Crossing The Line: How I Helped Corrupt The Animal Crossing Economy

Crossing The Line: How I Helped Corrupt The Animal Crossing Economy

During the holidays we’ll be publishing some selected features from the past 12 months. A mix of talking points, interviews, opinion pieces and more from NL employees and contributors, you’ll find our usual mix of thoughtfulness, expertise, levity, retro nostalgia and – of course – enthusiasm for all things Nintendo. Good holiday!


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Photo: Roland Ingram

It is midnight at the pier. I check that I’m alone, feel nervous in my pocket and count the money with my fingers. It’s all there: 40 massive sacks of coins. Large pocket. I flip open the lid of the wheel housing and dump the lot. 4 million clocks erased from the universe and no one ever needs to know.

How did it come to this? Shoving currency in the trash in the middle of the night? Well, you might not realize that Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ playtime materialism has evolved into a greedy, underworld sub-game with a powerful twist, which Nintendo never planned to make. I had discarded my integrity long before the bells. I wanted out.

Shopping in the hometown

For many people, spring is when Animal Crossing is in the air. The early days of the pandemic were when we first stuck our heads in the sand on deserted islands and let our imaginations take us away. So I recently felt like revisiting my old home, confusing visitors with its weirdness, and seeing the new trinkets added in update 2.0.

My go-to site for browsing the game’s catalog is Nookazon – the unofficial commodity exchange for islanders who want to trade but lack a private community to do so. After all, I can quickly acquire everything listed thanks to my 2020 turnip boom fortune.

I found that since 12 months ago NMT had halved in value counter-clockwise. One reason was predictable, another unforeseen. However, a third event was so catastrophic that the entire Animal Crossing economy may collapse

Surprisingly, lots of interesting things had arrived since I last looked, so I started a shopping list to decorate my paradise. As always, furniture items of random origin in the island store were plentiful and cheap – “cheap” being a few hundred thousand clocks or so. With tens of millions in the bank, you don’t even think about it.

Villagers, however, remained the big-ticket status symbols. For the evergreen Raymond, say, the bells will not be enough. Nook Miles tickets – a trick to obtain and of little in-game use – appeared early in the game’s lifecycle as a high-value currency. Last year a stock of 400 NMT was worth about 10 stocks of bells – 40 million. Since New Horizons requires you to carry, drop, and pick up your trade currency one inventory slot at a time, flying between islands, disconnecting, and reconnecting through an annoying online game system to update your inventory, there was never a 40 million bell trade. durable. NMTs solved that problem.

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Now I know that all this is one very a far cry from the sluggish activity of “pure” Animal Crossing on lazy days, so bear with me, but those playing the markets rely on the occasional smattering of a few million clocks to maintain their prudent trading practices. As it might be for the rich in real life, money doesn’t mean anything to us – it’s a technicality we have to click through while getting only what we want.

However, I found that since 12 months ago NMT had halved in value counter-clockwise. One reason was predictable, another unforeseen. However, a third event was such a catastrophic shock that the entire Animal Crossing economy may be about to collapse.

High risk investments

The first reason was that the market was gradually flooded with NMT. Without much of a purpose in the game, NMTs are never used up; they just circulate between players, and the supply gradually increases as players “coin” more by grinding. Bells, meanwhile, are consumed in-game by each player, spending millions on mortgages and island development. Once used in the game, the bells are out of circulation, which naturally limits access. Anticipating this during the boom, I hedged my capital investments across bells and NMT to reduce risk. This paid off and I returned this year to a healthy portfolio.

The unexpected change, however, was the automatic clock dispenser. ABD is a new (as of 2.0) ATM item that can be used of the island’s visitors. ABD removed island hopping from multi-stock watch trades and made, for example, a trade of 12 million bells suddenly viable. Bells grew in spending power through sheer practicality, improving their appeal to Nookazon traders and reducing demand for NMT.

So the market settled on around 50,000 watches for NMT – until the third, catastrophic event: the “treasure islands”.

