Musings on Animal Crossing New Horizons “live service” model

So, i was gonna write this editorial this summer, when the July update for the game reintroduced scuba diving (seen before in AC: New Leaf), but i held off on publishing, waiting to see if it the issues i had with the game had any legs… and now i feel they do.

It’s worth noting i bought the game and played it since launch day, and i have spent like 300 hours on AC New Leaf alone, and a lot on the original AC on Gamecube, not to brag (i’m pretty sure there are a lot of way more dedicated AC players), but to give what i’m about to say some confidence. As in, i know what i’m talking about.

Starting with the positives, AC is bigger than ever, and New Horizons has made beyond clear, since it sold bucketloads, even more thanks to it’s quite beneficial release timing, and the odd-but-benificial coincidence of being release the same day a Doom Eternal, so it also enjoyed the unlikely-but-charming and spontaneous crossover of polar opposites. And it’s worth remembering the game was delayed to march 2020 specifically to avoid crunch, so it’s fair to say it paid off in every possible way.

That said, it’s also quite fair to say that Nintendo pretty much took a “live service” approach with New Horizons, thankfully NOT as the usual bullshit of forced online connection, microtransactions up the ass and shit. You can see plenty of that in AC Pocket Camp, which was crap at launch and in time just got worse, i guess, since it has 2 paid subscriptions models. Jesus.

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No, this is an actual videogame, but still, you can tell they did plan to add features and events over time as free patches, often coinciding or ahead of festivies of any sort, and while it didn’t launch incomplete or buggy… it definitely debuted lacking items that many long time fans expected, like giroids (who are still MIA indefinitely), or some features (tied often to recurring characters), like the cafè manned by Brewster inside the Museum. I want my pigeon barista, Nintendo, capische?

I don’t care about time traveling, myself, but even so there has been a certain lack of many events in this first “phase”, so i found myself going to playing daily to playing less and less, and to eventually “shelf” it for the meantime. Then picking it up again time to time, often for the updates and for the seasonal events and items, so in a way this is not a bad approach, and give you a good excuse to go back, reassure the villagers you aren’t dead, and pick out weeds, because this time there’s no option to ask villagers to tend to that (or flowers) themselves when you’re not playing. And putting two and two together, that is not by mistake, but by design.

Obviously, there’s some inescapable burnout with playing AC this way (especially if you have played previous installments a lot) but it arrived a lot faster than it did for New Leaf. And i did skip the Wii title entirely, and really didn’t gave the DS installment much attention, keep that in mind.

It would help if the game launched with more stuff to do (at least most if not all of the familiar features fans expected), and didn’t rely on scheduled updates to add it over months… maybe years. In a world where there are so many games vying for your attention, i don’t begrudge the choice Nintendo made, not entirely, as it helps to – as they say – give it a longer tail and keep interest and visibility for New Horizons.

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I do begrudge them for putting crafting AND breakable items, really, Nintendo, it’s this one of your random design quips that you wanna spread between all your franchises? Should we expect the new Mario Kart to have breakable engines on the kart, so you need to collect “wrench boxes” while driving to avoid the engine overheating or shit like that?

I do have some genuine criticisms about New Horizons, but this is not a review of the game, so i will stop here, and end this ramble/editorial by saying that, so far, this is thankfully more in line with Nintendo’s strand of “support” more than what most companies brand as “live service”.

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