I’ve been cooking a lot more during the pandemic which means that I’ve been following a lot of online recipes and they all start with some long story on the history of fish sauce. Basically what I’m saying is if you just want to read about how to cheat at Animal Crossing and you’re still on v1.2.0b or lower, you can skip down to here.
In the first scene of the TV show Devs, a character wakes up and immediately reaches for his phone, presumably to check Twitter.
I’m reluctant to admit that I did the same thing, for years, but I’ve finally managed to break the habit.
Now I wake up, reach for my Switch, and head to Nook’s Cranny in Animal Crossing to see what Timmy and Tommy are selling. I’m not sure why, because I can already have any item in the game, because the Animal Crossing economy is meaningless to me.
When you first arrive on the island, you’re broke. Worse than broke, you’re in debt. Luckily, Tom Nook lets you pay in NookMiles which are earned through completing tasks (e.g. chop down some trees, talk to the villagers, catch some bugs). But after you pay off your tent in NookMiles, you’ll find an ever increasing need for more and more bells to improve your house and furnish it. And this is where it gets interesting.
At first, you shake a bunch of fruit trees on your island and get some fruit. When you sell it to Timmy and Tommy, they give you 100 bells each for the fruit. This is where your first idea comes from: What if you plant the fruit? If you plant the fruit, in 3 days, you’ll have a fruit tree. And every 3 days it’ll produce fruit! There seems to be no end in sight - you could easily plant more and more fruit trees until fruit trees cover your entire island.
But then you start talking to a friend and you ask them about their fruit and they say, “Apples? No, I don’t have apples on my island. I have oranges!” and you compare notes and discover that apples sell for 500 bells each on their island and oranges sell for 500 bells each on yours.
And this leads us to rule number 1 of the Animal Crossing economy: Animal Crossing rewards collusion.
So you strike a deal with your friend, they can come to your island and pick all of your fruit and you’ll go to their island and pick all of their fruit and you’ll each sell it for five times as much to Timmy and Tommy.
But then comes your next idea: Why do I even need my friend? You chop down all your apple trees and plant orange trees - cut out the middleman. Soon orchards of orange trees cover your entire island and every 3 days you walk around shaking all the trees and selling the fruit.
You start looking for ways to make money every day instead of every 3 days and you discover that if you find a glowing hole in the ground, digging it up and burying 10,000 bells will grow a 30,000 bell money tree in three days. And you find that hitting one of the six rocks on your island with a shovel will occasionally produce 20,000 bells. The combination of all these money making schemes gives you a small, steady income.
And then one Sunday morning you wake up before noon and a turnip seller named Daisy Mae is there, selling turnips. You pick up a few just to see how the whole thing works.
Over the course of the week, the price fluctuates but eventually you see a price that seems higher than what you paid and you unload the turnips for a decent profit. Now you’re hooked! You start saving up your money and waiting until Sunday mornings to spend literally every bell you have to buy turnips and obsessively track what the algorithm thinks the price of turnips will be. You can’t put turnips into storage so they’re littered all over your house and your island.
But wait: you’ve forgotten rule number 1: Animal Crossing rewards collusion.
The turnips are portable - you can sell them to any Timmy and Tommy, not just your own. Now you come crawling back to your friend and start asking them what their turnip price is every day. But just one friend isn’t enough, you need a lot of friends because the more friends you have, the higher likelihood that one of their turnip prices is going to spike. You can even collude at the buying time, going to the island with the cheapest prices to buy and going to the island with the highest prices to sell.
So let’s say you’ve netted a respectable 250,000 bells from your fruit harvesting operation. You buy turnips for around 100 bells and sell them on a friend’s island for 500 bells, now you’ve got 1.25 million bells! It’s easy money!
But wait, your friend’s island that spiked in price at 500 bells - you’re not the only person who wants to sell turnips. In fact, the whole time you’re trying to unload the turnips, you keep getting interrupted by folks entering and leaving the island. You can’t even move across a screen without watching someone you don’t care about walking through the airport gates.
This leads us to rule number 2 of the Animal Crossing economy: The standard unit that controls the Animal Crossing economy is the time it takes to get through a dialog or loading screen in Animal Crossing.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand that rule yet. We’ll revisit it soon.
The week after you make 1.25 million bells, you do it again, and now you have 6.25 million bells. It’s a little harder because you’ll reach the maximum number of turnips you can carry in one trips so you’ll have to make multiple trips, but it can be done. 6.25 million bells! You’re set for life. You’ve broken the Animal Crossing economy. But wait, have you?
After you’ve paid off your house and built a bunch of convenient bridges and inclines for your island, you start looking around and think, “What’s next?”
And then you remember one of the first DIY recipes you bought with NookMiles was for a Robot Hero. The Robot Hero looks pretty cool. You’ve got a handful of the ingredients, but 30 rusted parts? How do you get rusted parts?
