In recent years especially, video games have become something of a salve for our collective concerns about health and wealth. However, while action games might seem like the obvious choice to de-stress on an evening, the world seems to have fallen in love with another genre altogether, one about farming, exploration, and, fittingly, falling in love with a virtual sweetheart.
Of course, this is the farming genre, although it might be more apt to refer to it as the country life genre. Despite their current popularity, farming games have been falling in and out of fashion for decades. Remember SimFarm from 1993 or Harvest Moon from 1998? The genre’s modern success arguably stems from the current run of Farming Simulator titles, which took off in the middle of the last decade.
Considering that sim games are often the butt of jokes in gaming due to their exhaustion of just about every concept, from demolition and buses to ski resorts and street cleaning, the popularity of farming simulators in the new decade might seem a little odd. Stardew Valley, itself a riff on Harvest Moon, is the most recent cause of this revival of all things vegetable and animal, though.
Popularity has a way of causing oversaturation, as excited developers try to cash in on an emerging trend. A good example involves the Google Play Store, which is blessed (or cursed) with tens of farming apps with names like Harvest Town, Pocket Harvest, and Farm Heroes Saga. At some point, they become almost indistinguishable from each other. Of course, portable versions of Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Farm Simulator are also available to play on Android devices. These are games with more of an established reputation within the gaming community.
While it sounds like a universal negative, a crowded marketplace isn’t always a problem. In the iGaming niche, for instance, a few slots based on farming have injected further variety into an industry that has lots of titles based on specific themes. These often take their cues from what’s popular in traditional video gaming, like alien invaders or adventurous heroes.
The American casino BetMGM has Farming Frenzy while Tropicana has the EggOMatic slot, two games that run with the theme of bucolic life. Notably, the farming concept isn’t common on either of these sites, which have hundreds of different slots according to time2play, a provider of some top online casino reviews. The iGaming industry has a knack for touching on just about every aspect of life as part of its creative process for building new slots. This is because the fast pace and relative simplicity of slots appeal to a wide audience and this industry is adept at providing options for all. The same can’t be said for other genres.
Stuffed to the Udders
The country life sim is stuffed to the udders with largely uninspired games and Stardew Valley clones. Part of this popularity may have something to do with the fact that the Harvest Moon developers no longer know how to capitalize on the franchise’s earlier success. Nintendo Life referred to the most recent effort (Harvest Moon: One World) as having so many cut corners that it was “almost a circle”.
With that in mind, a perceived need to undo the above issue could serve as the impetus to create lots of farming games – but that problem was solved with the appearance of Stardew Valley, My Time at Portia, Coral Island, Monster Harvest, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, and plenty of other titles. The accessibility of the market is overall a net positive but too many games tend to cause bubbles to burst.
While it’s an unlikely scenario today, the video game crash of 1983 was caused by an excess of low-quality experiences so the potential for the same to happen to one particular genre is very high. Much the same could be said of the battle royale genre, which has begun to coalesce around one or two titles (like Fortnite and PUBG) following the failure of high-profile examples such as Fallout 76: Nuclear Winter and The Culling 2.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious solution to the oversaturation of games in the farming niche. The ever-popular Farming Simulator will continue with its yearly release schedule and developers trying to recapture the excitement of Stardew Valley and the first Harvest Moon games will continue to take advantage of the casual market with more and more clones.
This may simply be one bubble that has to pop. While this outcome is unlikely to affect the bigger players in the genre, it will nevertheless mean that creative examples of the country life simulator are swept under the rug with the clones and the shovelware that have settled into the genre.