Animal Crossing is a video game series in which a player moves to a new town and integrates themselves into the community by talking to the animal villagers who live there, completing errands for them, and building and customizing their own home. The first game was released in 2001 and there have been 11 console games released since. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) is a game Nintendo fans have been eagerly awaiting since the launch of the Nintendo Switch in March of 2017, as the last full installment in the series was released in 2012. Nintendo released Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp in October of 2017 to tide over fans waiting for a new game to mixed reviews. Players were excited to see the villagers they loved from previous games in this free-to-play phone app, but the gameplay was a stripped-down version of even the oldest Animal Crossing game and fans quickly lost interest.
When New Horizons was announced in September of 2018, players were excited to hear that the game would be released sometime in 2019, but were disappointed in September of that year when Nintendo pushed the release date to March 20th, 2020, saying that they wanted to “ensure the game is the best it can be.” In the few weeks before ACNH’s release, concerns about covid-19 were growing in the United States, with many colleges choosing to transition to online classes. Many people speculate that this is what contributed to the game’s unprecedented success. So far, the game has made over 13.4 million dollars in the six weeks it has been released, making it the best-selling Switch game as well as the [best-selling Animal Crossing installment] (https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-05-07-animal-crossing-new-horizons-hits-13-4m-sales). The game has become so popular, in fact, that it is now incredibly difficult to buy a switch for retail price – prices on eBay for a Switch are up to $250 more than Nintendo’s. With this incredible popularity, there have also been a lot of complaints from fans.
On April 1st, Nintendo announced a 14-day-long event called “Bunny Day”, a secular version of Easter. With this unskippable event, item drops were drastically changed – instead of getting resources that allowed players to craft what they wanted, they were now getting almost nothing but colorful Bunny Day eggs. While this might not have been a problem under normal circumstances where players were not playing for 8 hours a day, the frenzy with which people were playing ACNH meant that this cute event infuriated players worldwide. Personally, I had completed all of the tasks for Bunny Day by April 3rd. This left me with 11 day of useless eggs on the horizon – until Nintendo succumbed to player requests by drastically reducing drop rates of all egg types on April 6th. Phew. While the eggs were still annoying, they were no longer overtaking player’s islands, making the game playable for those like myself who had finished up the Bunny Day goals (what felt like) eons ago.
I found myself wondering how Nintendo had been pressured to make such dramatic changes in such a short amount of time – something nearly unheard of. I knew that video game reviewers and normal players were trashing the event online, especially on Twitter. Unfortunately, Twitter only allows access to the previous 7 days’ worth of tweets with a free account. Therefore, I moved to Reddit, where there are several communities dedicated to Animal Crossing. I chose to search r/AnimalCrossing rather than the more specific subreddit r/ACNH because r/AnimalCrossing has more active community members (as of writing this, subscriber numbers are 33.6k vs 22.6k).
I extracted data from r/AnimalCrossing using the RedditextractoR package with the only criteria being that the title included the phrase “ACNH,” as that is the most common way fans refer to it. This gave me a dataset with each comment on posts with ACNH in the title. I decided that rather than looking at just posts regarding Bunny Day, an analysis of how players were feeling about the game generally would be best.
My prediction was that sentiment in these comments would be high when New Horizons first released, would tank on April 1st or 2nd, and rise after April 6th.
Using sentimentr, I ran a sentence-level sentiment analysis on each comment, the results of which can be seen below in Figure 1. In addition to this, I averaged each days’ comments together, resulting in Figure 2. As we can see in Figure 2, comment sentiment about New Horizons has increased since February. Unfortunately, averaging each day’s sentiment seemed to delete points for many days, so Figure 2 is only useful for visualizing the data in a less messy way.
I next plotted a line that connected each day’s average, as seen in Figure 3.
As we can see from Figure 3, sentiment towards the game doesn’t really seem to change between 3/9, before the game was released, and 5/4, the most recent posts available. This is entirely contrary to what I expected to see.
There are a couple of explanations as to why my initial prediction was wrong, the first of which is that Reddit isn’t exactly ideal for this sort of analysis. Because it is a forum, it is hard to take into account photos or videos that may be attached that could have an entirely different sentiment from the title. There is also not a way to take into account whether comments are on the original post or as a response to another comment made it. It is feasible that a parent comment could have a negative sentiment and the comments on it were in agreement to the negative sentiment but being processed as positive.
I believe that if I had been able to access all of the Twitter data I would have needed to run a similar analysis, these issues could have been reduced if not gotten rid of entirely. There is still the issue with not being able to process photos, but there wouldn’t have been as much comment confusion as I would have just been able to pull all of the tweets tagged “ACNH.”
An issue that both platforms would have run into is something inherent to sentiment analysis. Sarcasm is hard enough to recognize over the internet for humans, so it is not likely that sentimentr would realize that a comment such as “oh yeah I really love bunny day this is great” could mean the exact opposite.
In the end, though, even if we did not see the expected pattern of sentiment in Reddit comments, there was enough pressure from other sources on Nintendo to decrease egg drop rates to a reasonable amount.