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Photo: Roland Ingram

Treasure island owners hack their islands to load them with megastore rows of coveted goods, then open them up for visitors to fill their pockets (often in exchange for Twitch engagement, which means potential real-world cash). For many, myself included, it crosses a line between manipulating Nintendo’s built-in games and simply not playing the game at all. Without even getting into Animal Crossing economics, it undermines the healthy, hard-working ambitions of other skippers who neatly swap furniture.

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But it’s kind of exciting, don’t you think?

Of course – of course! – I never wanted to seek out a treasure island. But with increasing frequency they came to me. A trader hanging out on my island offered a “free” visit. I saw several Nookazon profiles cheerfully noting their 900 million kroner bank balances. Vibe: “I’m in the club – are you?” Two others offered to pay for large commodity trades with access to the treasure islands in lieu of bells.

As my annual ACNH enthusiasm waned, I realized that this time I might never get back to the game. I felt I should explore one last aspect of the weird and wonderful gaming community. I crossed the line.

Pirate’s Gold

Following Nookazon chat instructions from a fellow merchant, I entered a dodo code and boarded the flight. Perhaps, I thought, my game would be ruined or, somehow, I would receive a merciless encouragement. But after spending two years of enthusiasm for the game, I decided, So be it.

As my annual ACNH enthusiasm waned, I realized that this time I might never get back to the game. I felt I should explore one last aspect of the weird and wonderful gaming community. I crossed the line.

Treasure Island was a bizarre place. The terrain was leveled for neat times with objects, categorized and clearly marked. The language of the ACNH is inevitably concrete and tangible: to get scary goods, you literally have to go around and surf.

Another player rated frog chairs as a pensioner comparing supermarket avocados. But, instructed by my Nookazon colleague, I skipped everything: I was to go directly to Nook’s Cranny, the island store, collect exactly one stack of turnips, go in and sell them. The price offered was minus 65 million watches – bankruptcy, for sure! Nothing happened: I pressed ‘A’ and whispered goodbye to Animal Crossing.

But at home, I checked the ABD, and sure enough: an astounding 999,999,999 bells. I wasn’t really sure what to do. With my fair 70 million from commodity trading, money was already no object. What difference now? In the end it was just an interesting experience.

“I think I’ll go pay off someone’s mortgage,” I said in the Nookazon chat. “That’s fine,” came the reply, “I’m going to buy a 50 foot robot.” There was honesty in it.

When someone visited to receive my charity, they told me their entire mortgage, that they dreamed to pay back was—wait for it— 374,000 bells. What?! What an absurdly small amount! I often had so much rattling around my pocket after a bit of shopping. It shamed me that I could have been paying off mortgages left, right and center in the last couple of weeks. Here I was injecting dirty money into the innocent island economies of hard-grafted, like-Nintendo-minded gamers, sullying their escapism with my unseen greed, when I could easily have been a real Robin Hood all along.

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There was no way to undo what I had done. Now, if I ever wanted to trade—my favorite part of the game, in case you hadn’t guessed—I’d chuck rotten chopped bells into the global pool. No way to undo it at all. Unless…

The Shoreside Redemption

Throwing a billion watches in the trash is no small job. Thanks to the lovely one-inventory-load-at-a-time system, I needed to take out, carry and dump 250 lots of 4 million bells – with 39 seconds in my pocket. You do the math.

Actually, allow me: it’s three hours without clicking.

I don’t know if that act of penance can amount to my absolution, but in any case it would take more than just my billion to save the Nookazon economy. As of now, NMT has skyrocketed to prices a year ago. More worryingly, significant trades are dangerously scarce. With so many bells rattling around, no one wants more of them. The kind of people who have hundreds of NMT to trade away are no longer looking for money. Most large NMT listings request collections of items sellers are looking for, which in effect constitute personal shopping requests.

So what does the future hold? This reduced fungibility of NMT will affect their value; gold and wood may return as reliable commodities, or the entire capitalist mercantile culture may simply collapse in on itself. Perhaps a more humble custom will emerge from the ruins of bartering items for items—things to actually be used, not stored. In turn, the treasure islands will lose their appeal, as simply accumulating wealth does less good.

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Photo: Roland Ingram

Having scraped into the darkest caves of greed, I won’t pretend that my own tropical paradise could ever be so innocent, but I hope players with a purer heart will be left with the game Nintendo set out to make.

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