Stardew Valley celebrated its seventh anniversary Sunday while still reigning supreme as the ultimate cozy game. Nearly a decade on, Stardew Valley has become one of the most fascinating case studies among indie game successes. Created over four and a half years by lone developer Eric Barone, who goes by ConcernedApe, the farming simulator slowly spread like a good weed, both to other platforms and in popularity. Stardew Valley’s growth resembled a weed, infecting your crops. But a weed it was not. Stardew Valley was, and still is, a blossoming flower.
But in 2023, Stardew Valley is ready to go into hibernation. The last major expansion is out, now for all platforms after a delay in its mobile rollout. And Barone is at work on his next project, The Haunted Chocolatier. But hibernation isn’t death. The game is still massively popular, more so even than it was closer to launch. Mobile fans who were the last to receive the big 1.5 update are likely still exploring the rich expansion. And just as Stardew Valley doesn’t end after the big Year 3 mark where the ghost of your grandfather judges your progress, people aren’t putting down the game even if they’ve already logged hundreds of hours.
Stardew Valley is a cozy game staple
Likely helped by the need for comfort many of us felt during the initial throes of pandemic quarantine, the cozy genre has grown in popularity since Stardew Valley first came out. The pixel art farming sim is consistently mentioned in TikTok’s cozy games, relaxing games, or aesthetic games hashtags.
It helps that Stardew Valley made its way to the Nintendo Switch in 2017 after only being available on PC and later PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Despite only arriving on the hybrid platform in October of that year, it ended up being the most downloaded game on the Switch, beating out Minecraft, Sonic Mania, and Rocket League. Speaking from experience, Stardew on the Switch feels like it was meant to be played handheld. The controls are more natural, and it’s the perfect game to relax with in bed. The only thing that has surpassed the Switch experience is playing it on Valve’s Steam Deck, and that’s solely because it offers the Switch’s handheld option with the ability to add mods to the game.
The Switch has also been a vehicle for many indie gems to find their shine. In addition to Stardew Valley, games like Hades, Untitled Goose Game, Cuphead, and Undertale have taken off on the little console that could, regardless of what platform they were first released on. But Stardew Valley, seven years after its release, feels like the biggest standout among its cohort.
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The Stardew community is not putting their farming hoes down
Maybe it’s because Stardew Valley attracts players who don’t consider themselves “gamers” (though I would argue playing Stardew Valley means they are, in fact, gamers) who aren’t likely to rotate between titles, but it seems people never put the game down. Peering into the community, even at surface level, reveals a mass of activity across Twitter and Reddit. People still love discussing which NPCs are their favorites to romance, their farm layouts, or celebrating the arrival of a rare random event like a UFO visit.
The game hit an all-time high of more than 94,000 concurrent players on Steam just two years ago, far after its 2016 release, according to SteamDB, and has net 36,000 average concurrent players in the last 30 days, according to Steam Charts, sometimes even more. Considering Stardew Valley is available on Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and iOS and Android mobile platforms, that’s just a fraction of the total number still actively cultivating their farms.
The level of engagement is evident in its modding community, as well. As of the time of this writing, 11 new mods have been uploaded to the Nexus Mods today alone. A new player settling into the quiet Valley life for the first time can find a wealth of new custom content and updates to existing ones that do everything from change the world aesthetics, add hair and clothing items, offer quality-of-life changes, or even pack in DLC-worthy additional content à la Stardew Valley Expanded.
That community is why Barone is still so committed to building upon Stardew Valley seven years later, “because there’s so many people who play it still,” he explained in a December 2022 interview with ScreenRant.
Stawdew Valley’s 1.5 update is still changing the game
When the 1.5 update dropped, Stardew Valley had nearly five years under its belt. The patch, though it’s more a blanket than a mere patch, essentially doubled the content already present. Now, you could have a second beachfront farm, a new island location to explore with a couple of additional NPCs of its own. There’s also a new completionist metric in Mr. Qi’s challenges, which tasks you with difficult labor like reaching level 100 in the Skull Cavern or catching the four family members of the legendary fish within three days, to commit to.
Because players can’t even access this area, and therefore most of the 1.5 content, until after they complete the Community Center’s bundles (which can take quite a while on its own), there are still farmers just discovering Ginger Island. Further, the massive game-changing update only came to mobile players this past January.
Once you manage to arrive on Ginger Island, you can cultivate new crops, forage for new items, traverse the Volcano Dungeon while battling enemies, and collect walnuts strewn about the new location. It takes a hell of a long time to get through.
Somehow, Barone finds he has more still to add. Another major 1.6 update is in the works focused on improving modding, Barone tweeted in June of last year, though he added it won’t be as large as 1.5 was. The developer went so far as to say a 1.7 update that isn’t off the table.
Haunted Chocolatier on the horizon
While Barone doesn’t appear completely ready to leave Stardew Valley behind, many fans await news of Haunted Chocolatier. All we know so far is that the title sees you running a chocolate shop. Barone revealed on the upcoming game’s website that Chocolatier will have a greater emphasis on combat and magic, interestingly enough. And it sure looks quite a bit like Stardew Valley, with the landscape and characters so far sharing the same textures and pixel art style.
But Barone is keeping tightlipped, saying on the game’s website he just likes “working in secret” and that he’d “rather let the game be a surprise than reveal everything.”
Barone said he started working on Haunted Chocolatier in 2020, though only during nights and weekends as he was still splitting his time between Stardew Valley. It’s unclear how the developer is dividing his time these days as his first, however, not only between Stardew Valley patches and Haunted Chocolatier but also with other projects. In December 2022, the music video for Canadian band Avvays’ “Many Mirrors” came out, illustrated by Barone, his first foray into 3D art.
Barone is also quick to remind people that, though he’s revealed a new game is coming, Haunted Chocolatier won’t be out for quite a while.
“I have a big, ambitious vision for it. It’s a little bit daunting, the amount of work that it’s going to be. But Stardew Valley took me four and a half years; I’ve been working on Haunted Chocolatier for about a year and a half or maybe two years now,” Barone told ScreenRant.
“In some ways,” Barone continued, “making games and art is just a way for me to connect to people, or for them to understand me. I want people to understand my ideas, my thoughts; who I am. I feel like Stardew Valley is partway there, but it’s not even close to the whole picture. There’s a lot more I need to express, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Stardew Valley has kept us milling away our time for seven years. It might do so for another seven. And hopefully, we won’t have to wait that long to take a bite out of Haunted Chocolatier.