Nintendo is set to announce their latest mobile game later tonight, and there are only two options: Animal Crossing Mobile will either be the best Nintendo mobile game to date, or the worst thing ever.
The Tom Nook jokes have been flowing on social media since yesterday's announcement, most of them some form of, "Tom Nook is coming for your actual money now."
Tom Nook will put a loan on your irl house and ruin the player's financial standing— Anthony (@MacheteMcGoo) October 24, 2017
The scary thing is that he actually might be. You never know these days.
Whatever form it ultimately takes, Animal Crossing is bound to be monetized in some way. The only question is how far Nintendo is willing to take it. Here are a few possibilities:
The Best Possible Outcome: Animal Crossing Mobile is Just More Animal Crossing
This would be awesome, actually. Animal Crossing's structure makes it a natural fit for handheld platforms. It's no coincidence that the most successful Animal Crossings in recent memory have been on the DS and 3DS respectively. It's the kind of game that you randomly pick up for a few minutes to harvest food; chat with your neighbors, and log out again. The social features are especially well-suited for handheld devices.
A proper Animal Crossing on iOS and Android would be kind of amazing, to be honest. It would undoubtedly receive a constant stream of content, and its structure would make it perfect for randomly picking up during a commercial, on the bus, or during a boring dinner conversation.
Few games are better-suited for mobile than Animal Crossing. It's charming, relatively mindless busywork that doesn't quite too much thought, and its simple interface is well-suited for a touchscreen.
Make special outfits, accessories, or skins available through loot boxes or directly through a store, and you have a very viable business model for a free-to-play Animal Crossing.
The Worst Possible Outcomes
Of course, it's not a given that Nintendo will translate Animal Crossing directly to mobile. There are a few other models that would also make sense for Animal Crossing. Here are a couple:
- The Simpsons Tapped Out Model: It wouldn't be too hard to turn Animal Crossing into something akin to The Simpsons Tapped Out: an ant farm game where you periodically log in to collect coins and watch your little characters bustle around. Coins can in turn be spent on new buildings to build up your community... or you can just drop your cash and buy buildings immediately. It's a model that has worked well for some games; but with fewer iconic buildings, it won't translate quite as readily. Also, it loses out on the interactive aspect that makes Animal Crossing so appealing.
- The Fallout Shelter Model: This one makes a bit more sense for Animal Crossing. Instead of vault dwellers, you could acquire new townsfolk and set them to work on various tasks like gathering and fishing. The items they gathered could then be used to expand your village. This version would lean on a loot box model, with popular characters like Isabelle and Tom Nook counting as "epic" characters. You wouldn't be able to interact directly with your animal friends, but you would be able to see them interact with one another, which would undoubtedly lead to lots of cute stories. And you would still be able to decorate your town.
Either of these options would be a clear step down from classic Animal Crossing, but potentially far easier to turn into a viable mobile game. Fire Emblem Heroes is a recent example of Nintendo adapting a classic formula into a more familiar mobile format—the infamous "gacha" model. The core game could theoretically work just fine on mobile, but Nintendo decided to go in a more mobile-centric direction, and the same could easily happen with Animal Crossing.
Even if Nintendo decides to go with a relatively familiar format, there are plenty of ways they can muck up the works with micotransactions: cooldowns, limited items (aka the Pokemon Go approach), an excessive reliance on loot boxes, Tom Nook threatening to break your knees unless you pay your mortgage in real cash. If any game is monetization ready, it's Animal Crossing.
Happily, Nintendo has shown some restraint to this point. Both Pokemon Go and Fire Emblem Heroes have monetization, but you can theoretically enjoy both without having to pay any money. If you just play through Fire Emblem's solo content, you can build up a pretty team. It only gets dicey when you start playing competitively or, worse, go looking for a rare character like Takumi. Compared to other mobile games, they're positively tame.
But with Animal Crossing being literally about collecting money and buying upgrades, the temptation will be strong for Nintendo go with their worst instincts. My hope is that Nintendo will do the right thing and make a truly worthy successor for mobile. Because if any Nintendo series is meant for mobile, it's this one.
We'll know more when the info drops at 8pm PT/11pm ET. You can find all the info on how to watch the Animal Crossing Mobile stream here.