The ingenious addiction of Stardew Valley

Abhishek Iyer
Mar 27, 2017 · 7 min read

Game Flow

Have you ever thought of playing a game (or doing any activity, really) for 15 minutes, only to emerge three hours later, shielding your eyes from sunlight, looking for sustenance, and wondering where all the time had gone? If you have, it’s most likely because you were caught in the throes of game flow.

Cognitive flow
  1. Goal achievements fit within player capabilities: The game doesn’t throw the biggest, baddest fish at you from the start. Players can always catch easy fish (with some practice), gain experience points, level up their rods, add bait and tackle, and come back to face that 40-inch tuna that hitherto troubled them. Every player is capable of starting their fishing journey, and is provided with the tools to progress through that journey.
  2. Clear and timely feedback on goals and performance: You get immediate feedback after every fishing interaction. Consider this GIF below — once the fish is caught, it jumps from the water into the player’s hands, visually confirming ownership. You see the name and size of the fish, after which it goes into the inventory on the bottom right. It’s clear that you’ve caught the fish. In terms of long-term feedback, you level up your fishing skills with time, which acts both as a reward for the work put in so far and a necessary upgrade for the challenges ahead.
Feedback from fishing

Cycles of engagement

Do you remember when Facebook was relatively new and you actually visited your email inbox more than social media? Do you remember getting mails from Facebook saying ‘Someone commented on your post!’ and clicking the life out of them, being redirected to Facebook even though you had stuff to do? You just couldn’t handle the suspense and temptation. ‘Someone’ commented on my post? I need to find out who! This is textbook execution of a repeated cycle of engagement.

Not that kind of cycle of engagement…
Okay, off to sleep and stop the gam… wait, I leveled up!
  1. Ability: This is where the genius of the 20 minute in-game day comes in again. If one day were an hour long, players would think twice before continuing to play (I have a flight to catch in three hours!). But the deceptively short unit-time of engagement provides an easy escape (I’ll stop after the next day, the airport isn’t that far) and eventually leads to far more engagement than a longer in-game day would have (flight? what flight?).
  2. Trigger: Apart from the emotion-based motivations that players might have to start a new day, the game provides enough explicit triggers to force their hand as well. You can check out the village bulletin board for tasks and other information…

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Abhishek Iyer

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I write and I don’t know things. Focusing on game design with some soccer and general stuff thrown in. For any writing requests, get in touch!



The collective gaming guide of in-depth reviews, interviews, and opinions. Keep calm and game on. 🎮