How connected, social play changed Animal Crossing: an audience with New Leaf’s creators
Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s western release this June saw US and EU players under the series’ spell once more, this time on 3DS; it inspired a new wave of online discussions about bug catching, fishing, fruit picking and fossil excavating in this Nintendo-authored second life. Here, we talk to director Aya Kyogoku and producer and series creator Katsuya Eguchi about what online has brought to the series, how their respective villages are shaping up and what’s next for Animal Crossing.
Where did the idea for playing mayor come from?
Aya Kyogoku: At the start, we decided that we wanted to deepen and widen the freedom that players have, so we provided a wider variety of furniture pieces and so on. But at the same time, we wanted the player to have influence on the whole of the town. So you can choose wherever you want to build your house, or put your fountain, or any of the other public works projects. We questioned why the player [would be able to] do these activities, and so becoming mayor came naturally.
New Leaf allows for a much greater degree of self-expression than was possible in any previous Animal Crossing title. Would you say that it’s a central focus of the game?
Katsuya Eguchi: There’s always a cycle in Animal Crossing. You collect your favourite stuff and try to create your own favourite place and show it to others, then you see what other people are doing and the differences between their ideas and yours. This stimulates new ideas of what you can do, and I believe this keeps motivating players to play longer. This cycle of generating interest is applied to a wider area this time – you have such things as the Happy Home showcase, the StreetPass features or the Dream Suite, and these new additions keep [that cycle] turning.
The game’s been out in Japan since November – what kind of response have you seen from Japanese players?
AK: There’s no one specific thing, but what I’ve noticed is a lot of people use social networks and blogs to communicate about the game. There’s a function in New Leaf to take screenshots, for example, which you can upload to Twitter and Facebook; there’s a service that started in Japan that allows you to do this easily. Animal Crossing players talk a lot about what’s happening in their game, and publish or upload designs they made in the game, so there’s been a lot of communication about New Leaf outside the game. For example, during the first fishing competition in the game, ‘fishing’ became one of the most used words on Twitter in Japan, and other words like ‘carp’ or ‘black bass’ started trending around this time. While people are exchanging this information, it’s giving them even more fun with their Animal Crossing world.
There are a number of new characters. How do you decide on the roles for new animals?
AK: In the majority of cases, first we had a particular role and then we decided which animal should fill that role. Sometimes we’d make a judgement based on the behaviour of the real-life species, but at the same time the series has been going for a long time and we just wanted to bring in new kinds of animals. One example is the tapir: there’s a Chinese legend that they eat your bad dreams, so we made that association with the Dream Suite. On the other hand, for Leif the sloth, who runs the gardening shop, we first decided on the animal, and then we started working on his characterisation.
You both have New Leaf villages. Which activities take up most of your daily play sessions?
KE: The big difference from previous Animal Crossing titles is that this time you can communicate with people you don’t really know. New Leaf provides opportunities for players to see towns and houses created and decorated by users you have no direct contact with. That’s one of the elements I really like.
AK: By StreetPassing other players, you can find new surprises at the Happy Home Showcase. I like to go shopping and look at the selection of furniture, and pick out pieces to decorate my houses. The Happy Home Showcase turns itself into a kind of huge shopping mall I can browse to see how people decorate and customise furniture. That has a lot of benefit to me as an Animal Crossing player rather than as a developer.
Satoru Iwata said that Animal Crossing would not use microtransactions for, say, premium furniture items, but is paid content something you might explore for the series in future?
AK: For New Leaf, we’re only planning to distribute items through SpotPass, [which means] users can enjoy them free of charge.
What’s next for Animal Crossing? Can you keep adding more to the current template, or are you thinking of making wider changes?
KE: We have already started thinking about what to do next, but there is no concrete direction yet. First, we need to decide which hardware to develop a new Animal Crossing for, and then we want to use that hardware and find out what it’s capable of and what kind of features it provides. Then we can start thinking of elements of Animal Crossing and how we can realise them using the hardware. So until we discover these new inventions, we will not decide the direction.