When people get home from a long day of work, they often want to spend some time relaxing, binge-watching a TV show or playing a game with family. When Mike Bassett relaxes, he sometimes finds himself doing chores and field work from the comfort of his living room.
Bassett, who farms near Ames, Iowa, is tending to his virtual farm in the Farming Simulator video game series.
While a video game is going to take some liberties with the real world, Bassett said Farming Simulator does a good job of representing some of the work a farmer needs to do in a season, from handling livestock to planting and harvesting a crop, while also providing a fun outlet.
“I got into Farming Simulator mostly because I love doing the field work and also like playing while bored in the tractor during fall tillage,” Bassett said. “I’ve actually timed it where I’m turning at the end rows at the same time in the game and real life.”
The first game of the series was released in 2008 and there are now nine games for Playstation, Xbox, PC and Nintendo Switch, with five different mobile games.
The game’s developer, GIANTS Software, is based out of Switzerland, and the game gained popularity in Europe when it first came out.
Farming Simulator has reached such a level of popularity there in recent years that GIANTS Software started a professional league for the game, which culminates in cash prizes for some of the best players in the world. League contests consist of two teams of three players harvesting and baling as much wheat as possible within a set time limit.
In the original, the only crop available to farm was wheat and the only licensed company that was featured was Fendt. Eventually, the game added a wide variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, sunflowers and even some cover crops, while adding manufacturers such as John Deere and Case IH. Players can also work with livestock, raising cows, chickens and pigs.
Martin Rabl, a marketing manager at GIANTS Software offices in Erlangen, Germany, said the game can appeal to a wide variety of people, from farmers to those just looking for a new experience.
“In the beginning, it was people who were interested in farming,” Rabl said. “It’s been 11 years since the first game launched. When the game came out, it was relaxing and fresh, so it was a different kind of game. It wasn’t stressing people out like a combat game.”
However, just like farming in the real world, the game has caused plenty of stress in other ways.
When the original game came out, grain wouldn’t rot, meaning players could leave their field unharvested for as long as they wanted without suffering any consequences. The next year, the company changed up the game’s mechanics to show that players needed to harvest their crop with a sense of urgency. That led to a couple of complaints from players.
“Even if a year in the game passed, you were still able to harvest it,” Rabl said. “Fans said it wasn’t realistic. And once we changed it, there were way more people that complained because they had to harvest in time. Now we have it as an option.”
The ability to change the nature of crops and the environment is one of the ways the video game isn’t completely replicating a farming experience. Rabl said one area of realism they hope the game illustrates is some of the financial decisions a farmer has to make when building an operation, especially when buying equipment.
“You shouldn’t buy something that just looks good, you should buy something that will help you,” he said. “You could get a larger header which helps harvest faster. But it doesn’t make sense to do that without a larger trailer because you would have to make more runs to drop the grain off.”
The virtual farmers also have to think about input costs and whether or not to hire some of the work done or take the time to do it themselves. Doing the spraying themselves might save money, but could also take valuable time.
Its ability to illustrate farm life is one of the draws for Bassett, who said creating a replica of your own operation or trying out new equipment could teach a younger generation growing up around a farm.
“The biggest impact in my opinion would be for the children of farmers, which can teach the basics of crop farming and equipment operation in a fairly realistic simulation,” Bassett said.
One area he would like to see the game improve is its livestock production. Bassett said as a beef producer, he would like the ability to move cattle to a pasture, do rotational grazing and move them back in for the winter.
“(It would be) a big plus if they were to allow us to herd the cows too,” Bassett said.
Farming Simulator is also big in the modification, or “mod”-ing, community, where people can create their own alterations to the game to give it a different feel. Some mods add new equipment or government subsidies to the game. One of Bassett’s favorites is adding seasons.
One of the toughest parts of the game, which mirrors real life, is hay production, Bassett said.
“You’re trying to sun dry hay and you hope it doesn’t rain, which has been a struggle sometimes in the game as it is in real life,” he said.