From the unspoken rules of being a good host, to popular island themes, in-game tours showcase the best of island decorating in Animal Crossing. Island touring — the act of showcasing other people’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons islands on YouTube — is a steadily growing part of the social experience surrounding the game.
The Animal Crossing franchise has long had a thriving online community of decorators. In 2008, City Folk for the Wii let players participate in online auctions for items. In 2012, New Leaf for the 3DS introduced QR codes and more town customization options. Now with its new terraforming controls, New Horizons offers completely new avenues for creative expression, providing a compelling argument for many players to not just host friends, but to enter the wider online fandom as well.
May, alias MushroomGames, is one such player. An Animal Crossing fan since New Leaf, she started her first public YouTube channel with a tour of her own island, then moved on to videos of herself terraforming. “I wanted to share my island creations with the Animal Crossing community through terraforming videos,” she said. “But I became busy with school work, and as a result I decided to tour other people’s islands.”
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To find participants, streamers post a link to an application form or ask for submissions on their community Discord server. To find an island to feature for her first tour, May went to various Animal Crossing online community hubs.
“At first, I added a town tour submission form to my terraforming videos, but no one was signing up, so I began to message a lot of people who had nice islands on the Reddit Animal Crossing community and Instagram,” she added. “After a week of having my form up, I had one person who signed up, and that was [first participant] Dustin. After his tour was posted, many other people signed up.”
During a tour, streamers simply follow the island’s creator around, taking the time to enthusiastically remark on particular sights or details they enjoy. Hosts often give gifts such as outfits, and use emotes to express appreciation. Just like playing Animal Crossing itself, the digital tourism is a relaxing, positive experience. All throughout, creators get opportunities to tell the stories behind their islands, share advice, and promote their social media presence.
Ben, a.k.a. CrossingChannel, a YouTuber of several years, has incorporated tour videos into his mix of Animal Crossing analysis, tips, memes, and more. He calls tours an important community building tool and mutually beneficial to streamers and creators.
“[Tour videos] are definitely important because they involve my community, and for me community is such a vital part of why I do this,” he said. “It’s great to be able to showcase my viewers’ islands and give players a look at how much fantastic work they’ve done. For creators, it’s fun to be in a video. Islands get more exposure that way, and people can play with a streamer they enjoy.”
May echoed this sentiment: “For me, town tours were a change of pace that gave my channel a new feel. I enjoyed interacting with the creators as well. I met someone who gave marketing advice, and someone who gave me tips on improving my audio. For me, town tours make me feel more connected to the community.”
As a new streamer, tours also helped May build up her confidence. “I started my Animal Crossing channel to improve my public speaking and confidence so it’s been helping in many ways. Also it’s helpful to remember creators are often nervous about being featured, too.”
Looking at video titles, it can feel like it takes a lot to be featured. Islands often boast five stars, play time in the ballpark of 600 hours, and perfectly symmetrical island maps. Yet most streamers go with their gut when selecting islands. Submission forms need little more than contact info and some pictures. To optimally show an island off in a video, the weather should be good and navigation should be clear, but there are no hard rules. While streamers often make it a point to remark on map design or popular villagers, both May and Ben say these elements are just nice to have… but ultimately nonessential.
“I select people based on how nice and unique their islands look to me as well as how much time I have to tour,” May explained. “I honestly would love to tour everyone’s town, but I’ve gotten so many submissions, so [I] pick which island I personally want to see.”
Prior to a recording, May sends creators a number of questions — such as advice they have for other players or creations they’re especially proud of. Then she asks them to write an introduction to play during the video.
“I honestly just pick ones that I think look cool,” Ben added. “For me, I want to be able to have something to say about the island, and if I think it’s a cool one, I definitely will. I do speak with the creators a lot beforehand so we can make sure the episode goes to plan and they can showcase what they want to showcase.”
Both mention the importance of a strong theme: a preference they share with the wider Animal Crossing community. Themes, and putting careful thought into how to express them, is a topic of many Animal Crossing advice video. When it comes to themes, the sky’s the limit, but current trends include cottagecore and fairycore, themes inspired by pastoral white picket fence farmhouses, and soft fairytale designs. Japanese landscapes based on the past and present are also quite popular.
Nothing brings a theme to life quite like New Horizons’ version of the QR code: the designer app. From clothes to custom paths to textile patterns, pixel artists have created a wide array of designs to choose from. And the decoration community views a good custom pattern as absolutely essential to creating a unique island.
“Custom designs are where people can bend the rules of Animal Crossing to make cool illusions no one has ever thought of before,” May said.
“For instance, you can use simple panels to make city buildings or you can place custom designs on the floor to make fake water or fake flowers. One of the factors that play into how I choose an island to tour is their use of custom designs. For me, they always elevate an island, even the more natural looking islands.”
With continuous updates, we expect the Animal Crossing decoration and tour community to persist for a long time. Even complete redesigns are not out of the question, as Ben pointed out.
“A lot of content from former games is still missing, and I hope to see buildings like the café in future.” With all the inspiration tours provide, the sky’s the limit.