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Feature: 12 Days of Christmas - Animal Crossing Helped 3DS Turn Over a New Leaf

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

A game for all

While a number of 3DS titles have performed well for Nintendo in 2013, Animal Crossing: New Leaf has been a notable success story. While its core sales numbers have been impressive, it's perhaps been the cultural impact of New Leaf that's been the most pleasing for those keen to see 3DS success.

To give some context of how well Animal Crossing: New Leaf has performed, Nintendo's latest financial reports showed 6.35 million sales of New Leaf around the world as of 30th September — notably just over two million of those sales were outside of Japan, even though the title only arrived in the West in June this year after its 2012 release in Japan. Its success helped to drive the 3DS hardware business, by extension, and before the inevitable sales behemoth of Pokémon X & Y seized the day New Leaf was easily the best selling 2013 release on the system and is, in all likelihood, already well on its way to catching up with other lifetime system leaders such as Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land.

Yet it's the impact beyond sales that we'd suggest truly matters; while Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS was also a significant success — New Leaf has time to work up to its levels of sales — it's the social imprint of New Leaf that may be the most vital. Quite simply, the days, weeks and even months after its release demonstrated the power of the brand in attracting gamers of all kinds; the evidence was online. Social networks don't always hum to the sound of Nintendo game hype — the likes of Twitter can sometimes be a lonely place for big N enthusiasts — yet New Leaf was everywhere. Age, game genre preferences and gaming experience didn't seem relevant; everyone was playing the latest Animal Crossing title. Nintendo even offered an Image Share service that was used a great deal, while Miiverse is now an option for those still playing regularly.

And plenty still are playing it, while the game keeps selling. Its presence in the UK top 40 has been assured since launch, defying the trend of 3DS games appearing then plunging from the charts the following week, while it's still kicking around in the Japanese top 20 after more than a year. When we refer to Nintendo games having ever-green qualities, this is one such example.

It's also a game that's delivered significant download sales, with impressive numbers in Japan particularly and Nintendo emphasizing its continually increasing download revenues; it's a shift in the buying habits of consumers. In some cases, even in the U.S., around 20% of the game's sales have been downloads. It's a case of format and software aligning perfectly, as New Leaf is a game that demands daily attention where possible, and dipping in to check on your town is more convenient when not worrying about swapping out cartridges.

Nintendo, unsurprisingly, has taken its opportunities to ride the wave of New Leaf's success. Regular free SpotPass content is the norm, while specific promotions with retailers have been utilised. The game has had its own rather attractive 3DS XL model released worldwide, while it's a title often seen in bundles at retail, especially with the 2DS. Marketing campaigns are still in full flow, capitalising on its year-round seasonal qualities, and the Animal Crossing Plaza is a free app on the Wii U to introduce home console gamers to the series — well, those that haven't also enjoyed City Folk on Wii. That plaza has grown, too, with stamps and opinion polls recently introduced.

Those are all important parts of what makes New Leaf a winner of 2013, but the defining qualities that have driven this triumph can be more difficult to define. It's enraptured millions with its strange little world of talking animals, an economy of Bells and a mixture of chores and relaxation. This isn't an experience where you can 'jump ahead', and in fact it makes you wait for progression not in terms of game-time, but in real days. If you want money you have to work for it, whether by shaking trees, finding valuable items to sell or by utilising the in-game economy in other ways. You make friends, look after your constituents, undertake public works and fundraising, maintain the beauty of your town and relax in the local nightspot. Then there are ways to visit and share with other players, through online and StreetPass, that's portrayed on screen as a train leaving the station or a fantastical showhome exhibition.

In some respects it's like real life, but wrapped in rainbows and happiness. It's a world where you can wear a silly hat and fake nose and will prompt laughs from your residents. There are some animals you'll like, others perhaps not quite, and sometimes they'll want to leave you or desire that you ask them to say; it's quite possible you'll become genuinely attached to your animal friends, or work in the coffee shop just because you can.

All of this may be familiar to those that indulge in any manner of online social games, in particular, but New Leaf stands apart because it's so typically Nintendo. It's cute and charming, yes, but it's also honest with you; if you want the best of the game you need to give it commitment, but it won't ask for anything else in return beyond the initial purchase. The company has dabbled with paid-DLC in other games, but Satoru Iwata described the idea of these extras or micro-transactions in New Leaf as unwholesome. How right he was, and it's that purity of purpose that shines through.

