While Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be getting a massive version 2.0 update and paid DLC in the form of Happy Home Paradise, Nintendo has also announced that these additions will be the last major content updates for the game that has sold over 33 million copies since it launched in March 2020.
In an era where season passes and battle passes and DLC are the norm, why does Nintendo continue to leave behind some of its most successful games, which could live on as live-service games? And even if “live service” is a step too far, Nintendo could still be finding ways to keep its biggest games supported in an era when launch day is hardly ever the last day most games see updates.
While Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t the only Nintendo game that could benefit from sustained post-launch support, the seemingly abrupt end to its major updates is perhaps the best example of the opportunities Nintendo is missing out on. Animal Crossing has all the makings of other continually updated games like Destiny, Fortnite, Final Fantasy XIV, and Call of Duty: Warzone. When it’s October 14 in our world, it is October 14 on your AC island (unless you’ve changed your clock). Things are constantly changing – seasons, weather, items, holidays, etc. – which means there consistently can be something new to find.
This set-up could be perfect for the constant addition of furniture, DIY recipes, game modes, cosmetics, and other elements that would allow Animal Crossing’s creative community to thrive. All of that comes at the cost of more development, sure, but with such a success as New Horizons, which has an audience clearly eager for more, the payoff seems like it would be there.
If this were any other developer besides Nintendo, you could imagine a world where there were actual content seasons in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, where there are free and paid content drops every few months. An MMO like Final Fantasy XIV, for example, usually always has some big expansion on the horizon, like the upcoming Endwalker, and smaller events, like the Halloween-themed All Saints’ Wake, leading up to them.
In a version of Nintendo’s What If…?, an alternate universe could see a Metroid Dread-themed season arriving in time with the game’s launch in Animal Crossing: New Horizons with items, costumes, furniture, and much more inspired by our favorite bounty hunter and her world. While crossovers are always wonderful, these updates could be a mixed bag of paid and free DLC that add reasons for players to come back for more. Not everyone may be interested in a paid Metroid-themed DLC pack, but some might love new free items to help ring in Christmas or the New Year.
Nintendo has actually experimented with this a bit in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android devices, and it gives fans an idea of what this more live-service take on Animal Crossing could be. If you were to log on to Pocket Camp today, you would see a few paid add-ons that deliver more than what is offered to all who start the free-to-play title. Pocket Camp’s extras are, of course, built on a free-to-play model that wouldn’t necessarily work for players of a full-priced console game, but if Nintendo already has an Animal Crossing it knows how to support so constantly with new updates, why not apply some of that thinking long term to New Horizons?
Granted, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has had a ton of free and wonderful post-launch support in the form of new cosmetics, items, seasonal goods, features like swimming in the ocean, and more. But support doesn’t have to end less than two years after launch. There could be room for a mix of continued free support like an improved and less-eggy Easter event that comes with some type of new themed items alongside paid upgrades like a new Island to explore or even The Legend of Zelda expansion packs timed to the series’ anniversary or new releases like the Breath of the Wild sequel.
Another living sim, The Sims 4, has demonstrated what years-long support can look like. There are countless Expansion, Game, and Stuff packs for the latest Sims, all of which offer different amounts and types of new content to expand upon the base experience. These are all completely optional, but their goal is to draw certain groups of people back into the world of The Sims 4 or keep them there longer.
Animal Crossing could have this type of support that could continue for years on end, much like The Sims 4, which just celebrated its seventh birthday. But Nintendo chose not to go that route, and this wasn’t the first time it has done so.
Nintendo’s Inconsistent Post-Launch Support
2019’s Super Mario Maker 2 was primed to be a live-service game that would continue to get support in the form of new items, objects, and themes. When it launched, the base game included Game Styles modeled after Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. These styles would change not only the look of your levels to match a different Mario game, but it would add items and movement abilities from each specific game’s world.
Those four game styles were carried over from the original game, but a fifth – Super Mario 3D World – was the sole new addition and was placed under “Extra Game Styles.” The plurality of “Styles” gave hope that we would one day see other art styles introduced into the game. Alas, Super Mario Maker 2’s final update arrived less than a year after its launch and dashed all hope of this platform becoming something greater than it already was.
This abrupt end or lack of sustained support is a pattern for Nintendo, as while it can provide substantial post-launch content for its games, it does so for such a short time when taking into consideration how much these games are selling and how much the community surrounding them loves playing them. And that’s true of so many types of games, not just ones that could fit a live-service structure.
This point is further seen in Nintendo’s very inconsistent approach to post-launch DLC. Some games, including Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Pokemon Sword and Shield, received strong post-launch support. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in particular was on the brink of becoming a “live” game before the announcement that Kingdom Hearts’ Sora would be the final fighter added to its impressive roster that saw 12 new characters join the fight.
While that was great for fans of those games, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Nintendo Switch’s best-selling game with 37.08 million copies sold since June 30, 2021 – received very little in the way of DLC besides such small additions as Link’s Champion’s Tunic and Master Cycle from Breath of the Wild and support for Nintendo Labo.
