How Nintendo Turned Animal Crossing: New Leaf Into A Huge Hit

By Spencer and Ishaan . March 19, 2014 . 12:45pm

This afternoon at the Game Developers Conference, Nintendo’s Aya Kyogoku and Katsuya Eguchi conducted an enlightening panel, titled “How to Turn a New Leaf at the Animal Crossing,” to discuss the development of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a game that has been among Nintendo’s biggest hits on the Nintendo 3DS, and grown into something of a social phenomenon.


Kyogoku, who served as one of the two directors on the game, said that she has been working on Animal Crossing since Animal Crossing: City Folk on Wii. When she started out, Kyogoku was the first female designer within Nintendo’s Entertainment Analysis and Development group, which is responsible for the development of Mario, Zelda and Animal Crossing games among others.


Jump ahead by a few years, and by the time Animal Crossing: New Leaf was in development, nearly half of the team consisted of women, Kyogoku shared.


Like all of Nintendo’s most talented staff, Kyogoku has served other roles within Nintendo EAD, of course. In addition to serving as System Director on Animal Crossing: City Folk, she also worked on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess as a script writer.


Recalling her days working on City Folk, one of the goals of that game was to launch the U.S. and European versions at the same time as the Japanese version, Kyogoku said. In order to make a simultaneous release possible, a lot of time was spent on making the events within the game feel familiar for each region. Nintendo spent a great deal of time on culturalization.


Working on a franchise isn’t easy. Kyogoku recalled that that Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS sold ten times the amount that the Gamecube Animal Crossing game had. As a result, she said, the team was afraid of making too many changes, since the DS version was such a hit. Due to this, fans began to feel like the world within the game was isolated.


With that in mind, the goal with Animal Crossing: New Leaf on Nintendo 3DS was to rethink the conventions of the series. If someone were to ask what you can do in an Animal Crossing game, it’s difficult to explain, Kyogoku said. However, there is one phrase that she feels sums it up, which is “Animal Crossing is a communication tool”. It’s easier to visit people’s Animal Crossing homes than their real homes. And because there’s no money involved, there’s nothing to stop you from getting someone the perfect gift.


If there’s a full moon in the game, you might see it in the real world, too. If it’s New Year’s in the world of Animal Crossing, it’s New Year’s in the real world as well. These are the things that open up communication between people and enable Animal Crossing to harmonize real-world relationships, Kyogoku shared.


In fact, playing Animal Crossing during development lowered the stress levels of the development team, Kyogoku revealed. The team held turnip competitions, and the staff would leave presents for everyone that had the lowest prices. Stress levels within your development team? Share Animal Crossing with them, Kyogoku suggested, much to the audience’s amusement.


Communication features are even stronger in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In previous games, you would need to text or call someone to see if they were playing Animal Crossing. Now, you can see who’s playing your Best Friends list, and can chat with them without leaving town. You can feel the presence of another player at the same time. Other communication features include Happy Home data through StreetPass, and the Tropical Island where you can play with others using random matching. These allow players without people on their Friends List to experience the game’s community.


As a result, players have been sharing screenshots of their towns over blogs and Twitter, thereby reaching out to even more people. Nintendo even facilitated the sharing of items and clothing by allowing you to create and scan QR Codes using the Nintendo 3DS camera. Meanwhile, events such as the Art Academy contest on Miiverse is allowing more and more people to learn about Animal Crossing: New Leaf even if they aren’t playing it. It’s a question of improving the hook that gets people interested in a game and keeps them coming back, while adding new fans at the same time, Kyogoku said. It’s about sharing the concept, rather than sharing specs.


To this end, team members from all disciplines created furniture, characters and other items in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Kyogoku revealed. This added diversity to the game.


The end result of it all? Animal Crossing: New Leaf has sold 7.38 million worldwide as of January 2014, and continues to sell with each passing month, said series producer Katsuya Eguchi, taking over from Kyogoku. The franchise as a whole, Eguchi believes, has the potential not just to evolve itself, but also the scope of the platform it was designed for.


Animal Crossing: Wild World showed how the franchise fit a portable device, Eguchi said. And if you’ve the played Nintendo 3DS game… well, you’ve likely seen what Animal Crossing: New Leaf has accomplished for yourself.

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  • Very informative and interesting article. Always neat to see what the developers think about the games they release. And considering those sales figures they most certainly are doing something right.

  • How Nintendo got it to be huge:

    1) Have ‘Animal Crossing’ in the title…
    2) ?????
    3) Profit!

    • That second last step always gets to me. What are its inner workings?

