Eric Barone started Stardew Valley as a college graduate without any job prospects. Now, he’s (presumably) a multi-millionaire thanks to the passion project he dedicated four years to creating. Twenty million copies later, Stardew Valley has elevated farming and cozy games to massive new audiences in the years since its release.
Barone, also known as ConcernedApe, has been interviewed by multiple outlets about the success of his game. Shortly after the game’s launch in 2016, he told PC Gamer that he started making Stardew Valley as a project to teach himself C#. He’d just graduated from college with a computer science degree and didn’t get any of the jobs he applied to, so he thought he’d make a game to improve his programming skills. However, the scope started to shift the further he dived into development.
“I just thought it would be a small little thing. It would take me a couple months, I would post it to Xbox Live, and that would be it. But then—I don't know, for some reason I just kept deciding I wanted to go bigger and bigger with it,” he told PC Gamer.
Stardew Valley even drew praise from Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of Harvest Moon series that partially inspired Barone’s game. In a 2016 interview with GameSpot, Wada positions Stardew as a spiritual successor to his own creation.
I actually met Eric Barone recently; I told him I was very happy. Instead of Harvest Moon being forgotten, it has become powered up and it has gotten even better. It's still living on, even though I'm not working on it anymore. I'm really happy that's happening.
The first version of Harvest Moon had the biggest map grid out of all the games, and provided the most freedom to players. As the games got newer, the grids we were working with got smaller and smaller, reducing the freedom you had. I'm not saying this is bad, but the series had evolved in a different direction. There were more characters, the animation got better, the graphics got better, et cetera. But the freedom of the series decreased as those improvements were made. After seeing Stardew Valley, I feel that it carries on the legacy of the original Harvest Moon very well because of the freedom you have in it.
When Stardew launched, Barone had been working as a part-time theater usher. He spent over four years developing the game’s code, art, music, and everything else, spending much of his free time working on some aspect of it. He didn’t expect it to become as much of a success as it did.
Since then, farming sims have exploded in popularity. Even developers like Square Enix, which recently released Harvestella, started reaping the benefits of a sizeable demand for these more relaxed, open-ended experiences. Animal Crossing: New Horizons might’ve not become as big a hit as it was if cozy games hadn’t hit the mainstream with Stardew in 2016. It’s become a running joke that recent Nintendo Directs have been overwhelmed with farming sims.
Barone launched his final major update to Stardew Valley in 2020 with split-screen co-op and uploaded the latest patches at the end of 2021. To mark the game’s seventh birthday, he thanked fans for supporting the game.
“None of this would have been possible without your support and I will always be thankful for that,” reads the post.
Stardew Valley 1.6 will focus on adding more support for modders. In the meantime, Barone will also continue working on his next project, Haunted Chocolatier.