Happy Farm, Stardrew Valley, Farming Simulator...farming simulation games seem to have always been the obsession of a large number of players. The fresh and clean visual style with easeful music, enable players to feel like returning to the field and begin to enjoy a peaceful life. What are the specific types of farming simulation games? Why does the seemingly monotonous and repetitive farming work attract more and more players nowadays? And what kind of experiences do they actually have while playing?
1. The types of farming simulating games
Here is the first question: Are farming games really similar? What are the specific types?
For Beginner “Farming players”—Happy Farm: Farming + Social
In 2008 when social media were in their infancy in Chinese internet booming, Happy Farm, a game with a popular theme and social functions was born at the time, and soon set a significant trend at home and abroad. The simple gameplay suitable for all ages, which requires fragmented time, has made Happy Farm successful and deservedly popular in all kinds of players, especially in those who have never been exposed to video games before. In this kind of farming simulating game, the design of farming gameplay is quite simple with less flexible game mechanics, so just a click of the mouse can bring players the feeling of harvesting. On the other hand, the long-term attraction of these farming & social games for players is the interaction among players. When farming games were popular in social media, a large number of players kept busy farming and stealing from their friends to get on the top of their friend harvesting list, even setting alarm clocks to harvest their crops regularly. It also suggests that what increases interest is the interaction among players, no matter the interactive form is cooperation or competition.
Intermediate “Farming players”: Stardew Valley—farming + X
Most of the common farming games nowadays can be categorized as 'farming+X gameplay', all of which are fusions of farming and different gameplay based on different backgrounds of various themes. In most games, farming usually works as the basis of other gameplay, and players starting from scratch need to get basic resources through farming, to improve their level, finally get into the game content with more difficult mechanics. In terms of the farming part, the gameplay in this kind of game is much more complex than what we mentioned above such as Happy Farm, for it needs a series of more detailed operations like plowing, sowing, watering, fertilizing, removing insects, and harvesting. In addition, there also exists seasonal changes, trading systems in the game, and the gameplay system built around the core, farming, is also much more complicated. At the time when players enjoying harvesting accumulate a sense of achievement, the goal pursuit will return to the essential nature of the simulation game: coordination, or we can call it, 'game theory'.
In 'farming+X' gameplay, the fun of farming also depends on the complexity and realism of the integrated planning, such as how to grow crops in the limited area, how to allocate farm resources in the case of multiple uses, and how to allocate time and energy to farming and other tasks in the game, etc. The higher the correlation between the farming system and other systems, the more diversified the coordination and allocation will be. The farming itself not only brings a sense of achievement, but the satisfaction of achieving the goals of other gameplay through farming could in turn help players dive deeper into the farming simulation, so the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction of players will also become richer.
Other “farming player”: Sakuna: of Rice and Ruin—hardcore farming simulator
Unlike the intermediate farming simulation games which expand the breadth of farming and link farming simulation with other gameplays, games like Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin and Farming Simulator specialize in the farming system itself and explore the depth of farming and harvesting, from planting seedlings to matching fertilizers or irrigating, all requiring players to consider more carefully then make their decision.
In such games, the growth process of crops, the design of farming conditions, the use of planting tools will be closer to reality, and details from all aspects will gradually become more and more complicated, open, and complete.
For players who enjoy farming, the joy of farming strategies can be greatly enhanced, and the satisfaction of harvesting will be no less than “raising their own characters” in other games.
In these hardcore farming games, farming is no longer the underlying system producing resources for others tasks but has become the core gameplay. The mechanics are designed to be fair and reliable enough to make players feel their skills are improving steadily, and it contains enough randomness to attract players to continue thinking and playing while avoiding the repetitive and tedious problem that some players might criticize. For example, in Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, the depth of the hoeing, the location of the seedlings, the amount of watering, and so on, all affect the crop yields.
And if the player repeats the same planting action enough times, the planting potential of the protagonist, Sakuna, will be unlocked, and finally, achieve the goal of planting with two hands or planting three rows at a time. Therefore, by enriching the core gameplay while weakening the complexity of the operation, the actual experience of players will be greatly improved instead of feeling troublesome in the end. Of course, for new players, it is unnecessary to strictly follow the steps, for it allows players to explore freely as they like. For beginners, just the basic knowledge in the tutorial is enough, and the hidden farming system will always be welcome for players to dig into further.
2. The Joy of Farming Simulation
Even though different types of farming simulation games have different pre-determined goals for players, there are lots of players deciding to start a game including farming gameplay as soon as they notice it. Once starting, they immediately get hooked, so they mock themselves as 'farming is engraved in my DNA'. What is the appeal behind farming simulating games? Why do a large number of players enjoy this kind of seemingly boring gameplay?
A consistent sense of achievement without conflict
Generally speaking, the ultimate goal in farming games is not accomplishing something in the end or winning, but rather the growth and experiences gained in the process. In other words, the farming simulation itself makes up the goal of the game. In farming simulating games, players can feel their participation in the farming process, and the growth is not only linked to numerical values, for players are able to observe slow but substantial growth of the crop visually.
Even though it will not bring the strong impact in the short term like MOBA and FPS games, nor as immersive as RPGs with a sense of purpose to complete the adventure as the main character, this kind of continuous, meaningful, non-conflict-centered growth provides the players an experience more of steady joy. Looking at the fields after hard work, the signs of prosperity with efforts behind, it's hard not to feel the glow of satisfaction, and then put more time and work into it.
The certainty and uncertainty of harvesting
From the perspective of game design, simulation games like farming simulating are based on reality, but they do not replicate reality. To a certain extent, negative feedback and negative uncontrollable factors are removed in these games. Even in the hardcore farming simulator mentioned above, the farming gameplay is designed to avoid most of the negative factors, for example, players hardly experience the end of no yield. All tasks are included in this grinding but enjoyable cycle—planting, harvesting, planting, harvesting—players can follow their own pace to dig into the details of the game's content, hardly being anxious about not keeping up with others.
And harvesting is both predictable and unpredictable. For example, Stardew Valley, offers players a chance to get special seeds or other special props through planting work, which will create a surprise in addition to the fulfillment of harvesting and this is uncertainty. The players' expectations of the game are raised by this occasional surprise, thus fostering their farming passion.
A comfortable sense of control
Although it is general for farming simulation games to contain repetitive control, this redundant work is not good for nothing. From another point of view, proper repetition means familiarity and a sense of control in the player's subjective consciousness. A certain degree of repetition with comfortable visuals allows players to return to the game at any time without the feeling of being 'left behind' or beaten by others. So, players of farming simulation games never feel at a loss because it’s likely for them to keep up with the pace, and it is entirely up to the player to choose the way of playing the game.
Therefore, the down-to-earth happiness, the random surprises, coupled with a slow-paced and comfortable sense of control, allows the players to indulge in the world of plowing and cultivating.