All one has to do is look at the support of the mobile game Mario Kart Tour, which currently has 130 playable characters and 65 race courses, to see that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe could have, maybe, benefitted from another update or two. While Nintendo obviously shouldn’t adopt a mobile approach for its console games, an extra DLC pack or two of tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe ahead of the inevitable Mario Kart 9 (or whatever it may be called) would have undoubtedly been of interest to some of MK8D’s 37 million players. Surely, Nintendo could have found some middle ground, right?
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Looking outside Nintendo, another racing game – Forza Horizon 4 – took a totally different approach to its game updates and built its foundation on a platform that recently saw its 37th series update. Forza Horizon 4 was released in 2018 and was supported with a bevy of new cars, paid Fortune Island and LEGO Speed Champions expansions, iconic cars from franchise’s like James Bond, a collaboration with Top Gear, a battle royale-style mode called The Eliminator, a returning feature in Horizon Promo, and much more. Support for Forza Horizon 4 has slowed down in preparation for the launch of Forza Horizon 5, but there was consistent, meaningful support for nearly three years.
Of course, one of the gold-standard live-service games is Destiny 2, which launched in 2017 as a traditional first-person shooter game and has since transitioned into a free-to-play game that is much more in line with an MMO. It has seen numerous expansions and has many more on the way, including The Witch Queen expansion in February 2022, the addition of battle passes, and much more.
Destiny 2 has also become something more than a game, as a quick stroll into its community will show you constant conversation with the devs on how to improve the game, artwork that draws on the best it has to offer, celebrations when players discover a rare Exotic of a Legendary with a great roll, and even events like GuardianCon that were started as a meetup of sorts with a shared love of the game that are now raising over $3.7 million for charity. Bungie itself even participates in these events and raised over $400,000 in 2019.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ community has a similar passion for the game and the community-created content is truly impressive. These creations took on more significance as Animal Crossing was released during the COVID-19 pandemic that kept many of us indoors for extended periods of time and away from our loved ones. It brought the world together during one of its darkest times, and that need for togetherness helped propel the game to something akin to a communal beacon of hope.
This bit of hope came in the form of weddings taking place in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Gary Whitta’s Animal Talking Late Night show that debuted new music from Shaggy and Sting, an Animal Crossing meets Survivor mashup game that was a hit on Twitch, celebrities – including former U.S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden – offering up tours of their own Islands, clever uses of the added Mario-themed items to make actual platforming courses, wonderful and hilarious works of art made with its in-game tools, and SO much more.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game that is meant to become your own, one that many people have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in with no plan on stopping. Then why is Nintendo choosing to stop its support? Well, probably because Nintendo never does what we think Nintendo should do.
We’re talking about a company that chose not to bring a thriving Virtual Console on the Wii U with games from NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and TurboGrafx-16 to the Nintendo Switch. Many figured that a new way to play these classic titles would be on its way shortly after its launch in 2017, but we are just getting a small list of N64 games four years after launch.
Speaking of N64 games, the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack service that includes some of that console’s biggest hits alongside SEGA games, bundles in Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Happy Home Paradise DLC as a perk of the subscription plan.
While Nintendo hasn’t confirmed it will add other games’ DLC to this service, including Happy Home Paradise may be a sign of things to come and could explain why Nintendo isn’t choosing to make its most popular franchises adopt live-service models. To Nintendo, these add-ons could be a gateway into locking players into their subscription service, year after year. Instead of just trying to reach a specific player base for a specific game, it could push its Expansion Pack membership and capture even more players than it would otherwise with included offerings of different games over time.
Nintendo Switch owners, perhaps more so than any other platform, buy these systems for that particular type of “magic” Nintendo sells. The attach rate for Nintendo games are much higher than other games, with Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe setting records by being owned by more than 50% of Switch owners.
If this is the case, why would Nintendo, who is already behind the pack when it comes to its online offerings, focus on following trends set by its competition when it can pave its own path with a more traditional-style philosophy that has kept them in business since 1889 and put them on top of the U.S. monthly hardware unit sales chart for 33 months in a row.
Live-service games are great for some, but when a company like Nintendo can capitalize on nostalgia and release Mario Kart 9 and sell another 30 million units or launch Animal Crossing: Tom Nook Strikes Back with the next Nintendo console and do the same, maybe the company sees the smaller victories of a DLC/live-service appetizer that you don’t excel at as a non-essential when it can hit grand slam after grand slam by serving yet another main course?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, trying to guess Nintendo’s next move is a fool’s game, yet that is what often makes it so successful. While it’s had some major misses like the Wii U and Virtual Boy, its successes, including the Nintendo DS family’s sales of 154.02 million and Game Boy/Game Boy Color’s sales of 118.69 million, are some of the best this, or any industry has ever seen.
Sure, we all would have loved to have Animal Crossing: New Horizons continue to grow and evolve over time, but Nintendo has now given us the keys to that mission while it sails on to its next adventure. As we design homes and sip coffee with our favorite villagers, Nintendo will be hard at work making that next experience that will capture not just our imaginations, but most likely 20 or 30 million of our wallets as well, live-service or not.
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Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.