Lessons from Animal Crossing about building a community

Briony Cullin 1st July 2020
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the game which has given 2020 one speck of much-needed positivity. The game was released just as the United Kingdom entered lockdown – initially for 3 weeks and then extended to a period of 3 months. It meant that people stuck at home could immerse themselves in a pleasant, calming and most importantly, safe world of cute animals and fulfilling challenges. You can’t die in Animal Crossing and face masks are merely a fun accessory. Plus, you can actually visit your friends – virtually, anyway. 

I’ve been playing Animal Crossing ever since it was released, and it’s been a fun way to relax. The thing which strikes me most about this game is how similar it is to community building. 

In Animal Crossing, you play as a small human character who moves to a deserted island. You need to pimp your island to make it habitable - in terms of deciding where buildings go, decorating the island and most importantly, building a community. 

I used to be a community manager for an online review website called Yelp. I learned so much in the 3.5 years I was community manager for Glasgow and then Scotland - full time community management is an all-consuming experience. Speaking of all consuming - I’ve played Animal Crossing for 100+ hours so far. The game is open-ended game so some days I just play for 15 minutes but other days, I can play for hours. The game keeps you on track with mini goals and challenges. As you make the island a more appealing place to live, animal characters will request to move to your island to become your neighbours. 

These neighbours are your community. You need to nurture them, and make sure they’re happy. The game encourages you to check-in on them daily, and get to know their likes and dislikes. When you give them a gift they really love, they’ll reward you with a framed photo of themselves - the highest compliment! 

Knowing your community is - in my opinion - the most important thing you can do as a community manager. Understanding what the members are there for, and what they’re interested in will help you shape and form connections between the members, and spark growth beyond just you doing the legwork. 

There’s small daily tasks, like pulling weeds and watering the flowers which keep your island a nice place to live. I think of this like dealing with spammy content on a discussion board. It’s a constant task which needs to be done otherwise your island (and community) are going to get overrun with weeds (low quality content).

But there’s the bigger picture stuff to manage too. Not every task in Animal Crossing can be achieved overnight - you need to gradually hunt for fossils and build up your collection of skeletons in the museum. No matter what you do, there’s no way you can do that in a week, it’s a slow activity which takes time. (Spoiler: I only just managed to get all the fossils and I’ve been playing daily for 3 months). 

This is just like community building and relationships. Members don’t form relationships and connections overnight. It takes time, patience and nurturing. Understanding the aspects of community building which can’t be turbocharged are really important as those aspects are some of the most important work you’ll do as a builder. 
Are there any other community managers out there who play Animal Crossing? 

Tags #community #animal crossing #community management #community building

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