SEATTLE — Eric Barone - also known as ConcernedApe - grew up in Auburn, playing video games. One game he particularly loved - Harvest Moon, a farm simulation game that invites players to tend to a farm and start a life in a small town. There was something different about it. It was quieter, simpler.
After Barone graduated from UW Tacoma, he found himself living in Seattle with not a ton of job prospects and plenty of time on his hands.
"So I decided to start making a game, a slightly bigger game, to get better at programming and put on my resume," Barone says.
Originally, the game was a resume-builder that was supposed to take six months. Six months turned into four years. Barone lived in Capitol Hill for part of those four years, working as an usher at the Paramount Theater while developing the game. The game was a farming simulator that paid homage to his favorite series as a kid - Harvest Moon.
"I was hoping to bring back the magic of the earlier games," Barone says.
He released Stardew Valley in 2016 under his online alias, ConcernedApe. And it became way more than just a resume-builder.
Firstly, Barone built Stardew Valley entirely by himself. Literally everything in the game. Programming, music, art, graphics, writing - all done by him in those four years. For a video game, that's a pretty incredible feat.
When he made the game, he was a total outsider to the video game industry. He had no connections. No relationships with other game developers. No training in art or music. And yet, Stardew Valley exploded in popularity.
"I hope my story inspires other people to work hard and follow their dreams," Barone says.
To give you an idea of just how successful Stardew Valley is, it hit 10 million copies sold in January of 2020. It was nominated for BAFTA's Best Game award in 2017. It continues to this very day to have an active, devoted gamer fanbase.
"I remember saying, like, I would be happy if the game sold ten thousand copies," Barone says.
Stardew Valley is, much like Harvest Moon, all about growing your character's farm in a small, charming town. There, you can grow crops, take care of adorable animals, make friends, marry a townsperson and have kids, and explore mysterious caves.
"I want every moment to be filled with joy and wonder, and bring back that feeling when you were a kid and you first played video games, and everything was magical," Barone says.
The game is friendly, colorful and calming. There's no game over. You can't die in the game - the worst thing that can happen to your character is passing out, and you end up right back in your bed afterward. There's a lushness to the game that's reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest - forests, oceans, rivers, and mountains decorate the game's location, Pelican Town.
"I've spent my whole life in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm very familiar with mountains, the forest around in here...and I think that's deeply ingrained within me," Barone says. "It wasn't conscious, but everything about Washington and the landscape is deeply ingrained in who I am, and so when making the game, it just came out."
For many, Stardew Valley isn't just a game. The friendly, peaceful, quieter nature of the game has inspired a group of devoted fans. Thanks to its multiplayer mode, it's a way to connect with far away friends. Simple acts like watering plants and taking care of animals are a respite from anxiety and depression. It's inspired marriage proposals and freshly baked bread.
"What really makes me feel good, makes me feel like my life has been totally worthwhile, is the fact that Stardew Valley has brought such joy and happiness to people," Barone says. "People describe it as a therapeutic game. Because I know that this little game brings so much positivity to the world...that really feels good."
Stardew Valley is available for PC, iOS, Nintendo Switch, XBOX, PS4, Android, and Tesla.