Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Is Spawning Real-Life Commerce

Nintendo Co.’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons has proven more than just an oasis of calm in the coronavirus storm. In China, the video game has spawned an entire virtual marketplace of online goods that are paid for with real money.

Such is the demand for Animal Crossing digital decorations and animated friends that a legion of e-commerce hawkers has emerged, selling almost everything a player needs to perfect their video game island abode. On Taobao, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s internet marketplace, there are already more than 4,000 Animal Crossing stores. Nintendo explicitly forbids the practice, but New Horizons isn’t officially available in China, and gamers there are already accustomed to buying gray-market copies of lots of things online.

One Taobao vendor, who asked to be identified only as Pamela, says she’s made more than 100,000 yuan ($14,100) acquiring and selling Animal Crossing items since the end of April. The veteran apparel-shop owner started her new venture after she bought six Nintendo Switch consoles and some add-on software that allows her to churn out infinite resources in the game by changing its code. She’s hired three staff, who each have two consoles and work in shifts to connect in-game with buyers. The money she’s made has easily covered her 60,000 yuan initial outlay. Customers spend around 50 yuan each on average, she says, though one splashed out 800 yuan to buy some new online interior decor that Pamela designed herself.

New Horizons is the fifth title in the Animal Crossing series and was released in late March, when most of the world was already in some sort of coronavirus lockdown. The game, a simulation of idyllic, pastel-colored island life, was an instant hit. Players can fish, garden, do a bit of carpentry, or just hang out with friends—mundane real-world activities that took on a delicious quality when everyone was confined to their houses. Its cartoony style and relaxed gameplay were a perfect digital antidote to Covid-19: New Horizons quickly became Nintendo’s best-selling Switch debut, also helping to spur console sales.

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