Stardew Valley is one of the best-selling indie games on Steam. The game is a farming simulator that illustrates the fight against savage capitalism and the importance of local communities. In the game you can grow crops, raise animals or even build relationships with villagers. In four years, Stardew Valley sold over 10 million copies and became the most popular farming game on the platform.

Probably you didn’t think this game was made by only one person, but Eric Barone, or ConcernedApe by his developer name is the sole creator of the game. He spent thousands of hours creating everything in Stardew Valley: from programming, coding, drawing the characters, creating music effects to writing the dialogues.

Eric Barone working on Stardew Valley in his room

In 2011, Eric Barone graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma with a computer science degree. Soon after that, he applied for different jobs, but no one contacted him. After one year, he decided to create a low-quality video game to add to his resume, increasing his chance for someone to hire him. He loved Harvest Moon, but after an update, Eric thought the game became worse and he didn’t play it anymore. 

The gameplay in Harvest Moon was usually fun, but I felt like no title in the series ever brought it all together in a perfect way. My idea with Stardew Valley was to address the problems I had with Harvest Moon, as well as to create more purpose with tried and true gameplay elements such as crafting and quests.”

So, he thought he could create his own video game inspired by Harvest Moon to play as he like. Barone began working on Stardew Valley in 2012, when he was 24 years old, and after 4 years and a half, he finally released it. He preferred working individually because he thought it will make the game more personal for people who will play it. 

Progress in creating the game

In the beginning, he didn’t know he will make a game as big as he did. He only wanted to do something small for his resume. In fact, he thought he will work for 6 months and then he will find a stable job. As he worked on the game, the idea became something unique. So, in 2012 he decided to post this idea on Steam, with the mention ‘Coming Soon’.

The game posted on Steam in 2012

As months passed by, he received positive reviews from people, making him proud and encouraging him to continue working on the game. Finally, he decided to create a web page for the game, so he could keep people updated about the Stardew Valley game progression. He regularly posts about Stardew Valley there, asking people for feedback and opinions.

On February 26, 2016, he finally released the single-player game version and received positive feedback. He released Stardew Valley as a single-player farming game on Steam, Mac Os, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, IOS, Android, PS Vita. In 2019, he made a version compatible with Tesla Arcade Center, so people could play from their cars. 

In 2016,  Eric Barone was one of the top 10 game developers, as Steam mentioned in one of its articles.

On August 1st 2018, he released the multiplayer version. During the same year, he met with the creator of Harvest Moon, Yasuhiro Wada, who heard about his game and he was really surprised and happy because he could make something that personal from Harvest Moon. 

The story behind the game 

The story behind the game illustrates the fight against capitalism and the importance of local communities. The game story begins with a scene when you work in a multinational company. Everyone works on their computers and seems sad. One day you remember you had a letter from your grandfather and decide to open it. In the letter, your grandpa tells you that he loves to live in the countryside and that he wanted to be happy and relaxed with your job, as he was. In the end, he suggests you to move to his farm and start from scratch. As you read the letter, you decide to move there and live the company. As you arrive in the Stardew Valley, you need to work on your farm, interacting and creating relationships with the villagers, and finally live your dream life. 

The diversity of the game

He created every character in the game with its own unique story and cutscene. He wanted to create something more real than other creators, choosing to make an imperfect character, with normal issues, just like in our everyday life. Everybody has their own problems and everybody is different, just like him, as he mentioned in one interview.

I think it makes the characters a lot more relatable… not just these ideal abstractions of people that are sometimes found in games.

The game focuses on diversity and it provides different activities that players can find interesting, such as farming, fighting, socializing and interacting, harvesting different crops, discovering things, cooking, fishing, and so on. 

If you want to raise 300 rabbits, you can. If you want to invest in a huge field of crops with automated sprinkler systems, you can do that too. The gameplay is flexible and open.

Furthermore, the game has its own encyclopedia. You have a library where you can learn more about fish, mines, crops or people. The game was initially named Sprout Valley and it was a reproduction of his hometown, Auburn, Washington and there are some crops and fish that are inspired from there. The rest of the elements are also inspired by reality so that players can learn more about them from the story. 

He spends thousands of hours creating those pixelate characters, using only paint.net, a free raster graphics editor for Microsoft Windows. After working so hard for four years and mastering every skill, he decided to upgrade the look of his characters.

Creating the characters

Since Eric wanted to make the best version possible, he changed a lot of aspects of the game, from the mechanics of it to different cutscenes or dialogues. He wanted to create an endless game, so that people can play as long as they want, enjoying their progress and completing achievements. 

After years of work, he finally released the game and in just one year the game became one of the top 5 on the Steam list. He was very happy because he succeeded and his work was finally appreciated and loved. He was also surprised because he sold 100x more copies than he first imagined.

In the present, he is working on several new games and on new updates for Stardew Valley, after he released the last update, 1.5, and everyone enjoyed it.

In February 2021, Eric Barone and Cole Meideros, a board game designer, released a cooperative board game inspired by Stardew Valley, named Stardew Valley: The Board Game. The game is already sold out on his page after he sold 100 copies. Moreover, people who buy it are very pleased and the ones who didn’t purchase it want to pay even double to have a copy.

Stardew Valley Board Game

Eric Barone is one of the most popular game designers for Indie games. He preferred to work alone on the game and he put his soul into this project. His efforts were not in vain. In 2016 he received Breakthrough Award and he was nominated for 7 prizes such as Best Indie Game, Best Debut, Best Game, Best Independent Game. Even if Barone didn’t receive more awards, he surely received popularity that encourages him to continue working on his game.

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