The shortage of Nintendo (NTDOY 0.79%) Switch consoles during the coronavirus pandemic is being exacerbated by outsized demand for its Animal Crossing: New Horizons game, which is attracting non-gamers as well as casual players and more hardcore types.

The anthropomorphic animal simulation game allows players to customize their own world and invite other players to visit. Despite its surging popularity around the world, Alibaba (BABA 1.53%) just removed the game from its Taobao marketplace, as did Pinduoduo (PDD 4.71%) and other Chinese sites.

Nintendo Switch game console

Image source Nintendo.

Although the companies refuse to say why they've blocked gamers from accessing the game, analysts contend pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were using Animal Crossing to post messages critical of China.

Regulating ideas

A few days before Alibaba and others removed Animal Crossing from their platforms, China introduced new regulations for gaming companies that could result in heavy fines and being banned from getting a license to make games for six months.

  • The regulations identified several prohibited activities occurring within games:
  • Promoting banned ideas, either using in-game customization tools or through chats
  • Using "borrowed" permissions from regulators to publish games
  • Allowing ads to run that weren't first approved by the government

Reuters notes that it's not clear whether Alibaba, Pinduoduo, and other marketplaces were acting on orders from regulators in taking down Animal Crossing: New Horizons or if they were actively removing the game on their own because they are sensitive to activities critical of the government.

Sales of the Switch game console surged to 392,000 units in the week the game was released, according to The Verge, the highest-ever number for the Nintendo platform.