MEET THE DEVELOPER
Betting the Farm
Stardew Valley creator Eric Barone on inspiration, motivation, and what’s next.
ConcernedApe's hit farm RPG
Stardew Valley is a critical and commercial hit—but it almost wasn’t a game at all.
“I’ll admit, when I was deep into making Stardew Valley, I was full of doubt,” says game maker Eric Barone. “I didn’t think it was going to be that successful.”
He was mistaken, but you can’t blame him. Barone toiled alone for four and a half years to build the game of his dreams.
The result is a deep yet accessible rural-life simulation. Players escape the city to revive a farm by growing crops, buying materials, and selling wares, but that’s just the start. Stardew trulyblossoms over time: Every relationship, plot line, and mystery contained in its idyllic world is detailed down to the pixel. The longer you play, the more there is to discover.
Barone’s self-imposed perfectionism almost derailed it, however. We spoke with the determined developer about manufacturing confidence, staying motivated, and what’s on the horizon.
What inspired you to make Stardew Valley?
I’ve always had an ideal vision for what a good life would be: a small town where you know everyone in the community, you know your neighbors, you have a place and a purpose. Stardew Valley was my vision for what a really great life could be.
The game is packed with things to do. You can grow trees, catch fish, get married, and so much more. How did you decide what to include?
Well, are you creating a fun incentive, or are you creating something that’s aggravating? For example, when I put cooking into the game, I was deliberate about the fact that every item you cook has to be of equal or lesser value than the constituent components. Otherwise that would create an incentive to turn every item into a cooking item. If you don’t think about those things, the game would create these perverse incentives that don’t guide the player to what is fun.
What was the development process like?
I was thinking it was going to be a short little project. I wasn’t going to sell it; it was just for my own practice so I could get better at programming and be able to land a good job in the industry. I was playing it exclusively for four and half years, so I was completely burned out on the game itself.
How did you stay motivated?
There are a lot of roundabout ways of achieving your goals that aren’t simply just “working hard” but making sure you create the right internal psychological environment to make that happen. You have to believe in yourself if you’re going to achieve something grand. I’m not saying it all just amounts to faith, but there are various components—one of which is believing in yourself, adopting a confidence, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. I kind of forced myself to become confident in what I was doing.
There were some people in my life who were supportive—my parents, my girlfriend, and some of my close friends. And the people who engaged with me via my early development blog posts motivated me quite a bit. In a way, it’s more encouraging when strangers are interested in your work.
What other games are you playing these days?
I’ve been gravitating more toward action games or more intense games, because I think I need a counterbalance to the constant relaxing, chill environment of Stardew Valley. A recent game I’ve been playing a lot is Dead Cells, which is just a really tight action Metroidvania-style game.
Basically in all roguelikes, Dead Cells included, there’s a repetitive aspect, where you die and start over again, but a little stronger than last time. Stardew Valley actually kind of works this way. Every day starts the same way, and you might do many similar things each time, but presumably you've grown a little more powerful or productive than you were the previous day. There seems to be a common element there—repetition with progress—that is compelling to humans for one reason or another.