Nintendo’s Animal Crossing has its very own stock market, and we tested it out
The financial markets are a complex, ever-changing ecosystem, and that is one reason why we at 3Points are proud of the industry expertise we’ve built up in our fintech practice. But just because there is a lot to learn doesn’t mean that financial education has to be intimidating or dry. Two of our 3Pointers, Delilah Bennett and Katie O’Shea, recently discovered that their hobby of playing Animal Crossing had more overlap with the financial markets than they ever expected.
Whether you’ve heard about the game, you play, or your kids play, the whole world has been talking about Animal Crossing: New Horizons during this pandemic. In fact, the Nintendo video game sold 22.4 million units from its release in March 2020 to the end of Q2. And hey, it makes sense — who wouldn’t want to escape to a little island free of infectious diseases right now?
We were bitten by that virtual travel bug and became immersed in the game. As we progressed, we noticed a lot of parallels between our fledgling island societies and the capital markets world that 3Points has worked in for over a decade. What economic lessons could one possibly learn from a game where money literally grows on trees? Plenty, it turns out.
In case you’ve never played Animal Crossing, here’s the rundown: you start as a character who moves to a new island, assisted by Tom Nook and his nephews, Timmy and Tommy. Tom Nook is basically your guide and narrator. He teaches you how to play the game and puts you in charge of the island. You start out with the basics — a few residents, some tents, and some tools. The objective of the game is to keep upgrading and beautifying your island, but to do that you need money, aka “bells.” You can earn bells in a variety of ways, such as catching fish, gathering fruit, or digging up fossils, but if you want to make the big bucks, you have to trade turnips on the Stalk Market. Yes, that’s correct, the game has its own trading system.
Like our stock market, the Stalk Market has rules surrounding when you can buy and sell. Unlike our stock market, you can only buy on Sunday and you’re transacting turnips, not stocks. The turnips are sold by Daisy Mae, a small boar with a perpetually runny nose (but again, thankfully, COVID-19 doesn’t exist in the game). Each Sunday morning, you can find her on your island and ask how much her turnips are, and starting on Monday, you can go to your potential buyers (Timmy and Tommy) and ask what price they’re willing to pay for your turnips. The price changes each morning and afternoon.
The goal is to buy the turnips at a low price and sell them at a high price. Luckily, you aren’t stuck with just your island’s turnip prices — you can visit other users’ islands and buy and sell turnips at their prices. The only catch is that you have to sell your turnips by the end of the day on the next Saturday, otherwise you’ll get stuck with a pile of rotting veggies. (Note: It is unclear whether or not the saga of Vincent Kosuga’s onion trading had an influence on the design of this game.)
To show you how it works, we’ll take a trip to Delilah’s island, Dollywood (the name is an homage to her years spent in Nashville and her love for Dolly Parton), and Katie’s island, New Cle (named in honor of her hometown, the great city of Cleveland).
Delilah: This is the story of my first, biggest, and most notable turnip trade. Outside of Animal Crossing, my investing style is conservative and I’m very risk averse. However, in the Animal Crossing world, since there’s no real money involved, my style is “go big or go home.” My first trade completely embodied that saying. I stumbled across the infamous Daisy Mae and caught her on a day when her prices were decently low (94 bells per turnip), so I stocked up with 800 turnips, costing me a total of 75,200 bells.
I wanted to make the biggest possible profit, and Timmy’s prices at my local Tom Nook shop were not cutting it, so I turned to Reddit to see if I could spot an arbitrage opportunity. I started posting on some turnip trading subreddits. Some of the buying prices I saw were 100 bells, 150 bells, and 200 bells — I was shocked when I saw a redditor post that their island’s buying price was 601 bells.
You can think of turnip redditors as brokers who pass along information about turnip prices on their islands. It’s hard to get noticed in a pool of comments (this post had 400), so to increase my chances of getting selected by this “broker,” I milked my “first-time turnip trader” story and offered the promise of a 40,000 bell tip (essentially a brokerage fee). My strategy worked! After a quick plane ride, I arrived on a remote island with my 800 turnips. For a minute I thought I had fallen into some type of trap but, lo and behold, Timmy was offering to buy turnips for 601 bells a pop. I quickly made my trade and came out with 480,800 bells in my pocket. (For those keeping track, that’s nearly a 500% return, even after the 40,000 bell tip!) I took my earnings straight to the bank and paid off not just one, but two loans on my house.
In this case, my risks paid off, but don’t get me wrong, not all of my risky turnip trades go well. While I’m not going to apply the “go big or go home” approach in real life, Animal Crossing has encouraged me to try out different strategies and take a few more risks in my own investing.
Katie: When I first got into the turnip game, I played it a little safe. I was still building up my savings on the island by selling odds and ends at the Nook Store, so I wanted to make sure I would have enough to spend on new items for, and additions to, my avatar’s little house. I would keep my buy-in pretty small and sell as soon as I got a price that was better than the one I had paid. However, as I built up my savings, I became more willing to take risks. Now, as long as I still have enough money in the bank to pay off my current loan (which you take on each time you make a new addition to your home), I feel like I can be more adventurous. In a few of the most recent instances, I’ve hedged my bets by selling off some percentage of turnips when I first get a good price, but hold on to a few to see if I can sell for more later in the week.
In a typical week, there’s a fair amount of variation in turnip prices. The first few times I bought turnips, the price started lower than what I had bought them for and continually decreased throughout the week before finally increasing on Friday or Saturday. Needless to say, I was pretty worried about not being able to recoup those investments. Other weeks, I’ve found that there’s more variation throughout the week, so the question becomes whether to sell as soon as I get a good price or wait to see if I can do better. And that means just taking a gamble blindly — turnip value is a black box in the game, since you can’t do research about supply and demand like you can with real-life turnips or other agricultural commodities.
However, as with the real-life stock market, there are some people who try to game the system. For instance, there are calculators online that some players have built to help people determine which of a few turnip pricing patterns (which are coded into the game) a player may be experiencing in any given week, with the aim of helping them predict the optimal time to sell that week. We have not yet tried these tools, so we can’t speak to their effectiveness, but market analysts say that they’ve had good luck with them.
What this shows is that, as with real-life trading, you can engage as much or as little as you want. You can dig into data and build algorithms to predict future pricing, or you can just stick to reading some financial news stories. You can put a lot of money into the market and make big bets, or you can play it safe and keep your investments small.
Luckily, bells are not real money, so the gambles I make in the game are not actually high-stakes. And that’s a good thing for me, because I tend to be a little less adventurous when it comes to real money. Also luckily, when I do deploy my own capital in the real world, I can at least do a little research. One thing you can put your money on: finding me buying turnips again this Sunday.
The best way to learn about finance is to absorb it in a way that’s interesting to you! Because we like to game, learning about the stock market and trading from Animal Crossing was far more interesting than any textbook we’ve read on the subject. If gaming is not your thing, there are plenty of other fun and low-risk ways to learn and get excited about finance. Find the method that works for you, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can start applying your knowledge to the markets — whether they are stalks or stocks.