The release of Stardew Valley came as a shock to many when it debuted. Few gamers had heard of it, and many of those who did initially dismissed it as being a Harvest Moon knock off. Little did they know that it would become one of the greatest success stories of 2016.
Stardew Valley soon found itself in the library of tens of thousands of Steam users. As it sold more copies in the days following release, word of mouth became its greatest asset; a majority portion of those who played it were hooked as indicated by its 'Overwhelmingly Positive' rating. This was no ordinary indie title, it was one equipped with the charm and play value that many gamers were itching for in the release-light month of February 2016.
Unlike most games in the industry, Stardew Valley was released at a low price point. At an MSRP of $14.99, it was one of the least expensive games released in 2016. Although such a price point is commonly associated with short-lived indie experiences, Stardew Valley would accumulate dozens of hours of entertainment from the average player.
Stardew Valley was soon thrust into the spotlight, hitting the number one spot on Steam's Top Seller list, accelerating sales into the hundreds of thousands within the first two weeks. It was no longer a game simply looking to fill a void left by Harvest Moon, it was one on the verge of becoming a phenomenon.
Nearly a year later Stardew Valley would release on console, a place ripe with opportunity. Debuting during December to virtually no competition, it easily found its way onto the Xbox Store and PlayStation Store best-seller lists. And, once again, it was met with glowing reviews.
By the end of 2016 it was estimated that Stardew Valley was owned by more than two million Steam users. This statistic puts the title's estimated revenue at over $25 million on PC alone. Given its performance on Xbox One and PS4, it is very likely that it's now sitting on a growing pile of $35 million.
This figure would be considered a success for the typical development studio that spends an average of $20 to $25 million to create a game. But this wasn't made by a development studio. Instead, it was made by a single person.
That single developer's name is Eric Barone, and we had a chance to speak with him shortly after he launched Stardew Valley. As he would reveal, the game was made by him in its entirety over more than four years, with very little outside input. Originally birthed by the decline of the Harvest Moon franchise, Stardew Valley would become a development obsession as Barone continued to find areas that the game could improve, eventually growing to something that resembled a mid-sized production rather than its single-developer origins.
Making Stardew Valley alone might have been a serious undertaking, but it came with a benefit; Barone now gets to enjoy almost all the money that the title made, only having to cut a small portion for Steam hosting the title and its publishing by Chucklefish Games. Barone has noted that Chucklefish Games was extremely supportive during development, even when the game might not have appeared to have a reasonable shot at success, so he probably doesn't mind sharing the spoils.
It's quite a story when you consider that Barone was unable to find programming work in 2011 after graduating from college. In-fact, Stardew Valley's production began at a time when he was working as an usher at a theater, contemplating his entry into game development.
It's a classic example of following your passion no matter the obstacles. Stardew Valley is a charismatic game that you can sense was made by someone who enjoyed what they were doing, rather than focusing entirely on using it as a platform to make money. Barone has even continued supporting the game with free updates, a couple of which have introduced notable new features. As a result of Stardew Valley's consumer-friendly pricing and support it's not only one of the most successful games of this generation, but one with a large player base of adoring fans. What more could you want?