It’s no secret that when Stardew Valley first launched on Steam in February 2016, it rocketed its way up the Steam charts with a peak of 64,000 players on Steam by March 2016. But now, 5 years after its initial release, Stardew Valley has reached a new peak of 94,000 players on Steam alone. This spike in activity comes after the release of the 1.5 update in December 2020. The update included a significant amount of new content and saw the average player count of 13,000 players in November 2020 rise to 57,000 players by January 2021.
But how is Stardew Valley still growing 5 years after its initial release? To further understand the how and why of Stardew Valley’s growth, it’s essential to take a step back and look at how developers prolong the lifespan of a game and how crucial player feedback is to the growth of a product.
PLAYER EXPECTATIONS & DEVELOPER FEEDBACK
When players get invested in a game, the natural progression that occurs is that the players have a desire to see the game grow and become a better version of itself over time and encourage more players to get invested in the game they have become attached to. This is, of course, achieved via game updates or additional DLC that usually has a price tag attached to it.
Developers create these updates and DLC expansions as a way of not only improving the game but also prolonging its lifespan. This encourages more players to get invested in the game and helps pay the staff working on the game, especially if they are paying for these updates or DLC expansions.
On top of players having a desire to see additional improvements and content added to the game, they also wish to see their own ideas or fantasies one day become a reality. Players will often give developers feedback via forums, reviews or even socials posts. This feedback can range from bug fixes, balancing of mechanics and even the addition of new content.
A developer has the choice of listening to this feedback or not but as you can probably guess, taking on and implementing this feedback is the best way to satisfy players and prolong the lifespan of the game.
STARDEW VALLEY EXPLOITS EXPECTATIONS
So we’ve established that players have a desire to see additional content added to the game they love and that they want to see their own ideas or feedback directly implemented into the game to satisfy their desires.
Whilst players might pay for additional content being added to the game, they’ll expect bug fixes and balance patches to be free updates. However, content that adds new items, NPC’s, maps or game modes is something players have become accustomed to paying for. Stardew Valley takes advantage of this expectation and instead decides to push massive content updates live without charging players anything on top of what they have already paid for the game.
By doing this, Stardew Valley’s developer, “ConcernedApe”, has been loyal to both the game and the fanbase he created with Stardew Valley. For the last 5 years, the game has received updates and improvements that took weeks and even months of work to be properly integrated into Stardew Valley.
Since its release in February 2016, Stardew Valley has received 34 updates. These contained bug fixes and optimisations but also included substantial updates, adding new NPC’s, maps, items and game modes. All of this for the sole purpose of improving the player experience.
Features like Multiplayer and Splitscreen Co-op weren’t possible within the initial release of Stardew Valley but when players asked for it, “ConcernedApe” delivered it, and more importantly, they did it for free when other titles may have charged extra.
STARDEW VALLEY LEADS BY EXAMPLE
In an age where more AAA titles than ever before are demanding for players to pay for additional content, Stardew Valley walks its own path by offering continued player support and frequent updates for free.
The result is a fanbase that keeps the game close to their heart. Whilst the average player count will inevitably drop once the initial wave of the new update is over, you can guarantee that the moment players get wind of a future update that promises to fix any issues and add more content for them to enjoy, they’ll come rushing back to a game that welcomes their return with open arms.
Stardew Valley truly is a fantastic example of how to treat a fanbase right and it’s a model that we need to see more developers and publishers embrace. But what are your thoughts on Stardew Valley? Have you had the chance to dive into the 1.5 update yet? Or are you a regular player excited to see Stardew Valley explode back into life again? I’d love to know in the comments below!