Will they do Animal Crossing fans dirty?
EDIT: No, they won't. A mere 24 hours after this post went live, Nintendo hosted a Direct that basically put these fears to rest. Animal Crossing seems safe... for now.
When Animal Crossing for Nintendo Switch was announced, I was pretty excited. I’ve been a big fan of the series since its US debut on the GameCube back in 2002, and I’ve spent countless hours with nearly every mainline iteration since. I skipped the Wii game because it didn’t seem like much had changed over the DS one, and from what I’ve come to understand, I wasn’t wrong to do so.
When Animal Crossing hit the 3DS though, I couldn’t skip it again. New Leaf was a part of my daily life for more than a year, and I even came back to it for several months after I had stopped once a friend of mine decided to pick it up. Animal Crossing is just a wonderful, relaxing experience, and I’m always happier when it’s part of my routine.
With the Switch quickly becoming my favorite console of all time (regardless of my complicated feelings about digital vs physical games) having a brand new Animal Crossing game that I can play on my TV in HD and take with me to work just to have running in the background is nothing short of magical. It’s been years since I’ve spent any real time in any sort of Animal Crossing world, and every now and then I get a taste of the music, or a feeling I remember from creating some weird things in my town, and I get really excited to have that be a part of my life again. This is definitely a game I want to pick up digitally for the convenience of having it always there on my Switch, and it recently went up for preorder on the eShop. How exciting!
Me from a year ago would have plunked down the money without haste. But now, I honestly haven’t even decided if I’m going to pick the game up at all.
Well, a couple of things. Let’s get the less important one out of the way first. I haven’t exactly been thrilled with the way Nintendo has handled the Animal Crossing brand since its 3DS explosion. It hasn’t been offensive or anything, but it’s been difficult to watch how grossly mishandled it’s been. Nintendo seemed to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what people like about the series. Happy Home Designer was a bit of a misguided attempt to give people a refined half measure of a part of an Animal Crossing game. It basically gave you more tools to more thoroughly decorate the inside of your Animal Crossing home, but it took the rest of the game away. It seemed like a neat prototype for what a future Animal Crossing game could offer in terms of how creative you could get with interior design, but a standalone release? Not so much.
Then came the amiibo. amiibo were a pretty wild experience when they first came out because for the first time in, well, ever, you could finally get your hands on high-quality figurines of Nintendo’s characters. But when they released a gigantic line of Animal Crossing amiibo, nobody really understood why. Sure, a handful of these characters are recognizable and fairly beloved, but folks didn’t play Animal Crossing because they really loved Digby. Heck, the only reason I have the ones I do is because I got them for hilariously cheap. These things landed in clearance bins and Five Below stores in record time, and the only ones who seemed surprised by this were Nintendo.
Of course you can’t talk about Animal Crossing amiibo without mentioning the hilariously unnecessary Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. What people wanted on the Wii U was a new Animal Crossing game. There was even this Animal Crossing lobby thing they created on the system that showed off the characters in HD for the first time and folks (myself included) were positively begging for a New Leaf follow-up on the platform. Instead, those lovely HD character models were used in amiibo Festival, a Mario Party type of board game that worked with the Animal Crossing amiibo. No, no thank you. Again, these got clearanced out with a quickness, and let us never speak of it again.
But those weird missteps are easy to forgive. They’re more baffling than anything. No, the #1 thing that caused me to lose confidence in the new Switch game was a brief mention in the game’s description. I’m talking, of course, about the mention of the dreaded in-game purchases.
Normally, I wouldn’t bat an eye at this. Nintendo’s DLC on Switch has been largely fantastic. Splatoon 2 had a ton of free DLC, and never once struck me as an unfinished product that needed more content to feel full. The Octo Expansion was in no way necessary to making Splatoon 2 feel worth the purchase, and was itself well worth the $20 I spent on it. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Fighters pass may have ended with a Fire Emblem-themed thud, but the overall quality of the characters, stages, and music included in the pass have been well worth the price of admission. And nobody can argue that the base version of the game feels light without the inclusion of the DLC. Even Breath of the Wild’s Expansion Pass felt worth the money, adding a bunch of optional cool stuff, and when the game by itself is already good for hundreds of hours of gameplay, I felt the Pass was justified.
