What's the Beef: Why Don't More Survival Games Let Players Farm?
Ever since Minecraft officially released in November of 2011, survival games have been a staple of the video game release schedule. Games like Day Z, Rust, The Forest, Ark: Survival Evolved, and many more have really struck a cord with gamers.
However, there is a feature missing from some of these games that has left a hole in the hearts of many players: Farming. Now, I'm not asking for these games to go all Farming Simulator on us, but there is something important, both mechanic and thematic-wise, that is lost when farming or farming features are left on the cutting-room floor.
Of all of the games I listed previously, three of the four (Rust, Day Z and Ark) had farming mechanics. You may notice that these three are some of the most well known games within the genre. I'm not saying this is directly because of their farming mechanics, but farming mechanics help to serve two main purposes.
In these three games, hunger is a major aspect of the gameplay. If you don't eat, your stamina, and sometimes your health, will drop until you die. It may take longer than getting shot in the back or falling off a cliff, but it will happen.
So, now that you have to eat, you are presented with two choices: farming, which is safer but may take a while, or scavenging, which may be quick, but is also more likely to result in your death. Some players may decide to just scavenge, living like animals in the forest or among the ashes of a post-apocalyptic eastern-european country.
Farming, however, allows players a chance to build their supplies and be better prepared when dealing with the world around them. Farming also leads to investment, which makes base-building and fending off attacks that much more important. Farming, if done right, leads to player immersion within a game's world. Without it, the world can sometimes feel just a little hollow. However, there's more to farming than what's on the surface.
Thematically speaking, farming signals a change both in the player and in the game world. It shows that, even in its early stages, that the player is beginning to bend the world to their whim. Some games may not introduce farming until the late game, when a base has been established, and enough supplies have been gathered to make such an undertaking feasible. Others may introduce it in the tutorial, and require the player to invest some time in it if they hope to last a day within the game world.
Regardless of how they do it, farming exists as a physical manifestation of the player's power. Imagine what it is like for a player to go from having a small farm to having a plantation. Imagine going from one crop to many. You can see your progress in many things within a survival game, such as a house, but very rarely do other manifestations of power actually provide you with something. By the end, when you've altered an entire field, island, or biome to suit your farming needs, you will have truly seen the effect that you have had on your world. You are no longer just surviving, you are thriving.
Now, why don't more games include farming mechanics? From what I've described, it must sound like the best thing in games since the ability to jump. Well, there are plenty of reasons for this. Most obviously, it might not fit what a game is going for. Some games just aren't about taking over the world of a game.
Maybe the game world is hopeless and futile, and the idea of being self-reliant may go against the themes of the game. It would weird if a game like I Am Alive, a survival game set in a post-apocalyptic America, were to focus on farming when everything else was about combat and traversal.
Some games like The Forest are more combat focused. Why waste your time farming some carrots when you could be hacking some naked cannibals to death with an axe? What if, more mechanically speaking, the programmers and designers only have a few features that they could put into the game within their time-frame and budget? If you wanted to make a fun survival game, would you focus on farming instead of movement, scavenging and combat?
Farming isn't perfect for every game, just like Farming Simulator 2017 isn't for every player. However, more survival games should definitely consider adding farming to their list of game-play features. If they want the player to merely survive in their survival game, go ahead and ignore the farming.
But, if they want your character to take on and conquer the world, bend it to their will and become the true master of their destiny, they should add it in.
Alternatively, maybe they just want to get your players hooked on the success of growing fake carrots and tomatoes. Whatever works for them. As long as there are seeds to plant and wheat to harvest.