If you’re a long time fan of Animal Crossing, answering the question of whether the New Horizons fad or craze is over comes with a big fat “No.” While one of Animal Crossing’s biggest strengths is its community, you still need to ask, where did everyone else go?
After the release of Animal Crossing New Leaf, fans of the series waited 8 years for New Horizons to come out.
In June of 2019, a desk-bound Tom Nook first announced an expected fall release followed by a delay until Spring 2020, and finally, on March 20th 2020, an HD Animal Crossing was released and fans everywhere rejoiced.
Quickly sales of Animal Crossing New Horizon began to rise. So what was happening at that time that contributed to the game’s success?
Let’s focus on the United States. A week before the release of the game, the U.S. President had finally declared a national emergency for the ongoing global pandemic and Stay-At-Home orders were now in full effect. Quarantine was happening.
As people were stocking up on toilet paper and canned goods, they were also looking for activities to do. But many people flocked online, picking up hobbies, and to video games. And who would answer the call to comfort the masses? Tom Nook and his deserted island getaway, of course!
While some people were whipping up coffee and making sourdough bread to cure their cabin fever, others were catching fish and bugs or digging up fossils and donating them to their local museums. But only if they were lucky enough to already own a Nintendo Switch. What we experienced next was a huge shortage in availability.
Retailers like Target and Best Buy sometimes would have signs at their entrances stating that popular things like toilet paper, disinfecting sprays, and Nintendo Switches were out of stock. Something that is quite understandable since places like China and Japan were the first places to undergo quarantine and had to close down manufacturing facilities. An additional line about importing and exporting would go here.
The shortage only seemed to feed into the hype. Now it was almost a challenge to get a Switch in order to get the game. This frenzy had such a big effect on Animal Crossing New Horizon that it is now the second best selling Switch game. Some predict it may even surpass Mario Kart 8. A sales phenomena akin to the massive popularity of the Wii and Wii Sports.
With everyone stuck in their house, apartments, rooms, or whatever, people were going through the same thing — escaping the terrifying and uncertain outside world for a brightly-colored animal-laden island. And celebrities are just like us! We saw big names like Brie Larson and Elijah Wood interacting with everyday people tweeting out their turnip prices.
Everyone’s island was unique in their own special way. But Animal Crossing was now entering a time period that is void of events and popular holidays- the Summer season.
Despite the lush green of summer, there just isn’t much to do in this time period. Players were fresh off the heels of Zipper T’s Bunny Day, a holiday obviously reviled, as represented here by this Chrissy Teigan tweet.
There wouldn’t be another major holiday event until Halloween!
Something to keep in mind that Animal Crossing is an international game. And while there are localizations in regards to dialogue, not every international holiday is celebrated. There isn’t a Fourth of July, but there is a Summer Fireworks celebration. We did have Bug Offs and Fishing Tournaments. But they aren’t very special unless you wanted some unique items and the other small time events aren’t hugely interactive.
And just like other games having their moment like Among Us and Fall Guys, interest in New Horizons began to wane. Only leaving behind true believers and newly converted addicts. Casuals need not apply.
But why the sudden drop in interest? Nintendo seemed to be trying its hardest to maintain interest and momentum: There was a Summer update announced on June 25th and on July 3rd things like diving for sea creatures, new furniture, and the introduction to the pirate Guilvarr washing up on shore was happening. They also threw in a SECOND wave of updates that would be happening in early August.
Though this second wave introduced a new way of visiting islands in dreams, it wasn’t enough to introduce variety into the game. Just look at this Google trend line. The popularity and daily activity was obviously dwindling.
The very thing that makes Animal Crossing unique and is essential to the core gameplay was the very same thing that wasn’t apparent to newcomers between the initial craze and now.
The game progresses in real time. Meaning if you wake up at 8 am on a Monday and log into your game, the time on your island will also be 8am on Monday. The shops open and close at certain times. And most island events and holidays are timed. Meaning that they either don’t start or will end at certain times of day, usually the later afternoon or early evening.
Unless you “time travel” by changing the Switch’s clock, the day progresses just the same as you do. Minute by minute. Hour by Hour. Day by Day.
So what does that mean for gameplay? Did you forget to check the shops? It’s okay, there’s a new cycle of items and clothing available tomorrow. But what if you don’t play for a day?There isn’t any real penalty. UNLESS you had an island visitor you were waiting for like CJ, Flick, or Redd to show up. But that’s fine, they’ll be back some other day. What if you missed someone in your campsite though? There’s always villager hunting or waiting for another visitor to the campsite. Here’s where things get interesting. What if you miss a Bug Off or Fishing Tournament? Both only happen four days out of the year. Unless you want to venture into time traveling or have a friend that does time travel, you’ll have to wait until NEXT YEAR.
Oh, did you remember to catch that specific fish, bug, or sea creature that only appears during a certain season or a certain time and won’t be back for a really long time? Oops!
Don’t even get me started on the New Years event!
The clock just keeps going.
And we arrive at burnout. Daily island chores become just that- chores. Some players began to login in only to dig up their daily fossils or maybe to go shopping or any variety of things that the game offers. But after their daily routine is over, what do you do next? Oh, maybe I’ll redecorate my island! Let me just move this building over here. That’s right, you have to wait until the next day for it to be moved. So I’ll decorate tomorrow.
Small “obstacles” eventually led to people not opening up Animal Crossing. Or even blowing through obstacles by time-travelling and burning through the game’s main content. Perhapes New games came into their lives or maybe they stopped playing video games all together due to new work schedules or job changes. Life in quarantine can be repetitive, especially, in a life simulation game like Animal Crossing. People don’t pace themselves and like i said earlier, burnout happens.
It’s a bag of mixed feelings knowing that people’s islands have gone unchanged since the fall. Switches put away along with other quarantine hobbies. Maybe as the second year quickly approaches players will come back. Updates in the future will inspire people to pick up where they left off. Animal Crossing New Horizon came at a time where people needed comfort. The world was scary and out of control. Unless your favorite villager asks to move away nothing bad really happens on your island. But the game provided some stability, some sense of control.
Your deserted island getaway kept its promise. A getaway to a deserted island that was uniquely YOURS.