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Animal Crossing: New Horizons - the beginning of another digital market

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Recreated sweater from Dris Van Noten Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 collection. / Crossing The Runway
Recreated sweater from Dris Van Noten Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 collection. / Crossing The Runway

By Joel Cho and Chyung Eun-ju

Released right in the middle of a world health crisis, Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers a lot more than just entertainment during these times of quarantine.

This edition, like the other Animal Crossing games, is a social simulation game where players explore a deserted island, interact and make friends with cute animated villagers and build a virtual life for their own personalized avatars.

So it comes to no surprise that New Horizons was a commercial success, whether this shares any correlation with the fact that a lot of people are social distancing at the moment or not, the game has provided a break from these difficult times.

A new feature of the latest version of Animal Crossing is that players get extended control over the game. They can now customize and design their shops, homes and outfits, providing a platform for creative people to explore and create during these times of social distancing. The high-level of customization allows players to create a virtual reality that feels a bit closer to the real thing, where they get to customize homes and dress their avatar with designs created by them or other users.

The New York-based creators of the popular Instagram account Crossing The Runway (@crossingtherunway), Richmond Young and Shel Orock ― players of the game since 2002 ― were making their own designs since 2014 when players could share designs publicly through QR codes.

"At the time, most existing custom designs stayed within the context of the game ― they fit a kawaii aesthetic or referenced anime, for example, really no luxury clothing to the degree we are seeing today," they explained.

The launch of this new game coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus throughout the globe, a moment where most people found themselves quarantined, with a plunging economy that left them with canceled projects and clients pulling out to make ends meet.
Kara Chung, a Manila-based fashion photographer, was one of the people who found themselves with a lot more time in their hands due to the sudden fall in demand in their industry. So she turned to gaming as a distraction from these uncertain times, where she soon started recreating garments from renown fashion houses and posting her creations on to her Instagram account Animal Crossing Fashion Archive.

Following a sudden popularity in her social media platform, Chung was tapped by Hypebeast, i-D, and Highsnobiety to create an in-game studio with virtual models to design editorials through Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Speaking with the creators of Crossing The Runway, other people like themselves and Kara Chung started using the game to recreate looks from famous designers, accounts like Nook Street Market, Animal Cross Fits and Crossing the Runway are paving the way to a potential a new form of marketing.

"We both love fashion so we wanted something that better combined the game with the specific fashion we are interested in," said Young and Orock. "We liked the idea of being able to access the latest coat that might be way out of our budgets or getting a chance to wear iconic pieces like Raf Simons' Picasso Sweaters at Jil Sander. So one of us said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if my character was wearing this season's Prada?'"

So with this growing trend of recreating fashion looks in the game, many creative spirits started sharing QR codes for their designs so other players could customize their characters with their favorite looks, allowing them to express their creativity within the game by dressing their avatar. Other users are also joining in this exchange by posting creations under the hashtag #AnimalCrossingDesigns.

This growing trend clearly perked the interest of several players of the fashion industry, who are looking for ways to recover the loss in demand caused by the pandemic. Recently, esports label 100 Thieves released virtual versions of all of its real-life gear in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. So it seems that companies are collaborating with creative people to recreate their looks visually and offer them free to any interested player, which also ends up as a new means for marketing.
Sharing virtual renditions of designs that grow in popularity, even only within the bounds of a video game, can still spark desire for players to own the exact outfit with which they customized their avatars.

The street wear industry, along with the fashion industry in general, experienced a very abrupt change of realities, with fashion shows finding themselves at a halt, if not already cancelled, and sales continuously decreasing. Stores across the world closed their shops, brands are increasing their digital capabilities to try to make up for the loss ― the industry is facing an uncertain outlook.

Right now, brands have made digital marketing an urgent priority. According to the Business of Fashion and Mckinsey & Company report, "The global fashion industry's reliance on digital channels has accelerated faster than anyone could have anticipated."

As more and more consumers turn their consumption to alternative social channels, brands are in the race to become digital frontrunners. So, can Animal Crossing provide an effective digital marketing platform for street wear brands?

To understand the game's popularity, it is relevant to note that it sold 1.88 million physical copies in the first three days of its launch in Nintendo's home market, hitting a record high, according to Famitsu, a Japanese video game magazine. And despite Nintendo not disclosing the number of downloads the game has had, there is no question that the game has a huge following, being a prominent topic in various social media platforms.

Although the game does not provide a direct way for people to monetize their in-game creations, a parallel market has surged in real life, where players head to their social media and even eBay to sell special furniture, custom clothes and wallpaper.

"In a lot of people's minds the gaming industry and the fashion industry don't mix," elaborated Young and Orock. "There are stereotypes that the gamer doesn't care about fashion, and the fashionista doesn't play games. This is such a misconception. Everyone plays some form of video game whether it's e-sports or mobile gaming or something in between, and video game characters need to wear some form of clothing.

"The fashion industry already benefits from influencer culture why not through video games?"

Even with all this popularity, it is still too soon to point out if Animal Crossing is effective as a marketing platform, but frontrunners like 100 Thieves, Dolls Kill, and TOQA seem to believe in such potential.

Designers, art directors, photographers are also recreating showrooms and virtual campaign videos; among them are contemporary designer Carl Jan Cruz, Fortune W.W.D. art director Isai Araneta and photographer Renzo Navarro.

Many Reddit users are showing off their designs on one of the biggest online street wear communities, "r/streetwear". Highsnobiety quickly joined in by commissioning some of its pieces from their Inner Life Collection for the game and shared the code free. Fashion magazine Garage held an "Animal Crossing fashion shoot" with the Instagram handle @nookstreetmarket to photograph recreations of Thom Browne, Loewe, and Miu Miu.

Even the Getty Museum in Los Angeles began to offer an online tool that allows users of the game to decorate their homes with more than 70,000 artworks featured in the museum, all of which were recreated for in-game use.

As Animal Crossing seemingly becomes an alternative creative outlet for most during these difficult times, an important question arises: should companies focus their marketing to less traditional forms amid the uncertainty of the future?

Whether the game has ignited a mere "quarantine trend" or established the beginning of an actual digital market, the undeniable fact is that companies, especially those that used to rely on in-person social forms of interaction with its customers, are realizing the need to adapt to the possibility of a completely different post-pandemic world.

Eun Ju Chyung ( and Joel Cho ( are editors at WTFMAG (


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