Animal Crossing: New Leaf has been a major success in the Animal Crossing franchise. At Game Developer's Conference 2014, Katsuya Eguchi, producer and manager of Software Development Group 2 at Nintendo EAD and Aya Kyogoku, the director of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, spoke at length about the history of Animal Crossing and their approaches to bringing the franchise to the 3DS.
The New Leaf development team had many challenges, including how to improve upon a set game formula and how to eliminate the creeping 'series fatigue' in the minds of players.
Aya Kyogoku, the director of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, provided insight into the team's development process. The talk began as a postmortem of Animal Crossing: City Folk. City Folk was released on the Wii in 2008. The primary challenges of developing City Folk came from a simultaneous worldwide release, as well as struggling to keep the Animal Crossing formula fresh. With the somewhat mixed reception of City Folk, Kyogoku spoke about addressing the problems of the series head-on.
New Leaf had to encompass more than just new gameplay elements and content additions. In order to best approach the all-ages appeal of the game series, the development team was crafted to be internally diverse. There was a mixture of male and female employees of all age groups. Drafting new clothes, items, and animals was extended to all members of the development team, not left exclusively to the design team. All development team members could pitch rough sketches of content ideas and many of these new proposals were added into the game.
The diversity of the team helped create a more diverse experience for all players.
Each new Animal Crossing installment adds new items, clothing, and animals. But players were beginning to feel limited by series trademarks, such as moving into a new town alone, needing to take out a mortgage, and work for Tom Nook in order to pay back the debt. The key focus for Animal Crossing: New Leaf was to recreate the attachment to the player's town and its inhabitants. The development team decided to return to the roots and rethink the typical conventions of the Animal Crossing series. To do so, the team had to isolate the key strengths of the franchise.
Keys to Developing a Franchise:
- Clearly define the essential seeds of the franchise
- Share those seeds with the development team
- Don't be afraid of change, and spread seeds based on timing and hardware capabilities
The Core of Animal Crossing: Communication
In the formative stages of New Leaf, the development team distilled the primary focus and core of Animal Crossing to help the series grow and progress. Animal Crossing, as a whole, is a communication tool. The connection between the real world and the fictional world of the game was extended in several new ways.
The first focus was to allow the player to feel the presence of other players more directly. This would hold true regardless of whether an Animal Crossing player had nearby friends/family to participate in the game with them locally.
StreetPassing with the 3DS allowed the perfect vehicle for players to reach out to other players, and the act of showing off their item and clothing collections extended into social media and the online realm. The Dreamsuite allowed players to upload their own data and share towns easily.
Communication reaches beyond the game and links to real-life communication.
The ability for players to share various aspects about their town was the primary strength of New Leaf and the reason for its success. No longer were players limited in their interactions with others, and New Leaf created a wide variety of ways in which the player's town and house extended into the real world.
The features of the 3DS allowed Animal Crossing to better adapt to the social media sphere. Players can share pictures of their town on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook easily. The ability for QR codes to be utilized to share pattern and clothing designs allowed the community to foster even further. The sharing and communication of the in-town features provided more reasons for players to visit their town.
The official Isabelle Twitter Account, as well as Animal Crossing features through the MiiVerse and various contests held, help keep the interest in the game fresh, long after release.