Should Players Buy Their Own UI?

Player Research
7 min readApr 29, 2020

Animal Crossing: New Horizons drops players onto a near-deserted island, with empty pockets and dreams of a self-made paradise.

A screenshot from the video game Animal Crossing New Horizons. It shows a sunset over a beach, with a character in the centre
Animal Crossing is a little virtual paradise — if you’re prepared to work for it…

For the first few hours, players are tasked with organising their new tropical home by crafting and using handy tools: spades, axes, fishing poles. Axes chop trees and yield wood; shovels unearth fossils and buried treasure. Players have to swap between tools continuously to tidy their space.

It’s a slightly laborious process to open the in-game inventory, move the cursor to your desired tool with the d-pad, and double-tap to ‘hold’, to then resume weed-clearing or hole-digging. And so, when the in-game shop is constructed, it’s a welcome surprise to find a purchasable ‘Tool Ring’: a radial quick-select menu for speedy access to those essential tools.

A screenshot from the video game Animal Crossing New Horizons. It shows the Tool Ring interface.
Animal Crossing’s purchasable Tool Ring upgrade. Image from NintendoLife.

It’s a radial menu: One press shows the menu, one push of the analog stick in the direction of your desired tool, then another press to select that tool.

The Tool Ring is one of several upgrades that players can buy from infamous in-game shopkeeper Tom Nook, but so far it’s the only upgrade that’s purely for quality-of-life rather than unlocking some new mechanic or progression.

The Tool Ring’s only job is to reduce the players’ need to access and scroll through the inventory to access their tools.

But until the Tool Ring is bought and unlocked by players they must use the inventory, despite it being slower to complete tasks, more error-prone, and more visually overwhelming.

Why would designers force players to use a clunky inventory when a perfectly good shortcut exists?

And to unlock this quality-of-life feature, AC:NH asks players to save up and convolutedly buy it. Surely it could just be unlocked at the beginning?

Why wouldn’t quality-of-life capabilities unlock for players automatically? Why should players buy their own UI?

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