Opinion: Animal Crossing is Nintendo’s gift to a coronavirus-weary world

  • Video games
  • Friday, 27 Mar 2020

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is breaking records as the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game in history for multiple countries, according to international sales reports. — Nintendo

We live in troubling times. Millions are suffering from anxiety, distress and loneliness as they deal with the uncertain health and economic consequences of the global coronavirus pandemic. If ever there was a moment for the world of Nintendo, this is it.

Enter Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest version of Japanese giant Nintendo Co’s virtual-life simulation game. Released last Friday for use on the company’s Switch gaming system, it has seemingly come out at the perfect time for those seeking much-needed escapism.

Animal Crossing is one of Nintendo’s core storied franchises. This new version is the fifth game in the main-line series, which was first launched in 2001. In the latest iteration, gamers start out on an island, playing out a make-believe life, complete with assorted activities from fishing to collecting insects, while also socially interacting with cute cartoon animals. There are no virus outbreaks here and no dangers in social mixing. Indeed, social media sites such as Twitter are teeming with players posting their favourite Animal Crossing scenes, showing off their dressed-up characters and tricked-out living-room furnishing, with the screenshots serving as a welcome respite from the dire real-world news posts.

The enthusiasm is showing up in the sales numbers. While demand for most consumer discretionary items is faltering, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is breaking records. The title has become the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game in history for multiple countries, according to international sales reports. Gaming media magazine Famitsu says the title sold 1.88 million copies in just three days in Japan. And major US retailers are now sold out of the more expensive Switch hardware model due to the success of the game.

The video game industry as a whole is surging as stay-at-home restrictions force consumers to find suitable in-home entertainment options. But Nintendo’s family-friendly offerings seem uniquely suited for this moment; consumers may be increasingly attracted to the company’s more wholesome games, versus more graphic, violent fare. Nintendo owns many of the most valuable video game franchises in the world that fit the feel-good bill – including Mario, Zelda and Metroid.

Animal Crossing is giving a boost to Switch just as Microsoft Corp and Sony Corp prepare to launch their next-generation gaming consoles later this year, at which point other games for use with that cutting-edge technology may gain favour. Nintendo’s Switch was released three years ago and will be at a relative disadvantage on that front. However, the industry has never been about technical specs. It always comes down to the quality and experience of the games.

After a price drop in recent months, Nintendo’s stock now trades at more attractive valuation of 18 times its fiscal 2021 earnings. Animal Crossing’s success is more evidence the company’s beloved brands and customer loyalty are more powerful than ever, revealing its prospects may be brighter than believed. – Bloomberg

(Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.)

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