If you’ve been playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, odds are you’ve become as obsessed with turnip prices as everyone else. The vegetable, which has been featured in every Animal Crossing game to date, is the star crop of New Horizon’s “Stalk Market,” with prices fluctuating between the modestly lucrative to positively ludicrous. Plant enough turnips and you’ll be looking at enough bells to essentially turn your island into a 5-star resort.
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This has spurred Animal Crossing’s more entrepreneurial fans to do something that would almost certainly land real-world stock analysts in hot water. Across sites like Twitter and the “Turnip Exchange,” people are coordinating to sell their turnips at the highest prices possible, or maybe perform a quid-pro-quo for access to their island. What’s emerged out of the turnip thicket is a sort of online black market, with multiple price-tracking sites, turnip algorithm calculators, and even small armies of bouncers to keep less-than-honest players in line.
But while Animal Crossing players have probably felt like deviously clever insider stock traders these past few weeks, they probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without one of the U.S.’s most omnipotent intelligence agencies: The National Security Agency (The NSA).
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Twitter user Ninji, a 25-year-old software developer who has previously built tools for games like Super Mario Bros Wii, reverse-engineered Animal Crossing’s code using the NSA’s free reverse-engineering software Ghidra. Using Ghidra, Ninji managed to find the Nintendo Switch equivalent of a .exe file, which in theory would allow them to figure out all the game’s various secrets, including turnip price algorithms. In practice, things weren’t so simple.
“This compiled code is heavily processed and only includes the information that the Switch’s processor actually needs to run the game,” Ninji told IGN. “So, all the comments and most of the names in the original source code are gone. It’s a big puzzle where you have tiny clues all over the place and you have to use them to figure out what specific sections of code do.”
Buried in Animal Crossing’s code, there’s a flag labeled “FirstKabuBuy” (“Kabu” is Japanese for Turnip) and following that trail led Ninji straight to the turnip pricing code.
“I figured people would probably be interested in knowing how the turnip pricing worked, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much attention it’s gotten,” Ninji told IGN. “It’s pretty neat to see something I’ve done having an impact on so many people though, even if it’s just in a tiny way.”
The code that Ninji eventually posted online would go on to help create the Turnip Prophet site (created by one Mike Bryant), which lets users use an algorithm to determine (with a fair amount of accuracy) what their turnip prices will be throughout the week.
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While Turnip Prophet and similar sites are great for players trying to keep tabs on their personal stalk market standings, many players aren’t content to wait around, so they’ve begun visiting sites like Turnip.Exchange, created by the team at Warp World, a gaming and streaming tool developer.
Turnip Exchange lets users either host their own island (and post their current turnip value) or request to visit another player’s island. Many island hosts are also using their island’s card on Turnip Exchange to ask for some sort of compensation for entry to their island, often in the form of bells, specific items, or recipes.
“I was attempting to sell my turnips with a friend that had gotten a Dodo Code online from a Twitter message, and it took us over 40 minutes of trying to enter the code and going through menu after menu, and message after message of interference,” Warp World CEO and president Matthew Jakubowski told IGN “So I vowed that day to build something that would make it easier for everyone.”
That something has since grown immensely, with Warp World saying its portal has 1.3 million users, and a peak concurrent user count of 300,000. Jakubowski and the team at Warp World managed to build the Turnip Exchange portal in only about five days.
However, for a venture intended to make things easier for players, the Warp World team have still seen their fair share of backlash. “I’ve always been a casual player of Animal Crossing, maybe dabbling into the turnip business every so often,” Jakubowski adds. “But the number of people that are very serious about their island/items really surprises me…There have been people that have had internet issues with hosts and so their items would get lost, and the amount of angry emails, tweets, Discord messages directed at us is absolutely astounding. We make sure to let users know that things like that can happen, but there is only so much you can do. I feel bad for the number of messages Nintendo must be getting as a whole.”Considering the turnip business is big business, it’s unsurprising that not everyone is playing nice. Though visiting players are fairly restricted in what they can do to another player’s island, it’s possible for visitors to take more than they’re welcome to, or ignore a host’s requests for a tip in the form of bells.
This has spurred some players to hire their friends as, to put it simply, Animal Crossing island bouncers.
Corey Reynolds, one such player, brought in a few friends to help ensure that people were paying his requested fee of gold, star fragments, or Nook Miles. Reynolds built a fenced-in path that led straight to the Nook’s Cranny shop where players can trade in turnips, and stationed a friend there to block the path until their visitor dropped the necessary fee.
“Honestly it was extremely efficient,” Reynolds told IGN. “After I was done hosting my island, we split all profits equally. I think this is a great way for any host to make sure their guests are true to their word with bringing their payment.”
Like any boom market, there will be plenty of cheapskates looking to exploit the masses in other ways. Animal Crossing’s turnip market could open the door for less-than-honest individuals to pull one over on their followers, much like similar scams for Fortnite V-Bucks or other virtual currencies.
“Some folks actually seem to be using high turnip prices as an attempt to curry favor with people,” Ninji says. “I saw one Twitch streamer trying to gain viewers by promising artificially high turnip prices (which I know from my research to be impossible without save-file hacking) as well as other unrealistic giveaways.”
Elsewhere, moderators on the r/ACTurnips subreddit have posted warnings of at least one individual offering what they believe to be pornographic images of themselves in exchange for turnip trips.On r/ACTurnips, entry fees to access another island’s high prices that you’d commonly see on some of the other turnip sites are banned. A post from a moderator explains that this is due to reports of island hosts booting players after they’ve already paid an exorbitant bell fee. Bots that disperse a person’s unique Dodo Code (which allows someone to visit your island) are also a common issue. One r/ACTurnips user produced a brief video on how to create a Google Form that, they say, will catch most bots with a Captcha test.
Elsewhere, the internet is aflutter with other groups and individuals getting in on the turnip craze. As reported by The Verge, a small group of financial tech startup employees has started using their company’s Slack to exchange turnip information in a dedicated channel. One co-worker went so far as to develop a custom Slackbot that tracked each employee’s turnip prices.
The world of Animal Crossing is meant to be one of chill hang-outs, fun fashion parties, and developing the most rad island imaginable. The online turnip market that’s emerged out of Animal Crossing just goes to show that Tom Nook has some serious competition when it comes to being the suavest (or most sinister) businessman in town.
Don’t forget to check out IGN’s own official turnip guides for a much more legit bit of assistance.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.