In an ever more chaotic world, Stardew Valley has become a place of escape. Amidst everything from pandemics to political instability, more and more gamers have turned to titles which allow them to take a break from the real world and journey to somewhere peaceful and orderly, where daily tasks are clearly defined, monsters stick to caves and mines, and you can make a happy life for yourself simply by raising crops and animals on a gorgeous farm (which, as a bonus, you own debt-free thanks to your late, beloved grandfather!).
Five years following its initial release, Stardew Valley remains as relevant as ever. But creator Eric "ConcernedApe" Barone admits that he wasn't always sure that the game would be such a success. Even when the game spurred interest via Steam's Greenlight program, Barone didn't know for quite a while that he had a hit on his hands.
The journey of Stardew Valley has been an amazing one. Here's a look back at the past five years in the creator's own words.
Year 1 - The Release of Stardew Valley
Although 2021 technically marks the fifth anniversary of Stardew Valley, to Barone, it's been around for much longer. He started developing the game shortly following his graduation from the University of Washington Tacoma, five years before it would ever see the light of day. He chose a farming-themed game due to his own love of the Harvest Moon series, which he felt had significantly degraded in quality in recent installments.
After years of working on the project entirely alone, Barone described himself as nervous prior to Stardew's release.
"Before it came out, I was feeling uncertain. I didn't know whether it would be successful or not. I didn't think it would be popular beyond a niche market of farming RPG fans," he said. "I also had no experience in the indie game world, so I had no idea how to gauge excitement."
However, from the beginning, Stardew Valley's success story owes so much to ConcernedApe's nonstop hard work and dedication. He did not let his fears or uncertainties get in the way.
"Once it came out and instantly blew up," Barone said, "that uncertainty quickly changed into shock and determination to rise and meet this new challenge."
He described the first few months following Stardew's debut as absolutely chaotic, as he balanced a number of tasks at once.
"The next few months were a blur of fixing bugs, providing tech support to players, doing interviews, keeping up with my social media, getting an accountant, and much more. It was a very, very busy time," the developer said. "But also a very exciting time!"
Expanding the World of Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is a constantly expanding and growing game. Since day one, Barone has been committed to bringing the game to as many fans as possible. This has led to his partnership with Sickhead Games, which has been responsible for porting Stardew Valley to consoles including the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and even mobile devices.
"Porting games and working with the console platforms can be kind of a headache, compared to PC," Barone admitted. "But, it's been well worth it, and Stardew has enjoyed lots of popularity and success on consoles, especially the Switch."
He highlighted the PlayStation Vita port of Stardew, which was released in May 2018. He identified the port as a challenge which required a significant amount of optimization. However, it was well worth the effort.
"There was a small but vocal group of Vita players who were asking me for a Vita port so I was happy to make that happen," he explained, once again displaying his profound ability to always focus on the positive.
A Team Effort
Barone also had nothing but praise for the team he's been working with as he continued to release updates for Stardew Valley, including the much-anticipated multiplayer mode. He admitted that it was a difficult change, but credited the team's hard work and skill.
"For 7 years, I worked on Stardew Valley completely alone... it's what I was used to. So, sharing some of that responsibility with others is difficult. However, I've been fortunate to find some great, talented people, and there are great things about working on a team, as well, and a lot of the cool new features of Stardew Valley wouldn't have happened if I had stuck to only working alone forever." —Eric Barone, Stardew Valley developer
He does admit that he still enjoys working on his own on certain projects.
"I'm working on a new game right now, and I'm doing that 100% solo," he revealed. "I still get to have that solitary area of my life, which I appreciate."
Unfortunately, he wasn't currently able to share any details about this project, so fans will have to keep eagerly waiting for an announcement in the hopefully near future!
