Animal Crossing in China: An Unexpected Succes Story During COVID-19

by | July 14, 2020

Animal Crossing in China: An Unexpected Succes Story During COVID-19

July 14, 2020

The coronavirus lockdown has turned young people in China into involuntary homebodies. As a result, many in China are playing a game called “Animal Crossing” using the Nintendo Switch. It has become a popular way for the young Chinese to fulfill their social needs without leaving home.

“What is a Nintendo Switch?, What can players do in ‘Animal Crossing?, How can it be that Animal Crossing is so unbelievably populair in China?” People start to search for the answers to these questions as they see all the social media platforms flooded by keywords such as “Animal Crossing”, “Switch”, “islands”, and “turnips”. As part of the thriving stay-at-home economy, the success story of Animal Crossing in China is an interesting case for businesses to learn from.


Getting to Know Animal Crossing and the Nintendo Switch

What is Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is a game console developed by Nintendo, one of the world’s largest video game companies, headquartered in Kyoto, Japan. Targeting game lovers from 15 to 30, the Switch has been providing its users with a unique, interactive, and consistent game experience as both a home console and portable device. The ‘multiple gaming options’ provided by Switch allow players to enjoy games wirelessly and online with their friends and family anywhere.

During the lockdown, socializing through Nintendo games has become a popular approach of Chinese people to save themselves from isolation boredom. Among over 2000 Nintendo games, Animal Crossing is the most discussed one, and went viral in China in 2020.


What is Animal Crossing

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a social simulation video game developed by Nintendo. Priced at around 350 RMB, it has been a great success in China and the world. Within its first 6 weeks of release, “New Horizons” sold for 13.41 million units worldwide.

Taking place in real-time, Animal Crossing strengthens the connections between the virtual world and the real world. The game provides its players with a “Utopia” to pursue whatever lifestyle they dream of. Players are free to do anything they like including crafting items, designing clothes, going fishing, interacting with anthropomorphic animals, and most importantly, visit the islands of other players. For people who have been living under a rock for months because of COVID-19, Animal Crossing offers a possibility for them to socialize online with ease.


Young Chinese People Socializing via Animal Crossing

If Chinese young people are made to choose the most vulnerable layer among the 5 layers of “Maslow’s pyramid of needs” during quarantine, the third layer which displays people’s need for relationship building and socializing, is very likely to receive the most votes.

Animal Crossing in China

Problem: Unfulfilled Social & Entertainment Needs in Real Life

Due to self-isolating at home every day, many people were having these two questions in mind:

  1. How do I make my life at home more fun?
  2. How do I better connect with my friends and family?

These questions reflected the two major problems that Chinese people, especially young people, were facing during quarantine. Namely, a lack of entertainment and a lack of social interaction. Apparently, things that can be done in-house are limited. Likewise, ways to connect with distant friends and family are nothing more than texting or making calls. Given these facts, people started to look for better and different solutions to fulfill their needs.


Solution: Joining the Animal Crossing Virtual World

Coincidentally during the  Covid-19 lockdown, the new Animal Crossing game was launched.  It might not be a perfect solution, but at least it was worth trying. Soon, Chinese young people began to enjoy the game and exploring its features. It did not take long before people started promoting the game to their friends, or in actuality to anyone that might be interested in joining the Animal Crossing community.

“Having fun” and “socializing” are the two main incentives for people to play the Animal Crossing game. In real life, one might not be able to meet anyone outside of their homes, while in the Animal Crossing world, one can visit their friends and family by traveling to their islands. On these islands they can talk to real people represented by different characters, make new friends, and even go on a date. Being able to maintain the existing relationship and build new ones help satisfy people’s socializing needs and contributes to their psychological health.

Moreover, when there are friends to play with, having fun in the Animal Crossing world becomes even easier. The hashtag “Creativity in Quarantine” was one of the most trending topics for the past few months, and this tag can definitely be used for the Animal Crossing players as well. Players in China use their creativity to decorate their houses, celebrate festivals, craft their own products, and do business in the virtual but vibrant world. Some players even extended their businesses into the real world and made real profits.


