Slack was designed to be a place for co-workers to collaborate productively, but now, it’s been converted into a turnip forum. Tom Riley, a customer service employee at a fintech startup, participates regularly in his company’s growing Animal Crossing: New Horizons turnip channel on Slack, which has 34 people in it this week. It’s become a place to, obviously, discuss turnips, but ideally, also get everyone rich.
To explain turnips simply: they’re the closest thing New Horizons, a new Nintendo Switch game, has to gambling. Players can buy turnips every Sunday for a varying price with the goal of selling them for a high return throughout the week. All turnips have to be sold by the following Sunday, or else they rot and become worthless. It’s a potentially effective way to make fast cash (or bells, as money is called in the game), which can be used to upgrade homes on players’ islands, buy new clothes, or build bridges — that is, so long as people sell them for a higher price than they bought the crops. That’s not guaranteed.
Players around the world are now devising ways to game the system, forming groups with other people in the hopes that at least one of them has a good turnip price that week. Some are joining Reddit forums, coding price prediction calculators, and even collecting price point data in an attempt to decode the New Horizons algorithm. The turnip game can be all-consuming; some people spend hundreds of thousands of bells weekly, and prices change two times daily, requiring people to at least check their game twice a day, in the morning and at night.
Riley’s co-worker designed a customized Slackbot, complete with a turnip mascot, to keep track of their company’s turnip prices. The bot has become a daily routine for the members and helps them work together to ensure a profit for as many people as possible.
“My work from home quarantine lifestyle now involves: wake up, reach for Switch, [which is] outside of [my] bed, get back into bed, check turnip prices, submit them to the bot,” Riley says. “It’s kind of addictive to see who’s going to get the best price of the day.”
As everyone inputs their turnip prices, the bot will send an @here ping to alert everyone who’s online if someone’s turnips are priced at over 200 bells each. That’s a decently good price, as most people buy a turnip for around 90 bells. If someone reaches over 200 bells, Riley and his colleagues might travel to that co-worker’s island to sell their crops. Even that is a gamble, however, because turnip prices can sometimes reach 600 or 700 bells. The biggest success story when Riley and I chatted was a woman who had hers priced at 411 bells each. Riley, unfortunately, had already sold his turnips that week for a lower price, so he couldn’t reap the cash.
“I was really upset,” he says. “There was a thread in the channel with like 40 messages of people talking all about who managed to sell what and what money they made, so yeah, I was pretty upset that I didn’t manage to sell my turnips there.”
The channel’s also a dedicated place to share articles, memes, and GIFs about Animal Crossing. “The channel keeps getting more and more active, to the point that I’ve had to mute it because I can’t get any work done,” he says. “To be honest I don’t think anyone’s doing any work in this channel.”
Although, technically, no professional work is being done, at least to Riley’s company’s bottom line, he says the group has introduced him to colleagues he had never met. We here at The Verge, as well as Vox Media more broadly, also have our own turnip-dedicated Slack channels where we track our turnip prices in a spreadsheet designed by Natalie Watson, an associate producer at a video game production company.
Watson tells me she first designed the spreadsheet because a Discord group she’s in posted a basic graph of their prices. She wanted something similar for another group she’s in, and she wanted a spreadsheet that could be individualized, too.
“I was having a really shitty brain day where I was really stressed out about the world and everything,” she says. “Once I started [making the spreadsheet], it just completely consumed my entire day, and five hours later, [I was] still tinkering with the sheet.”
She tweeted an image of the spreadsheet and realized other people would want access, so she cleared the data and figured out how to turn it into a basic template for anyone to use. The template allows people to not only keep track of their prices, but also try to determine if they adhere to any sort of pattern.
Maddox Knight designed a graphic to help people decipher their prices. He and a group of other Animal Crossing players have been collecting data and trying to establish patterns within it. He says he initially did this with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, in a group he calls the “turnip mafia,” but the turnip enthusiasm started later into the game for him. With New Horizons, he started turnip tracking as soon as he could. He’s also established norms around visiting people’s islands and encourages players to “tip” anyone who opens their island to turnip sellers.
“I recommend people tip at least 10 percent, personally I usually do a little more than that just because i like being able to,” he tells me over Twitter DM. “After doing turnips for a while, money eventually becomes fairly trivial.”
Knight says he’s making millions of bells a week now, which he’s spent on his house remodeling, building bridges and ramps, and terraforming his island.
Several people trying to game the system said they recognize how ridiculous it sounds to talk seriously about turnips and bells. But for the people who play, it’s become a welcome reprieve from the broader world and pandemic news.
“We have a daily press conference, not anymore from Boris Johnson, but I get the Twitter notification every day at 5PM, and I’ve taken that notification ... as the time to just switch off my phone and spend half an hour in Animal Crossing instead,” Riley says.
Watson got lost in her spreadsheet development work, and Knight chats with friends across Discord, Facebook, and Google Sheets, just trying to help everyone make as much as they can. For people without friends who are as passionate about the turnip game, there’s an automated matching system available to them, too, that pairs sellers up with anyone who has a high turnip price. Turnips are a small bright spot for the Animal Crossing players who want a break from the world while also making an imaginary profit.
Correction 4/14, 5:35PM ET: This story initially stated Tom Riley’s last name as Early. We regret the error.