A Wonderful Community
Stardew Valley's vibrant community first formed during Steam Greenlight's "interest check" and has continued to go strong for five years. Fans come together to debate everything from the most profitable crop to the Pelican Town's most eligible bachelor/ette, show off gorgeous and elaborate farms creations, adventure together in Multiplayer mode, and design mods featuring topics ranging from "more crops and fish" to "expand the size of your house" to "marry the mysterious Wizard who lives alone in the forest."
On the topic of his fans, Barone spoke confidently and with obvious joy.
"I think Stardew Valley's community is one of the finest in the entire video game world," he said. "It's really great how welcoming and positive the community is, and they breathe so much life into the game. Stardew wouldn't be where it's at without the energy of the community!"
However, he did admit to being occasionally baffled by just how fans responded to Stardew Valley's ongoing updates.
"It's always funny to release a new update, full of brand-new content, but then seeing most of the comments saying 'my favorite thing in the update is you can sit on chairs now,'" said Barone. (Guilty as charged - a number of Stardew fans, myself included, have been gleefully re-arranging our houses and moving our beds ever since the last update dropped. I've got one on the roof and one in the kitchen!)
Plus, to all the fans who have been inspired by Stardew Valley to create their own farming simulator games, ConcernedApe might just be one of your players.
When I asked what games he's been playing, he said, "I'm a huge fan of the early Harvest Moon games. I've also played some Rune Factory, and I've tried out a lot of the recent indie farming games that seem to have been inspired by Stardew Valley. It's fun to see the genre really taking off."
Update 1.5 and Beyond
Stardew Valley's most recent major content update, Version 1.5, released in December as an early holiday present from ConcernedApe to his fans. The update added tons of late-game content, including larger quests, a progress tracker, and Ginger Island, a new puzzle-filled area filled with new crops, new monsters, and new characters to meet.
"It seemed fun to have a whole new, distinct area in the game. I've had the tropical island in mind for a long time... perhaps as a full-fledged expansion pack, or even a standalone game... but when the time came to make 1.5, I decided that I might as well just use the idea for the free update," he said.
Why a tropical island? As it turns out, it's a classic trope which the developer very much enjoys.
"Something about a mysterious tropical island is just interesting to me, even though it's a bit of a trope in video games. I feel like I thrive when working on something obvious, though because I try not to execute it in an obvious way. But there's a reason why certain things become tropes, you know? It's probably because they are actually compelling for some reason or another." —Eric Barone, Stardew Valley developer
Speaking of the classics, ConcernedApe cited Super Mario 64 as a major inspiration behind the Ginger Island update.
"There was some open-endedness [in Super Mario 64] in how you'd collect things and then unlock things. It's pretty classic, but I think it's generally pretty fun," he said.
That open-endedness definitely shines through in Ginger Island's search for Golden Walnuts, which unlock new areas of the island and can be found by completing puzzles, defeating monsters and discovering secret locations. (For fans who may be stuck on some of Ginger Island's trickier puzzles, TechRaptor has plenty of guides to help you along your way!)
While he was eager to discuss Version 1.5, Barone was by necessity much cagier when discussing what lay in the future for him.
"I don't like to commit to anything definite when it comes to Stardew Valley, because people will hold me to whatever I say," he said. "That said, I'm not officially 'closing the book' on Stardew Valley with the 1.5 update... there's always the possibility for more. And 'Stardew Valley,' as a concept, or franchise, or whatever you want to call it, will continue on in some form, probably for a long time to come."
Here's To Five Years!
So, Stardew Valley fans, how will you be celebrating the game's five-year anniversary—and the many years still to come? If you're looking for inspiration, why not plan a party inspired by the one Eric Barone shared that the residents of Pelican Town will be having on this momentous occasion?
"They would reflect on the last 5 years, but mostly look forward to the future," ConcernedApe said. "And then, of course, enjoy a delicious buffet provided by Gus!"
Stardew Valley is currently available for Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One. TechRaptor encourages all Stardew fans to share their memories and experiences playing the game and engaging in its community over the last five years.