Iwata left “dumbfounded” by Animal Crossing: New Leaf success


Within an interview with Nikkei (translation from NeoGAF), Nintendo president Satoru Iwata expressed his surprise not only at how successful the game has been selling digitally, but also the demographic it is attracting.

“For a game that costs 4800 yen to sell 500,000 copies without a discount because it is a download is quite an event,” he explained. “Using our Club Nintendo system we can learn the gender and age of our customers. If we look at the first three weeks of Animal Crossing sales to the end of November, the highest group is 19 to 24 year-old women.

“This is an age-range that is typically found in fewer numbers for Nintendo. I’ve never seen anything like it; a game that sells like this on a Nintendo hardware.”

He continues, “However, something interesting is the gender of 3DS purchasers. If we look at the male-female ratio as a whole, it divides into 69% males, 31% female, but if we limit it to just those customers that purchased the hardware at the same time as Animal Crossing the percentages become 44% male and 56% female. These are the sort of numbers that leave me dumbfounded.”

In an age where everyone is decrying games consoles in favour of smart phones and tablets, Iwata sees this as something that reaffirms the appeal of Nintendo’s products to consumers.

“The common argument going on right now is that since smart phones exist, there’s no need for specialised game machines anymore, right? But, these 19 to 24 year old women are the ‘smart phone people’. We often say that casual female users do not need specialised gaming machines, but here we see them reconfirming the value of those systems.”

Animal Crossing: Let’s go to the City proved a commercial failure on Wii, despite the success of its Nintendo DS predecessor. Whilst Iwata admits this, it proved a useful moment of reflection for the company as to what went wrong.

“On the (previous generation) Nintendo DS, Animal Crossing received high praise and shocked the world by selling more than 5 million copies [domestically], it become one of the representative games that people would buy for the system.

“However, the Wii version, it was highly anticipated and we released it into the world but it didn’t go very well, right? That game is, for us, one with many points of reflection.”

Such an instance was used to spearhead the development team into once again pushing boundaries, and ensuring that they were able to provide much expansion within the next entry that would debut on Nintendo 3DS.

“At that point, the core members of the Animal Crossing team used this reflection as a spring board, saying ‘Let’s make the next game one that our customers can really enjoy’. I would go so far to say that I honestly felt a tenacity from the nuclear members of the development team.

“This time, there are many features inserted that make you say ‘You can do this thing?’ and ‘It goes that far?’. In addition, to add an example, the ability we added to create furniture with interesting designs and share it through various means, coupled with our customers’ creativity created an amplification of sorts. It was really interesting.

Social media has proved an essential part of spreading the appeal of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, with users able to share screenshots with friends and other players through Twitter.

“What really helped to spread this around was social media, and smart phones. What really sold Animal Crossing to women this time was, without question, smart phones.

“Because you can take screenshots anywhere during the game, people are uploading the shots to social media and say ‘Hey, look what I did’ and everyone gets excited. For example, there are plenty of people who have tried and enjoyed the game after seeing people they follow on Twitter talk about it fondly, then developing their own interest and trying it out for themselves.”

Iwata has also been surprised to see just how well-received the Nintendo Direct centred upon Animal Crossing: New Leaf was, which has surpassed 1.6 million views on YouTube.

“We deliver videos called Nintendo Directs to explain about our strengths via video sites, and the ‘Introduction to Animal Crossing’ video has received 1.6 million hits on YouTube,” he explains. “What’s more is that over half of those views have taken place from smart devices.”

“The game became a topic on social networks, then people would say ‘Watch this and you’ll understand’ and people go ‘Well, that’s cool’ and bought it. It’s not a 3 minute music video, and so for a 47 minute video with developers talking casually about a game to have 1.6 million views is almost impossible, like really something unusual, I think.”

He closed, “Not one of the developers was thinking about how many units the game would sell. They were purely focused on creating a game that the users could say ‘Yes, this game satisfied me’ and focused on improving a game series they love. And with that, hundreds of thousands of people have spent over 20,000 yen for a single game and the hardware. That’s not a method or phenomenon that many other game developers get to experience, I imagine.”

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