Inside the Wild, Sometimes Shady World of Animal Crossing's Trading Sites

Inside the Wild, Sometimes Shady World of Animal Crossing's Trading Sites

Players are chasing illustrious profits through trading sites.

Turnips rule the endgame of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Animal Crossing's omnipresent root vegetable forms the basis for something like a miniature stock market, where in isolation, players can gamble on profit or loss with turnips. Buy in bulk on Sunday, and you have a week to wait and see whether Nook's Cranny will buy high or low, with prices fluctuating twice a day.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn't just let players buy and sell turnips on their own island, though. They can also fly to other islands to sell at a profit—a potentially massive one. It's easy to double, triple, or quadruple your original investment, making you a veritable "Bellionaire" overnight. That home renovation just got a lot more realistic.

With these two factors—open online cooperation and potential for virtual profit—it's easy to see why so many services have sprung up around the "Stalk Market." While an Animal Crossing player can gamble on their own island's highs and lows, it's easier to congregate in groups, making a regular weekly profit much more achievable. It's the basis of many services and Discord servers, like Turnip Exchange and Stalk Market.

But as interest grows, so does the potential for wrongdoing. Griefing and scams are one obvious issue, but even real money and terms-of-service issues can come into play. That's not to mention how many people are playing and engaging with these services—though turnips have been present in other Animal Crossing games, New Horizons is both wildly popular and exists in an age of widespread communication outside the bounds of Nintendo's ecosystem. This isn't just the stalk market, but the stalk market in the age of Twitter, Reddit, and Discord.

As third-party sites ramp up around Animal Crossing: New Horizons' rampant popularity, we talked to some of the developers behind these popular tools to see how they keep it honest.


Luke started out just selling turnips as he played Animal Crossing: New Horizons. "In the first week, my friend actually convinced us to sell on Monday morning because he was so paranoid," he jokingly tells USgamer.

But soon, Luke developed his own method for tracking the fluctuation of turnip prices—Stalks.io, an app that allows friend groups to track each other's turnip prices. It's similar to many popular services, including one of the most well-known, Turnip Prophet, and it's seen its share of engagement. Luke says he saw 550,000 sessions in a total of three weeks after launch.

It's one small example of how large these systems are becoming. Turnip Exchange and The Stalk Market are two notable examples of major turnip exchanges. Rather than track prices amongst a group, these servers let users buy, sell, or even trade on a larger scale. Sometimes this means just sharing when an island has a high-spiking turnip price, or potentially hunting out needed materials to swap with other players.

An example of how Turnip Calculator tracks turnip trends over time. | Turnip Calculator

These third-party Discord servers boast thousands of active users, and every week, they queue up to sell turnips at the best possible profit. At first, it can seem communal and mutually beneficial. It's not uncommon for players to leave tips, a practice that isn't mandatory. At least, not at first.

Over time, the systems have become more complex. Christian Ceciliano, the creator of Turnip Calculator, has spent over 100 hours creating his tool for tracking the ups and downs of turnip price fluctuations. Jaku, a streamer who runs Turnip Exchange as part of Warp World, used his previously developed "multiqueue" system to sort incoming turnip hoarders and match them with players whose turnip prices had spiked.

A regular peak for Turnip Exchange, as Jaku tells us, is 20,000 active users. To manage crowds of that size, the system pulls in codes and verifies it, taking out the "guesswork," as Jaku puts it. Matching buyer and seller flows pretty effortlessly, as users queue up, go to an island using a Dodo Code, sell their turnips, and head off on their merry way.

Some Turnip Exchange islands ask for an up-front entry fee. | Turnip.exchange

The Cover Charge

As these systems grew, an etiquette soon emerged, and was gradually enforced. Players started getting bouncers to ensure that visitors left a satisfactory tip. Griefers emerged too; those who promised one deal, then offered another. These days, it isn't too uncommon to see "entrance fees" for some islands, where players have to pay up just to get in and sell some turnips.

Nookazon doesn't deal in turnips. It may be one of the largest trading sites for Animal Crossing: New Horizons around, but as creator Daniel Luu notes, the turnip market is fairly saturated. He sticks to more tangible and permanent commodities: fossils, furniture, villagers, that sort of thing.

Others, like Luke at Stalks.io, also want to keep away from stepping on other sites' toes. If everyone starts competing with each other, it could cause schisms for those just trying to make turnip profits. "Each site is doing such a good job of what they're specifically trying to do that it's a better experience for the community the way it is right now," Luke says.

That doesn't mean they're without their fair share of griefers, though. Luu's also seen bots appear as well. To combat this, he has both a volunteer staff who checks up on issues, as well as built-in tools like a review system to help identify those who game the system.

"I wouldn't say it's zero," Luu says of the amount of scammers he's seen on Nookazon. "We've had a lot of scammers. Not an overwhelming amount, but we have a mod team of about 30 people, and they definitely keep busy making sure the site is clean and safe."

