Stardew Valley: Lessons from a UW Tacoma Alum

Creator of Stardew Valley and UWT alum Eric Barone talks about his creative process and artistic inspiration. 

Stardew Valley, to me, has always been a video game that feels really cozy and familiar. A rich world with characters that you get to know and fall in love with. A game made entirely by one person that bursts with character and charm.      

February 26, 2024, marked eight years since the release of Stardew Valley and, as of this month, the game has sold over 30 million copies across all platforms. I wanted to know more about the inception of this massive indie darling that started right in our own backyard.  

Last week I got the opportunity to sit down and speak with the game’s creator and University of Washington Tacoma alumni, Eric Barone, known professionally as ConcernedApe. Barone is finishing up work on update 1.6 of Stardew Valley before starting work on his newly announced title, The Haunted Chocolatier.   

Barone grew up in Auburn, Washington, a valley city with a rich farming history. He learned some of the essentials of coding while attending UW Tacoma in 2011. He said that his experience at UWT got him to think like a programmer which set him on the path into making his own games.   

I wanted to know how much of his upbringing seeped into the games and art that he makes. He agreed that there was some Pacific Northwest influence in the game, from salmonberries to cascade mountains or evergreen trees. There is always a part of you that gets embedded into the art that you create no matter how hard you try to prevent it.   

“When you’re making a game, or anything really, especially when it’s intended to be experienced by other people, I feel like you have to meet people in the middle,” said Barone. “I have to inject some of myself into a product that should ultimately be accessible to other people and recognize that everyone is different.” 

A preview image of Barone’s upcoming game, Haunted Chocolatier. hauntedchocolatier.net 

I asked Barone what kept him motivated while working alone as an independent developer in those early years.  

“You have to have a reason to do what you do that motivates you,” said Barone. “Going to UW, for example, you are learning tools. Those are useful, powerful tools but they’re just sitting there. A beautiful thing isn’t just going to fall into your lap, you have to pick them up and use them to build something.” 

Baron was now working on a beautiful thing to share with the world. He was seeing this world that he had envisioned in his head come to life through Stardew Valley. I asked Barone if he knew, at the time, that he was working on a game that was going to be such a massive success. 

“When I was making Stardew Valley there were already big indie game hits like Minecraft or Terraria, for example, out and I was thinking, oh no, it’s too late, the indie golden age is over, but it was really only just beginning,” said Barone.  

“I see the farming game genre as a tradition at this point,” said Barone, “I felt like it was my turn to carry on the tradition for a new generation. With all honor and respect to what came before.” 

Sometimes, it seems, you don’t know when you’re on the cusp of something great even when you spend years of your life working on it. It is never too late.