Small companies are offering in-game services, such as weeding, wedding planning, photography, and design consultancy
Welcome to the post-coronavirus world, baby. Early on in lockdown, we saw Animal Crossing become the game on everybody’s lips, with players using the virtual simulation game as a creative antidote to these strange times. Now, it appears to have built its very own ecosystem of small businesses making IRL money from in-game jobs, providing everything from virtual wedding planning to landscaping services and photography.
Among them is Tyran Batten’s gardening company, which currently employs 38 people working zero-hour contracts. It works like this: an Animal Crossing player will contact the company over social media asking for help with watering flowers, weeding grass, or digging up trees – tasks that, while integral to the game, are extremely time-consuming, so some players prefer to outsource them. Batten then allocates the jobs to his staff, which span anywhere between ten minutes to two hours. Each employee – well, their avatar – wears matching khaki overalls and a cap featuring the company’s logo “WeedCo”. “We work for free but accept tips,” Tyran said on Reddit. “Don’t worry, people are usually very generous.”
Similarly, Megan Willcoxson heads the Okie Dokie Lawn Service, an in-game landscaping service that offers services like weeding, plant watering, and tree shaking (for money and furniture). Payments are made as donations – “whatever you feel is fair!” – and can range from IRL cash or bells (the in-game currency, in case you’re out of the loop).
Elsewhere, in-game photographers have begun offering their services in exchange for money. Lucie (@ACplantdealer), an IRL freelance photographer, runs a service where users can pay to have photographs taken of their island utopias. Each session takes approximately 30 minutes ‘on-site’, before editing for maximum aesthetic impact.
More bizarre, perhaps, is Miguel Deleon’s venture: an entire wedding island that couples can use to virtually tie the knot, complete with an outdoor bar, DJ decks, Grecian statues, and a hot tub. Deleon spent approximately 200 hours crafting his wedding island after his IRL wedding was cancelled due to coronavirus. Visitors can invite up to five guests for the ceremony, in which Deleon works the virtual room as a bartender, DJ, and officiate. While the island is technically free to visit, newly weds are asked to support Deleon by subscribing to his YouTube channel.
Last month, Hong Kong-based Cyber Games Arena announced that it was hiring freelance “game specialists” to play New Horizons for 13,000 HKD (approximately £1,347) per month for an unspecified role that requires you to design specific islands for a month. If building islands isn’t your niche, however, Olivia’s, an online homeware brand, is looking for “virtual interior design consultants” to help people decorate their digital homes for an “upwards of £40 an hour”.
Dominatrix Denali Winter is using New Horizons to continue interacting with clients, who are paying bells to be smacked by butterfly nets, made to water flowers, and generally, be digitally humiliated. “Video games have been a way for people to explore their identity for a long time,” Winter says. “It’s completely safe to submit to someone in an Animal Crossing game – if you don’t like it, you can log off at any moment.”