Something I suspect Nintendo never imagined when developing Animal Crossing: New Horizons was that Nook Miles Tickets - the coupons which can be used to visit mysterious deserted islands - would become a form of virtual currency. In the Animal Crossing trading community, large numbers of Nook Miles Tickets (abbreviated to NMT) are currently changing hands, and the whole thing feels rather weird. And, as ever, we're at the point where people are selling them in bulk for real money.
NMT, for those who need a briefing, can be bought in-game with Nook Miles: points which are earned by completing various tasks such as planting flowers, fishing, or chopping trees. Once you've completed most of the game's major milestones, you can still earn them from Nook Miles Plus - a rolling list of challenges, which places some limits on the rate at which you can earn them. These Nook Miles can then be spent on a limited selection of items and recipes, along with tickets to visit mystery islands. But given it takes a while to properly "clear" a Nook Miles island, and the rewards for doing so are often quite low, why are NMT suddenly in such high demand?
There are a couple of explanations here, but it seems the main factor driving demand is villagers. On Twitter, Reddit and other social media platforms, the Animal Crossing community has developed a number of favourite villagers - such as dapper cat Raymond or wannabe popstar Audie - and everyone wants them on their island. There's a slang term for this: dreamies, short for dream villagers, and some sites have even created tier listings to rank their popularity. And price.
NMT are essentially lottery tickets to find new villagers on desert islands, and as such, it's possible to burn through a whole bunch of them when looking for your desired character (particularly considering there are over 400 villagers in New Horizons). On the other end of this, there's also a lot of people willing to splash NMT on their favourite villager without the painful process of searching dozens of islands. See where this is going?
On Discord servers, it's easy to spot this NMT-villager trading cycle in action, with less popular villagers being sold for between 20-40 NMT, and community favourites like Raymond fetching prices of over 800 NMT. Raymond, specifically, seems to have become some sort of Animal Crossing status symbol as the number one desired villager. Some traders have even developed offer systems whereby players can either bid NMT for a villager, or buy them outright for a steep NMT price.
Although villager trading forms the core of the NMT economy, the coupons are now being used as currency to buy items on trading sites such as Nookazon, or as I discovered, as an entry fee to sell turnips for a high price. Last Saturday, in my desperation to sell my stocks of turnips before they spoiled the next day, I hit up the trading site Turnip Exchange, where players can open up their islands to the public to sell their turnips. While some kind-hearted folk open up their islands for free (or non-compulsory "tips"), many ask for an entry fee of either Bells, rare items or NMT, ranging from 2 to 20 NMT per trip. It was a similar scene inside the Animal Crossing trading Discords, and as it was the last possible chance to sell turnips, traders were definitely feeling opportunistic - with some asking for as many as 30 NMT for a visit. I opted for selling my turnips for a lower price at a friend's place.
NMT entry fees are also being charged for another form of trading called item cataloguing (or touch trading). This is the process by which the seller drops a rare item on the floor, the buyer picks it up, and then returns the item to the seller. They can then use their Nook Stop machine back at their own island to order the item. So, to be clear, you don't actually acquire the item - you just unlock the option to buy it.
There's a practical element to using NMT as currency, as the game's actual in-game currency is difficult to move in large amounts. Once a player's wallet has 99.99k Bells, they stack as 99k each in the player inventory - which can fill up surprisingly fast if you're wanting to transfer as much as 8m for a villager. NMT, meanwhile, stack 10 at a time - but their perceived value is much higher than a 99k Bell stack, meaning you don't need to carry as many between islands for trades (with 40 inventory slots and the wallet, you can carry about 4.06m Bells at a time). Bells are also fairly easy to produce thanks to the in-game Stalk Market mechanic, meaning their trading value is reduced. If you've ever seen photos of Germans wheeling barrels of Marks around to buy bread during the hyperinflation crisis of the 1920s, it's a similar situation with Bells. But with less severe consequences.
It's currently quite difficult to pin down the exact value of NMT, as traders often decide an item or villager's value on a whim, meaning the exchange rate is constantly in flux. A recent thread on The Bell Tree trading forum currently estimates one NMT as being equivalent to 200k Bells, although some are still buying for 250k. On Nookazon, NMT are currently being listed for around 100k-200k Bells per ticket. So even at their current lowest price, an inventory full of NMT would equate to 40m Bells, ten times the amount an inventory full of Bells would get you - something that's pretty useful for traders.
If you try to sell a NMT at Nook's Cranny, however, you'll only get 10k from Timmy and Tommy. They must be making a fortune selling these onto the market.
And aside from all this, there's also just the classic currency belief system at play: once people decided NMT had value, people started collecting and trading them for other items - and things escalated to the point we're at today. Some have speculated that duping is being used to produce hundreds of tickets, but a more likely explanation is people have simply traded their way into acquiring stacks of NMT in order to buy their dream villagers and items, thus producing those ridiculous prices. Will we see further NMT inflation? With so many moving parts to the Animal Crossing trading economy, it's hard to say.
Of course, if you want to skip the entire in-game grind with real money, it seems that's now an option. Sensing demand for NMT, dozens of listings have appeared on eBay offering both Bells and Nook Miles tickets for real-world cash, and people seem to be buying them. I guess the tickets could be useful for item trading, but honestly, it's probably easier just to buy an amiibo if you want a specific villager. Unless you want Raymond, which will set you back £35 for a trade, apparently.
The whole trading economy seems to be getting steadily greedier, and it feels like the community has somehow managed to build its own microtransaction system where there was none: with NMT as a premium currency, and a loot box at the core in the form of Nook Miles Islands. And while villager trading was certainly present in previous games such as New Leaf, the addition of NMT - along with a lot of probably bored people sat inside during lockdown - appears to have pushed trading to new heights. Aside from trading for real-world money, it seems fairly harmless, if a little disturbing given the entire thing is built around trading villagers... and somewhat exploitative of people's desire to have their favourite character. With this new-found knowledge of Audie's worth, I hope I won't start looking at her differently.