Cozy is the New Black: The Surge in Popularity of Chill Gaming

I can’t remember which of my Twitter friends was the first one to start talking about it, but around the beginning of June somebody discovered that there was a new MMO coming to town. Palia is being described as a community simulator rather than a role-playing game (the type of game that usually comes to mind when you’re talking about massively multiplayer online experiences). The game is currently in very limited pre-alpha testing, but the official Discord currently has more than 30,000 members, so obviously, the interest for this type of game is definitely there, and it’s not a small demographic!

A lot of people might point to Stardew Valley as being the beginning of the renaissance of cozy PC gaming going mainstream. The breakaway 2016 hit has sold over 10 million copies across multiple platforms over the past five years, and that’s pretty damn significant for an indie game by a solo developer. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of other cozy options, outside of the Sims series, that can compare to those sort of numbers (although I admit, I haven’t fully committed to the research so I’m just guessing here).

Of course, there have been tons of life sims focused on farming and crafting released since then, and there are still even more muddling their way through early access and Kickstarters, some of which only have the vaguest of release dates. But it wasn’t until the past year or so, after the runaway popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch, which released around the same time as the start of Covid-related lockdowns, that I’ve been truly aware of just how much the cozy gaming category has been exploding.

Wholesome Direct 2021 featured 75 titles in one very short hour, and while I really enjoyed the variety of games they showcased, I almost feel like having the show be so short and cover so many titles did the majority of the games a disservice. Of course, I still pumped up my wish list with games that focus on mundane gameplay over heroism. Games in which you fish, farm, cook, tend to animals, and take oh-so-many photographs. Games in which you write letters, paint pictures, and explore interesting worlds. Games that don’t ask you to kill anything at all.

This feels like the wind is changing, and I’m not sure if there’s any single reason we can point to. It seems like every few years, a new genre pops up as the Next Big Thing, and if the Next Big Thing (or the Now Big Thing) is cozy gaming, I am so completely here for it.

Bonus Blaugust prompt ideas: Why do you think so many cozy games are being worked on and released? Do you think AAA game publishers are going to jump on this bandwgon? Is this a genre of gaming you enjoy? Do you have a favorite cozy game? Do you remember the first cozy game you fell in love with? Are there any cozy games you’ve backed on Kickstarter, or that you’re eagerly anticipating the release of?

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