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Student blog – Why has Nintendo’s Animal Crossing become so successful?

According to Verge, 11.77 million copies of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing game have been sold up to 31 March 2020 – but why the sudden popularity of this game? BA (Hons) Games Art and Design student Roma Goncalves delves into the phenomenon of Animal Crossing.

Animal Crossing screencap showing happy characters outside a hut in the field with lights
Image credit – Animal Crossing, Nintendo

Nintendo is thriving due to the success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But why is it so popular?

Animal Crossing is a game about family, friendship and community, things that are being taken away from most people as countries go into lockdown to protect their population from the coronavirus.

Visually, the game is very simple and cute. New Horizons, in particular, takes place in a deserted island which the player has total freedom to decorate, exploit and modify as they see fit, as well as populate with its famous anthropomorphic characters.

It also happens in real-time and has a nonlinear nature, which means, players, decide when they want to do things and how they want to do it.

“This might be one of the reasons why it is [Animal Crossing] is so popular right now. It helps self-isolation feel less lonely.”

Roma Goncalves

Animal Crossing screencap showing 5 characters in a room socialising
Image credit – Animal Crossing, Nintendo

When and how Animal Crossing started

In its primordial days, it was called ‘Doubutsu no Mori’ and the main goal was to gather fruit, catch fish and insects, to then sell and pay the house loan.

The idea came from Katsuya Eguchi who simply wanted to replicate the loneliness he felt when he was forced to move to Kyoto after joining Nintendo in 1986.

Much like all of the people currently under lockdown, Katsuya learned to value the time spent with his friends and family.

The first Animal Crossing was published in 2001 and then, after a few ups and downs and some spinoffs, Nintendo published Animal Crossing New Horizons, a game that allows people to feel that sense of community, either with the villagers or with their friends and family via online play.

This might be one of the reasons why it is so popular right now. It helps self-isolation feel less lonely.

Animal Crossing screencap showing characters on a tropical beach by a palm tree
Image credit – Animal Crossing, Nintendo

A safe space to customise

Another thing that may account for the game’s sudden popularity is the island customisation.

Animal Crossing is a game that also incentivises creativity by allowing players to modify and decorate their island as they see fit. A characteristic that fits perfectly into people’s current need for an emotional refuge.

Physically we might have our homes but emotionally we may have nowhere to go. And since emotional refuges can be almost anything, Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems to have been made to provide that comfort as players bend the island to their own will, turning them into their own safe space.

Lockdown success or just a great game

This being said, I think the game would have been a success with or without the COVID-19 outbreak.

Throughout the years it gathered millions of fans from all over the world who were very excited about a new title.

However, I will not deny the fact that the Coronavirus, forcing people into self-isolation, might have turned the game into a huge success.

Find out more about BA (Hons) Games Art and Design