At first glance, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a cute game filled with bright pastel backdrops and largely unassuming animals, would seem to have nothing do with our current economic moment — besides serving as a perfect outlet for escape as unemployment numbers skyrocket and the stock market craters.
It doesn’t even involve any cash, only a “Stalk Market” that revolves around turnips. Essentially, players can purchase bunches of turnips throughout the week from Daisy Mae, a small orange boar who runs Joan’s Stalk Market, which they can then exchange for bells via Tom Nook, a raccoon that runs the village store. But because Nook’s buying price per turnip changes each day, players can stand to make a fortune in bells if they sell at the right time. Similarly, if they sell at the wrong time, they could be left broke, with nothing but rotten turnips left to their name.
The game’s creators insist that the price of turnips is random, meaning the internal economy of Animal Crossing can’t be corrupted or manipulated. But that hasn’t stopped numerous players — many of whom trade cryptocurrencies in real life — from believing that there are price patterns that can be predicted. By extension, they believe smart players can ascertain when turnip values are at their highest.
In fact, since the recent launch of New Horizons, there have been dozens of articles about how to predict turnip prices based on estimated numbers of turnips in the Animal Crossing economy, as well as advice on how to “play” the Stalk Market — i.e., buying and selling turnips on other people’s Animal Crossing islands at different rates, in the hopes of cashing out later. (Similar conversations are also taking place across dozens of private and public Facebook groups and multiple subreddits like the Animal Crossing Turnip Exchange.)
Programmers have even attempted to develop algorithms that outsmart the Stalk Market (with fairly mixed results), while crypto traders have reportedly been using analysis tools like Datalight, a software designed to compare and predict cryptocurrency trends, to estimate turnip fluctuations.
“Everyone has theories about turnip prices, but in reality, no one really knows what’s going on,” says John Eriksson, a 35-year-old Bitcoin trader who lives in Upstate New York and is a member of the Stalk Market Insiders Facebook group. “The prices are much harder to predict than in cryptocurrency.” Partly, Eriksson says, that’s because, unlike cryptocurrencies, where an assortment of metrics — from the value of other coins to the quantity of a cryptocurrency inside of a market — determines their overall value, most valuations of turnips are “stupid fucking guesses, or people trying to make a play without any kind of strategy.”
“The market for turnips isn’t fixed, and there isn’t any knowledge set by a generator or a bank that can determine a price value based on how many turnips are in circulation,” Eriksson continues. “So you could make the most advanced and sophisticated software in the world to analyze price patterns only to have some 14-year-old who doesn’t know what they’re doing make a killing because they sold it to Nook at the right time.”
For Eriksson, then, making the correct play means “keeping an eye on someone who has a tip about favorable prices, and making sure you get the Dodo code [the code that will get you access to a private island] quickly.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Lex, who is part of a private Facebook group with his friends that report on daily turnip prices and inventories, employs a similar strategy. “If we feel good about the prices, we’ll collect up our turnips and sell them on one of our islands,” he tells me. It’s a strategy akin to collusion, but it nonetheless resulted in fully paid mortgages (in the game) and building infrastructure and extensions on their islands (again, in the game).
Hugo Gonzalez — aka HUGS — a professional gamer with the team Dignitas explains that he buys and sells turnips by setting a price ceiling (in most cases, 500 bells per bunch) and waits until there are buyers at that price. He’s not sure if there’s any science behind his strategy, but it’s kept him in the black and his island functioning. Other Animal Crossing players often scroll through Reddit and myriad Discord and Telegram groups for the game, which, per one player, “is where you find the best prices for turnips, and where you can join other people in setting a turnip price that can influence other islands when they try to set a competing price.”
Theories on how to game the Animal Crossing economy have existed since the game’s inception, and particularly since the 2017 launch of New Leaf, the first version where the Stalk Market correlated to real-world time rather than a fictional game calendar. Serious economists, too, have studied the Stalk Market’s fluctuations and built regression models trying to predict future prices. None of them, though — nor crypto or day traders — have been able to answer players’ most existential question: Could the turnip economy crash?
Numerous threads point out that the Animal Crossing economy isn’t sustainable because there’s no system of cash flow (or in this case, bell flow). Meanwhile, the New Statesman notes that no matter the value of turnips, there seems to always be a stable supply of food, clothing and shelter for everyone in the game, without any subsequent economic, social or environmental cost. If anything, stability in the Animal Crossing universe comes entirely via Tom Nook, a droopy-eyed raccoon who, so long as there’s no opposition or global financial institutions to keep him in check, can set and price fix the value of turnips to however much he’d like.
The thing is, being at his — or Animal Crossing’s — mercy isn’t such a bad thing. In the game, mortgages and loans are offered without interest or discriminatory credit score, and even the poorest of people can easily travel to different islands to buy quality turnips that can help them back up again. “It’s the furthest thing from the world we’re living in right now,” says Eriksson. “When we’re all inside — and so many people are losing their jobs and can’t afford to pay rent — to live in a world where you don’t have to do that is tremendously relaxing.”