Stakeholders Benefitting From The Animal Crossing Trend

As Animal Crossing went viral in China, many stakeholders took advantage of some of the out of the box opportunities that this new phenomenon provided.



Of course, one of the main beneficiaries of the Animal Crossing craze is the maker of the Switch, Nintendo. The “Animal Crossing Effect” has driven the sales of Nintendo Switch considerably- the unit sales of Switch reached 3.49 million globally within one quarter. Nintendo reported a 200% jump in profits amid the coronavirus pandemic, with an operating profit of $2.83 billion from January to March 2020. In addition to the financial benefits, the increasing brand awareness of Nintendo also aligns with its future plan of expanding in China.


The Fashion Industry

Other stakeholders include industries and businesses that are directly or indirectly related to the game. One example is the fashion industry. Many fashion brands have noticed the huge potential in promoting their products in China through Animal Crossing.

Net-a-Porter, the world’s leading online luxury fashion retailer, is the first fashion e-commerce platform to monetize the opportunity of launching fashion items on Animal Crossing. By collaborating with famous designers in China, it offers virtual avatar skins to the players and redirects them to T-mall online shops where real clothing of the same designs are offered. Noticing that Net-a-Porter successfully attracted much attention, international fashion brands such as Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, and Valentino also ventured into Animal Crossing to increase brand exposure.


Other Businesses

Apart from the established fashion brands, individual designers are also selling their virtual products on Animal Crossing on platforms like Weibo, where the topic “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has 250 million views. Interestingly, the strong purchasing power of the game players captures the attention of some credit card marketers in China. Co-branding with popular games and providing game-related services is not a new idea for promoting credit cards, but it still excites the banks. The Industrial Bank, a commercial bank based in Fujian, China is already providing a 15% cashback for players who make a certain amount of oversea payments for games.

While Animal Crossing is a creative game, businesses are using creative methods to benefit from its great success.


What Businesses can Learn From the Success Story of Animal Crossing in China

Nintendo has certainly written a success story with the title of “Animal Crossing”. Below are 3 general takeaways from the story that might be helpful to your business:


Spot the trends

There were several trends that gave rise to the Animal Crossing craze in China. First of all, the trend of “everything online” lead to the thrive of online games and platforms. Secondly, the trend of consumers being more financially conservative forces businesses to provide products that can fulfill urgent needs. The third trend is “escaping from anxiety” in China makes Animal Crossing more attractive to Chinese people who just want to do “meaningless tasks” and relax. Animal Crossing’s popularity in China has given rise to fashion brands marketing in-game and even the production of a Nintendo Switch that is aesthetically “Animal Crossing” themed.


Focus on needs

This sounds cliché but businesses tend to forget about the importance of thinking from the customers’ perspective. Nintendo understands that people are social animals, therefore an interactive game that allows the player to connect while being their ideal selves caters perfectly to the customers. During lockdown, people’s socializing needs have become stronger than ever, making Animal Crossing’s success an even bigger one. Being able to identify and focus on the needs of the customers is essential for any business to succeed.


Prepare for challenges

Nintendo is fully aware of the fact that its success in 2020 is largely based on the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, they worry about what their business will look like the in new normal. This shows in their fairly conservative forecast for the fiscal year ending March 2021. Moreover, Nintendo is working on improving its supply chain, which is negatively impacted by COVID-19. Instead of cheering for the current success, Nintendo focuses more on risk management and adapting changes, which is a great example of a long-term vision.

“Just because we started with nothing, we are able to do anything we want.” This slogan of Animal Crossing can be used for all businesses as well. If you are interested in discussing what your business will be able to learn or benefit specifically from the success story of Animal Crossing or other brands, 1421 Consulting Group would be delighted to provide you with any support you need. Please do not hesitate to reach us at