Animal Crossing New Horizons Three Years of Controversy

Picture of my villager in a newly decorated room

At the start of 2020, Animal Crossing New Horizons made its timely appearance just before the nationwide quarantine was implemented. Since its release, Animal Crossing, developed by Nintendo and released on March 20th, 2020 after an unexpected delay the previous year, has had a significant impact on the media.

Animal Crossing is a life-simulation game with a large teen and adult fanbase. The game is centered around living with talking animals, decorating your house, and doing tasks to obtain “bells” (the currency in the Animal Crossing series) which you can spend to get more desired items like furniture and tools or pay off your debt. You can build friendships with the villagers and even do tasks for them, earning you rewards. You can also start a garden and breed a variety of different flowers.

Animal Crossing New Horizons introduced a new feature to decorate outdoors, bringing a level of creativity to the community that has not been seen before. You can decorate your island any way that you want and explore different themes. There is no main plot for the game but the lore can be explored through various dialogues of certain characters.

Person holding Nintendo Switch (Mister Mister (

ACNH was subject to many controversies throughout its short lifetime, mostly due to its lack of content, burnout, the Sanrio disaster, and the infamous “Black Market”. Despite the negative events that occurred, Animal Crossing New Horizons has introduced the series to millions of new players and has become one of the best-selling Nintendo Switch games.

By the end of March 2020, people around the world had to be quarantined due to the spread of coronavirus. Since millions of people were instructed to stay home, the demand for at-home entertainment skyrocketed. The change in demand worked in Nintendo’s favor with the release of New Horizons as people began to buy Nintendo Switch consoles just to play the video game. The game became viral on the internet, introducing the series to an immense amount of people. The game has grown so popular that politicians like Joe Biden have used the game to promote their voting campaigns. At the height of New Horizons popularity, KFC created an island with a cute restaurant decorated with red and white colors. They even made a Colonel Sanders villager who roams the island.

A few months after New Horizons’s debut, players began to notice the lack of content in the game. Many fans of the series were dissatisfied since they had already done everything the game had to offer at that point.

The updates that followed ACNH’s release caused an uproar because fans felt that the updates were only adding content that should have been there “since the start”. Many fans complained that Nintendo wasn’t adding anything substantial or expanding on new content.

“Even as someone completely new to ac [Animal Crossing] I agree these things being added should’ve been there from the beginning, I got bored pretty quickly with the game bc [because] of the lack of things available and wondered why people love the series so much to find out past games had so much more.” Twitter user @bloomphases commented under a thread.

Near the end of 2020, most of the player base was becoming burnt out with the game. People started losing interest in the game and abandoned their islands as a result. Players blamed Nintendo due to their lackluster updates while others blamed it on the pandemic causing people to spend more time on electronics than usual. Some fans concluded that Animal Crossing was not meant to be “grinded” or played for extremely long periods of time. It was meant to be a relaxing, casual experience.

In Animal Crossing, players usually grow attached to certain villagers and desire to have them on their islands/towns. There are many ways to get your desired villagers but most methods require luck and can be very time-consuming. The most popular way to get your favorite villager is through villager trading which is efficient and less luck-dependent. Nookazon and Reddit are some of the most popular websites for villager trading. In the community, the villager trading industry is nicknamed the “Black Market”.

The Animal Crossing Black Market became controversial due to the unethical nature of selling and buying your own residents. Typically, players desired villagers that looked “cute” or “normal” rather than villagers with unconventional designs. Villager trading stirred a debate among Animal Crossing fans. Some fans believed that this was unhealthy for players since it portrayed human trafficking. Others disagreed with this notion since this claim seemed implausible. Fans argued that the villagers don’t have real emotions and trading for desirables is just like any other online game.

Another major controversy that occurred was the Sanrio disaster. Nintendo announced in a tweet that they would start selling their Sanrio collection cards in America, introducing content themed around the popular “Hello Kitty” franchise. The new pack contains all six collectible cards. Target was set to distribute the cards through online purchasing and pick-up on March 26, 2021. However, this was not the case.

Screenshot of the Sanrio Villagers in Animal Crossing

On the morning of the release, the website was not working for most people due to the overflow of bots and buyers. This left out a majority of fans since scalpers began purchasing the cards quickly. Many Target stores were selling out almost instantly. The collection packs were listed on eBay minutes after the release for three times the original price.

Those who managed to purchase the cards online may have lost their orders because buyers would go to Target and purchase the cards there. Target employees were not aware that the cards were meant to be bought online so they unknowingly put the packs on shelves.

The event has had a personal impact on me as well. As the event became more disastrous with buyers losing their purchases, I was becoming more desperate. I decided to physically go to the Target stores in hopes that they will have some packs left even though I knew that the cards were meant to be bought online. At the time, it felt like it was my only option if I were to ever get the cards. I spent hours checking the Target stores near me but they all sold out as quickly as they came. I was lucky a friend bought an extra pack for me but thousands of fans were not as fortunate.

Many fans blamed Nintendo for not supplying enough cards while others blamed Target for not preparing their website for the high online traffic and informing their employees about the distribution of the Sanrio cards. Shortly after the disaster, Nintendo noticed the outrage and began supplying Target and many other stores with the Sanrio cards giving fans another chance to buy the packs.

On a lighter note, Animal Crossing New Horizons has become one of the best-selling Switch games at approximately 40 million world-wide sales according to recent statistics. Currently, it is in second place under Mario Kart 8 by a couple of million sales. Thousands of new players are getting the game every week and the community is still expanding.

As of 2022, Nintendo has not shown interest in keeping consistent updates in the game or taking advantage of its huge success which is disappointing to many hardcore fans. The release of the Happy Home Paradise DLC in 2021 gained traction but nothing significant has come to light since then.

Recently, fans have taken matters into their own hands and begun showcasing mods in Animal Crossing. Modding has steadily grown in popularity following the release of the final major update. Animal Crossing’s longevity is still going strong due to the creativity of the community.

While the hype has died down since ACNH’s launch, the game has garnered a large and dedicated fanbase to keep the community alive until the next installment of the series.