Seemingly overnight, Nookazon has become a household name among Animal Crossing: New Horizons fans. The site is the newest and most convenient way to buy and sell items with players worldwide. Need furniture, fossils, or fruit? Nookazon has you covered. Haven’t managed to snag your favorite K.K. record? Nookazon has listings of his entire discography. Dying for your favorite animal pal to move in? Nookazon even has a category for trading villagers!
It really is like Animal Crossing‘s very own Amazon.com. And like Amazon, Nookazon has gotten big. Within days, its userbase exploded from a couple hundred, to hundreds of thousands of Animal Crossing players.
So, what’s it been like for Nookazon creator Daniel Luu to be at the helm of Animal Crossing‘s online shopping revolution? I sat down with Luu to chat about the development and future of Amazon’s wholesome, Animal Crossing counterpart.
— Daniel Luu (@squishguin) April 9, 2020
SQUAD: When did you get into Animal Crossing? Was New Horizons your first game or have you been a fan of the series for a while?
Luu: It’s pretty funny! My first experience with Animal Crossing is New Horizons. I’d heard about Animal Crossing before, of course, with the Gamecube. The main thing that brought it back to my attention was Super Smash Bros when they added the villager, and I was kind of reminded Animal Crossing was a thing.
It’s actually really surprising I haven’t dove into it before because Animal Crossing is such a game I would enjoy. I enjoy building games, those are my favorites. Minecraft and Factorio, things where you’re kind of casually building and gathering materials.
When you were playing New Horizons, at what point were you like, “Man, I wish there was something like Amazon or eBay for this game?”
So, I got pretty far in the game pretty quickly. I put in a lot of hours, especially during the quarantine. We have so much free time even after work, so I was putting hours and hours and hours into the game and I wanted to see what else was out there, so I decided to join the Animal Crossing Discord. And in the Discord, there’s a couple of different channels for trading – fruit trading, furniture trading, things like that – and it’s just chaos, right? I mean, when you look at these channels, there’s just so many messages, the wait times on each channel are multiple minutes.
I’m a software engineer by trade, and I really wanted to put my developer skills to the test and build a marketplace. That’s really where it started. I wanted to just organize everything and make it easier for players to connect with each other and trade items.
So, in the beginning, were you just thinking, “Oh yeah, this is just going to be something for this Discord channel or Reddit?” Did you see it being as big as it’s become?
Definitely not. I’m always building little side projects, and this was the first project that really kind of blew up out of nowhere. It really took off in a few days. I definitely did not expect it to be as big as it became. When I started it, it really was just that I ran into a small community of people managing a spreadsheet, and we were kind of all working together to help make a website that you could trade on.
I wanted to build a proof of concept very similar to Amazon, because Amazon is all over the news with the quarantine and people ordering more and staying home more. I definitely didn’t expect it to blow up this much, but I’m very, very happy that it did.
Do you think Nookazon would’ve come about if it weren’t for the “stuck-at-home” phase everyone is in right now?
I don’t think it would exist, just because I didn’t even pick up New Horizons until it started getting all over social media. It was all over Instagram and Tik Tok. That’s when it really piqued my interest to pick up the game, so I think if the quarantine never happened, I probably would’ve never got Animal Crossing and I would’ve never had the time to actually work on this project either.
The quarantine was what really has pushed this project forward. I’m so happy that Animal Crossing and [Nookazon] have been able to help people connect!
— Thanh-Thanh Pham (@thanhthanhpham) April 28, 2020
I’ve never seen a game that has reached this level of saturation before, and everyone being stuck at home and wanting that escapism is definitely part of it. But that also means Nookazon exploded because of this huge user-base now for Animal Crossing. What have been the challenges of having Nookazon explode without warning like that?
I’ve built plenty of apps before—apps and websites—but nothing like this. [Nookazon] blowing up really challenged me technically as a developer and also a leader of a community. I’ve worked in other communities and things like that before, but something of this size really was hard to manage. I had to enlist my friend Brandon and a couple other friends to manage the community. [Brandon] manages over 30 moderators within our Discord just to make sure that our entire community is safe. We’re weeding out the scammers and the bots and things like that.
From a technical perspective, we have over 200,000 unique visitors on the site every day, so making sure that the application is fast and that everybody can do everything they want to do—wishlist things, catalogue things—is a big challenge. But it’s been an incredible learning experience. I don’t think I would have ever gotten this experience without having Nookazon blow up like it did.
How big do you think the Nookazon team is now?
The Nookazon Discord team —I don’t keep track of them much, Brandon handles that mostly—is over 30 moderators now. The dev team is just me and two other friends. We work on the entire Nookazon website, just the three of us. And then we also have a social media team, which is three people, that handles all our Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, and also any kind of announcements.
You mentioned you’re a software developer and you’ve made apps before. Have you ever made another unofficial marketplace for a game before?
No, no, I’ve never made a marketplace before. This is actually the first one I’ve ever made.
If this is the first marketplace you’ve ever made, what has the experience taught you about fandom or in-game economics?
One thing it’s definitely taught me is that people will go crazy over certain items. People just love to have their dream islands come true. Even though sometimes the Discord link on the website doesn’t work, people are still figuring out a way to go out and contact people in order to make these trades. It just really shows that there’s a need for this marketplace to be safe and easy to use. Those are the things that we really are focusing on moving forward with the platform.
Are there any items that people are going crazy for that you really didn’t expect?
We are in the process of releasing our hot items feature. That will actually show us, based on the data, what are the hot items. I believe the hottest item on the website right now is the Bonsai Shelf. I had no idea. I have the DIY for it and I’ve never actually built it!
And then, people really wanted villagers. I know villager trading is tough with the glitches and things like that. We make sure all our users know that we can’t really give anything back if they lose something. But the most popular villager on the site is Raymond. I had no idea he was going to be so popular. He’s four times more popular than the second-most-popular villager!
Before Nookazon, when you were just playing New Horizons on your own, was there any item or villager that you really coveted but just could never get?
Not really! Like I said, it’s my first Animal Crossing experience, so I didn’t really know too much about the game going into it, and I didn’t really have any kind of specific need. I saw some people posting things like, “Wow, I restarted my game five times to get pears”, and I didn’t really understand what that meant. I just played the game straight out, exactly how it’s meant to be played, and that was pretty much it.
I really regretted it later because you have to pay to move your villagers’ homes and things like that. I didn’t know that putting down this tent was going to solidify their home for the rest of the game until I could move it!
Animal Crossing games generally have a pretty long lifespan, especially with Nintendo putting out content updates. So, how long do you expect you’ll continue to support Nookazon?
I think the Animal Crossing community has been so great to us, our entire team, and it’s such a fun project to work on, so I think even after the quarantine, even after a while, we will continue to support Nookazon. I think it’s such a great place for people to connect.
Some of the things that people have made are amazing. I think the energy of the community is going to keep us going, for sure.
Okay, I have one more question: how’s your island coming along?
It’s good! It’s ironic; ever since I started the website, I’ve been playing a lot less. I try to sneak in an hour or two a day so that I can shake my trees and build my inclines and stuff like that, but I kind of take it as it comes to me.
I’ve only traded on Nookazon maybe one time, in the early days to make sure it worked. I got the game late, so I’m just getting my Nook’s Cranny upgrade today, the second one. I’m still enjoying it; it’s a great stress reliever and escape from the situation and the pandemic that’s going on right now. And my island’s coming along great!
A big thank you to Daniel Luu for sitting down with me and sharing his experiences as the creator of Nookazon!
[This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]