But those were before Nintendo started getting really grimy with their mobile offerings. I liked Super Mario Run quite a bit. I spent $10 and I got the game. Cool. But most people thought that was too much to spend on a mobile game, so they moved on to the more accepted microtransaction model, and it’s paid out for them big time. Fire Emblem: whatever-the-heck-its-called is a gigantic money maker, and they just announced a subscription service for the darn thing.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has had all sorts of dirty microtransaction BS shoved into it from day one. I will admit that this game never really appealed to me, but I have been half paying attention to its updates over the years, and I haven’t liked what I’ve been hearing in the least. Loot boxes, paywalls, all sorts of nasty stuff that I wouldn’t want anywhere near my Animal Crossing game, but sadly make perfect sense for the type of game it is. Animal Crossing has always been about collecting unique things, and what better way to distribute them in a profitable manner than just having people buy them with their real world dollars instead of in-game currency they can earn on their own?
The Mario Kart Mess
The real last straw for me in the mobile game market though was Mario Kart Tour. I spent some time with that game when it launched and it was so unbelievably gross I deleted it off my phone. The entire game is an ad for its own in-game purchases. Even racing takes a backseat. It’s some of the most brazenly disgusting beggary I’ve ever seen in a game (I don't play a ton of modern games, so I’m sure there are worse examples out there, but still) and it kills me. I hate that there’s a new Mario Kart game out there that I actively don’t want to play, but this is the world we live in now. Nintendo got a taste for it when Fire Emblem made bank, and I'm afraid they aren’t going to know when to stop.
Nintendo hasn’t offered up a ton of first party games on Switch lately, and they've been uncharacteristically tight-lipped on this new Animal Crossing game. The language mentioning the in-game purchases has since been removed in the product description, but with all the money they’ve been making in mobile, the pattern of their investors pressuring them to lean more heavily into predatory monetization services, and the lack of transparency on just what the heck will actually be new in Animal Crossing, all come together to form a Voltron of distrust in me.
The last thing I want to do is drop $60 on a new Animal Crossing game only to find out that if I actually want to play it the way I want to, I’m going to need to dish out some kind of $10 a month subscription fee in addition to having to use real world currency to buy bells to buy the best exclusive clothes and furniture. I wouldn’t have suspected Nintendo of doing something like that before, but now, I’m not so sure.
Not climbing the paywall
If that’s the game, I’m afraid I’m just no longer interested. I love Animal crossing, but not enough to subscribe to it. And definitely not enough to drop real world cash on in-game items. But if those in-game items are the super cool Nintendo themed stuff or things like that, I’m going to feel pretty well cheated if there’s no reasonable way to buy them with bells earned in the actual game itself.
Now, none of these nightmare scenarios have been confirmed. At the time of this writing, very little about Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been announced. A Nintendo Direct has been announced to go up the day after this article is being posted, and it honestly terrifies me. Mario Kart Tour’s monetization scheme didn’t go over well with Nintendo fans, and my fear is that they haven’t told us how New Horizons is going to work before now because it’s going to be Mario Kart Tour all over again, and they know if folks know that too far ahead of time, it’s going to hurt game sales. That the Direct is this far from release could mean that my fears are unfounded, or that they are giving folks just enough time to get used to the fact that this game is going to be what it is, good or bad. I guess we’ll see, but I can’t shake this feeling of dread.
I hope I’m wrong, but at this point, I’m not willing to take that risk anymore. I genuinely don’t trust Nintendo to do the right thing with their games anymore, and that really bums me out. But at the end of the day, shareholders want all of the money, and if they can squeeze a couple hundred extra dollars out of even half of the Animal Crossing fans, they will. The fact that that’s a very real possibility is gross, but it is exactly that: A very real possibility.
What do you think? Will you still buy Animal Crossing if it’s a microtransaction-laden cash grab? Do you think Nintendo will continue to sacrifice their good will with their customer base to make a few extra bucks? Am I just a crazy person who’s afraid over nothing?