Saturday, December 20, 2008

Would Anyone Actually Cross Over To Animal Crossing?

A couple weeks ago, I saw this commercial and my jaw literally dropped. Seriously? Is this really a product on the market for Wii? Animal Crossing seems like a child-like video game version of Second Life. While that's not really my cup of tea, I guess I could see some people liking it—like kids. The weird thing is, this game does not seem remotely aimed at kids. The commercial features two 20-something women in nice houses discussing their activities of the day and then deciding to 'go watch the fireworks' together. Oops, but the catch is, they are doing all of these activities on the video game while talking to each other. They're actually sitting on their couches watching cartoon fireworks. Seriously? The whole thing seems bizarrely out of sync and their target market off base. Are they really getting a 20-something market for this product? Are they getting anyone for this product?

Maybe I just don't get it. Has anyone out there actually played this game? Maybe you can shed some light on the mystery.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the whole thing has a definite "huh?" feel to it.

suzanne said...

And I love how that the Wii seem to be aimed as a way to get people ACTIVE while playing a video game and this is for complete couch potatoes. The most strenuous you get is from pushing the button on the remote.

Bill C. said...

My friend had this game for the DS a couple years ago and she loved it. It seemed strange to me, too.

raster said...

My daughter got Animal Crossing for the GameCube about 2 years ago... we all became addicted. The wife and I are casual gamers at best, but she went crazy with this game. I don't do Second Life, but Animal Crossing? Definitely! If I would have told you 20 years ago you would someday play a video game where you pull weeds, dig holes, and try to catch fish, you would have laughed, but we do it now. (Well, you might still laugh.) It's very relaxing to play Animal Crossing...

(My pal HeyGabe is crazy about Animal Crossing, and plays it on the GabeCube, Nintendo DS, and the Wii.)

HeyGabe said...

A couple of important points to consider.

A huge difference between Animal Crossing and games like Gaia Online or Second Life is that the online component of Animal Crossing is a secondary part of the game. It's practically shoehorned in after the fact.

There is no online persistent world, there is no "lobby" for meeting interacting with real people, and you have fairly limited options for customization-- especially in light of the explosion of the "dress up" online games like Yoville and Gaia.
The fact is, if you're looking for an online experience from Animal Crossing, you're probably going to be disappointed. Nintendo's online implementation via the Nintendo WFC is crippled-- stillborn, even. It's not an online game.

It's also not a very good World Sim. You have marginal landscaping abilities, and your avatar can plant and remove trees-- but there isn't much more too it than that. The latest WII version of the game gives players the ability to make some impact on the development of their infrastructure... but not much. Once a house is there-- it's there.

It's also a lousy fishing and bug catching game (too simplistic); a weak clothing designing game (low resolution) and a bad implementation of a farming simulator (there are only six varieties of fruit).

All these shortcomings, and yet the game is one of the best experiences you can have on the Wii. Right? RIght? It doesn't make any sense.

Where the game wins is that it is 1. Fun. 2. Long, and 3. Entertaining.

The first game-- in America that was the on the Game Cube -- made a point about telling you that you really only needed to play Animal Crossing for a few hours per day at most. And, for the most part, this is true. There are a few end-game rewards that you can't obtain if you don't play obsessively, but for the most part, these are small and superficial. You're not going to enjoy this game if you can't while away a few months playing a few hours at time.

You'd be surprised at how easily this happens, however. The town clock rings to let you know it's 6 p.m. and you look up what seemed like three minutes later and the town clock is ringing 7 p.m. and you've got a pocket full of rare and expensive fish to sell. What matters is the fun you're having.

Of course, Nintendo has always said the game is about communication. And it is. At it's heart, Animal Crossing is about using words and interactions to tell stories. You write letters and have conversations with the animal villagers in your town-- which are bots, by the way. They have about 6 major peronsality types, say about the same 15 things or so. But they mix them up in ways that trick you into caring about what they say. Then you fill in the gaps.
One of the ways I do that is with the letter writing game. You send them a letter, they'll send you a letter.
Want to read some of the letters i've written? Visit my Letters To My Dearest Animal Friends Web site.
Don't get me wrong, you'll have better conversations with @eliza. But the letters are how you develop your story. The animal villages develop little relationships between each other. They will sometimes have strage obsessions, or ask you to run errands for them.

And then there is the raccoon. Oh, that Raccoon. The Don of the Animal Crossing universe, Tom Nook runs the local shop wherein your labors are turned into currency. You use that currency to pay off the cost of your home, or the recent, non-negotiable upgrades. Who holds the deed to the mortgage? You guessed it, the raccoon.

So the magic is really in the way to talk and tell your stories about your adventures in this robust but not deep little village. ARtificial scarcity makes the collecting element fun, because certain events and gizmos can only be found under certain conditions.

But, at it's heart, it's a game for kids. My three-year old absolutely loves it. And I enjoy playing it with her. And for that, there is no better thing that I can say about the game. My heart thumps a little thank you to Nintendo every time my daughter has an extended conversation with Felicity the Cat (one of her favorite villages) based roughly on things that she's been doing in the game.

Christine said...

Wow—thanks for the informative insight guys! I learned quite a bit more about what exactly the game entails from your comments. I noticed though that you both got involved with it through your children. And HeyGabe pointed out that it's a children's game at heart, so doesn't the ad with the 20-somethings seem odd to you then? Perhaps an approach that was closer to a family playing together would be more appropriate?

heygabe said...

For what it's worth:

The ads for the original version for Nintendo GameCube were Real World parodies.

And they're pretty good... if you're familiar with the game and the Real World.

I wonder if there is some value in advertising it to 20-somethings in order to pique the interest of the younger crowd? Or is it just that Nintendo of America has a storied history of not really doing very good advertising?
Then again, how do you make "you work hard to pay off your mortgage" into an appealing pitch for a game?