If you’re a big Animal Crossing fan, a company in Hong Kong might be offering your dream job.

Yummy House, a local food chain in the city, recently drew a lot of attention online when it offered HK$20,000 (US$2,580) for a job building a virtual island inside the hit new Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The requirements? You need to be creative, have artistic skills and have 100 hours playing the game under your belt.

With its new job posting, Yummy House has joined a growing “Animal Crossing economy,” in which people offer all kinds of services in the game that lets players build and decorate virtual islands, catch butterflies and trade veggies. It’s the result of the latest entry in Nintendo’s family-friendly Animal Crossing franchise becoming an overnight sensation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With many people forced to stay indoors, gaming has been one popular way of filling the time. And New Horizons has proven so popular that physical copies have been difficult to come by, sending prices soaring in mainland China since Nintendo doesn’t offer it in its Chinese game store.

Yummy House saw building its own Animal Crossing island as a fun way to promote the brand. Company managing director Kevin Shea said most of its customers are between the ages of 20 and 35.

Nintendo’s hit family-friendly simulation game lets you maintain your virtual island and visit those of your friends. (Picture: Nintendo)

It was also a way to make a unique job offer to those affected by Hong Kong’s coronavirus-ravaged economy, which has suffered its worst decline on record.

“These [past] few months, Hong Kong has been very bad,” Shea said, adding that the employment situation has been worsening in the city. “We wanted to create a job for people that cannot go outside to work or those who lost their jobs.”

The position proved to be unexpectedly popular. The company has already received 300 applications. Most applicants are local, but some hail all the way from Japan and Taiwan. The job listing was also picked up by Japanese and Taiwanese media, spreading the brand’s name.

So far, other parts of the Animal Crossing economy have included professional interior design for your house made of pixels and housekeeping services that keep your character’s island nice and tidy. Other jobs related to the game have also been popping up around the world.

Some businesses are targeting fashion-conscious players who want to flaunt their virtual outfits. Similar to previous Animal Crossing games, New Horizons lets players design their own clothes, signs and flags. These can then be shared through an in-game shop or QR code.

Hong Kong esports-focused company Cyber Games Arena recently organized a competition in collaboration with sportswear brand Fila for Animal Crossing gamers to design virtual clothing. Players were invited to create Fila-themed hairstyles, clothing, and entire towns to show off their creations in a virtual fashion show.

Apparel brands like 100 Thieves and Fila are using Animal Crossing to boost their clout. (Picture: Cyber Games Arena via Facebook)

The esports company is also looking for an Animal Crossing specialist to design and construct virtual islands. Cyber Games Arena said it will provide a Switch for the part-time job, but it declined to share anything more about the position.

The Animal Crossing economy seems to be making headway even in China, where it isn’t officially available thanks to strict gaming regulations. The game is hugely popular in mainland China as scalpers have taken to importing game cards and selling them on ecommerce platforms.

On some sites, like Alibaba’s Taobao and Xianyu, you can find paid services to help players tend their islands by removing weeds and watering plants. But actually booking a weeding appointment for your virtual garden in China might require you to know the game’s secret code names.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

Gray market copies of Animal Crossing were removed from local online stores without explanation last month. Some angry gamers have blamed political pixel art, which cropped up thanks to Hong Kong protesters stuck at home during the pandemic. They promoted their cause in the virtual world by filling their islands with protest slogans and posters denouncing the Chinese government.

The game can still be found on Chinese ecommerce sites, but only under code names like “Macho Man Picking Up Tree Branches.” The title likely stems from an inside joke among Chinese netizens who have used the term “macho man” in reference to online pictures and videos featuring cute babies and animals.