Sometimes good games, both in terms of execution and their spirit, get the success they deserve. We'll close with the words of producer Katsuya Eguchi in an interview earlier this year; we'd say his team achieved its goals.

At a certain point it will end, but in the same way that life does, every day — to day, to day, to day — it keeps going. In the same way, we wanted your life within Animal Crossing to keep going, so we built into the game a mechanism to be sure that there are always new discoveries for players. You like something one day, and then you may discover that you didn't like it as much as this other thing. So there's always something to strive for.

We also built into the game a feedback mechanism, where you're always getting feedback from within the game, from animals saying they like certain items and asking you if you'll trade with them, or playing with friends. Friends may give you feedback and you can see what they're doing with their towns, and get new ideas.

So it's always about this constant discovery, and also adding a lot of variation within the game. There are always a lot of different paths you can decide to go down. We want it to feel like a story that was never going to be done. It was never going to be finished. So that was something we tried to achieve.

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User Comments (21)

dsparil

#2

dsparil said:

I like the mayoral aspects to this Animal Crossing and I hope it gets expanded in the next one.

bezerker99

#3

bezerker99 said:

I still play it daily. And yes, it was a social explosion when it was released. It's a shame Swapnote was shut down as I really enjoyed sharing my screenshots with friends that way.

Gioku

#4

Gioku said:

Wednesday is "Animal Crossing Day" for me (and sometimes Saturday, too)! I love checking up on my town and seeing how everyone's doing, and making some bells~ :)

sinalefa

#5

sinalefa said:

@ThomasBW84

Sorry to be that guy, but September only has 30 days.

I still need to open my copy of New Leaf. Maybe someday when my backlog is smaller.

ThomasBW84Admin

#6

ThomasBW84 said:

@sinalefa Ha! Oh dear, fixed.

Ninty's Q2 financials have done something to me, because I made that same mistake then, too.

Windy

#8

Windy said:

I need to play more. I haven't even paid up all my Addons to the house. I need to get on that. The Holidays are such a good time to play too.

Like @sinalefa my gaming backlog is Huge. I cant help myself I buy them and get so backed up. I'm currently going through Castlevania 3DS thats how bad it is :P I did beat Shin Megami Tensei IV from start to finish :) Sad thing is I have games backed up to PS2 and Wii

shigulicious

#9

shigulicious said:

I played the original AC on the Cube. It wasn't my cup of tea. But I'm glad so many others enjoy it. Another unique and successful Nintendo IP.

Icefreak45

#12

Icefreak45 said:

Last time I checked in (sometime last week after months!) I had a weed- picking frenzy induced my one of my residents. I really love this game, sadly school prevents me from giving it the time I would like. Thankfully I only have two more days till break :D!!

Jampie

#13

Jampie said:

I love this game! I played it so much when it released and then stopped for a few months (Eek! So many weeds to pull!). Now I'm back to playing it daily. Haha. It always sucks me back in... and my never ending backlog continues to increase...

3DSfan134

#15

3DSfan134 said:

This game was just so much fun and that it'll never stop. And by that, my friend is finally back from this after an entire month of playing Pokemon. This is definitely a great game to play with friends.

Pete41608

#16

Pete41608 said:

Got this on July 31st and have only missed two days. Was too tired from a long week at work and was too lazy to turn on 3DS.

They've made a new AC fan of me. Hopefully Wii U will get in two or three years!

Yomerodes

#18

Yomerodes said:

I can already see it...E3 2014, fans are hyping a big surprise reveal of Zelda and/or Metroid...and the big announcement is Animal Crossing NeU Leaf

Will-75

#20

Will-75 said:

New Leaf is my first title from the series and I have to admit I'm addicted this game is just Awesome, everyone in my family owns a 3DSXL now because of Animal Crossing New Leaf and Zelda A Link Between Worlds !

mamp

#21

mamp said:

This game is amazing also it was odd seeing stuff posted on social sites. I had never done it but just seeing how everyone else had some interesting pictures it made me want to start posting my own and then it actually made some of my friends want to buy it and they had pics of their own the Animal Crossing madness is addictive.

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