Nintendo, to date, has released three core smart device games as part of its mobile strategy (plus the Switch Parental Controls and Nintendo Switch Online apps) but Animal Crossing is arguably the best fit yet. Miitomo was a spin on social media that somewhat lost steam, Super Mario Run gained some early momentum but structural flaws / pricing arguably held it back, and Fire Emblem Heroes has managed some solid if unspectacular success (driven largely by the Japanese market). The Animal Crossing IP seems like a smart angle for mobile, and as a result could be the most intriguing of these releases to date.
The structure of the series is certainly tailored to the mobile space - limiting your progress to time frames, the gradual unlocking of new areas and content, accumulating resources, saving virtual cash for that Majora's Mask t-shirt you really fancy, and just the general combination of mooching about and busy-work. Combine those factors with the IP's delightful charm and it's easy to see why it's successful; Animal Crossing: New Leaf, let's not forget, shifted over 11 million units on 3DS and went borderline viral on social media back in 2013 (late 2012 in Japan). The ingredients are all there for a potentially lucrative mobile release, while fans will simply hope that the balancing of the app makes it a fun game for everyone.
When is the Animal Crossing Mobile Nintendo Direct?
The Nintendo Direct will be aired at 8pm Pacific / 11pm Eastern on 24th October, which is 4am UK / 5am CEST on 25th October, and noon Tokyo time. It's scheduled to be about 15 minutes long.
So, what can we expect? For starters, Nintendo has been very clear that there won't be any Switch or 3DS news, though naturally some will conveniently ignore that. Nevertheless, let's break down what we actually expect / hope to see in this Nintendo Direct.
A Charming Presentation
Above is the Animal Crossing Direct from November 2016, advertising the 'welcome' update that, to be blunt, somewhat defied the odds in supporting New Leaf surprisingly late in the game's lifecycle. In fact, at this point it wasn't clear when the Animal Crossing mobile app was due and we half expected it to tie-in to this update, but no such link existed. With Nintendo adamant that we shouldn't expect Switch or 3DS news today, it looks like the new app will be standalone in that respect.
In any case, the presentation of that Direct was undoubtedly quirky and entertaining. It was typical Nintendo, all cheesy jokes and knowing winks. It'd be nice to see something similar in this mobile Direct, an informal and light-hearted approach to what is actually a rather significant reveal for the company.
An Extensive Animal Crossing Game / App
Maybe this prediction will be wrong, but we wouldn't be surprised if the end result is a fairly meaty Animal Crossing game / experience for mobile. That may not be to everyone's tastes, but it's hard to see Nintendo putting out a half-baked minigame spin-off, though it's admittedly done that in the past.
When you look at Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, in different ways they aim to offer relatively conventional gaming experiences. Mario's release has a solo campaign with multiple worlds, while Heroes also has a story to get through along with various challenge arenas and side areas. Both apps also have grind-focused modes that re-use assets to stage limited content as 'new', but in general Nintendo has stuck to its policy of attempting to produce meaningful gaming experiences suitable for mobile.
Will it be as big as a traditional retail entry in the series? That seems highly unlikely in terms of the solo play, but it wouldn't be surprising if there's quite a lot of depth to building up a town and/or business and interacting with lots of visitors. It could even spin away a little in the manner of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but even that release had quite a lot of content to work through. How the mobile game will be structured is something else entirely, but Nintendo and DeNA's previous attempts with Mario and Fire Emblem suggest that it could be a relatively meaningful interpretation of Animal Crossing on smart devices.
A Sizzle Reel of Animal Crossing History
This partly falls into the first point, but gets its own brief mention because Nintendo often does a good job on this score, particularly when it can make a fuss over nostalgia and history. Animal Crossing may be younger than a lot of other Nintendo franchises, but plenty are fond of its history across multiple hardware generations. Expect cuteness and flashback footage of older games.
Social Media Integration
A no-brainer, of course, so what'll be intriguing is how far the game / app goes with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and more. One of the key drivers that helped Animal Crossing: New Leaf take off on 3DS was its use of the portable's limited-but-functional image sharing capabilities. It wasn't very snappy or efficient - though, to be fair, we're going back four years - but it did mean that players could take funny images from the game and share them on social media. This was pure gold for Nintendo - often people shared humorous and charming snaps, and the popularity of the feature effectively served as free advertising.
As we've seen with other apps and indeed with the Capture options on the Switch, Nintendo is now very comfortable integrating social media apps into its games and services. It's also started to embrace the power of these tools for spreading the word about games, so we can expect image (maybe even video?) sharing to be quick and easy, along with visual filters and other quirks of modern online life. If this isn't worked into the experience it'll feel like a missed opportunity.
Former company President Satoru Iwata once dismissed the idea of microtransactions in a 'main' 3DS Animal Crossing game and was resistant to bringing games to mobile, but both policy and the nature of business changed. Nintendo has not only embraced smart devices in recent years, but also microtransactions in some forms. The company hasn't gone as far as many of its contemporaries, but for example it did allow a 'Gacha' model in Fire Emblem Heroes, where you gamble orbs in the hope of getting a good 'drop'. Oh, and you can buy the orbs. That's monetisation; that's business; that's life.
We'd be surprised if microtransactions aren't a notable component of Animal Crossing on mobile, especially after the issues Nintendo encountered in trying to sell Super Mario Run at a 'premium price'. A low cost of entry - or even free-to-play - with in-app purchases is the standard in mobile gaming, and you don't need to be a genius to link the in-game economies of Animal Crossing games with the potential to make a lot of real money from players.
The question, as always, will be balancing. How much can players get for free, how much grinding is required to keep playing for free or a low amount of money, and how will microtransactions be structured? Will it be a luck-of-the-draw gacha system, or more likely a simple case of Virtual Currency used to buy furniture, enhancements, outfits and more in-game? It's a tricky area right now, with plenty of attention on downright dodgy attempts to add loot boxes and microtransactions into retail games. Let's not forget, though, we're talking about an Animal Crossing mobile title. It's hard to see Nintendo taking a pass on the potential profits that the IP can bring.
You don't have to like it, but that's the modern gaming reality.
Finally, a brief sixth thing - amiibo. We've had various Animal Crossing amiibo figures and a lot of cards, so the question is whether Nintendo will try to support these in the app. It's not impossible, especially on Android, but Apple in particular has often locked NFC capabilities up on its devices. It'd be a logistical challenge - and Apple may be softening its policies - but isn't completely impossible.
So, those are some of the areas we think could come up in the Animal Crossing Mobile Direct. As always we'll be hosting the live stream with a blog and chat so we hope to see you then; in the meantime let us know what you expect to see in the broadcast.