled that void. With a Nintendo Switch Online membership, you can visit other players via online play. I’ve enjoyed lots of island and museum tours, sold a lot of turnips on other people’s islands and shared DIY recipes and items. Here are some of my favourite images from visiting other islands:
Another thing I love about ACNH is the creativity of it. In the absence of a storyline, there’s a lot of space to create your own storyline. I have seen a lot of really creative ACNH images and videos including a horror-themed island, a re-creation of No Face’s feasting scene from Spirited Away and Africa by Toto played by ACNH users.
Also, I absolutely love that ACNH villagers have their own personalities and storylines. You could even create a backstory for them by gifting them various clothes or decorating the exterior of their homes with specific items. For example, here’s my villager Genji who is trying to become a bodybuilder:
Here’s another example of some drama between my villagers Bluebear and Frita:
Honestly, some of the writing in ACNH really cracks me up, but then others annoy the shit out of me (C+ amirite). Even the ACNH writer said that he was sick of the sea bass joke.
Then there’s this villager who’s becoming self-aware and questioning his reality….
Can we stop for a moment and appreciate all the ACNH memes out there? I can’t even. Here are some of my favourites:
Additionally, this VIDEO. Please watch it. It’s my favourite ACNH meme video and on a daily basis, my husband and I sing the tune at the beginning for shits and giggles.
Marketing and ACNH
I couldn’t possibly write this article without dropping in a few paragraphs on marketing in ACNH. The media has been abuzz with reports of celebrities like T-pain, politicians like AOC and institutions playing ACNH. This has further fuelled the worldwide ACNH PR frenzy (I mentioned the articles on Tom Nook above).
If my next partner doesn’t go out of their way to do shit like this for me, I don’t want it https://t.co/hmES3cGYzB— Emma Kidwell (@EmmaKidwell) May 2, 2020
Interestingly, brands have quietly crept into the game via custom design patterns. The Custom Pro Editor tool allows custom designs to be inserted into the game in a variety of different ways. You can create custom designs for clothing and items, display designs as a canvas, wallpaper, flooring or tile mat, on a mannequin, as a painting and more.
Here are some of my favourites:
All in all…
Thanks for reading my rambly piece on the universal appeal of ACNH. Hopefully it made some kind of sense and you got a few laughs out of it. I haven’t been obsessed with a game since Maplestory in Year 9 (whew that was a long time ago!) but it’s been very fun to focus on a creative project and write this article.
If you play ACNH, what is the appeal of Animal Crossing to you? Let me know in the comments below.