Hang on, because the cozy games trend hasn’t even peaked yet

This year I made cozy games my entire personality. It wasn’t hard. Partly that’s because I was already a lover of farm sims and puzzle games, but also because the popularity of “cozy” gaming grew exponentially in 2023. Every week there was a new cute or chill game about gardening or decorating or moving to a pastoral village in the hills. Despite drowning in cozy games (and picking my four favorite cozy games of 2023) I don’t think this trend has even peaked. I’m confident that 2024 is going to be the year of cozy conversion.

Unlike so many other game subgenres, “cozy” defies definition a bit because it really isn’t about the style of gameplay so much as an overall vibe. Here are just a few things that might make a game one you’d see on a cozy games list:

It involves gardening, farming, or anything else with plants, reallyThe color scheme is pastelIts protagonist is a cat or a bunny or any other cute animalThe gameplay is slow-paced and doesn’t demand reflexesYou’re managing a cafe or pretty much any other kind of shop

(Image credit: Rundisc)

Games like Stardew Valley have been on the rise for years at this point, and players looking for these chill, creative experiences had already started to branch out past farm sims. In years past I’d have described the vibe as “casual,” and I may have pointed someone to the narrative games we referred to as “walking sims” for a while. In 2019 the Wholesome Games account started sharing updates from games in development, and these days has its own showcase too. In 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizons made even more converts of players returning to or first joining the gaming community—and enticing those of us who just want a mood change now and again. So this vibe-based non-genre has been in the works a while.

What changed this year was the full dedication to the unifying word: cozy.

As an animal for analytics, I feel compelled to make my case with graphs and numbers. Here’s some Google search history data showing the relative number of searches for cozy games versus wholesome and casual starting in 2020, from the United States alone and then globally. Apologies to the British spelling “cosy” which doesn’t have a strong enough presence to include for comparison.

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(Not pictured: “relaxing games” which has search interest smaller than, but following a similar trajectory as, “cozy” but I don’t often see used in the wild.) (Image credit: Google)

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(Image credit: Google)

The cozy takeover is pretty clear in the US but you can see the effect from a global view too. Cozy has been on a steady rise since 2021, surpassing “casual” games in the middle of 2022. December of 2022 marks a sharp increase that set the new normal for interest in cozy games and that normal is: a lot.

I can’t pin down precisely who or what caused the shift to the “cozy” nomenclature, other than to point at a loose grassroots movement. Independent studio Thunder Lotus revealed Spiritfarer in 2019, which it self-described as “a cozy management game,” and was the first time I’d seen the word act as a genre modifier so widely. Though she may not have been the very first, cozy gaming and lifestyle influencer Kennedy started posting videos in January 2021 with the “cozy.games” username, joined by tons of other cozy game accounts since then.

Over the last year and a half farm sims and farm simfluencers have been hopping on the cozy bandwagon in droves. By the beginning of this year, the word was widely used enough that I too made a list of the best cozy games.

(Image credit: Toukana Interactive)

I’ve been following content creators who play a mix of Stardew and The Sims for years now, and I really felt that early 2023 shift to “cozy.” It’s not all game recommendation lists and let’s play videos either. It’s also aesthetic videos for cute PC cases, Steam Deck skins, and cottagecore desk setups. I’m not the only one who made cozy a personality trait this year.

As we well know, marketing chases demand, which means that “cozy” games haven’t actually peaked yet. I’ve only received 15 emails from this year that include the term and I’m expecting that number to rocket in 2024 as developers, publishers, and press teams all learn the magic word. 

What that means for us, the cozy gamers, is that things are going to start getting weird. No longer dominated by just farm sims and puzzles, an even wider range of games will start declaring themselves “cozy” to capture our attention. It may get a little overwhelming at times, but we’ll be spoiled for choice. At worst, we’ll need to have a reckoning with what we believe cozy games to be. But from the community that I’ve seen unironically calling Skyrim cozy, there may never be a consensus anyway. 

Cozy games are whatever we want them to be, and in 2024 we’re going to get more than we can possibly choose from.

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