By the time G realized his island had been ransacked, it was too late. He didn’t even see the perpetrator jump off the airport pier and into the water, only to swim around the fencing and onto the rest of the island.
The infiltrator trampled his black roses, took 10 rare DIYs he’d placed on the beach for safekeeping, and shook 15 money trees he had set up in his elaborate garden — a total loss he estimated at around 1 million Bells.
This sort of bad behavior, of course, is an anomaly. The Animal Crossing: New Horizons community tends to be overwhelmingly positive. Players go on social media and often share and trade fruit (say, oranges for my peaches) and DIY recipes. But a New Horizons summer update that allows players to splash into the ocean unexpectedly left an exploit open for badly behaved visitors.
Should a visitor jump off the airport pier into the ocean, they can simply swim around any barricades. Shortly after the update, players active in trading communities realized the risk and got to work in finding solutions. Others hope Nintendo will patch out the ability to dive off the pier entirely. Now, New Horizons players are grappling with how to address this behavior.
Plenty of players — specifically, the ones active in the Stalk Market — have been scammed by players asking for fees to sell turnips. Sometimes, for example, a player will simply turn off their game once a visitor drops an entry fee, allowing the scammer to collect without having to deliver their wares.
New Horizons players have found solutions for such tactics. Some players have “bouncers” who help keep order. Other players create elaborate fencing on their islands, so visitors can be managed easily, without the risk of someone running off to do mischief. Fencing is probably the most popular option, but the new airport pier exploit renders it useless, leaving some players worried about scammers on their islands. A lot of players aren’t necessarily worried about their islands being destroyed, but are upset about the breach of trust from these bad actors.
New Horizons player G, from the island of turnip4wat, told me he’s active on turnip.exchange, a site where players open their islands to strangers to buy and sell turnips, to share resources, and to trade DIY recipes. G said he was hosting a DIY exchange — “take one, leave one.” He noticed one visitor jump off the dock. They didn’t bypass the fencing, but that’s when G realized it was possible.
“I disconnected the session immediately,” G said. “Then I ran around my island afterwards to see if anyone else had done it when I was AFK.”
G invited me over to his island to take crime scene photos. Of course, I obliged. His island is perfectly designed for visitors — at least, it was until the pier exploit. The airport pier opens to a paved street that flows into a large, fenced-off area for DIY trading. There’s a lot of decorative fencing and hedges already, creating distinct pockets of the island. That makes it easy to fill in gaps with temporary fences when players come to visit, creating an open common area for the trading.
G said he’s still going to host people at his island — that most of the community is good. But he’ll make sure to add even more fencing.
“People running over flowers is not the end of the world because it will grow back,” G said. “But money trees don’t grow back. I’ll fence those off and also stop dropping things on the ground that are valuable.”
He continued: “Honestly, I was kind of disappointed in the community. This game has really attracted a lot of nice people and added a lot of positivity to the internet. I just hate to have to fence things off, it just feels wrong because most people in ACNH are so nice.”
Another player, Skye, told me he experienced something similar: While hosting a DIY trade on turnip.exchange, someone quietly hopped off the pier and disappeared. Skye didn’t notice anything until he saw the person walking around outside the fenced-in area in a wetsuit.
“He literally took everything that was worth anything, the worst being that he shook all my money trees, for around 300K Bells worth, including the ones I kept for decor in hardly accessible areas,” Skye told me. “He plucked all my gold roses, and even took the few tools I had lying around.”
Skye continued: “Before then, I only had positive experiences with online play, so as dramatic as this sounds, this one experience really shook me.”
@NintendoAmerica @animalcrossing this needs to be fixed. alot of ppl have their airports fenced off so ppl can't come in and ruin towns or steal items and with the new update it's useless. they can jump off the airport and swim around the fence. pls fix this!!! #ACNH #Nintendo pic.twitter.com/eRpmRPUkMu— ryan. ☁️ (@luperena_) July 4, 2020
And that makes sense — though the scammers in New Horizons are “only” stealing virtual goods, they’re virtual goods that mean different things to people. There’s a level of trust in inviting strangers to your island, a place that you may have dedicated hundreds of hours to. During a challenging time, New Horizons has become a comforting spot for some players.
I spoke to a few more players who said similar things: that it was surprising when something like this happened in the mostly good community. But when it did happen — when a player violated the trust — it was hurtful.
The easy way to deal with suspicious behavior on your island, though, is simply to end the multiplayer session. You can do this by hitting the Minus button on the left Joy-Con.
Another player, MG, told Polygon that people shouldn’t panic, though: There are ways to ensure that your island is safe. Focus on fencing off the high-value areas, she said — like rare flowers or money tree orchards. It’ll take a lot less time and won’t wreck your island’s aesthetic.
“But if someone is still concerned, I would suggest they aesthetically incorporate fencing into their beach areas,” MG said. “Even before this update, I had some of my beaches fenced off, only accessible through a single tile path, because I like how it looks on my island. It’ll be super easy to just pop a fence piece in front of the path to block the beach off from divers.”
You don’t even have to use fencing, she said: “You could use cute items that happen to block access points. I made my secret beach a super cute picnic area, and because of the how the items are placed, I can’t walk onto the beach at all.”