But to just say that it came out in the perfect window is to ignore the changes Nintendo made in the series that helped build fame: the presence of the share button on the switch made it easy for players to take screenshots and spread them on social media, and a more streamlined friend code system made it easy to visit both friends and strangers.
New horizons would still have sold well even without the pandemic, but these new features gave it more visibility and made it easier for Animal Crossing to faithfully spread the word. And they did, with the game ubiquitous on social media the first month, inspiring countless parodies, brand advertising and finally a talk show featuring celebrity guests such as Sting, Elijah Wood and T-Pain.
Another title that got celebrity attention this year was Innersloth’s title 2018, Among us. The two-year-old game exploded over the summer for a number of reasons – not least the superficial resemblance to another popular title, Fall Guys. But it was also cheap to play, for $ 5 (or less) for the PC version and free on mobile, and it was very easy to set up games with friends or complete strangers.
The relatively simple game made it a favorite among casual gamers, since it mostly just points and clicks, with the hardest part being the mind games you play on your co-workers. I have met a few people who do not even care about the bigger goal of trying to whip out the fraudster; they just like to be in the room, do their homework and see how the whole drama plays out. It’s a fun game to watch – as evidenced by the 430,000 people who watched representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar face off against some prominent twitch streamers back in October.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was also one of those titles where the players did not particularly care if they won, but in this case it was because the game was super hard to beat. Players were pitted against 59 other competitors in a series of physical game challenges that were often ridiculous and extremely unpredictable – many hardcore players found the title’s unstable controls of a turnoff, but many more lost themselves only in madness. The ability to jump back into the game quickly after defeat made each loss less of a tragedy, and thanks to the spectator mode, it was probably one of those games where it was fun to just hang out just to see how things ended.
The social aspect of gaming has definitely come to the forefront this year. Streaming has been a big part of the medium in recent years, with people feeling affinity for their favorite players and forming communities on YouTube, Twitch and Discord. But big multiplayer games have also played their part, and many casual gamers approached them not as a way to enjoy the game itself, but as a place to hang out with their friends.
Both Minecraft and Fortnite served as large meeting places in the past, but 2020 increased a huge increase in Roblox players, an online platform where children could create their own rooms – and their own games – to play. The biggest draw was that it was free to download, which meant that all children who owned a device could jump in, and parents were only happy to let them do so since it was less violent than Fortnite and encouraged the child’s creativity. The game got enough cached this year that Lil Nas X even held a virtual concert there last month, and debuted with his new single “Holiday”.
For adults, socializing in 2020 meant many virtual happy hours, which became tiring quite quickly. To try to give these events a little more structure, many people invested in one or more of Jackbox’s Party Packs. Each pack contains a number of games, such as trivia and drawing activities, that can be sent over a Zoom stream. Unlike many other titles, players did not need to own the game itself or even a console: Players participated via their phones and entered the session’s unique four-character code into a browser. Jackbox even has a spectator mode that allows people to vote in any of the rounds, even if they do not want to be a complete player – the ultimate in casual gaming.