When you think of gaming, your mind might go straight to the obvious AAA examples (games with large production and marketing budgets): first-person shooters like ‘Call of Duty’, action-adventures in a post-apocalyptic setting like ‘The Last of Us’, or even sports simulators like the ‘FIFA’ series. You might not consider games which involve unpacking a room, or tending to a farm in a sleepy town, such as those popular in the growing “cosy game” category.
What are “cosy games”?
“Cosy” is not a genre in the traditional sense (as you might think of role-playing games or platformers) but games are considered “cosy” based on the feel they emit. If you can imagine yourself playing a game whilst curled up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and a fire roaring in the background (even if it’s a looped YouTube video you’ve put on the TV, for the vibes), then you’re most likely playing a cosy game.
Despite there being no set list of features from which to determine whether a game is cosy or not, there are commonalities between most cosy games:
- A soft colour palette, usually pastel hues
- Cute characters
- Relaxing, sometimes whimsical, soundtracks
- Little to no violence
- Low stakes
Cosy games often facilitate a more casual gameplay style, with players being able to easily walk away from the game without returning to find they’ve been attacked by enemies and have lost all their progress, as might happen with games of other genres. Players can dip in and out of cosy games as they please with no penalty to their gameplay or storyline progression.
Why have they become so popular?
Whilst cosy games have hugely increased in popularity in recent years, there have been several notable releases over the years which have paved the way for cosy gaming’s success.
ConcernedApe’s ‘Stardew Valley’, released in 2016, is a farming simulator role-playing game which involves little more than what you might expect from a farming sim: growing crops, raising animals, foraging and interacting with the townsfolk. The game was partially-inspired by the Harvest Moon series, which launched in the late 90s, and became a hit – it’s since sold over 20 million copies. The Sims (originally released in 2000) can also be seen as a cosy game, with the player being immersed in a realistic world where the stressors and hard work of life are completely removed.
The recent interest in cosy games is often linked to the 2020 release of Nintendo’s latest instalment of the ‘Animal Crossing’ series, ‘New Horizons’. The timing of this release coincided with lockdowns across the globe as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (something I’m sure we all remember very clearly, whether we want to or not) and very quickly not only became light relief but a coping mechanism which provided comfort and stability when everything felt so uncertain.
Streaming and social media has also had a large part to play in the increasing popularity of cosy gaming too. The ‘Stardew Valley’ and ‘Animal Crossing’ categories on Twitch are followed by 1.4 million and 2.7 million people respectively, whilst a recent study found that the most watched Stardew Valley playthroughs on YouTube average out at just under 1 million views each, earning the creators on average $224 per minute. Cosy gaming influencers are also growing in number on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, producing content to showcase the cosy games they’re playing and recommendations to their followers. Kennedy (@cozy.games) has over 40k followers on Instagram and over 200k on TikTok, where she mixes bite-sized lifestyle and gaming content, demonstrating the scale of interest in cosy gaming.
Why is this emergence important?
Cosy games are considered to be more accessible than AAA titles. For example, they tend to be cheaper and available on less pricey consoles than games of other genres. In terms of gameplay, cosy games don’t necessarily require a lot of skill to progress in the game, making it easier to immerse yourself in the storyline and other aspects to the game. These characteristics make cosy games more attractive to those who want to use gaming as a tool to unwind and relax whilst also providing an opening into gaming for newer gamers.
Unfortunately - as with films, books, and any entertainment source you can think of – there will always be those gamers who look down on others for enjoying the Sims on PC rather than ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ on Xbox. Toxicity in these AAA games (often with online, multiplayer options) is rife and is often cited as a barrier to getting into gaming, especially for minority groups.
However, a strong community of cosy gamers has been established where players can feel a sense of belonging, even though they may not fit the stereotype of what a ‘gamer’ should be playing. Wholesome Games represents a formalised version of this community, with almost 500k followers over various platforms, and aims to change how we decide which games are taken seriously.
Impact on the industry and future thinking
With the rise of cosy games, there’s also been a rise in approaching games (which might not necessarily be considered cosy) with a cosy mindset. For example, ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ features fantasy violence and conflict which scales in intensity, depending on whether you’re fighting a regular ‘Bokoblin’ or a ‘Divine Beast’ boss. Cosy gamers are avoiding these aspects of the game when playing, instead preferring to take in the beautiful art style, vast open-world, exploration capabilities, gathering and crafting features. I also stumbled across an article in which the author makes the case that golf games can be cosy, purely through simple gameplay mechanics and restricted player freedom. Cosy gaming is universal, and brands need to be aware of this. Even if gaming brands aren’t publishing specific titles for the cosy gamer, settings - such as difficulty toggles or even an option to remove conflict entirely - can be included within games which will make them more appealing to this segment, allowing cosy gamers to fully enjoy other aspects of the gaming experience, such as the storyline or gameplay mechanics.
The industry is taking note of the evolution of cosy gaming – there’s an emergence of independent developers, such as Whitethorn Digital, that focus on publishing cosy games that aim to help players chill out. Bigger players in the industry are jumping on the bandwagon by including cosy elements in games. For example, Blizzard Activision’s latest World of Warcraft expansion included a new crafting system and a number of cosier quests.
It’s evident that cosy gaming is here to stay and provides a huge opportunity for publishers and developing studios. The World Economic Forum estimated that by 2026, the gaming industry will be worth more than $320 billion with the majority of this revenue coming from spending in social and casual gaming. When you consider this alongside the fact that ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ has sold more than 40 million copies (about 4 times as many copies as the previous game in the series), the commercial viability of cosy games is clear. Indie developers are at the forefront of cosy game creation and it’s imperative that the big players in the industry dedicate resources to participating in the growth of cosy gaming (through game releases, partnerships with cosy gaming streamers or otherwise) to avoid missing out on the opportunity.