Some top villagers and their respective Bell prices on Nookazon. | Nookazon

The addition of paintings threw a new challenge at Nookazon: Redd's art shop can sell both real paintings and fakes, meaning there wasn't just room for outright griefing, but more subtle bait-and-switch exchanges. He says his team ultimately added a tool on the site that shows the real paintings side-by-side, in order to ensure players are buying the real (or sometimes even fake, if they want it) piece of art.

Griefers, bots, and even spammers are all issues that surface when a server like Nookazon, which currently boasts over 200,000 members, hits that level of awareness. When it gets that large, costs start to come into play: the time of additional staff to moderate both deals and chat is costly, and if a service operates off its own server like Turnip Exchange, it needs to cover that expense too.

Some third-party Animal Crossing: New Horizons services run on a completely voluntary basis. Others that have grown to significant size, like Nookazon and Turnip Exchange, have instituted a Patreon.

Some of these backer tiers carry mostly superfluous benefits, like a Discord "role" or badge. Others, like Turnip Exchange, allow priority access to services. For Nookazon, the Patreon supports server costs; in Turnip Exchange's case, the Patreon money goes towards both server costs and supporting the staff of Warp World, a sort of parent organization to Turnip Exchange.

For the Exchange, server costs are not an issue, but more Patreon cash will help them compensate those who are pitching in. Jaku tells USG that he was laid off in March, allowing him to focus full-time on Turnip Exchange.

Following the Code

There has been controversy over how extensive these outside services can grow, however. A Twitter thread was started by Stalk Market, where the decision was made to not use the multiqueue system on its own Discord server. The thread questioned whether Turnip Exchange's ability to detect the validity of Dodo Codes and current island occupancy violates Nintendo's Terms of Use.

According to Nintendo's Terms of Use, as highlighted by Stalk Market, Animal Crossing users agree to not attempt to reverse-engineer aspects of the game in order to discern key source code. It also prohibits third-party applications that might scrape data for the purpose of aggregating or distributing data.

A short snippet of the thread in question. | Twitter

Celestialrage, who heads up the Stalk Market Discord, tells USgamer they have received a number of libel accusations from the community over that thread, as well as a few doxxing and death threats. Stalk Market utilizes its own queue system, "Mae-bot," which runs on a "faith" system. "We trust that the user will input the correct data," Celestialrage says.

An apology was later issued over the Twitter thread, and the Turnip Exchange team also addressed allegations with a statement that Jaku shared with USG when asked for comment.

"Whether Nintendo would think we violate their ToS, and if they would act on that, we of course can't say," the statement reads. "If they did act, we think the most likely outcome would be some slight changes to Turnip.Exchange, not the banning of individual users who hosted or visited an island."

Luu says that Nookazon has also avoided anything aside from user-side input, to abide by Nintendo's terms of service. He's also made the intentional choice to avoid using real-world money, sticking only to in-game Bells.

"We're really focused on being the safest and most trusted in-game trading platform," Luu told USG. "So we want to make sure that all of our players are getting exactly what they want and not getting scammed. So it is much easier to just stick with the in-game trades versus real money."

For now, things seem to have quieted down since the Twitter thread's scuff-up. No bans have been issued as of yet due to Turnip Exchange's Dodo Code validity check. Nintendo did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

Community and Profits

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an infectiously bubbly life-sim, centered on cute animals and the islands they inhabit. But whether it's the high costs of upgrading an island, the allure of decorated cityscapes dotting the landscape, or just the sheer boredom of quarantine, services have quickly elevated the most avaricious aspects of the game.

Still, community has continued to play a key role. For every scammer or griefer, players have shared anecdotal evidence of kindness, generosity, and positivity. Without the advent of social media and profit chasing through turnips, we might not have stories of celebrities visiting fans' islands. We might not be making and maintaining all the online connections we have and now often cling to amid social distancing regulations.

Each of these services found an express benefit they could provide to the community, whether it's calculating profits or matchmaking buyers with sellers, but the end result is often a community. Where a day trader deals in lifeless, uncaring letter sequences, Animal Crossing's stalk market sends players to visit each other's homes and share. Tools like Stalks.io encourage groups to play together and share. Reviewers on Nookazon praise a good seller's efficacy.

With so many sheltering at home, it's easy to understand the allure of chasing top Bell earnings every week. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is also the first major entry in the series that has to contend with so many ready, willing, and able avenues for exploiting its systems.

Nintendo has already had to lower interest rates in a patch. Aside from potential ToS concerns and the scare of spammers, the biggest concern might be that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is approaching an inflation problem. Nintendo could continue to address this in future updates by raising costs or adjusting the economy, but these services have opened up higher-than-ever potential for profits. The series previously known for its crushing debt has slowly had its economic peaks and milestones worn down to a smooth highway.

"The economy of this game is most likely ruined because of Turnip Exchange, other websites and communities," Jaku says. "Everyone can be a billionaire."

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Eric Van Allen

News Editor

Eric is a writer and Texan. He's a former contributor to sites including Compete, Polygon, Waypoint, and the Washington Post. He loves competitive games, live music, and travel.

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