    • GH56734

      Well there are two Nintendo-exclusive Animal Crossing-like late releases for the Super Famicom (about a boy in a summer vacation? it’s not like Sony’s one) and the GameCube (it used online, I think)..
      I think that what you said is true… but not in a happy sense sometimes (I want Nintendo’s newer IPs to succeed more…)

  • AuraGuyChris

    Seeds are the answer to great success!

  • Ethan_Twain

    I wonder just how relevant a talk about this game really is to most of the developers sent to GDC. Animal Crossing was a hit, and I’m sure the presentation was informative… but other developers just do not work like Nintendo. Could any other publisher organize a 50% female development team? Are the communication features Nintendo used with streetpass and online integration on the 3DS to make Animal Crossing a social experience relevant to development on other platforms? Probably not – they’re all online all the time anyway.

    Nintendo is just so out of step with the rest of the industry at this point that even when they release a hit I wonder if their methods and strategies are even useful to the people sent to GDC from Ubisoft, Activision, or any other Western publisher. I guess indies could maybe get a little more out of this.

    • Aaron K Stone

      If it allows them to make a game that sells as much as this did more people should pay attention. Perhaps they’ll find there’s business to be had outside AAA or throwaway mobile games.

    • I wondered the same thing as we were taking notes from the panel. In fact, I wonder the same thing every year. No matter how much wisdom any of Nintendo’s developers impart, you really don’t see anyone else trying to do much with it.

      Certain things, yes, like prototyping extensively prior to active development, but that’s more of an industry standard now in general. But as you said, assembling a diverse development team, focusing on these oddball genres that reach out to all sorts of people… very few developers are capable of doing that.

      • Ethan_Twain

        You’re actually on site for the event? Way cool!

        Well the easiest way to gauge this is based on attendance. Did many people show up for this panel? If the developers also question whether Nintendo’s wisdom is relevant to their development situations, then they probably just didn’t show up.

      • WyattEpp

        Eh, it’s not _that_ hard to gather a team that’s not exclusively white twenty-something dudebros if you bother to try. That big companies simply _don’t_ is just a reflection of their priorities (meat grinder for talented young folk).

        This isn’t to say there’s no representation imbalance in the tech sector as a whole (there so totally is, for myriad reasons), but it’s not because there’s no one available. The game industry tends to be _particularly_ skewed.

        • Pretty much this. Sometimes, industries go out of the way to hire who they want, which is also something to keep in mind. There’s also the fact that Nintendo seems more willing to bring in and train younger people to be their future, and I’m not sure I see that reflected in the rest of the industry as much.

        • That was what I meant—that there’s just zero inclination to diversify at most of these development studios, both in terms of staff and genre. Sometimes, I wonder just how out of touch with the larger, more mainstream market our industry really is.

      • Göran Isacson

        I wonder if this talk is even aimed at the Triple-A industry, and more towards the other sides of gaming. Your social games, your indie games, etc. Sure, they may not have the budget to do some of the things Nintendo can do, but maybe the work methods will be much more helpful for them, rather than having a studio making simple games for facebook go to some big developers speech on how you can best utilize your imagiflops of data and fantazillions of polygons to render the ~PERFECT STUBBLE~ or somesuch thing.

    • Satori Satya

      “I guess indies could maybe get a little more out of this.”


      Animal Crossing producer Eguchi actually addressed indies directly with this quote:

      “We would love to work with you to help our franchises grow,”

      An invitation made there.

      Its all about Nintendo trying to get devs (indies at least) to learn how Ninty works with their games. And maybe start something together.

      Maybe that’s how a new Star Fox is going to be made.

  • I really liked New Leaf, but honestly it sold mostly because of the name alone. Thats how all Nintendo games sell.

    • Aaron K Stone

      Most people I know don’t know anything about what Nintendo makes outside Mario and Zelda. I’d hardly think animal crossing is quite on the same level.

  • Guest

    I really hope they made Animal Crossing for Wii U! They can use Wii U features to open up even more ‘communication’ channels; for example they could use the Gamepad for co-op, creating a collaboration setting for players to interact!

    • Wake

      Despite the Wii U being out for a while now, seeing Nintendo franchises in HD still amazes me. If they ever make an AC game for the Wii U I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

  • Wicked Rob

    I bought this game thinking there actually have some type of exploration but was sorely disappointed when i found out there was only the one town!
    Whats make the game fun if i may ask?

