Animal Crossing: New Horizons was Nintendo’s smash hit last year, selling nearly 33 million units (which puts it just behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as the top-selling Switch game to date). For many during the pandemic, gaming became a new pastime, and this has had a direct impact on the life simulation genre, which has seen substantial growth over the past year, according to Interpret data.
Animal Crossing has helped accelerate gaming’s seeming ever-expanding demographic reach through the delivery of “cozy gaming”. Cozy gaming is a new term for a genre of wholesome games that provide the player a sense of safety and an abundance of resources. In short, by creating a low-stress environment with optional activities, the Animal Crossing franchise has created a relaxed, rewarding version of a life simulation game that appeals to a broad swath of gamers – those experienced and just beginning.
According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, fanship among people over 35 years old has risen dramatically for the life/pet simulation genre, increasing from 8% of the US gaming population during 2019 to 14% during 2020. World-building games have also grown in popularity, and Minecraft performed especially well, seeing an increase of six percentage points in title fanship from 2019 to 2020. Both types of games offer an escape from the stresses of everyday life; considering what people endured in the last year, cozy games were likely a therapeutic outlet.
The core design of the cozy game affords players the ability to put it down at any time and come back whenever they want. According to Daniel Cook, the Chief Creative Officer at Spry Fox, the genre’s appeal also comes from “intrinsically rewarding activities” players can enjoy that are not created out of responsibility or a threat response, such as shaking trees and collecting fruit that falls to the ground.
As players get the itch to try something new, the burgeoning cozy game genre has already produced several other games that emulate Animal Crossing’s cozy appeal, such as Cozy Grove and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. Aside from new releases, older games are receiving renewed attention, as both Stardew Valley and Minecraft are other options for players who enjoy exploration and optional crafting in gameplay.