'We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works'
The runaway success of the online Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing also speaks to the appeal of unfamiliar virtual spaces. In Animal Crossing, players can interact with other online players rather than just the characters created by the game, and players who are friends in the physical world can link up in the game and host one another virtually on their “islands.” Crucially, in spaces like this, the norms and communication patterns of face-to-face interaction don’t exist. “We’re not necessarily expecting [a setting like Animal Crossing] to be the real world, and maybe that’s partly why it works,” Ellison said. She added that she wouldn’t be surprised if virtual-reality experiences also become more popular for much the same reason: They can offer people the ability to roam around and interact in unstructured ways, but with just enough novelty to avoid unfavorable comparisons with face-to-face interactions.
The most appealing multiplayer experiences I’ve had have been those that skirt normal real-life situations for something novel or limited.
Animal Crossing’s success stems from its low barrier to entry, simple obstacles, and limitless opportunity. Quite simply, it’s a sandbox. The hook is personalizing and collecting; both of which, by their very nature, are greatly enhanced by social interaction. And for a digital world, there’s no easier social interaction than digital socialization — i.e. social networks.
Social networks are asynchronous; not every post requires the attention of all, nor are posts layered on top of one another vying for attention; and they don’t require speaking, listening, or being bound to a location. Social networks are as individual as they are communal. For a game that’s being experienced in real-time in both hemispheres in every time zone, there’s an endless amount of creativity, exploration, and fun to be shared wherever and whenever you are.
Other novel multiplayer experiences I’ve had include puzzle solving The Witness and chirping in Journey.