Farming and community simulators are niche genres long dominated by Nintendo’s ever-popular Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing series. Requiring no objectives, violence or intensive play, these relaxing games are hits that have resonated with fans since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The market for these games is unsaturated, so it comes with no surprise that when ConcernedApe released Stardew Valley, a brand new simulation game, this past February, it was an instant hit. Stardew Valley remains on Steam’s bestseller list with over 15,000 positive reviews nearly two months after its release.
Working as a team of one and inspired by the likes of Harvest Moon, Eric Barone, a developer who goes by the handle ConcernedApe, singlehandedly delivered one of Steam’s most successful indie games of the year. Pouring thousands of hours of work over a span of four years into its creation, Stardew Valley is a product of love, and it shows. Through a combination of relaxing music, change of seasons and a taste of quiet, small-town farm life, Stardew Valley has resonated with gamers like no other game has so far this year.
The goal of the game is simple: there is no goal. After inheriting a farm from your late grandfather, the player’s character leaves their draining corporate job to pursue life on a farm. From there, it is up to the player how they would like to enjoy Barone’s game. You can fish, farm, mine, raise livestock or simply walk around town and make friends.
Like real life, your character has an energy bar that drains as you do daily activities, only to be replenished by a good night’s sleep. Weeds, rocks and thick maple and evergreens trees originally overrun your farm. To clear the massive acres you have inherited, it would take weeks of in-game time and be a consistent drain of your daily energy. This is another aspect where Stardew Valley mirrors real life: management is key.
To be successful in game where success does not matter, a player has to be diligent. Planting and selling crops while managing livestock is labor intensive and requires a keen understanding of balancing your daily energy and completing the tasks you have laid out for the day. Many intense Stardew Valley players have even taken to logging their activities and goals in a notebook.
However, though farming is a large aspect of the game, a player can choose to not farm if they wish, making their revenue through other activities like fishing and foraging. It is this freedom of choice that makes Stardew Valley so special. The game gives you options on how to spend your time, and though it is in your best interest to establish a lucrative farm, you can do so at your own pace.
Players even have the option to build relationships with the fellow residents of Stardew Valley. By giving weekly presents to your neighbors, players can become closer to those around them, slowly learning more about these complex characters. Each possesses a personality and secrets of their own. By getting close enough to one particular member of your community, the player will gain the ability to propose marriage, an option that provides the benefit of having a helping hand around your expansive farm.
Without the monetary backing seen by most AAA titles of the year, it is refreshing to see a new developer find well-deserved success nearly overnight. Stardew Valley hits a note unachievable by modern, graphic intensive shooters and RPGs. ConceredApe has managed to wrap up the feeling of warmth and community in a gorgeous, addictive pixel-art package.