While it might not grab headlines like it did in the spring, there's no denying that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of a few games that had an outsized cultural impact in 2020. Thanks to its wild popularity, customization features, and social aspects, it also quickly became a tool for brands of all kinds to co-opt. In what seems like an overdue move, Nintendo has just released some guidelines for "businesses and organizations" seeking to use New Horizons as a platform, and one bit stands out in particular.
The guidelines include a list of points that Nintendo asks businesses and organizations to abide by when using the game, and some of them aren't too dissimilar from conduct agreements regular players are supposed to abide by. Don't do anything that violates the game's E for Everyone rating, don't be discriminatory or offensive, and so on. Then there's this: "Please also refrain from bringing politics into the Game."
While Animal Crossing probably isn't top of mind on a list of tech platforms that can be used for political message (or malice), plenty have used it in a focused way for political purposes. Consider the Hong Kong protestors who contributor Alexis Ong profiled for the site back in April, or how Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited people's islands near the springtime height of the pandemic. Several months later, the Biden-Harris campaign even opened up its own island a few weeks before the election-from the sounds of Nintendo's new rules, protestors and even the President-elect are in violation.
Really, though, compared to the stampede of brands into New Horizons since its launch, the footprint of anything you might commonly define as "political" activity has been small. From fashion brands recreating their looks in-game to financial institutions running their own turnip exchanges, there's an entire class of (likely 20 to 30-something) ad people who've spent a chunk of their year getting paid to do "innovative" and "paradigm shifting" brand outreach in Animal Crossing. To me, at least, that seems like a more pressing issue than some in-game protest and campaigning.
It seems Nintendo's on the same page, though. Here's what the new rules have to say about in-game marketing in New Horizons:
Please do not leverage the Game as a marketing platform that directs people to activities or campaigns outside the game (including directing people to a sales page, distributing coupons, sweepstakes, giveaways, requiring consumers to follow social network services accounts, gathering customers' information, or other invitational activities).
Then, Nintendo adds that brands are "not allowed to obtain any financial benefit" from New Horizons, be it through selling designs or by earning advertising revenue. While that last caveat could theoretically be applied to streamers, it seems more like a way to stop, say, an influencer from selling ad space on their islands.
The point of all these rules, Nintendo says, is "to preserve the experience for the millions of people enjoying [New Horizons] recreationally." Frankly, the last thing Animal Crossing needs is to be like Second Life at the height of its cultural relevance: an advertising-blasted wasteland paved over an otherwise interesting social game. If AOC is reading this, though, please let me know if you ever want to visit Barkland. It has a nice fountain!