Stardew Valley, the Pinnacle of Indies

5 mins read

The story of Stardew Valley (SDV) is quite a well known one across both the gaming industry and also as an inspirational story in general. It is very relevant in the world of game development as it shows what the persistence and hard work of one persona can accomplish. This is in addition, also very relevant to my current project – Little Sim World as the approach and philosophy are actually very similar.

Although similar in approach, there are a large number of fundamental differences, however. SDV was made by just 1 developer – Eric Barone (ConcernedApe) over the span of around 5-6 years as a solo project. He created everything himself from the engine to the music, art, gameplay etc and is a very impressive feat and demonstrates his talent across multiple disciplines. I believe he did work with a few freelancers but this does not subtract from his achievement in the slightest. His story is documented well both in the book Blood, Sweat and Pixels, various documentaries and on Youtube.

This is a rather rare story, as in most cases and my other blog, I talk about the mentality for game developers and startup founders in general. The most common approach is that developers are not willing to risk their own money and time on a substantially level without funding or investment. For example, the vast majority of games on Kickstarter that do not receive adequate funding are cancelled, even though the developer can actually finish the project in their own time. In other words, most people are not willing to go unpaid, even if it is their own project. This is is human nature and I am not undermining or disagreeing with this philosophy – it is just a particular approach.

In this regard, the story of SDV is very different to a lot of indie games as Eric released this game at great personal cost. At the time, he had just finished University and had struggled to find a job and therefore decided that a good game would look good on his resume. There is somewhat of a misnomer that SDV is entirely unique in its design and this is not quite true. SDV is not actually an ‘original’ IP as it is heavily based off the gameplay of Harvest Moon but is much more accessible and with a much more modern touch applied to the game overall.

For a long time, he worked while his girlfriend, Amber Hageman, paid the bills for the both of them. She had played the game as well and believed that Eric was onto something that a lot of people would be interested in playing. Eric, nearing to the release of the game in Q4 2016, worked with British publisher Chucklefish as he did not enjoy or was particularly experienced with the marketing side of game development, believing that a publisher would be able to help.

From what we know about publishers, I imagine Chucklefish would have asked around 30% of revenue to help, and given how inexperienced Eric was at the time, he must have agreed to a deal that was probably unfavourable for him. These publisher deals from my knowledge last around 3 years typically and we know it was unfavourable as after this period was over, Eric stopped working with Chucklefish and now always suggests ‘self publish if possible’, suggesting that the deal he received from Chucklefish was probably not agreeable. In addition, Eric has refused exclusivity deals from platforms, deciding to publish the game himself on various platforms.

The game currently retails for around $10-15 depending on where you are from but has been on deep sale as well as on Humble Bundle so it has had quite deep market penetration for some time. It was originally released for the PC, but is now available for Mac, the Playstation, Xbox, Switch, Vita and also Mobile. I’m sure there are other platforms it has been released on that I’m not aware of such as Linux, etc. It has also been translated to many languages since release.

As of 2021, a rough estimate of the number of sales of SDV across all platforms is around 10 million, with a net revenue of around $100 million.

Steam Page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/413150/Stardew_Valley/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ConcernedApe
Website: https://www.stardewvalley.net/