Eric Barone is the creator and lead developer of Stardew Valley, the indie farming and life sim RPG that’s enchanted millions around the world. He’s a 32-year old game developer based in Seattle, Washington, who grew up in a semi-rural area of the Pacific Northwest with dreams of one day being a musician.
A digital meditation on what’s truly important in life, Stardew Valley resonates with themes of joy, magic and connection. This interview, undertaken on Friday, March 20, 2020, began with a single question on the theme of communicating, encouraging and sharing happiness.
Jeffery Klaehn: La dolce vita. How is “the sweet life” or “the good life” represented within Stardew Valley, and what does it mean for you? Is it the same as success, or different?
Eric Barone: For me, a good life involves self-actualization (finding my own purpose and fulfilling it), contributing positively to others (family, friends, community), and feeling like I’m part of something important that is bigger than myself. I guess I’d call achieving those things “success”!
JK: Stardew Valley released to universal critical acclaim in 2016 and since then you’ve continuously given players free content updates, providing new content and features, improvements and experiences. Why has this been important for you?
Eric Barone: I am very grateful that I’m able to make a career of this, but I’d say the most meaningful thing to me is that people love the game and are finding happiness, peace and magic in it. I've always wanted to capture a special magic with Stardew Valley. That's a big part of what drove me to make the game in the first place … I wanted to recapture a very special feeling I had as a child and hopefully share it with the world. The continued support and free updates is for a couple of reasons. For one, I keep having more ideas for the game, and I want to keep making it better. I take pride in Stardew Valley and want it to be the best it can be! Second, I really like making the Stardew Valley fans happy … it feels good to see them get excited and enjoy the new updates. I think having made Stardew Valley as a solo developer makes it all feel very personal to me.
Eric Barone: The success of Stardew Valley has allowed me to pursue indie video game development as a career, which is great. My lifestyle hasn’t changed much, though. I still spend almost all my time working, and I haven’t made any big purchases or anything.
JK: How have things changed on the business side, particularly in relation to the game’s success and volume of work involved in the console and mobile version releases?
Eric Barone: The amount and type of work I do has gotten bigger and more complicated. Now, in addition to developing games, I am essentially running a business and managing an entire brand. I also get lots of emails and social media messages every day and I try my best to keep up with them. So that does take up a significant portion of my time now. Although I prefer actually working on games, I can’t really complain, given Stardew Valley’s popularity.
JK: Both the game and your website radiate positivity and joy. Why do you feel that it’s important to communicate, share and encourage happiness?
Eric Barone: It’s important to me not to just entertain, but to delight. I want people to come away from my games feeling good, uplifted, and optimistic. I want people to feel like there is magic in the world, because that’s a very special thing. In the same way that a wonderful meal appeals to all senses and tastes, I think a wonderful game not only entertains but enriches the soul and the heart. That’s what I strive for. I want every game I make to leave a lasting impression and one that people will cherish. Maybe it’s my way of connecting to other people and hopefully leaving the world a better place.
JK: The game’s opening scene asks what’s really important in life and answers: “real connections with other people and nature.” Please share your thoughts and reflections on this message and on other elements within the game’s introductory scenes.
Eric Barone: Many aspects of modern life are unfulfilling to people, and the intro shows that, albeit taken to an extreme. Stardew Valley offers a world closely connected to nature, where a person can feel a sense of belonging and pride in their community. I think that’s appealing to most people, whether they know it or not.
JK: To what extent does player feedback inspire your creativity and enthusiasm for the game and its players?
Eric Barone: Hearing how much Stardew Valley means to people has definitely given me motivation to keep working on it. It feels good to provide something to others that makes them very happy. I guess that’s a big reason I keep making free updates, because I get a thrill out of releasing them and then seeing how much excitement and happiness it brings to the fans. And of course, all the praise for Stardew Valley and the heartwarming messages that people send me make me feel good. But I think that’s a very positive exchange that leaves everyone happy!
JK: What’s next for you, and for Stardew Valley?
Eric Barone: My plan right now is to keep working on Stardew Valley (there is a new free update in the works). I’m also working on a couple of other new projects (solo developed like Stardew Valley was), but they are still years away. Working on multiple things at once is difficult but I tend to work on Stardew during normal business hours (9-5 Monday through Friday), and then I work on my other projects in the evenings and weekends. It’s a full plate!
Author Biographical Summary
Jeffery Klaehn resides in Canada and holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Strathclyde. His interests include pop culture, music, storytelling, comics and graphic novels, digital games, game design, and interactive fiction.