7.3 million sales don't lie
Almost half of the people that worked on Animal Crossing: New Leaf are women. When its director Aya Kyogoku started with Nintendo in 2003, she was the only female game designer there. A decade later and that's no longer the case.
Both she and New Leaf producer (and original Animal Crossing director) Katsuya Eguchi credited the series' success on the diversity of teams making them in a GDC postmortem. When Eguchi was leading the first game, he made a point to compile a team with people "from various backgrounds and with various life experiences."
With more women at Nintendo, Kyogoku had an even more diverse staff. "Diversity in the development team contributed to diversity in the content," they concurred. New Leaf has sold 7.38 million units worldwide -- more than award juggernaut The Last of Us. Maybe they're onto something.
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It wasn't just a diversity of staff, but having the mindset and culture to benefit from the diversity. Ryogoku channeled Legend of Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma noting that with New Leaf, the team "had to change and innovate" and "looked closely at series fatigue" after the more tepidly received City Folk.
Wild World, which embraced the same starting formula (indentured servitude and predatory loan practices), sold ten times more than the GameCube Animal Crossing. That, "made us too afraid to change the formula," Ryogoku said. "Mistakenly we assumed that we should continue to utilize [the starting flow]."
Revitalizing the franchise post City Folk "wouldn't be as simple as changing something on the surface or adding content." Instead, the team sought after what it felt was the "root" of the series. "One phrase that sums it up: Animal Crossing is a communication tool."
So the team worked on features that encourage communication. The Best Friend system that lets players see if their friends are online and allows for chat between towns and the integrated screenshot sharing, for instance.
And while Animal Crossing as a communication tool seems weird, the warm sincerity around its release was a highlight of last year. Ryogoku says it can "harmonize interpersonal relationships," and that was true for months. Even at E3 the bitterest of us were sharing native fruit. Twitter was full of screenshots and conversation. I downloaded the game excitedly at 9PM the day before release (West Coast best coast).
It was just kind of nice, much like New Leaf.