In an age of loot boxes, overpriced DLC, and unfinished games, it’s becoming increasingly common for companies to try to squeeze every penny possible out of consumers’ pockets. Video games as an art form is often pushed aside in favor of the best money-making opportunities.
Stardew Valley developer Eric Barone, better known as his online alias ConcernedApe, has a different approach when it comes to updating his game.
ConcernedApe created Stardew Valley as a fan-made game inspired by the Harvest Moon series, fixing the problems he had with it to create his own perfect farming simulator. After four years of development, it was released on Steam in 2016.
It’s not unusual for indie games to be made by just a small handful of developers, but ConcernedApe was, and still is, a one-man show. All of the game’s programming, art, and music were created solely by him.
Stardew Valley quickly became popular, and after its success, ConcernedApe didn’t stop there. The game has received multiple huge updates since its release, and no matter how substantial they were, they have remained completely free.
The first major update added new marriage candidates, farm maps, building types, the ability to divorce your partner, and a variety of new items. Smaller updates over time added more language options, character dialogue, and friendship cutscenes. Eventually, the game was ported to consoles.
Two years after Stardew Valley’s initial release, ConcernedApe released the biggest change to the game yet: the multiplayer update.
Players could finally share farms and chat with up to four friends through online or local connection. This update also brought new single player content to the game in the form of a new festival event, character missions, cutscenes, items, upgrades, and more.
The most recent update that was released in November added features such as a movie theater, a subplot, new music, and countless quality of life changes.
These updates have been much more than bug fixes and minor additions; they have added an extraordinary amount of content to the game. ConcernedApe would be well within his right to call them expansion packs and charge money for them. Yet he has made it clear that all Stardew Valley updates will be free.
It seems like so many developers nowadays push out half-finished games only to later release paid DLC to make them feel complete. The approach that Stardew Valley takes is practically unheard of. The game was full of content to begin with for only $15, and now there’s way more content than what many $60 AAA games have.
ConcernedApe’s commitment to pouring love into his game goes far beyond continuously updating it for free.
He has made an effort to bring Stardew Valley to all platforms, even mobile, and to add as many languages as possible so that everybody can enjoy his game. He has been known to take the time to help individual players with recovering their save data.
After a major update releases, he works quickly to identify bugs and fix them, sometimes even within the same hour. Some companies who have many employees take days or longer to do the same.
Most game developers ignore the use of mods and some even discourage them. ConcernedApe embraces the Stardew Valley modding community and even develops with them in mind.
Furthermore, when new music was added to the game, people who previously bought the soundtrack were given free downloads of the 14 tracks so their collection could be complete.
It is clear that Stardew Valley is a true labor of love for ConcernedApe. He could easily fall into the trend of charging money left and right for these additions. People would buy them regardless of price. But he doesn’t charge a penny more past the initial purchase of the game.
This approach to game development is a breath of fresh air in an industry full of pricey expansions and pay-to-win mechanics. His continued efforts to create something special is worthy of recognition, and his “labor of love” mindset is what will keep us coming back to Stardew Valley for years to come.