Well, a seagull named Gulliver occasionally washes up on your island. You walk over to him and he’ll ask you to help him find his communicator parts. Just kidding, this is Animal Crossing, so you’ll have to talk to him like 5 times before he even asks you to find them. After you help him get rescued, the next day a rusted part will show up in the Recycling Bin in Resident Services.
So you’ll have to do this 30 times. 30 times! How many dialog screens is that?
Remember rule number 2: The standard unit that controls the Animal Crossing economy is the time it takes to get through a dialog or loading screen in Animal Crossing.
So you give up on the Robot Hero for a while. And then one of your villagers walks up to you and starts talking about pumping weights and working out again and you think, “Actually, what this island needs is a smug, heterochromatic, hipster cat.”
You read an article or two about Raymond and discover that the way to get Raymond is travelling to islands with Nook Mile Tickets and hoping that he’s there so that you can convince him to move to your island. But the statistical probability of you finding Raymond is quite low: it’s about 0.12% or 1 in a 1000. And imagine the amount of dialog screens going through the airport in order to find him.
But don’t forget rule number 1: Animal Crossing rewards collusion.
Another way to get Raymond is for someone else to convince him to move out and then you go to their island and ask Raymond to move in. But that begs the question, “How much would you have to pay that person to let you do that?”
This is where the Animal Crossing economy gets a little complicated.
The most expensive item in the game is the Royal Crown which sells at the Able Sisters shop for 1.2 million bells. So you need 1.2 million bells and a bit of luck (the Royal Crown has to be on sale that week) to get it.
If you decide you no longer want the Royal Crown, you can sell it to Nook’s Cranny for 300,000 bells. On the other hand, if you decide to sell your Robot Hero, you can only sell it to Nook’s Cranny for 250,000 bells.
But does this make the Royal Crown more valuable than the Robot Hero? Of course not, because the Robot Hero took significantly more dialog screens to get through!
If you can multiply your bells 5x in a week just by sitting through a few airport loading screens, clearly bells are not a good unit of the Animal Crossing economy. What is a good unit?
Animal Crossing was released during the pandemic, so I thought that unit might be N95 masks, so early on in the game I started stockpiling those.
I was wrong. No one wants the hundreds of masks that I have spread out all over my island.
Consider the Nook Mile Ticket. Arguably the most desirable item in the game, Raymond, can be gained by spending Nook Mile Tickets. So that fact alone makes them desirable. But wait - they’re really annoying to buy, too! You have to go through several dialog screens just to purchase one. And here’s the kicker, you can’t even buy them with Bells. You have to buy them with Nook Miles, which you gain by completing annoying tasks, which almost all of them have dialog screens associated with them.
Think about the layers of dialog screens here. You dig up a fossil and bring it to Blathers where you go through five dialog screens simply to identify and donate it. You do this a few times and you’ll complete a Nook Miles quest. Then you go through a bunch of dialog screens to exchange the Nook Miles for a Nook Miles Ticket, which you’ll spend at the airport for another set of dialog screens. If you do this 1000 times, statistically you might get Raymond.
In a way, the Nook Mile Ticket is the perfect unit of the Animal Crossing economy. But how do you get Nook Mile Tickets?
Due to some unfortunate timing on my part, Nintendo patched this bug while I was writing this blog post. If you’re still on v1.2.0b or lower, you can exploit it, but if you’ve updated to v1.2.1, it’s fixed. If you haven’t upgraded yet, I would recommend turning on Airplane Mode and switching on Bluetooth but switching off WiFi.
The method for getting Nook Mile Tickets that I’m about to describe is called the “mail duplication bug”. You may have read about it before, or watched a video on it before Nintendo took them all down from Youtube, but I’ve spent at least 6 hours exploiting it and optimizing it and have learned some things about it that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Here’s the requirements: You need three characters on your island. Ideally one of those characters has upgraded their house where they can move their mailbox, but this is not strictly necessary. You also need two controllers. I use a set of joycons and a Pro controller, although I imagine you might be able to use two sides of a joycon.
Generally how the bug works is: let’s say you have three characters, Alice, Bob, and Charlie. Bob mails items to Alice and then starts a Party Play with Alice. Alice walks into a building like Resident Services and walks out, triggering the mail to appear in their mailbox. Immediately after an autosave happens, Alice retrieves all the items from the Mailbox, switches control back to Bob, and then Bob selects “Pick residents again” so that they’re playing with Charlie, not Alice. Finally, Bob ends the Party Play session. After this happens, the mail will still exist in the mailbox with the items attached and also exist in the inventory of Alice.
This bug requires a lot of setup which can be quite tedious, but once the mail is in the mailbox, the steps for duplication can be completed rather quickly and repeated.
Some key concepts that you should know:
The fastest way to switch between two characters without restarting Animal Crossing is to start Party Play by using the “Call a Resident” feature of your phone and selecting that resident. After Party Play is engaged, shake the first player’s controller (left joycon if you’re using joycons) and then hit A on the controller of the second player. Then you can hit (-) and select End Session. Now you’re playing as that character!
