Stardew Valley 1.6 is here to remind you why the game is here to stay

Your character fishing next to some blue grass on your farm in Stardew Valley.
Image: ConcernedApe via Polygon

There’s a reason why it basically established ‘cozy gaming’ as a genre

When Stardew Valley first came out in 2016, it was positioned as a Harvest Moon-like. The comparison was the only way at the time to describe a low-stakes farming simulator with a village of locals to meet and perhaps marry. It’s difficult to remember that now, in an era where “cozy gaming” has taken on a life of its own and “wholesome” games have their own showcases with hundreds of thousands of viewers, but Stardew was released into a different world. And then it made this one. Its latest major content release, the 1.6 update, is a testament to the game’s longevity in the genre that it shaped.

Stardew Valley was a huge success when it launched; it sold a million copies in two months, and as of 2024, that number is 30 million. Reviewers at the time enjoyed the satisfaction of its tasks, and how they built toward something bigger: allowing you to escape the daily grind of life by putting your hands in the soft dirt and making connections with your community. Stardew was also somewhat ahead of its time when it came to depicting same-gender relationships, allowing players to date and marry any of the romanceable NPCs regardless of gender.

Each of these elements has been critiqued over the years — the game’s anti-capitalist framework belies a grinding chase for profit that doesn’t lift up anyone else in Pelican Town, and its playersexual NPCs only highlight a lack of diversity more broadly. But it is, to put it simply, nice to be able to feel as if you’re sticking it to Joja Corp. and its real-life equivalents by creating a satisfyingly clean and efficient wine production line and kissing your gay girlfriend (Leah, if you’re wondering), despite these imperfections.

The world map after the Stardew Valley 1.6 update shows the player character near the bus stop.
Image: ConcernedApe via Polygon
The world map is so much easier to use now!

This core to Stardew Valley has never changed, and neither has its appeal. In fact, its runaway success has only accelerated. As the niche it once filled alone became saturated with hundreds of other indie farming games and adjacent AAA titles like Harvestella, it began to loosely coalesce under the cozy gaming banner. Although the label is nebulous, and can cover games that don’t involve farming or other Stardew staples, they’re still included thanks to their popularity, and the typical overlap with an open-ended, low-stakes, outdoorsy vibe. And Stardew’s influence in the space never waned — it’s everywhere, from the cozy games subreddit’s banner to the top image of a major newspaper explainer.

But becoming the tentpole of a microgenre isn’t the only thing bringing new and returning players to Stardew Valley. Over the past eight years, developer Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone has been adding major updates to the game, keeping things fresh and resurfacing it to potential new farmers. According to SteamCharts, the game got an influx of new players in November 2019, coinciding with its 1.4 update, and January 2021, with its 1.5 update. Both times the average concurrent player counts jumped, and then stayed higher. And 1.6, too, has broken Stardew’s previous record for concurrent Steam users.

This huge patch was heavily anticipated among the community, and yet, they were still pleasantly surprised by just how much it added to the game: a new area, festivals, NPC dialogue, the ability to have multiple pets, dozens of new items, visual updates, and so on. Barone invited players to start a new farm to see it all, perhaps on the newly added, livestock-focused Meadowlands Farm, so that’s just what I did.

Meadowlands is the eighth farm type, which can help you tailor your specific experience while playing the game. It’s here for the farmers who want to keep animals more than plant crops, and comes with its own two starter chicks. It’s also covered in blue grass, which is apparently a favorite of farm animals. The exact mechanical bonus here isn’t clear in-game, but that plays right into Stardew’s strength. At its core, it’s a fun, vibesy addition, and you can be happy that your chickens are enjoying themselves. If you want to get into specifics, you can dive into the fan-kept wiki and find out exactly what it does, and spend hours deliberating over how to build the very best possible farm. This has always been the case in Stardew, but it only increases with every update as it accumulates more features and a wider community. 1.6, with its laundry list of additions and tweaks, exemplifies this.

A Stardew Valley player characters standing at the fence to the chicken coop on the Meadowlands Farm. It’s surrounded by wild grass and blue grass.
Image: ConcernedApe via Polygon

It’s been long enough since I started a new farm in earnest that I was able to re-experience one of the earlier appeals of Stardew: There’s always something to surprise you. This is perhaps the thing that has made modding the game so popular. Mods like Stardew Valley Expanded explicitly try to capture “the magical feeling they had when they first played Stardew Valley” and are incredibly popular for doing so (Expanded recently passed 2 million downloads).

The same goes for Stardew’s 1.6 update, which has had the community buzzing with new discoveries, whether they’re from people who avoided reading patch notes and social media posts or people who found new Easter eggs. These moments are paradoxically easier to spot on a later save — jumping back into my late year 3 farm, I had a deluge of letters, visitors, and cutscenes telling me about new things I could do. The update is bound to make the game richer for new players as well as keep things fresh for the hundreds-of-hours club.

But the core of the game is still just Stardew — and it’s that that has kept the game going for eight years. I already had about 100 hours — rookie numbers by many accounts — and jumping back into it, it’s immediately obvious why. That core game loop is unbelievably good at keeping you hooked; there’s always just one more thing you want to do, cascading into another and another until you’ve been sitting and clicking away at crops, animals, and ores for a whole afternoon.

1.6 doesn’t turn Stardew Valley into a new game, and the fact that it absolutely didn’t need to be is maybe the most interesting thing about it. Stardew came out eight years ago and still dominates the genre that it all but created.

Launching into a gap, it immediately attracted an underserved audience, kept them entertained for years with an irresistible loop, and regularly refreshed its stock of surprises via major updates like 1.6. Nothing is likely to disrupt that dominance anytime soon.

It’s unclear whether there’ll be a massive 1.7 update in the future. Barone has been developing a different game, Haunted Chocolatier, since 2020, and while that’s currently on pause to get 1.6 bug-free and available across platforms, surely at some point Stardew Valley will be left to its own devices. But even if it doesn’t get any more major updates, its unshakeable core, long tail, and rooted community mean that it’s bound to stay at the center of the ecosystem that grew up around it for a long while to come.

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