While I should be playing Horizon Zero Dawn DLC or finishing the Battlefront 2 campaign, I am instead catching butterflies to give to a talking eagle in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
This is Nintendo’s next big mobile offering, one that makes the most sense for the format since Pokémon GO, given that Animal Crossing is a game designed to be about checking in every so often without any real sense of urgency, and does not require intense graphics or deep gameplay systems. Perfect for mobile. Or at least Nintendo’s vision of mobile.
Yes, there isn’t much to it, it’s true. You farm items on tiny maps to give to talking animals to raise your “friendship level” with them. Being better friends gets you money and resources you use to upgrade your camp with furniture and other items, and the ultimate goal just seems to be being best friends with everyone and getting them to come party at your camp.
Animal Crossing is, as the kids say, “pure.”
I understand the complaints about the game not being as expansive as a traditional Animal Crossing title. There are far less characters to talk to, your campsite is much smaller than the usual town you have to manage. Every day seems to be the same, free from special events and holidays (for now). But I mean, that’s always what this was going to be. There is obviously going to be a fully new Animal Crossing game developed for Switch at some point, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Nintendo to avoid making that its free-to-play mobile offering. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp does what it’s supposed to, it serves as a great, endearing tease for the main series.
Annnd I don’t think it’s going to make Nintendo a ton of money.
Nintendo seems…hesitant when it comes to figuring out how to monetize its mobile offerings. Super Mario Run wanted to stick with a flat price even as the industry has rejected that practice, and it didn’t get the conversion rates Nintendo wanted. Pokémon GO has a store full of mostly useless items for players, though it’s made a lot of money through its size alone, while a game like Magikarp Jump can be played start to finish without the need to spend a single cent. The only traditionally monetized game Nintendo has would be Fire Emblem Heroes’ gacha system, but even that is pretty generous with its “earned” pulls.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this. It results in fundamentally better games when you’re not battling an obnoxious monetization system, but with a game like Animal Crossing, it’s easy to imagine that this is probably not going to be a cash cow for Nintendo.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp sells “leaf bucks” for real life cash, and they’re not exactly cheap. You do earn some early on in the game, but that gravy train will likely run out soon, as it always does in games like this.
But…this is Animal Crossing. This is a game about waiting around for things, and its laid-pack pace is part of its appeal. I really don’t know the kind of person who would pay for furniture items to be finished instantly with real life money in a game that’s just this relaxed. There are other uses for leaf bucks too, like accessing a specific map with valuable farming opportunities, but even that doesn’t seem necessary. Any time you pick up Animal Crossing there’s a bunch of stuff you can do, and I have yet to run into anything that feels even remotely like a “pay gate” where I lament my lack of leaf bucks.
This just isn’t that kind of game. With Clash of Clans, sure, paying to skip build timers on defenses or armies so you can rush back into battle is alluring, and people do it all the time. But paying a carpenter llama extra money so he finishes your new rocking chair so your camp can be visited by a talking golden retriever? That’s not something that screams urgency, and Animal Crossing fans have learned to be patient for years now.
This feels a lot like Magikarp Jump to me. It’s a game that’s really simplistic, yet fun and adorable, but has a monetization model with such a light touch that you can probably play the game every day and never feel the need to spend money. That’s great for players, but perhaps not for Nintendo’s bottom line. Games like these feel like they would be better off charging something up front, rather than relying on an awkward in-game MTX system, but given Super Mario Run and the overall state of the market, I can see why that’s being avoided here.
If you like Animal Crossing, or animals, or silly, chill games generally, I do recommend Pocket Camp. It is hard to envision this being a huge revenue driver for Nintendo, but in this age of loot boxes, it’s nice to find a home with games that avoid them completely.
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