You should practice using the Call a Resident feature before trying to exploit this bug. This means figuring out how to press the L and R buttons on both controllers one at a time in order to activate Party Play. You’re going to be doing it a lot.
Create a third character.
Most people don’t have three characters on their island. If you’ve never added another character before, this just means adding another Profile to your Switch home screen, switching to it and starting Animal Crossing. I named mine “dupe”.
You’ll have to go through a lot of dialog screens.
If you want to delete this character later, you can do it from Settings on the title screen as your primary character.
Gather the items that you want to duplicate and drop them somewhere on your island. If you don’t have a bundle of 10 Nook Mile Tickets, this will mean purchasing them one at a time from the Nook Stop.
Switch to your primary character. Have your primary character pick up their mailbox and move it to the left or right of the Plaza in Resident Services. This isn’t strictly necessary but it will mean less walking later.
Switch to your secondary character. Have your secondary character pick up all the items you want to duplicate.
Go to the airport and mail them to your primary character. This requires a lot of dialog screens, almost 30 seconds per item.
Do this carefully - it is very easy to accidentally send mail without actually attaching an item and then you’ll have to skip over this piece of mail every time you want to engage the bug or clear it out.
Switch to your primary character. Walk into Resident Services and walk out. You should see that you have new mail in your mailbox. Do not open the mail yet. Remove everything from your inventory so you have a completely empty inventory.
Switch to your secondary character. Hit (-) and go to Call a Resident.
Select your primary character as the resident. Once Party Play has started, shake your left controller and hit A on your secondary controller. You should be focused on your Primary character.
This is where things get dicey. Let’s talk about autosaving.
Animal Crossing autosaves your state every 3 minutes. When it saves, there is a spinning icon in the top right of the screen.
Sometimes, when you see the island loading screen, like when you’re starting Party Play, you will also see the spinning icon on the top right, but - this is important - this is not the same as the autosave.
There are exceptions to this 3 minute cadence. For example, if you’re in your inventory and the 3 minutes elapses, it will not auto save at that point. It will auto save after you close your inventory. Similarly, if you’re in your mailbox and the 3 minutes elapses, it will not auto save at that point either, it will auto save after you close your mailbox.
The reason this is important is that autosave is not your friend when trying to exploit this bug. If the game autosaves after you’ve retrieved the packages from your mailbox but before you’ve managed to select “Pick Residents again” and chose your third character, the items will be permanently gone from the mailbox. They will be in your primary character’s inventory, so you will not have lost them, but you will not have duplicated them and you will have to go through the tedious process of mailing them again.
The key to this bug is that you want the autosave to happen right before you open the mailbox, to maximize the amount of time you have before it autosaves again.
I recommend having a timer so that you know how long you have. I use the timer on my iPhone. Immediately after I see the spinning icon in the top right, I start the timer.
So there are two methods for ensuring that the auto save happens right before you open the mailbox. One would be to stand in front of the mailbox and wait until you see the spinning icon in the top right, start your timer, and open the mailbox.
The other method is to stand in front of the mailbox, open your inventory, and wait at least 3 minutes. Then you know that after you close your inventory, the auto save will happen, and you can start your timer and open the mailbox.
Remember, you have 3 minutes! You have to do this quickly.
Go through your mail and put all the presents in your pocket.
Don’t bother opening your inventory and opening the presents, just get them from the mailbox into your inventory as quickly as possible.
Switch back to your secondary character by shaking your controller and hitting A on the other controller. Then hit (-) and select “Pick Residents again” and chose your third character.
After Party Play loads with your second and third characters, hit (-) and click End Session.
Steps 6-8 can be repeated over and over again, but eventually you will fill up the inventory of your primary character and need to open the presents and put them somewhere.
Most tutorials or videos I’ve read about this mail duplication bug get one of two things wrong:
- Some tutorials suggest opening the presents and dropping them on the floor as part of Step 7. This is unnecessary, simply getting them into your inventory is enough. Don’t waste time opening the presents and dropping them on the floor.
- Most tutorials suggest only doing 3-5 items at a time, but this is because they’re not carefully controlling the auto-save timer. With 3 minutes, I find that I can place 40 items in my inventory in a little over 2 minutes, and it takes me less than 30 seconds to switch to my secondary character and “Pick Residents again”.
If you’re starting from nothing, you may not have 40 items worth duplicating. But if you stop between each iteration of the exploit and mail yourself the duplicated items, you can quickly get from duplicating 10 Nook Mile Tickets at a time to 400 Nook Mile Tickets at a time. Ahh, the power of doubling. At that point, you’ll discover that the time consuming part of the exploit is not performing the exploit itself, but opening the presents and putting the items into storage to clear out your inventory.
As we’ve discussed, Nook Mile Tickets are the currency of the Animal Crossing economy, and thus can be traded on a secondary market for any desired item in the game, like a Robot Hero, Cresent Moon Chair, Royal Crown, or even Raymond, if you duplicate enough of them.