    • notentirelythere

      The game, barring time with friends, is really only meant to be played around 15 minutes at a time or so, once or twice a day. It’s more about relaxation and expression than excitement or accomplishment, which might not’ve been what you were expecting.
      Social interaction, self expression, collection, growth… the game
      gives players a lot of options within its limiting factors to focus on
      what they enjoy and pursue that, and discover new things. Compared to AC, sandbox games could feel detached, impenetrable, or arbitrary… those limits give context to interrelated actions and make the game hollistic and accessible.
      Compared to other social and routine games, it’s got a lot of variety and lasting power (esp. within the calendar system), direct social interaction, and personality. Personality is a big factor. It leaves a lasting impression on people. Well written villagers with apparent livelihoods and relationships, the way the environment and wildlife ‘express’ themselves with varying degrees of realism and abstraction, how they all interact with you as an individual… it’s easy to get emotionally attached to an AC game.

      • Guest

        I played so much with my little brother on Wii! Oh! The summers catching cicadas and the silly stories of Joey and Ruby :P

        For someone new I’d say it’s easier to “get” the game when playing along with someone else, as it creates competition, facilitates sharing stories/stuff, creates a dialogue about the game, etc.

    • I play each version in different ways (GC, Wii and now 3DS), but I like that it offers so many things to do and explore.

      For the GC one, I played it like a RPG in a way and created my own little world and story. In the early mornings before school, I’d check in on my town and take care of some chores and then when I got back home, I’d really goof off with villagers and do my collecting. I also loved fishing and getting fossils and bugs in this and the Wii one because of how much I could learn~.

      On the Wii one, I initially played it half solo and half with a friend online, and again recently as a “co-op” thing with my hubby. It was more for relaxing and enjoying small things that time around.

      Playing it now on the 3DS, I’m kind of mixing both previous play styles and something new. I love visiting other people’s towns, whether via dreams or just online, and I like kind of playing it like a RPG, but also using it to just relax, be a bit of a collector and designer and to interact with long distance friends.

      Really, there’s a lot of potential to be had, but it’s about how you go into the game, figuring out what you want from it and enjoying it at a proper pace.

      Like notentirelyhere said, it’s a thing a lot of people play in short spurts, but I tend to play for hours at a time and for long periods (but I also take month long breaks).

  • katamari damacy

    If it worked for Animal Crossing, do the same for Tomodachi Collection, so we’ll actually get it in the west this time.

    • GH56734

      It has the name input screen read it loud for you. This is absolutely not the reason for it not being localized, but…
      There’s some kind of violent and powerful curse surrounding localizations of games with this feature (Tengai Makyou IV, Tetra’s Trackers..).

      The DS one according to a interview was indeed considered for an English release, but… cultural and timing issues ruled it out. There’s a fan-translation, though.
      Wasn’t the 3DS one, like, announced? I hope they’re serious about that one. Not in a Nintendo Direct, though, which is odd.

      • katamari damacy

        I really hope they’re serious about it to. The DS one was great and far superior to animal crossing as it didn’t require you to constantly play and baby your town. It was a more indirect experience great for those who don’t have time to spend gathering fossils and being the sole donor to public works.

  • notentirelythere

    People chocking up great NL sales to just the name might be cutting things short.
    Social media being where it is now, at least through my limited observance of things, seemed to help give the game a longer life for long-time Crossers and pique interest rapidly among people new to AC. So at least, the times’ve helped… the ability to share screenshots helps anything and I have no earthly idea why Nintendo is so stubborn with that. God knows it helped NL.

    • Satori Satya

      I think going back to a handheld platform was the real key to ANL’s success.

      The last handheld AC title sold a lot (over 11 million). The console versions did not (relatively speaking).

      So I’m sorry about those asking for a Wii U version, but even the producers of AC have said that the franchise is a natural fit for a handheld system.

  • AlphaSixNine

    I still don’t understand why this game is so popular. It was just boring for me, tried it for a few hours and never touched it again. Guess it just isn’t my type of game.

    • GH56734

      Well, there are lots of people other than you who appreciated it.
      It’s in the realm of possible other tastes than yours exist, isn’t it? :)

  • yienwae

    I totally enjoyed this game. My son and I got to visit each other’s towns and we also played some games together on the island. We loved the Hammer game.

    This is a fun game for me and him to interact and for us to visit other peoples towns as well. Definitely my favorite 3DS game for 2013.

    And we are still playing it even to this day.

  • GW

    “a lot of time was spent on making the events within the game feel familiar for each region. Nintendo spent a great deal of time on culturalization.”

    Hmm…where are the permanent brown skin tone options. Tans do not count. And wearing Mii masks do not count. That’s just another form of isolating the “other”.

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