Today, Senior Editor and co-found of Polygon, Russ Frushtick, published an interview with Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser. The interview covers a variety of topics – from Joy-Con drift to the fabled Nintendo Switch Pro rumors, why March 31st, 2021 is a mysterious cut off date for a variety of Super Mario Bros. games, and more. When discussing how 2020 unfolded and how Nintendo handled everything in a COVID-19 pandemic world, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was brought up.
Juggernaut, breakout hit, craze – call it what you want, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons smashed sales expectations (as of September 2020, 26.04 million copies have been sold worldwide). An escape from reality, a way to socialize with friends and family, offering new ways to play for long-time Animal Crossing fans – New Horizons became not just “another video game” for Nintendo fans, but an entry point into the world of gaming and an outlet for people to cope with how 2020 has turned out.
Russ Frushtick (Polygon): For what it’s worth, it ended up being a very strong year. I mean, I think no one really expected — and I’m sure you guys are even included in that — quite what happened with Animal Crossing [New Horizons], which was just, and continues to be, a juggernaut. How far beyond expectations did Animal Crossing go for y’all?
Doug Bowser: “Well beyond expectations” is, I think, the simplest way to put it in. I don’t know that we expected it to be truly the cultural touchpoint that it became across the globe. And what we were pleased to see is how it redefined how people thought about video games and how they incorporated it in their lives.
We saw people celebrating graduations; having birthday parties; weddings, even — virtually, through the game itself. And we were pleased to see that we were able to provide a bit of a respite in what was pretty chaotic times and challenging times for folks. So it’s a result of many things. First of all: Developers did a wonderful job of creating a great universe, a great environment, great characters, and so that was very much engaging. But then, of course, the time of its release allowed a number of people who hadn’t even played video games to come in and enjoy and understand not only video games, but understand Animal Crossing much further.
Beyond its release, this particular Animal Crossing game is different compared to previous versions in terms of the base game. Before, each Animal Crossing game had all holidays and events programmed in from the start, allowing time-traveling residents to experience everything at the change of an edit in System Settings. New Horizons changed this up by having holidays (and their associated events and activities) added in later via updates. We don’t know officially what Nintendo’s longterm plan is concerning updates (New Horizons’ director, Aya Kyogoku, and producer, Hisashi Nogami, have stated that they “[w]ant to make sure that in two years or three years down the road, players will still continue to find new surprises in the game.” in a prior interview) but it is brought up:
Russ Frushtick (Polygon): You know, I was looking back to [Animal Crossing:] New Leaf and the way that game was supported long-term. It had its yearlong schedule. And then, basically, it stuck with that same schedule for several years. And then there was a significant content update that came later.
Given the immediate success of [New Horizons], do you foresee following a similar cadence as New Leaf? Or do you think this becomes more something in line of the Animal Crossing mobile game, which is constantly evolving? At this point, you are releasing, like, once a quarter, a pretty significant update in New Horizons. Do you see that continuing beyond this first year? Or what do you see as the plan there?
Doug Bowser: Yeah, I see two potential avenues here, one you already mentioned, which has been our update schedule that comes from the developers. And that can be around seasons, it can be around events, it can be around enhanced gameplay features. And that will continue as we go forward.
I think the thing that is very unique and different about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, however, is also the [user-generated content], and people’s ability to really lean into user-generated content and make that available and to share that with their friends. And that doesn’t happen on any cadence. That’s an ongoing, constantly changing and evolving environment where people can visit each other’s islands and take advantage of that UGC, bring it to their islands and share it. So I think that’s another aspect that really is strengthening the engagement over time with Animal Crossing.
Russ Frushtick (Polygon): Sure. In addition to the UGC, you foresee these sorts of updates that we’ve been seeing in the first year continuing into the next year?
Doug Bowser: We definitely see that continuing.
While assumed, this may be the first time that a Nintendo employee (let alone the president of Nintendo of America) has confirmed more updates are in the pipeline beyond New Horizons’ first year. Here’s to Year 2 of island updates with hopes that they’ll put a new spin on previously celebrated events!
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