Animal Crossing: New Horizons one year later – how Tom Nook’s island getaway took over 2020
On the anniversary of the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, we look back on the incredibly successful year it had
t’s no exaggeration to say that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has enjoyed a wildly successful first year. With over 31 million copies sold, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is officially the best-selling game in the series’ history and the second-highest selling Switch game so far. For many players, as evidenced by those sales figures, the arrival of Tom Nook’s island getaway seemed to come at precisely the right time. Launching March 20, 2020, the release of New Horizons coincided with the beginning of lockdown in the UK and parts of the US. When everyday normality was stripped away, this island getaway offered a space for us to reclaim a sense of freedom and routine that had all but vanished in reality.
As time in lockdown continued to stretch on through the days and months, our virtual islands became so much more than an escape – they provided an outlet for creativity and became a platform for us to connect to the outside world when we otherwise couldn’t. As serendipitous as the game’s release window was, no one could have quite predicted just how successful New Horizons would go on to become or how important it would be to so many players in the weeks and months that followed.
Celebrations and creativity
The confluence of events external to Animal Crossing: New Horizons put the game in something of a unique position. As an online experience, it was able to bring people together at a time when many couldn’t leave their homes. As mandated lockdowns became the new normal, live events, celebratory plans, and large gatherings were canceled; suddenly, it started to feel like the world was standing still, and all of the excitement we may have had for the year ahead began to dwindle.
But here was New Horizons, a game that offered a place for you to freely roam sandy shores and craft a world that could be wholly yours. It became a place to celebrate real-life milestones, with players throwing birthday parties for friends and family that they couldn’t be with. People even got married on the virtual shores of the game, threw ceremonies for graduations, and tried to recreate canceled holiday trips. It might not have made up for everything, but the creative sandbox nature of the world of New Horizons helped so many be together and find joy in celebrating big life events they would have otherwise missed out on because of the pandemic.
Not only that, but it also served as a platform for a talk show hosted by Rogue One screenwriter, Gary Whitta. If you’d have told me at the start of 2020 that Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, would be interviewed in New Horizons as his Animal Crossing villager, I never would have believed you, but it’s just one of the many surprising ways New Horizons has brought people together in the past year and filled the gap in the absence of actual events that would have taken place if not for lockdown.
The timing of its release no doubt contributed to New Horizons’ success, but its continued presence on social media and ability to provide a platform for different communities to connect transformed it into something of a cultural phenomenon. Beyond entertainment talk shows and mile-stone celebrations, well-known art galleries provided access to real artworks that could be added into the game, and an international virtual Pride event took place in New Horizons with Global Pride 2020. Even more people began boarding virtual flights to islands of their own thanks to its prevalence in the public eye, and a passionate community of players behind it.