It’s pretty common for one game to remind you of another. After all, as humans we are consistently making comparisons. But, it’s a rather odd sensation for one game to make you actually lament another – and such is the case for me with Disney Dreamlight Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Gameloft’s latest venture is so reminiscent of New Horizons’ island life that it’s made me even more disappointed that Nintendo effectively abandoned the title.
Maybe that’s harsh, right? But Nintendo had a unique opportunity with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It was a game that launched at an accidentally perfect time, offering the ultimate idyllic escapism from a real-world dealing with a global pandemic that kept the majority of us confined within our homes. The core Animal Crossing community lapped up the new title as expected, but the title also reached an audience of such size and scale that no-one – especially Nintendo – could ever have predicted.
For me, not continuing to support and feed a community so hungry for additional content over the years that followed the launch always felt like a shame. That’s even more palpable when we look at a game like Disney Dreamlight Valley. Launching earlier this month in Early Access via Game Pass for Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC, but also as a premium, paid-for Disney Dreamlight Valley Founders Pack on Switch, Steam, and PS5 / PS4, the game will eventually be free-to-play on all platforms sometime in 2023.
Just a few weeks out from launch and Gameloft has already confirmed a roadmap for what the rest of 2022 looks like for early adopters of the title. That includes two fall updates – one to add Scar from The Lion King and more to the core storyline, and another, larger drop that’ll deliver a new Toy Story realm. That second update will offer new characters to interact with, new narratives, additional cosmetics, and “other surprises”.
Living the dream
That’s not to say that Nintendo didn’t offer that kind of clarity at the start. That first year of Animal Crossing: New Horizon was a busy one, with seasonal updates, new features, and additions. But after those first 12 months or so, the content quickly dried up, with the community pining for more information and updates, let alone new content. Then, in 2021, we got the reveal and subsequent launch of the game’s first paid-for DLC – along with the first major patch in many months. But it also came with the added surprise that the duo of content drops would be its last.
And that was it. Animal Crossing: New Horizons hasn’t had a content update since November 2021, almost a year ago. Now, Disney Dreamlight Valley looks set to take its place, and it’s already gained over one million players in just a few short weeks. With an Early Access in place now and a free-to-play model to come, perhaps it’s this that gives Gameloft the potential for longevity – to keep supporting Disney Dreamlight Valley for longer than Nintendo managed to do with New Horizons. Because Early Access is a great time for Gameloft to test and trial, to see what feedback it gets from the community ahead of its full launch next year. And then its free-to-play model, balanced by microtransactions to buy the game’s take on a Battle Pass (which changes each month to offer new Disney and Pixar-themed cosmetics to unlock), may well be the financial model to offer the first successful live-service-inspired life sim.
After all, the closest we’ve really come to that is The Sims 4, with EA and Maxis’ expansion system with Expansion, Game, and Stuff Packs, along with smaller Kits, continuously adding new content, gameplay features, and more to the aging base game – albeit at a range of price points. It’ll be interesting to see how Disney Dreamlight Valley compares to something like this as we travel through its various forms between this Early Access period and full free-to-play launch.
I just hope that Gameloft listens to its community, which is clearly already growing. The community that grew around Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a thriving, creative place that’s been left to languish, with so many of the Instagram accounts and YouTubers that were dedicated to the game simply shutting up shop or switching tack. Hopefully that same vibrancy can happen around Disney Dreamlight Valley – it just needs Gameloft to continue to engage with them.
Love yourself some life simulation? Check out the best games like Animal Crossing here.