Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a rather unique event: A “Ladies’ Night Out” event for Nintendo’s upcoming Animal Crossing title. I was actually kind of confused at the whole idea–I mean, according to Cammie Dunaway, Animal Crossing is the title coming out forhardcore gamers, not the more casual female market.
The event was both enjoyable and somewhat cringe-worthy, and you’ll see why (along with some of my personal impressions of the game) after the jump.
I boarded a train into NYC and arrived at the event around 7 p.m., when it was still press-only. The first floor consisted of four playing stations: Two with the city area and two with the more familiar town area. Also on the first floor was “Gracie Grace’s,” which was a prize booth where you could trade your “bells” for t-shirts, magnets, keychains, stuffed animals and more, as well as get fashion advice. Under the sign “Shampoodle” was a station where you could get a free make-up consultation and makeover for 200 bells (way cheaper than in the game). There were sheets laid out for a silent auction, as well as original Animal Crossing artwork that could be bought for anywhere from 400-600 bells.
Downstairs, there were three more demo stations, a Fortune Teller and The Happy Room Academy (tips on interior decorating). Both floors sported a bar, and had plenty of servers wandering around with trays of free hors d’oeuvres.
What was pretty cool about this event was the system for earning prizes. As I mentioned earlier, you could buy various things using “bells” in the form of circular piece of paper printed to look like like the game’s currency with a denomination of 50 printed on one side. In order to earn bells, you had to do various tasks in the demo: watering flowers would get you 100 bells, catching a bug or fish would earn you 150, etc. It was very cool idea that many of the attendees very much enjoyed, especially during the silent auctions. Six prize packs were “auctioned off”: Two AC: CF and WiiSpeak bundles, two Nintendo DS and AC: WW bundles, and two Nintendo Wii bundles that included AC: CF and the WiiSpeak.
I got plenty of hands-on time with the game, which I thoroughly enjoyed. To be fair, I am a big fan of the series (Wild World having monopolized much of my time when it was released) and I was pleased to see that it greatly resembled its predecessor. The added city area was a little small for me to be terribly impressed with it, but a nice addition nonetheless. The controls are not as tight as playing the DS version, but that is to be expected. The biggest disappointment was my attempt to use the shirt designing tool, as I found it next to impossible to draw anything decent with the Wii remote. The ability to separately work on the front, back, and sleeves of the shirt was an improvement, but didn’t quite make up for the difficulty of the design process. I saw many other people struggle with this as well.
As fun as the event was, there were some very poor choices made in presentation. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that many of the women in charge of the demo screens had little to no experience with the game themselves. One girl admitted that I probably knew more about the game than she did, one asked me for directions on how to do something in the game, and at one point I was actually asked to instruct someone how to play while the demo rep was counting out bells for the previous player. This was by no means the fault of the people sent to help with the event, as it is the job of Nintendo to make sure their employees are well versed in the games they are presenting. I asked one of the girls if she knew why Nintendo was having an event specifically for women and she said she wasn’t sure. To her credit she did provide me with her own (most likely correct) reasoning that Nintendo was trying to present games to women that might spark their interest in gaming. The reps were all very friendly, but it seemed as if they had only played the game themselves a few hours before the event.
The second part of the night that was a bit off-setting was that most of the women at the event had no interest in the game whatsoever. It seems that the Girls Just Want to Have Fun! NYC meet-up group posted about this event, and many of the women present had no idea what the game was and didn’t really seem to care. There was more activity around the two bars than the games until about halfway through the night when people discovered that the bells they were earning could be used to win a Nintendo Wii. After that, people were crowding the demo stations, but not out of interest for the game–they just wanted to earn bells as quickly as possible in order to win an expensive game system. Some of the women were even saying that if they won, they were going to throw the system up on eBay or Craig’s List. So much for reaching out to new consumers.
While the event was definitely fun, and a certainly met some cool people, I’m not sure if it really achieved its purpose. It seemed like most of the women were more interested in getting free stuff than actually playing the game. I guess as a gamer and a hardcore Animal Crossing fan (if such a thing exists) I was personally disappointed that the game took a back burner to food, booze, and free stuff. When I lent one of my new found friends bells so she could win the Nintendo Wii auction, she gladly handed over the copy of the game included as trade, saying she wasn’t interested in playing it at all (though she was thrilled to hear that Wii Sports was included with the console).
The event may have generated interest in the system, but I didn’t hear a single person say that they thought the game was fun, or express interest in buying it. Well Nintendo, I guess one out of two ain’t bad.