Thursday, May 7, 2020

Living On Nuts And Berries: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

According to this news item on, seven million people downloaded Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp in April. I was one of them and yes, it was because of the "halo effect" of reading seemingly endless posts about how much fun people were (or weren't) having in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

As I mentioned when I first posted about it, I wouldn't have thought of using AC:PC as a substitute for AC:NH  had it not been for Jen of Book of Jen. I'll thank her again because it was obviously a good idea. She's still playing and so am I.

Isn't this the conversation I was having on Discord?
Had I taken the trouble to research Pocket Crossing before I installed it and started to play, chances are I wouldn't have bothered. As the GamesIndustry piece says, AC:PC "proved divisive at the time of its release, with its monetisation a particular point of contention". They quote Ars Technica calling it "a scam" and Kotaku describing it as "predatory" and "dishonest".

Which is odd. I've been playing the game almost every evening right before I fall asleep. It's very relaxing. I usually find my eyelids drooping before I've finished. Some nights it's as much as I can do to get the Kindle powered down before I nod off.

I usually play for about thirty minutes. Sometimes as long as an hour. In just under a month I've established my camp site, invited four or five animals to join me, acquired a cabin and added a second deck to my camper van.

Each session brings me a wealth of crafting materials, a lot of one currency and a little of another. To get them, all I have to do is drive around in my van, talk to the animals I meet and give them the things they want.

The things they want are fruit, bugs and fish. I get fruit from trees, fish from the sea and bugs from wherever I see them flying about.

Excuse me? Did you just call me a hippie?
As I give the animals presents and talk to them they come to like me more. When they like me enough I ask them if they'd like to join me in my campsite. They invariably accept but always have conditions. The conditions are always that I provide specific furniture.

I can make all the furniture they ask for. To make the furniture I use the materials and currency the animals have given me for the fruit and fish and bugs. It's a virtuous circle.

This isn't anything I would call "predatory" or "dishonest" let alone "a scam". The game is free and I'm playing it with considerable enjoyment at no additional cost. So far I can't see any reason why I would spend money on it.

It is slow. That I can't deny. I might call it stately. It has the sense of progression usually ascribed to tortoises, when being compared to hares.

The game has brakes. Each tree runs out of fruit after a single shake. You can only craft one item at a time. Many pieces take several hours to complete.

All of this can be changed. You can buy extra crafting slots. You can pay to have items completed instantly. You can pay to re-fruit the trees. All this takes in-game currency, which you can earn, but you can also buy that in-game currency for real money. The game reminds you of this, frequently.

Now that's what I call validation.
Only, I don't need to buy money. Or even want to. I don't want things to go faster. I like the pace just as it is. It seems perfectly judged, to me.

That slow pace is one of the main attractions. It makes the game feel solid, substantial, convincing. Every session I make significant progress towards the small goals I have. A piece of furniture queued. A level gained (yes, the game has character levels). A new animal added to my contacts. Paying to make it go faster would be paying to make it feel less real. Why would I do that?

And anyway, at the game's own pace, I have plenty of in-game money. When I went to get an extension added to my camper van last night the mechanic told me I would have to pay off my loan first. I'd forgotten I had a loan. I'd set it up when I wanted to change the paint job on my camper a couple of weeks ago.

I'd done nothing to repay it but there doesn't seem to be any interest so it didn't matter. It was the same 10,000 bells it had been. I had over a hundred thousand bells so I paid it off in one lump sum. Then I took out another loan for 30,000 bells so I could get an upper tier added to the van.

I could easily have paid off the second loan immediately but I thought I'd wait. By the end of the session I'd made back all the ten thousand I'd just paid and had more than I started with. That doesn't seem all that dishonest or predatory to me. I can't quite figure out how the three brothers who run the garage stay in business but then they are penguins. Probably best not to ask.

Those loans were in bells, which, I think, are what you might call the in-game-in-game currency. I get those by the thousand. The other in-game currency, the one you can buy for real money, is called leaf tickets. Those are harder to come by.

Wow! That got dark fast.
Even so, when I decided I'd really quite like to be able to queue up two pieces of furniture to be crafted overnight and had to come up with some leaf tickets to buy a second crafting slot, I found I had far more than I needed.

It cost me about ten per cent of the leaf tickets I had saved up to do it. That was almost the first time I'd spent any since I began playing and the first time I'd spent more than a handful. My leaf ticket income seems to exceed my leaf ticket outgoings by an order of magnitude.

None of this is really a surprise. It's just how I tend to play games. What does surprise me is how much I'm enjoying this one and why. It's the relaxing gameplay, yes, but it's also the strangeness.

I don't know how representative the animals in AC:PC are of the rest of the franchise. I know a lot of people don't consider it a "real" Animal Crossing game but I get the impression that's because of the restricted gameplay and the in your face microtransactions, not the animals themselves.

The animals are... how can I put this? Weird. There's really no polite way to say it. They are. Weird. The way they talk, the things they say, the way they dress.

Tonally, everything is very slightly off-kilter. It's quite hard to put my finger on why, exactly, but I can feel it.

I'd like to go into why that is in more detail but I'll have to think on it some more first. Anyway, it's nearly bedtime and I have a rococo wardrobe to make.

How many mobile games let you do that?

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