Remember Farmville? Your great-Aunt is probably still sending you invites to play it on Facebook, but have you really stopped to think about the legacy the ‘00s’ biggest social game actually left? Because Milkstone’s early access Farm Together is a perfect example of how the joys of social, low-energy farming can live on well after Zynga stopped being relevant.
It’s almost easier to define Farm Together by what it doesn’t have rather than what it does. It definitely isn’t Farming Simulator, but it also isn’t Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, seeing as it doesn’t have any story to speak of. You just… build a farm.
A constant cycle of planting, harvesting, selling and planting again, with the overall goal being to level up the farm enough to buy more nice things to put in it. What starts out as a glorified allotment quickly turns into a smallholding with some pigs and a few chickens. Before long that smallholding will have bloomed into a huge farm full of fields, buildings, livestock, fish, rivers, windmills, and always something to keep on top of.
To liven things up, each day, lasting 17 minutes in real-time, represents an entire season with its own crops and challenges. The staple money-maker of carrots can’t be planted in the summer, for example, and so spring is spent building up enough money as possible rather than expanding, to make sure the animals stay well-fed through the hotter months. Interestingly time passes regardless of if you have the game open or not, and so leaving for a few hours to let things tick over in your absence is a totally valid strategy.
This is where the big comparison to Farmville comes into play. Nothing bad happens if you stop playing for a day or two, but that constant feeling of knowing the latest harvest might be ready and waiting just keeps pulling me back in for another five minutes here and there. Farm Together is simultaneously an undemanding zen game to zone out to and a time vampire consuming my every waking minute in the best possible way.
Your farm isn’t just yours to tend to, either. Other players can drop in to take a look and lend a hand at any time, but there are enough protections in place to make griefing nigh-on impossible. While some farms allow for items and plants to be placed, the vast majority remain on the default of only letting others harvest your goods for you, fostering a very cooperative, communal atmosphere to the game.
I took a stroll through a few other players’ farms, helped them tend to their harvests on my pink tractor before the season ended, and happily moved on to the next one like a wandering farmhand. There was no vitriol, no memes, no nothing – just people working on making their colourful farms as lovely as they can be – unrelenting creativity you don’t see a whole lot of this side of Minecraft.
Farm Together also manages to totally avoids the usual trappings timer-centric games face in regard to monetisation. Despite the huge amount of waiting, customisation options and unlockable items, there isn’t a single microtransaction in sight. It’s bizarre, as the usual freemium mainstay of gems are in-game, but they can’t be purchased, and they’re given so freely in exchange for some of your produce that it feels almost like a refreshing pastiche of current market trends.
Farm Together is the exact sort of game Ian Bogost wanted to criticise when he made Cow Clicker (aimed directly at Farmville, funnily enough) and accidentally spawned the entire Idle game genre in the process. It’s a game about waiting for crops to sell to buy more crops to wait for, and not a whole lot else – but is that inherently a bad thing? I can’t look at Farm Together’s endless optimism and encouragement of friendly cooperation and think so, that’s for sure.
The game has a singular, simple idea. But in that simple idea, Milkstone have made something really exciting and, weirdly, something that’s managed to buck just about every nasty gaming trend that’s popped up over the years.
Preview code was provided for the purposes of this preview.