Why is Animal Crossing so popular?

Players can’t help but be drawn into this series and the lovable characters that inhabit it.

Why is Animal Crossing so popular?

Animal Crossing is popular because it’s relaxing, it’s charming, it’s extensively customizable, and there’s always something to do on your own or with other players. 

All of these elements have helped the most recent game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, shift more than 40 million copies worldwide and become Japan’s best-selling video game of all time. Nintendo has hit it out of the park with its exclusives in this generation – no wonder the Switch has sold so well

Let’s dive into what I think makes Animal Crossing so great:

It’s so relaxing

I feel so out of my depth when I jump into FPS online matchmaking these days and the enormous skill trees and the sheer volume of tasks in your average RPG can get a bit overwhelming.

New Horizons, on the other hand, allows players to slow down and take things at their own pace, and I appreciate that. A perfect game to pick up for a 30-minute session, even if you haven’t touched it for weeks. 

There are no set goals or objectives, so you can simply enjoy the experience of living. No rat race, chores, or bills (you don’t have to pay Tom Nook). Just chilling with your buddies. 

Not every Switch game needs combat and competition: New Horizons forces me to slow down and relax. Others might think one of the factors below is more important in making this game so popular but, for me, this is the key.

It’s so charming

Animal Crossing is nostalgic comfort. It’s melancholy yet warm. 

The whimsical graphics, for example, clearly don’t need crazy power to render but they evoke a sort of easy warmth that is lacking in so many other games that push hardware to the limit.

Screenshot from Animal Crossing New Horizons showing player pushing snowball past cute NPCs during winter

How can you look at your round little neighbors in their quaint little houses or waddling around the town square without thinking it’s the cutest thing ever? 

The music adds just as much to the charm of the game as the graphics do. Every time I think of Breath of the Wild, I can hear the music and sound effects in my head – they create such an incredibly immersive experience. For me, the New Horizons sound direction achieves the same. 

Multi-hour compilations of Animal Crossing soundtracks have got me through many a boring day at work. I think the way they gently signal time, change, and action is masterful.

There are always things to do

Always having things to do doesn’t sound like the most relaxing thing ever. But imagine if no single one of those tasks was particularly hard, and there wasn’t really any pressure on you to complete them.

In that context, those little tasks become therapeutic rather than troublesome. 

The game’s day-night and seasonal cycling, which mirrors real life, just adds to the immersion and, well, the addiction: I’m constantly popping into my save to see what might need to be done. 

New Horizon’s social mechanics are great, too. Trading items and playing mini-games with your real-life mates is nothing revolutionary, and it’s not the first good Switch game for couples to play, either.

But the way all of this fits into the game’s open-ended design is what gives it such unique replayability.

The customization

You can customize your character, your home, your neighbors, your neighborhood, your everything in New Horizons. It’s one of my favorite Switch games for customization options.

That gives players a real sense of ownership and I almost feel something like a responsibility (in the most relaxing sort of way) to take care of my in-game avatar and community. 

There’s a cozy sense of accomplishment in the constant, positive development going on in your Animal Crossing life, your house, and your village. It’s lovely. 

Plus, when you’re struggling to get on the housing ladder in real life, gradually upgrading and adding little bits to your house really does feel like the next best thing. 

I think customization options are always big drivers in player retention and community building for games and series (if you don’t provide them, players will find ways to mod stuff in, anyway). 

Giving everyone the tools to create their own unique slice of the game is a great way to build a dedicated fanbase. 

Series loyalty

All the points I raised above – the chill vibes, the charming presentation, the busy but stress-free gameplay loop, the customization, and the social interaction have helped Animal Crossing build a loyal fanbase since the series’ first entry on the Nintendo 64.

The sense of personal investment into each New Horizons save creates a deep emotional connection to the game that few other titles can match.

It’s become a sort of detox for hardened gamers and Nintendo newcomers alike. 

(Un)fortunate timing

The Animal Crossing series is, of course, great for all the reasons mentioned above, and many more besides.

However, I obviously can’t ignore the fact that the most recent release, New Horizons, was released in March 2020 – i.e. just as the world began to seriously respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That year is a bit of a blur: For many people around the world, it was an incredibly stressful year of loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of income, loss of social interactions… the list goes on. 

New Horizons seems like it was designed specifically to alleviate worry, help players decompress, and to make people smile – it couldn’t possibly have come at a better time for me and so many others.  

What makes Animal Crossing so popular? Final thoughts

Animal Crossing‘s popularity can be attributed to its relaxing gameplay, charming presentation, constant activities, customization options, and the way it facilitates social interaction. 

Its emphasis on slowing down and taking things at your own pace is a refreshing change from other fast-paced, high-stress games and the emotional connection that players feel with the game and its characters has helped create a loyal fanbase for the series. 

Additionally, the release of New Horizons during the COVID-19 pandemic provided a much-needed escape for many people during a difficult time.