Your beloved grandfather has just passed on, and to your surprise, has left you his farm to take care of. In a letter you received just after his death, he tells you that it will be there for you when you are ready to escape the corporate rat race of working for a megacorporation in a big city. Thus, you start your adventures in Stardew Valley, an idyllic town far away from the civilized world, where life is simple but never boring.
“If you’re reading this, you must be in dire need of a change. The same thing happened to me, long ago. I’d lost sight of what mattered most in life… real connections with other people and nature. So I dropped everything and moved to the place I truly belong.”
— Grandpa’s Letter
Stardew Valley is the indie farming simulator game that took the gaming world by storm after its release in 2016. It sold over 400,000 copies in its first two weeks, garnering mass approval incredibly quickly. Even today, it has a 96.52% player approval rating on Steam, and averages at 15,000 concurrent players daily. People play an average of eight and a half hours of Stardew a week each.
I have been playing Stardew Valley for years now. I’ve played many different farms, fallen in love with many different townsfolk, and even run a few games with my friends on Co-Op mode. It’s one of my go-to games when the world feels overwhelming and stressful, and with the state of everything now…yeah, my playtime has gone up significantly.
So, what is it about this silly little indie game that makes everyone fall in love?
According to Ashley Burnett of Paste Magazine, “a huge part of the game’s success is thanks to [the creator’s] personality.” And she’s right, of course. Eric Barone, better known as Concerned Ape (the studio name under which he created Stardew), is one of the most community-active developers I have ever seen.
He’s quick to respond to questions and comments, on Steam, Twitter, Reddit, and the official Stardew Valley Website, and he still updates frequently, even as recently as February of this year (with another update swiftly on the way). His genuine interest in making sure this game is bug-free and continuously fun to play makes it easy to love and appreciate this little indie game all the more.
On top of that, people love how simple the game is to play even with its complicated storyline. As Jenny Morrill puts it so eloquently in her Den of Geeks article, “Stardew’s controls are, well, easy.” She comments that some people prefer a game that doesn’t require as much intense and complicated button-pressing, leaving you free to focus more on the story than the technicalities of mechanics.
According to the Stardew Valley Reddit community, people appreciate that the game is calming without being boring, offering you plenty to do without forcing you to participate. In a thread from 2018, user AdroitNinja commented that “there’s a relaxing effect from both the play-at-your-own pace style and the visual/musical aesthetics.” User SprinkleFruits agreed, adding that “SDV is 100% different” from the usual mindless clicker game that many people use to unwind in that it still involves a certain degree of strategy to achieve objectives.
Morrill adds to this again, saying, “The challenge of Stardew comes in the form of preparation and planning, of slowly building up your knowledge and resources, of learning secrets and building up your relationships.” And oh, how many secrets there are to learn!
Stardew Valley has some of the most in-depth and fascinating lore I’ve ever seen in a game. Of course, there’s the basic premise that you are taking over your grandfather’s farm, but there’s so much more to it than that. First of all, why is there a shrine to your grandfather that requires a diamond? Why does he come back to judge your farming choices? What are the junimos, and where do they come from? Why are there monsters that run free in the mines and on your farm depending on what style you pick? What is Rasmodius’s story? You can spend hours picking apart every little breadcrumb of the story this game has to offer and still not be done. I still haven’t completed everything there is to do, and I’m on my fifth in-game year!
In the end, the game is exactly what you make of it, and what lovely things you can make. Stardew is as much a simple farming sim as it is a deeply interconnected world built on hidden magic. There are so many ways to play this game! You could focus purely on having the most profitable farm possible, selling off the best products, and producing the largest harvest. You could ignore farming completely and focus on the animals, raising pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and sheep, or even some of the surprises you find along the way.
You can focus on the achievements, getting all the way to the bottom of the mines, and collecting all the different items available. You can also play it as an RPG, focusing on nothing but your character’s story and what they discover about the Valley.
Stardew Valley is popular because it’s exactly what it says on the tin. When the real world is terrifying and overwhelming, and we all feel a little bit stuck with how things are, Stardew Valley is very true to its premise, offering a way out of our everyday lives, and a little more magic in our days.