It’s been less than a month since Stardew Valley was released, but this unassuming PC game has already sold more than half a million copies.
The premise is deceptively simple: Stardew Valley is a country-life simulator. Your character has inherited the family farm, and gameplay consists of learning to live off the land as time slowly passes. You can spend time growing crops, raising livestock, fishing, cooking, working on your home, befriending fellow townspeople—all with no real aim except creating a thriving homestead for your character.
It might sound like it would get boring fast, but Stardew Valley is strangely satisfying. Its intricate, pixelated graphics are lush and colourful, and the quietly engaging gameplay shows off a careful attention to detail. Here’s what else you need to know about 2016’s most talked-about new game:
1. It’s number two on Steam’s list of best-selling games.
Online gaming retailer Steam currently ranks Stardew Valley as its second-best top seller. This puts the game in the company of titles from blockbuster gaming franchises like Tom Clancy, Counter-Strike, and GTA. This ranking would be an achievement for any new game. It’s even more impressive given who’s behind Stardew Valley…
2. It was created solo by a first-time developer.
Stardew Valley is the work of Eric Barone, a Seattle-based 28-year-old.
After graduating from his computer science program at the University of Washington-Tacoma in 2011, Barone had trouble finding a coding job. So, he decided to develop and release an indie game, as a fun little project to add to his resume.
Barone initially planned to just release the finished product on Xbox Live Indie Games, but once he got down to work, he became invested in the game and decided he wanted to take things further. Barone spent the next four years working full-time on Stardew Valley.
3. It was inspired by the classic farming simulator game Harvest Moon.
Released for the SNES in North America 1997, the Japanese game Harvest Moon was the original country-life simulator. It became a cult hit, beloved by fans for its simple yet rewarding gameplay, in which the player takes over a run-down farm and tries to bring it back to prosperity.
Barone wanted to recreate the simplicity of Harvest Moon, saying in an interview with Vulture that “there was something about that relaxed gameplay in this immersive, beautiful world that felt really special.”
4. It includes some social critique – but in a subtle way.
“I want Stardew to be a fun game, but I also wanted to have real-world messages,” Barone said.
One of these messages is an anti-corporate one: part of the backstory of Stardew Valley is that the arrival of a big corporation in town has degraded the quality of life: “Since JojaMart opened, the old way of life in Stardew Valley has changed,” the game’s website explains.
It’s up to the player to return to a simpler way of life: learning to live off the land, independent of large corporations and looking to the community for support (connecting with other villagers is a big part of Stardew’s gameplay).
Barone hopes players will enjoy the many varied challenges the game offers rather than playing just to maximize farm profits. Stardew Valley encourages a contemplative state of play rather than a winning-oriented one, prioritizing character satisfaction over material gains.
5.The gameplay is open-ended.
Given that Stardew is aiming for a slow, relaxed style of play, it makes sense that the game never has to end. Players can wander around Stardew Valley forever, enjoying the simple beauty of plants growing and seasons changing. There’s no way to really beat the game or win.
In an era of worried think-pieces about how we’re all spending too much time glued to our laptop and smartphone screens, a quiet game like Stardew Valley offers a tongue-in-cheek chance to “unplug”. It’s an opportunity to return to nature—even if it’s only to the virtual countryside.